In Which My Reviewing Blackout Is Extended

October 27, 2014 Opinion 12

“I’m not the man my actions would suggest.” – The Afghan Whigs

This weekend I stood up and spoke at a delayed memorial service for the dearest friend I’ll ever have. Looking around the room I thought about how he deserved so much better than he got. His family, his friends, very few of us deserved the gift of his company. But he gave it freely because he didn’t understand it’s value. I spoke about the love he felt for people, the fear of inadequacy he never shook, but most of all how he was the embodiment of joy. You could not be despondent in his company. You could not turn away from his enthusiasm. He was beyond measure in his determination to wring every moment of happiness he could from a coldly vicious world. So, (I said, looking at the people who mourned him) I struggle to follow that example.

This weekend I also attended the saddest musical festival in recent memory. An undersold, disorganized assortment of bad ideas littered with a drunken assembly of culture-as-costume kids. All of them searching for the feeling they know music festivals are supposed to bring them. Asking to have their pictures taken in poses that simulated joy without seeming to feel any of it. I left early, but stayed to see a band known for it’s embrace of humanity’s many flaws. A band whose lead singer often loudly proclaims “There is so much joy in what we do!” Because I needed some. He’s right. There is so much joy when The Hold Steady performs. They never fail to make me feel better about whatever I am feeling down about.

I remember when books made me feel like that. As readers we talk about The Book Slump frequently. It’s that period of time when the reader needs to switch up the genre or authors they’re reading until something clicks again. It’s the thing that happens to students when they’ve analyzed and overanalyzed texts they don’t emotionally connect to until they find the right answer and can run away from Dickens forever. It’s a loss of joy. During this week’s Blogger Blackout a number of reader reviewers have discussed how BBA make it hard to find the joy in what they do. Blogs stopped reviewing this week because we do understand our value. Many of us have worked with promotional street teams in music, or motivated volunteers, or organized student groups. We understand that without the cogs the machine falls apart. We understand that joy is the strongest motivator. I haven’t read a book in two weeks. There’s no joy, this week, in what we do.

Reviewers have watched authors stay silent. Have watched publishers stay silent. We’ve noted who has rallied to the side of reason and who has danced merrily through the fields of self-delusion. Every publisher and every author who sent me a review request in the last two weeks without mentioning the blackout or the hostile climate has been noted. Here’s the thing. If you’re on the sidelines? You’re waiting to see who wins. If the battle is between reader-reviewer joy and author entitlement it doesn’t take a lot of Badly Behaving Authors to drive reviewers off the field. (Only one side is getting paid here.) So what does victory look like? No more negative reviews, ever? Four stars for every Book Baby because it’s the most special Book Baby ever to be offered gently into the world? Does it look like discoverability solely in the hands of Amazon metrics or paid advertising? I don’t know, because I don’t live in Book Industry World. By choice, I haven’t been paid for my reviews in a couple of decades.

Victory (to me) looks like fellow authors and publishers drowning out BBA’s in an instant chorus of disapproval. It looks like people with a financial interest in the industry protecting the people who are showing up as volunteers. Victory looks like a rejection of doxxing. It looks like creating reader spaces that young voices can use to explore their reactions to art. Victory looks like an acknowledgement that reader-reviewers are not cogs in the publishing machine but valued partners in the creation of a healthy and vibrant community of traditionally focused literacy. (That means people who read your books.) It looks like not wasting time fitting us for cheerleader uniforms or sending us Rules for Reviewing. Victory means not bracing ourselves for a new attack when what we really want to do is foster the love of literature in others. Because there was so much joy in what we did. And we want that back. Without it, this stack of books is going unread. Those library holds are returning to the shelves. We’re talking about television and music and sports and games and everything but your new book. Joy is something we can create elsewhere.

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Meoskop's first non-compulsory book review was in 1973. Although a hit with the 3rd grade, concerns raised by the administration necessitated an extended hiatus. Reviews resumed in 1985 but the concerns are ongoing.

