Hey Author, I Don’t Want to Be Your “Customer”

Yesterday brought yet another post about an author responding badly to a negative review, this one from Beatrice‘s Ron Hogan. But Hogan also suggested that there is a right way to respond to negative reviews, referring to author Elle Lothlorien’s “philosophy that a writer is also a businessperson and a reader is also a customer . . . [so politely responding] is simply attentive customer service.” When some people suggested on Twitter that reviewers are intimidated by the sense that authors are looking over their shoulders, Hogan responded, “If you can’t handle the prospect that someone you’re writing about might see what you’ve written, you aren’t ready to share it. Don’t.”

I’ve been trying to get off the ranty-go-round. Do I really want to write about this again? But Hogan is widely-respected in the on (and off) line literary world, and authors listen to him. So here, as non-rantingly as possible, is why I disagree with him and Lothlorien.

It might help to understand why many readers I know don’t care to see Elle Lothlorien’s view cited approvingly. Awhile back, she did a series of posts at Digital Book World on why and how she responds to negative reviews. There she reported that

every negative review I’ve responded to that resulted in a dialogue [this is key] with the reader ended with them 1) deleting their review altogether; 2) amending their review with more favorable language; 3) Increasing their rating at least one “star,” but more typically by two, three, or even four.

Lothlorien interpreted this as effective customer service–she’d made those reviewers who didn’t just ignore her comments/e-mails feel more positive about her and her books. And maybe she’s right. But many of us who read her examples interpreted it as readers a) feeling harassed by the author so they did what they had to to make her go away; or b) being made to feel bad about being “mean” to such a “nice person” so they adjusted their reviews even though their view of the book did not change. And maybe we were right. Several people I know vowed never to read her books after seeing those posts. I’m not sure I’d call that effective customer service.

Here’s the thing about the “customer service” model of authorship: I don’t think of myself as the author’s customer. It’s very rare to purchase a book as object or digital file directly from the author. When I buy a book, my transaction is with the bookstore. I do want good customer service from them, like prompt delivery or taking a digital book back if the formatting is messed up.

When I read, my “transaction” is with the book, not the author. Our responses to art of any kind are deeply personal. And this is why a “customer service” approach is pointless to me. I don’t care if the author is sorry I didn’t like the book or some element of it. That doesn’t change my reading experience. If I think the author can’t use commas to save her life, or I hate the kind of heroine she writes, I’m not going to pick up another of her books just because she’s a “nice person.” (And since I’m confident in my opinions, I’m not changing my review or rating, either. I am going to be pissed off).

A review is a “transaction” with with other readers. I’m sharing my opinion, I hope prompting a discussion, maybe helping them discover a book they’ll love or avoid one they’d hate. Here’s where I take issue with the tweet of Hogan’s I quoted above–though to be fair, a Twitter debate is not the place for the most nuanced and well-considered arguments, so he may not have meant what I take him to be saying. First, a review is not “writing about someone,” it’s about a book. (If it is about the author, that’s a whole different story and not a review). Second, accepting that an author might see my opinion of her book is different from accepting that she will come and engage me about my opinion, which she cannot change. I accept the former; I don’t like the latter. A review is an invitation for other readers to discuss the book, agree or disagree with my view of it. It is not an invitation for the author to join in. An author’s relationship to a book is, obviously, different from the readers’. Almost inevitably, if she weighs in, she appears to be correcting or approving my reading. She can’t be just another voice in the conversation.

In my view, authors should not respond to reviews. That’s not a moral “should,” in case any author wants to ask why reviewers get free speech rights and she doesn’t. It’s common sense. Most of the time, when authors comment on reviews, it chills discussion about books, and that’s not good for anyone.

