Some Musings On The Recent Disputes In The YA Blogosphere

Posted January 17, 2012 by chooseyabooks in discussion / 6 Comments

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the author/blogger relationship based on several disputes on Goodreads regarding negative reviews and author responses. This has now reached the stage in which mainstream media such as The Guardian have turned their attention to this topic.

I am a relatively new blogger and have not been involved in any of these incidents, but have observed them with some interest and read some of the many responses to it.  I also have never interacted with the bloggers involved or directly with the authors, however this a subject I couldn’t stop thinking about as a blogger. What I have mentioned above may mean that my opinion is thought of as without worth, I am an intruder to a discussion I am not invited into and I accept that. I do not mean to offend any authors, fellow bloggers or anyone within writing this. It is just my own feelings on blogs, reviews and the recent kerfuffle as best as I can express myself.

The main point of contention I seem to have gleamed from reading the responses, reviews,  articles and related stuff is that negative reviews warrant response. While I am prepared to accept that some reviews can border on offensive, the majority of reviews I read just employ a degree of snark. Is it a question of articulation? Are authors saying if a blogger removes their profanities and gifs and personal comments about an author’s home life, they will accept the review? While I wonder what would happen if that is the case, I cannot help but think they would still feel a degree of hurt/annoyance/anger at a negative review.Why? Because I might if I was them, because I’m human and so are they and writing is an intrinsically personal thing.I am a writer, yes I am unpublished so perhaps this may not count to you, but it does to me. I have a good quality degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from a high ranking British university and am currently at the same institution honing my craft with my Masters in Writing course. Writing is incredibly important to me, it’s one of my life ambitions to be published and I know I want, no need, a job that involves books or writing in some way in the future.  Why have I mentioned this? Well, I think it is important to be able to view things from the author’s perspective and as part of my degree I have peer reviewing sessions of my writing. Sometimes they don’t like my writing, it happens and a lot of the time there is a good reason why and something I can fix or improve on. The first time it happened, was I a little hurt? Yeah, sure, then I remembered you can’t please everybody and I am not always right. Not only that, but I was in a privileged position to be able to correct any flaws in my work, develop plot holes and improve as a writer. Now I thrive on my feedback. I receive constructive comments and value them. As I receive these in person, I understand a virtual review is different – words can be misconstrued and tone, which is invisible online, can be taken differently than intended. I also understand that while passion is at the heart of blogging and reviewing, personal insults are that. Personal and insulting and people will be offended.

Part of being a writer, particularly one in the public who exposes their work in the public domain, is having a tough skin. It’s a lesson I’m constantly learning and trying to remember, but there is a line between reviewing and insults. In a way once a book is written, it is no longer just yours and part of you, even if it feels that way. Certainly, I gather that was what Julie Bertagna suggested in her Guardian article on this. People will make their own decisions and impose their own impressions on a book and the author’s intention perhaps is not the same as the reader’s reaction.

I also wonder when does snark or insults make a review not a review as has been suggested by some? According to the dictionary on my computer (Oxford Dictionary of English) a review of a book or film, etc is described as a critical appraisal, but what does that mean and am I, and any other bloggers, not reviewing a book and only expressing a reaction or impression when we blog? I decided to dissect critical appraisal (appraisal means formal assessment apparently) further; in the context of reviewing a book my dictionary says:

2. expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music, or art: she never won the critical acclaim she sought.
• (of a text) incorporating a detailed and scholarly analysis and commentary: a critical edition of a Bach sonata.
• involving the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement: professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking amongst their students. (Oxford Dictionary of English)

So are our reviews critical? More than that are the ‘snarky’ reviews (not necessarily those involved in the scandals of late) critical too? Well the ones I read involved an analysis of the faults (and some did mention merits where relevant but some didn’t). That said they may not have focused on merits or been objective. That said, are all professional reviews? I certainly have read biased reviews and believe a natural bias exists anyway in any articulation of personal opinion of any sort.  It’s a difficult situation and one I cannot make a certain judgement on. Is formality essential to make a review a review or can an informal review still be a review? When does informal detract from critical merit? It’s up to the individual, I guess.