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12 Responses to “In Which My Reviewing Blackout Is Extended”

  1. P. J. DEAN

    I am an author and a reader. I do not condone what that woman did in reaction to a book review she deemed bad. She was, is out of order. As far as silence from the author community, I expect that. Because that’s what ensues when major ish hits a propeller in this business. Be it discussions about BBAs, diversity or fandoms that attack, after the initial dust settles, and folks have commented, one can see on various blogs that lots of authors stay silent. Back to business as usual. don’t rock that boat. Why? Who knows? Out of fear of retaliation? Fear of another author waging an internet war on them? Out of fear that they are a book away behaving badly themselves? I speak freely because I am with a terrific small press who lays down the law concerning author behavior. In no uncertain terms, it is understood that we, as authors published by them, reflect on the COMPANY when we act less that gracioulys. In this way the attention stays on the BOOKS the company publishes and NOT on the author. That’s what we, authors, publishers, readers need to get back to. THE BOOKS. And not this current atmosphere of author worship which definitely has drawn some unsavory acting auteurs to it. Just sayin.’

  2. Olivia Waite (@O_Waite)

    As an author who still does lengthy and sometimes very pointed critiques on my site, I’ve been weighing writing up a response to all this, but every time I just sigh and turn back to something more enjoyable. Anything I would write would have a whiff of #NotAllAuthors about it (which hashtag: ugh ugh ugh that is not the point, this is not the time, it’s all starting to look the same in every community now…). Not stalking/harrassing book reviewers should be the default, not the exception we have to defend.

    I thought the book blogging community’s response with the blackout was inspired. (As is this post!) Pulling away from promo cycles, getting back to books long loved — it’s both an eloquent protest and a refreshing change. I’ve been finding out a lot more about the genre just from reading blackout posts about older books and reviews. I think the whole community will be richer for it. It’s been too frantic for a long time; that had to come to a breaking point, though I wish it could have happened with less trauma to reviewers and people being assholes.

  3. SonomaLass

    Thank you for saying this so well. I’m hurt and baffled by the responses that claim we’re “punishing” authors by trying to make a point about our own value, own own role in the community. I don’t owe anybody a review, or promotion of their work. I have a right to read what I choose, and to write about it however I choose. We all do. If accepting free early copies gives an impression of obligation, I’m happy to stop. If reviewing a book when it’s first released makes some authors hyper-sensitive to criticism, I’ll stop that, too. I’m not going to bother trying to track which authors might behave badly; that’s not enjoyable, and this is my hobby, which I have a right to enjoy.

  4. Fiona McGier

    I’ve been a reader since I was about 5 years old. I’ve only been a published author for 6 years. I’m largely unknown, so my silence isn’t complicity; it’s based on the assumption that no one cares what my opinion is. But for what it’s worth, I’m aghast at the behavior of any author who seeks “revenge” on a reviewer for an unflattering review.

    Once you get your work published, it’s out there, independently existing, and no longer a part of you. If you wanted to protect it, then why did you write it? There will be those for whom your every word is gospel (not experienced this yet, but have had fan-girl crushes on authors over the years that made me feel this way.) There will be those who enjoy your story, but eagerly go on to something else in their TBR pile. And there will be those who won’t like your book…for whatever reasons.

    Unpleasant reviews make me depressed. They make me wonder if the naysayers are right: “If you’re any good, why aren’t you making piles of money…like that FSOG woman?” I usually don’t agree with them, but seeing my words so misunderstood or actively disliked is painful. But never in million lifetimes would I think of taking any action against someone for expressing their opinion.

    I got an English major. Yet I despise Hemmingway and find Austen and the Brontes boring. But no one threw me out of the program as unworthy. An opinion is just that–one person’s reaction. Enjoy the good ones, try not to dwell on the poor ones. But appreciate everyone’s right to judge as they see fit. And for God’s sake, leave the reviewers alone! Without them, who will read our books at all???

  5. Romy Sommer

    Thanks so much for this post! I know it’s been said, but not all authors are keeping quiet and I’m definitely in the Courtney Milan school of thought, and support the Blogger Blackout.

    But what I really wanted to comment on was rediscovering the joy of reading. For me too, reading has become a chore. I really want to support my writer friends by reading their books. I want to support my publisher by reading other books they publish. But I’m also a single mom with a day job, writing my own books at night, running a volunteer non-profit, and sometimes I just want to read for fun not for duty.