I do make exceptions. (I’m not even going to touch whether an author should correct a “factual error” because some authors’ ideas on what constitutes a “fact” are . . . different from mine: “Lord Cockmonster is not an asshole!“). I accept that reviews are now part of book promotion, and that many authors read reviews, and “like” and tweet links to positive reviews. Fair enough. Sometimes when I review a book by an author I interact with on Twitter, she responds privately to say she liked my review. I’m fine with that, too, because there’s a relationship context for it and it doesn’t come across as “thanks for helping promote my book!” or as trying to correct my response. (Doing it off the site of the review also means it won’t discourage other readers from sharing their opinions in the comments). Is there a customer service function to those replies? I suppose so, in the sense that I am happy to think that a writer I like and respect returns those feelings. But it works because it’s a genuine response (or else the best, most calculated customer service ever).

There’s really only one kind of “customer service” I want from authors: write the best damn book you can. After that, my experience is out of your hands.

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151 Responses to Hey Author, I Don’t Want to Be Your “Customer”

  1. I don’t disagree for a second with the idea that authors should not engage with reviewers (unless that’s asked for) but the confusing part of this is the statement that you aren’t the author’s customer. Not only is this not true – you are a customer at the end of the retail chain – but it’s the whole justification for the idea that authors should not give readers grief for not liking their books, or behave as if they are entitled to a certain style/shape/obsequiousness of review.

    The reader paid for the book. The reader gets to say what they want. The customer – or perhaps ‘consumer’ is a better term – is the only person in this transaction whose opinion matters because they’re the one handing over consideration. Therefore they can say what they want.

    Compare this to the fanfic model – the author gives freely, so the overt expectation is that they will receive praise and attention. Criticism is not only only rarely wanted, but is overtly and punitively discouraged because the fanfic model is explicitly not based on the consumerist model. (If only I had realised this while I was involved in fandom, I would have had a much easier time.)

    Hogan is wrong, wrong, wrong (and being a bit of a prick about it) because the role of the reviewer is fundamentally different from that of the author (and the power balance is in the author’s favour). Lothlorien is wrong because the customer service model she is using is that of a hotel, not a toaster maker. If you have a bad hotel experience, then it’s appropriate to have your hurt feelings assuaged. If you have a broken toaster, the appropriate response is to have your toaster replaced (or your money back), for the toaster maker to make sure the manufacturing fault isn’t repeated, and the toasters to keep coming out in a timely and satisfactory manner. No amount of ‘assuaging’ will deal with the inability to make toast. And no amount of abuse will make you keep buying a toaster brand when the toaster just doesn’t work.

    “Most of the time, when authors comment on reviews, it chills discussion about books, and that’s not good for anyone.”

    That should be tattooed on the wrists of every aspiring author. All of them.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      You’re right that I am a customer, but I guess my point is that my experience of consuming (i.e. reading) a book is not like consuming other products. A book isn’t a toaster, either. What didn’t work for me might work for others. Lothlorien wants to make readers feel more positively about “Brand Author” but I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the reading experience and our feelings about books–certainly about mind. It’s not the BRAND I respond to. If I dislike a book or think it is badly written, that’s got nothing to do with the author as a person, and her personal behavior won’t change my feelings. There are authors who have a great social media “brand” but whose books do not appeal to me. For me, and for every reader I know (which is obviously still a relatively small sample) Lothlorien’s approach creates negative feelings (and I know I’m not arguing with YOU here).

      • Magdalen says:

        Here’s where social media is not an author’s friend. In the current “cult of personality”–where, for example, people think they “like” the Duchess of Cambridge because of how she appears in public–authors are encouraged (dare I say, commanded?) to build up an appealing social media presence. (Thankfully, we don’t have to wear the crazy Ascot hats…) It’s easy to confuse that online persona as equivalent to an author’s brand.

        Of course authors have brands–it’s the very definition of someone’s work being an “autobuy”–but they’re not brands based on how lovely the author is online. In a perfect world, a reader might love an author’s books and the author’s social media (Marian Keyes is a great example of that for me) but authors need to remember that the real brand is their output as an author, i.e., their books and stories.