On a personal level, when I write a review, positive or critical, I place myself in the author’s shoes; how would I feel reading this? Would I feel it was inauthentic or pandering, would it feel honest, and if critical could I take it? If I think I couldn’t take it then I’ll edit until I could. That said, there is a place for negative reviews and I am not suggesting reviewers pander to an author all the time, I am suggesting honesty and a degree of tact in writing reviews.

I consider my reviews carefully and use my academic background as part of this, I approach reviewing in much the same way as perhaps an essay. I consider more than one argument and I find evidence from the text that supports every claim, no evidence then no inclusion. That said, I don’t always cite every page because I don’t think my readers necessarily want to see this, but ask me and I will have evidence to support my claims, just as in an assignment. I approach my work as  professionally as I possibly can. Yes, I may gush occasionally about books I love, it’s something I’m trying to rein in actually. It’s a fine balance between demonstrating  passion for a book and full on unbelievable prostration to a novel or an author, in the same way as there is similar relationship between demonstrating dislike for a book and taking a review too far.

Furthermore responding to a review by personally attacking a reviewer/review  is inexcusable and relegates an argument that the review offended an author to a typical playground “she started it” like situation that I do not condone. It is interesting that the majority of furor has been over responses to reviews, not reviews, suggesting negative reviews do not affect sales in the slightest, right? Reputation is important and in this age of being able to instantly comment and respond without thinking needs to remembered: a bad reputation cannot easily be salvaged as in some cases, authors have been judged guilty by association by some reviewers and bloggers.

Am I as one tweet in the dispute indicated rashly tainting any chance of a job in publishing or reviewing by writing negative reviews? I certainly hope not, both fields are careers that I really want to try and work in after university. I adore books and I am proud of the way opinion is shifting towards book-lovers; perhaps no more will you mentally picture me as a fat librarian with several cats and no romantic life, but a person who just reads because it makes them unbelievably happy? I don’t know, but if this blog, which I created both to understand the YA market more (a field I want to write for/work in) will jeopardise my future career then something has gone wrong.

I, in fact, will spend more time writing a negative review than a positive one because I feel it is much more important to have a cohesive and clear review in this instance. There is no place for rambling anecdotes in my opinion, but a need to respectfully and decisively demonstrate why this book didn’t work for me.  I am writing my first ‘negative’ review for my blog and it is undergoing more drafts than a general positive review. It is a book that many people, including my Goodreads friends enjoyed, but for me personally did not work and had points that concerned me. Does this review mean that my friends have no right to have enjoyed this book or future readers shouldn’t pick it up and read it? I don’t think so, people will always like some books as much as others hate them. The world would be boring otherwise.

The one thing I realise at the end of this, is that my assertion that the world would be boring if everyone liked the same books is definitely shown in the YA blogosphere, which  the volatile relations of late show is anything but, and if you’ve reached the end of this long mediation, thanks and wow! I take my hat off to you.

So what do you think of the recent issues within the blogosphere? Have any of you been personally affected? Do you feel any differently about writing negative reviews and do you take the author into consideration? I hope no bloggers or authors have been offended by my rambling, it’s just my own musing on a news story and not directly at any one person in particular.

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6 responses to “Some Musings On The Recent Disputes In The YA Blogosphere

  1. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I’ve followed the drama from a distance as well. I’m baffled by the author/agent responses. I have an MFA as well, and there’s nothing like workshop to give you a taste of what truly scathing criticism can be like. I’ve read some of the reviews that sparked controversy, and found them to be informative and unobjectionable. What’s interesting is how the issue seems to keep reoccuring.

    Personally, I’m a new blogger and have never reviewed books. All of this nonsense has made me seriously consider whether I want to start.