    I highly support the Blackout on principle, but if the unintentional benefit that comes out of it is bloggers rediscovering their joy of reading, if they get to return to reading for pleasure rather than for promotion, then I support that too.

  6. Anna Richland

    Your comment about authors stepping up to support bloggers made me make some connections in my head.

    I’ve been reading several articles lately about efforts on college campuses to educate, train & encourage bystanders to step in and say something when they see an inebriated person at risk of being taken advantage of or abused, possibly without consent. It’s an new response to a serious problem – intoxicated women being raped being the depressingly frequent problem (but I’m not going to say that’s the only way the “take advantage of a drunk person” can play out, but it’s the most common).

    So apparently the shift in focus from “tell girls not to drink so much” to “tell bystanders to step in when they see something – b/c the bystanders know” came because the people studying the problem realized that the vast overwhelming majority of the sexual assaults on intoxicated students came from a very few serial predators. While victims could be anybody, the perpetrators were basically the same few people over and over, having many victims.

    So the shift is to train the bystanders to step in because the predators are actually fairly easy for observers to identify by behavior, and the majority of other people are actually good people.

    It’s a really interesting effort, and it sounds (at least in the articles I read) like it could have a lot of success separating aggressive predators from potential victims.

    There are obvious connections to the current book world situation. I think only a very few authors behave like KH (and they do it over and over). And as she clearly admits, her actions weren’t a one-time hit-send mistake thing, but a pattern – just like the campus predators.

    So yes, authors do need to think about “bystander training”. If campus student life organizations are training college kids to say something when they see something, and how to do it, then maybe bloggers could help us learn what works best when we see authors behaving badly. I don’t see many authors behaving badly, (most of the authors I know are super cool like Olivia Waite!) but if I did, I realize from the call to step up and say something that I don’t know WHAT, exactly, to say/post/do.

    I have the suspicion that in most cases if I didn’t know the author in real life, a FB post saying “hey, that doesn’t seem very polite” would backfire on me and not achieve anything – just pouring gas onto the grill.

    Frankly, I’m just not much involved with people like that, thank goodness — people who act like KH are generally such drama llamas in so many ways that I don’t end up in their circles. And I”m not going to seek them out when I hear about misbehavior b/c that would be feeding the wolves. So what is a blogger’s wish for what a general, non-dramatic, working hard regular author should do? I wouldn’t want to feed the flames. I do want to support the blogging/reviewing community. I don’t want to get down in the trenches and pile on personally against anyone – but I’d like to know what are supportive actions that are helpful? Bria Quinlan had an excellent post on being stalked, and I shared that.

    At this point I basically post reasonable things on blogs and just try to be professional, and I definitely don’t engage with those who aren’t professional, but I’d appreciate ideas for further steps that are constructive – the equivalent of the bystander training colleges are giving students.


  7. Bona

    I love this post, as many of the posts I’ve read these days.

    I have asumed years ago that 95% of bystanders will always say nothing. No matter what the issue is -someone stalking somebody else or corrupted politicians or the next genocide in any country-. 95 % of people will do nothing. BUT, the rest -5% of people- will spoke the truth and do something, and those who are brave or at least candid enough, are the ones who the majority of people will admire & follow afterwards.

    I think that we should review only those books that we want to review. The reviews of new releases are important just for the industry, not for us. I want to read good books, I don’t care if they are 5 years old. Personally, I will keep on reading those who give their sincere opinion, and not those web pages and blogs that only write 4-5 star reviews. They are clearly useless for me.

  1. What You Said Means A Lot To Me « Read React Review

    […] Victory (to me) looks like fellow authors and publishers drowning out BBA’s in an instant chorus of disapproval. It looks like people with a financial interest in the industry protecting the people who are showing up as volunteers. Victory looks like a rejection of doxxing. It looks like creating reader spaces that young voices can use to explore their reactions to art. Victory looks like an acknowledgement that reader-reviewers are not cogs in the publishing machine but valued partners in the creation of a healthy and vibrant community of traditionally focused literacy. –Meoskop, at Love in the Margins […]

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