        Social media might lead me to read an author I’d previously not tried, but that’s a one-time doorway. After that, the stories have to be the basis for the brand. And the author’s online persona can only induce me to stop reading her work…which is where social media isn’t an author’s friend.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Thanks, Magdalen. I have a lot of sympathy for authors right now. They are learning to navigate social media, trying to get it right, and I think readers still aren’t sure what they want from authors in these spaces, either (nor are all readers the same). That’s why I think authors are best off waiting for overt invitations from readers to interact–about the author’s own books. I love when authors comment on pieces like this, or on reviews of other books, because their perspectives are really helpful.

        And really, I think the vast majority of authors are doing it right. I do see more and more politely engaging on reviews, though–not just saying thanks, but responding. And in the cases I see, it usually comes off as defensive and shuts down the conversation, no matter how politely it is done.

  2. Oh my, that quote! Yikes.

    This type of author interference has the complete opposite result the author intended. It ruins the reading experience and puts me off reading future books. The author doesn’t sell the book; the book sells the book.

    And this: “If you can’t handle the prospect that someone you’re writing about might see what you’ve written, you aren’t ready to share it.” Is ridiculous. Some people don’t understand that reviews are about books, not authors. This is what he should have said: Authors, if you can’t handle the prospect that someone might not like what you’ve written, you aren’t ready to write.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      As you and others have pointed out, I would have been more precise to say “If you can’t handle the prospect that someone WHOSE BOOK you’re writing about might see what you’ve written, you aren’t ready to share it.” Duly noted.

      And I would ABSOLUTELY agree with you that writers who cannot handle the prospect that somebody might not like their writing shouldn’t put that writing out for public consumption. And by that, I mean ANY kind of writers, at any level, in any kind of public medium.

      I’d add, however, that it’s perfectly possible to be capable of handling the prospect that somebody doesn’t like your writing AND be able to have a reasonable conversation with them about it — provided, of course, that they are reasonable people, too. The John Warner article I cited in my post is an excellent example of that, perhaps the best example of that. What I’ve seen of the ways in which Elle Lothlorien reaches out to readers seems to me to be equally reasonable although from a different perspective; we’ve all seen the horror shows of authors losing their **** online, and Lothlorien doesn’t fit that profile as far as I can tell. If she does, I’m from a metaphorical Missouri, and somebody needs to show me.

      “I put this where ANYBODY could see it, but I didn’t write it for YOU” does not, in many ways, strike me as a reasonable response, but that’s one of the things I’m mulling over in the follow-up post I’m thinking about.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Thanks for your kind comments about the post. Your position has a clear logic–a kind of absolutist logic: if you put your opinion out there in public, why shouldn’t anyone comment on it? Why expect some people not to respond? And from a certain perspective, you’re right. I wonder what authors expect to get out of engaging negative reviewers. Lothlorien is getting attention, certainly. Warner got an article. But did they change a reader’s mind? Probably not. I have seen several authors recently who commented “politely” on reviews. It came off, to the readers I know who observed it (again, not every reader in the universe) as intrusive and in many cases as an attempt to “correct” the reader’s view or taste. I simply don’t see that as positive for anyone. Readers do not always announce, in ways that authors see, “Well, I’m never reading X now!” but a lot of us think it, and tell each other.

  3. mezzak says:

    Hogan’s article had ended up in my tweet stream via another source and I commented saying I was disappointed in his reliance on Lothlorien. In his response he took his comments to Ridley further by calling readers who caved and changed their ratings moral failures:

    “@MerrianOW @aspeed Disappointing that readers lack the moral conviction to stand by their ratings, if they weren’t in error.”

    “If people “changed ratings simply to make [@ElleLothlorien] go away,” as @MerrianOW suggests, then their reviews lacked moral conviction.”