    • Thanks, Tarah, I was so nervous about this post as I am an uninvolved bystander and didn’t want to be seen as intruding or exacerbating a situation.
      I definitely agree about the responses: I think part of the problem is the internet is so instant and there’s no safeguards before you publish something to check you actually want to and it’s not a knee-jerk reaction.
      I have to say the reviews I read in the controversies, I didn’t object to them. I think my only criticism was one review had a load of swearing which while it conveyed the real feeling and was okay every now and then bordered on excessive – that said, I’ve never really been one of those who swears a lot so I’m sensitive to those things and that’s a personal thing anyway. The content and bare bones I agreed with and the reviewer provided evidence to support her claim so it was fair enough.
      Haha, glad you are a fellow workshop survivor! Luckily mine are fairly tame, but there have been quick comments that hurt me. I remember someone telling me they had expected more from my writing and I was gutted for a while, then I thought about it and got over it. I think workshops are great for being able to develop a thicker skin and separating yourself from your writing and taking things personally which seems to be one of the issues recurring here.
      I wouldn’t be put off reviewing, Tarah, I’d love to read your thoughts on books 🙂
      Lucy

  2. Very well said Lucy.
    I agree, to the extent that I’ve been watching from a bit of a distance as I am also a relatively new blogger. I’m also don’t particularly enjoy “drama”, espeically not the kind that appears on the internet. I think that there has been some uncomfortable behaviour going on but I am the same as you, my negative reviews take longer and while I don’t usually like the books, I often say what other people MAY find good about them so as to not put everyone off. You know, this book isn’t for me but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you.
    I think bloggers have very personal reviews as it is what they feel about the books and that is they’re right to do so as it’s their blog. It is also certain that not every blogger has the same university background or any aspiration to be writers themselves and so may not really think about it from a criticism point of view and this may have made things worse but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for everything that’s been going on.
    It’s all just a bit depressing really 🙁 Dunno what else I was gonna say!!
    But yeah, well-said and thought out -nods-
    Faye <3

    • Thanks, Faye, I really wanted this to come across well as like you I hate ‘drama’ but as both as a reviewer and someone who studies and love writing it was something that was playing on my mind.
      I know what you mean, I like to try and find something people may like where I can in a book and I recognise people will like books I don’t and vice versa, it’s the way it is.
      I think you make a interesting point as well that not every blogger is looking at it from a critical point but more from a personal one.
      Lucy <3

  3. A most interesting article and a most interesting post. I hadn’t heard about this mini-war but it doesn’t particularly suprise me. Agents live in a rarefied world where the personal tastes of a handful are foisted upon the world at large – and they don’t see that as bizarre, where I will never fail to. Although a writer myself I am not above sinking the book into another writer, particularly Stephenie Meyer of Twilight and Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code, both of which are so terribly edited that they show real contempt for readers. Neither would have ever been terribly good books but they could have been made readable. On the other hand I am sometimes disheartened by the standard of comments on Goodreads; recently I encountered one young girl who took it upon herself to accuse Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief) of masturbation. On occasions such as those I really feel like pointing out that the writer has spent years of their life on this book, and that at the very least, it’s reasonable to respect their feelings. Many readers unfortunately like cardboard cut-out plastic characters, and can accuse writers of failure when said writers have been generous enough to try to give readers something a bit different.

    Certainly those in publishing don’t seem to cope well with being challenged or criticised, which is somewhat ironic given the carelessness with which they criticise others. I remember taking one agent to task on his blog (which was to the effect that every rejected manuscript was unworthy of publication) only to have another agent (anonymously, of course) chime in with “I wish to direct Susan Bennett.” Direct? Why did he think of himself as being in a position to “direct” anyone?

    It’s a very unfortunate thing that in order to write one must have sensitivity, and that doesn’t lend itself to the thick skin necessary to being a damned writer!

  4. Very well said. As both a blogger and an aspiring author I feel like there is nothing wrong with a negative review, but we all know they can be hurtful. Reviewers and bloggers with integrity know that it is possible to discuss a novel’s shortcomings in a respectful way. I also teach 9th grade English and when they peer review each other’s papers I remind them to give “constructive criticism.” Even if I do not like a book at all, I try to point out strengths as well as weaknesses. Someone put a great deal of themselves into that work and there’s no reason for me (or anyone else) to disregard or belittle that. My policy is that if an angent or author sends me a book to review and I feel like that review will be negative after reading, I kindly send them an e-mail saying that I do not feel like I could give the work a glowing review and would they still like me to post anyways. I am not so married to my reviews that I feel obligated to post negative ones. Not that they would be hurtful or disrespectful if I did post all of them. I really appreciate the fact that you put a great deal of effort into your negative reviews.

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