    I wasn’t aware that I should be nailing my Goodreads review to a church door

    Just looked at my feed today and find

    @ElleLothlorien @MerrianOW And changing a review you believe in to “get rid” of an “annoying” reviewer is dishonest reviewing.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think these tweets ignore the fact that the author likely cares WAY more than the reviewer. Why should I die on the hill of not really liking a $2.99 self-pubbed book, for instance? It’s not worth the time and emotional energy for many readers to engage. It is worth it, apparently, to some authors. This isn’t an issue of power imbalance, but of caring imbalance.

  4. Ron Hogan says:

    IF it’s the case that authors merely commenting on reviews AT ALL has the effect of chilling discussion, then the proper solution would seem to me NOT that authors should refrain from commenting on reviews, but that reviewers should stop being so easily chilled, especially if they intend to continue publishing their reviews in public.

    In the broadest terms, I wouldn’t encourage authors to either engage readers or not to engage readers; that’s pretty much up to authors to decide for themselves. What I would say is that IF they choose to do so, there are some pretty sensible guidelines on how NOT to go about it.

    This is a very thoughtful post, which raises some excellent questions about reviews and readership and author/reader relationships that I’ve been thinking about since yesterday’s exchanges, and which I intend to write my own post about soon. I’m sure I’ll be linking back to this one when I do.

    • Ridley says:

      “IF it’s the case that authors merely commenting on reviews AT ALL has the effect of chilling discussion, then the proper solution would seem to me NOT that authors should refrain from commenting on reviews, but that reviewers should stop being so easily chilled, especially if they intend to continue publishing their reviews in public.”

      That’s nice, but it’s not how it works. Authors who adhere to Lothlorien’s awful scheme are intimidating readers. That’s why her plan “works.” Looking at those readers and saying “Don’t be intimidated” is silly for two reasons:

      1. They’re probably just going to decide reviewing at all isn’t worth the hassle.
      2. If they’re not intimidated contacting them is a waste of time, since they’ll stand by their review, so Lothlorien’s scheme wouldn’t work.

      So, Lothlorien’s plan is bad no matter how you look at it. In your ideal world, the reviewers with stern moral fiber would be unmoved by her overtures. And here in the real world, her emails take advantage of people’s inclinations to not be “mean” to nice people. It’s either ineffective or unethical. Why hold that up as a model of good behavior?

    • Robin says:

      IF it’s the case that authors merely commenting on reviews AT ALL has the effect of chilling discussion, then the proper solution would seem to me NOT that authors should refrain from commenting on reviews, but that reviewers should stop being so easily chilled, especially if they intend to continue publishing their reviews in public.

      Except that I think you’re ignoring the critical difference between readers and reviewers, which is that the balance of power does NOT typically lie with the reader. And let’s not forget the innumerable authors who vow never to review books because they believe it’s unprofessional or rude to write negatively about other authors’ books. But they’re going to want to comment on reader reviews? That’s, uh, problematic to me, to say the least.

      Now, if authors decided they wanted to enter the discussion *as readers* and review, comment on, and otherwise engage books in the openly critical fashion that readers do (or at least should, IMO), that’s another thing entirely, and it might eventually lead to the kind of democratized environment in which it’s possible for authors to comment on reviews of their books without looking like they’re trying to pressure readers or chill discussion.

      But that’s not where we are, and I think it’s monumentally unfair to, one the one hand, tell readers they should review only the book and not the author, and then, on the other, to put them in a position where they need to think about what the author might say in response to their review when they’re writing it. Not only is it unfair, but it’s also going to lead to a lot fewer reviews from readers who just want to engage with other readers and not take shots from an author, no matter how well-intentioned the author might be.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        “Let’s not forget the innumerable authors who vow never to review books because they believe it’s unprofessional or rude to write negatively about other authors’ books. But they’re going to want to comment on reader reviews?”

        Do you have an example of an author who believes reviewing other people’s books is unprofessional/rude but wants to comment, or does comment, on reader reviews? That seems like a particularly convenient hypothetical beast.

        (People keep mentioning the “balance of power,” and that’s something I’m thinking more carefully about for the future post, so I don’t want you to feel as if I’m ignoring the issue. Just setting it aside until I’ve sorted out my position.)

        I agree that an ideal world would be one in which authors came to reader discussions as engaged readers. But I disagree with the characterization of my position as “[readers] need to think about what the author might say in response to their review when they’re writing it.” It would be more accurate to say readers who review books in public need to BE PREPARED for the possibility that the authors, like anyone else who could read the reviews, might have a response.

      • “It would be more accurate to say readers who review books in public need to BE PREPARED for the possibility that the authors, like anyone else who could read the reviews, might have a response.”

        Sure.

        So what happens, Mr Hogan, when readers who have had a unfortunately encounter with an author over a review? Do they

        a. Change their review style
        b. Warn authors they don’t like author comments
        c. Stop reviewing that author
        d. Stop reviewing?

        I can tell you, as an author, reviewer and friend of many reviewers, it’s either (c) or (d), mostly (d). They’re reviewing to share the love of a book, not to earn money. Whenever an author makes reviewing a hassle – or worse (I wonder if you are *completely* unaware of the climate lately, but if so, I invite you to check out this post – http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/something-is-very-wrong-with-us-and-its-not-bad-reviews/)

        Trust me, the side paying the price of an author deciding that they simply MUST, MUST! comment on a review, regardless of the feelings of the reviewer or the reviewer’s friends and readers, is always the author. And other authors.

        If you’re running around giving advice to authors on handling reader relationships, then you might want to ponder this – your snotty replies to Ridley on Twitter, and your comments here, have lost you at least one potential reader. I’m sure you don’t care, just as I don’t when someone says they’ve blacklisted me for my outspokenness.

        But my business isn’t advising authors on managing reader relationships – it’s yours.

      • Robin says:

        For the most part, authors have been reluctant to comment on reviews, so I’d have to check out the views of the small number who have been doing so in a non-crazy way. But I’ll bet at least some of them follow the author-to-author review ban, because it’s just so well-entrenched.

        But I don’t need to have a sample for my point to be valid, because you know very well that what you’re proposing is a shift from the norm, and in Romance, at least, the norm is that authors don’t like to review other authors’ work. Some — happily — do not accept the status quo, but I have had long discussions with thoughtful, generally progressive authors like Jeannie Lin, for example, on why they believe that reviewing other authors’ books is “unprofessional” (yes, that’s a direct quote from her), impolite, problematic, and otherwise unfriendly. I think that reluctance limits the potential for critical discourse in the community, and I think that within that same mindset, encouraging authors to respond to reviews runs in the same direction, only faster and with more force and immediate effect.

        I also want to point out that many of us who disagree with you represent the most vocal, not easily intimidated reader reviewers. You likely won’t hear from those who aren’t so confident — they’ll just back away from writing reviews at all, at least for books by authors who are known to pursue readers who write critical reviews.

      • Robin says:

        It would be more accurate to say readers who review books in public need to BE PREPARED for the possibility that the authors, like anyone else who could read the reviews, might have a response.

        I thought the way you articulated this on Twitter last night was more palatable — the idea that the author might *see* the review. That the author might have a response is much more in line with what I take issue with — that is, it erodes that very important barrier between author and book.

        I never write a review believing there’s no chance a living author might see it; at the same time, I don’t write reviews anticipating an author’s direct response to me on my review. And that lack of anticipation allows me to be candid for the sake of other readers, my intended audience for the review. And it’s not just about the author being reasonable and sane – it’s about readers having a safe space in which to discuss books without feeling like the author is standing ready to respond to something she/he finds answerable.

        I’ve had the experience of authors commenting on my review in a way that isn’t necessarily antagonistic, but it still curtails discussion, because other readers don’t want to come in and potentially contradict (aka insult) the author. And in the case where the author has a large following, her fans have shown up, not to comment on the review or the book, necessarily, but to show their excitement over the author’s presence.

        It’s amazing how quickly the author’s presence can derail the discussion. It doesn’t always happen that way, of course, but as I said earlier, I think other steps need to be taken before the reader-author environment can accommodate the kind of interaction you’re advocating. Between authors and readers, I think authors bear a greater burden of building trust with readers, where I think you’re unfairly asking readers to bear that burden — and, really, why should we? I mean, if we’re going to push the customer analogy to its logical conclusion, what happened to ‘the customer is always right’?

    • kaetrin says:

      The thing is that it may not be the reviewers who are chilled. (It might be for some, but not all). What is chilled is the discussion. The commenters engaging in discussion about a book. Sure, everyone knows that the author *could* be reading the discussion but we all maintain a polite fiction that he/she is not until and unless the author inserts him/herself into the discussion. Then commenters don’t necessarily feel free to say what they think. These commenters aren’t necessarily reviewers with their own blog. They are merely visiting a blog or review site and engaging in discussion. A book club discussion about a book would be a different discussion if the author were present. We live in a culture where women, particularly, are raised to be “nice”; where “if you can’t find something nice to say, say nothing”. Conversely, saying something negative gets the females labelled a “bitch” (or, the newest craze; a “bully”). For many women, commenting that they didn’t like a book and saying why takes a level of bravery. It goes against the grain and they are easily “put back in their box”. An author who wants that to happen, isn’t one I’m going to be super happy with.

      Personally, I find Lothlorien’s tactics uncomfortable. I wouldn’t change my rating if I were contacted by an author in the way she suggests but you can bet your bottom dollar I’d never read a book of hers ever again and I’d tell all my friends too. She uses the hotel metaphor. In a hotel “how can I make your experience more enjoyable?” is a reasonable question. For a book, it is not. I have already had my experience and the author engaging me on it will not change the experience I have already had.

      Mr. Hogan, you sound like, in a general sense, the advice you’d give to authors is not to be douchebags to readers, so I don’t think we are at entirely opposite ends of the spectrum. But the thing you may not know is that there has been a lot of author-behaving-badly stuff going around of late. A number of bloggers have been personally harrassed – including having their personal details posted online (including where they like to eat and shop and what time). We’re feeling a little sensitive about intimidation tactics right now and the idea that just because we had a public opinion we should become a target is not appealing.

      • Robin says:

        Not to mention the readers who don’t read Lothlorien’s books at all because they don’t want to deal with the hassle (and yes, these readers are out there, but they are not necessarily advertising that — see comment re. hassle above).

        Which is, of course, the whole problem with chilled discussion — you don’t really *see* the chilling because it’s about silence and retreat.

        Obviously readers know authors exist, but as someone put it yesterday on Twitter, we need the “illusion” of total separation to be able to talk honestly and enthusiastically about books. When authors disrupt that illusion in a really assertive — even if “nice” — way, it goes well beyond one review and one discussion. Many readers are simply unused to having their voices be perceived as “authoritative” to the extent that they can voice a response to a novel and have the mere articulation of that perspective be validated by having others engage positively with it. It’s not lack of “moral conviction” that makes them cave to what they perceive to be an author’s pressure — it’s a sense of being overpowered by someone who may likely perceive themselves to be the “authority” on their own book. Another illusion (to literary critics, at least), and one that is going to undermine the confidence of readers who, despite being intelligent and insightful, are not literature critics or professional debaters or vastly experienced with analytical methods or vocabulary. In other words, the majority of people buying and reading books.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        Kaetrin — Yep, there are a LOT of cases of authors behaving badly out there; back when HuffPo’s book section was derelict enough to give the “Stop the GR Bullies” gang a platform, for example, I was pretty vocal about why that was a colossally bad idea. I’m also aware that it’s not always the authors, but sometimes their spouses and/or their fans, who engage in genuinely intimidating tactics.

        Unfortunately, expressing a public opinion DOES expose us and potentially make us targets, and I agree that this isn’t particularly appealing. That’s why I’m a strong advocate of EXTREME personal vigilance when it comes to sharing personal information in any online forum, even the ones that are ostensibly “private,” and I encourage people to report genuinely harassing behavior when they see it or experience it.

        The “polite fiction” is, in fact, one of the concepts I’m turning over in my head repeatedly until I have a fully formed coherent response. As is the “what’s the appropriate consumer metaphor?” question.

      • ” That’s why I’m a strong advocate of EXTREME personal vigilance when it comes to sharing personal information in any online forum, even the ones that are ostensibly “private,” and I encourage people to report genuinely harassing behavior when they see it or experience it.”

        You’re showing your disconnect from reality as experienced by women on line.

        What if you’ve shared your personal information with personal friends, who suddenly stop being friends, 13 years ago? And they decided back then to put your real name and information on line out of a grudge? And that real life information is being passed around now by badly behaving authors to avenge some imaginary wrong? Are we supposed to own a TARDIS and go back in time to stop being friends with that person in the first place?

        Why is the responsibility for not outing personal information placed on the *reader’s* head? How about a little opprobrium for the person doing the outing? You sound like Wull Shetterley arguing that because the information is out there, it’s fair game to use it to cause as much trouble as possible. The idea that women – people – have a right to privacy doesn’t seem to enter your head – nor does the idea that women pay a disproportionate price for their information being misused. If you can’t wrap your head around the idea of why readers might be intimidated by authors throwing their weight around, maybe it’s because you haven’t considered this blog is run by a Romance reader, and the Romance community is largely female. You would get a completely different response if you went somewhere women are largely already silenced by male intimidation – such as a science fiction blog/community. But here, with this lot, you’re taking a stance which is directly hostile to women who have experienced the reality of author backlash. Women who have been outed, threatened, abused and intimidated.

        Don’t blame the victim, Mr Hogan. Blame the perpetrators. Otherwise you are part of the problem

      • willaful says:

        “What is chilled is the discussion. ”

        I’ve had authors comment on my reviews several times, or reply to me in discussion threads about their books. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but the authors were always extremely polite, sometimes even very complimentary. And they always stopped the discussion STONE COLD DEAD.

  5. Las says:

    I think it’s possible–theoretically–for authors to respond to reviews and it being a positive experience for all involved (though authors should know if they have the skills to pull that off, and let’s be real, most of them don’t, so one should never assume she’s the exception). So I’ll temporarily make the leap to “reviewers should stop being so easily chilled, especially if they intend to continue publishing their reviews in public.” Fine, you’re right, reader are ridiculous for being put off by authors who respond to reviews. Congratulations, you’ve proven your moral and intellectual superiority. So…now what? Is that going to change how readers feel when an author responds to reviews? Probably not. So, even though you’re right, you’re going to alienate readers every time you respond to a review; you’re going to piss of the very people you need to not piss off if you’re trying to make money by writing. And THAT is really damn stupid. Even more stupid than you think those readers are.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      If THAT is really the case, perhaps none of us should ever write, or say, or really do anything at all, lest we alienate somebody, somewhere.

      Instead, I reject the premise that “you’re going to alienate readers every time you respond to a review” because it assumes that readers are all alike, which I’m reasonably certain is not the case. Will you alienate some readers, some of the time? Quite possibly. That may well, however, be an acceptable risk.

      Also, “stupid” is not how I would describe people who are intimidated by hearing from the creators of the works they’ve written about. “Insecure” would be more accurate — and, yes, I would agree with you that authors who respond to readers OUT OF INSECURITY are not doing themselves any favors. (I would never agree with you, though, that authors, or anybody for that matter, should decline to attempt something simply because most people aren’t good at it. Again, if that were the case, why bother doing anything?)

      • Las says:

        It’s business. If you’re an author who insists on responding to reviews when you’ve read all over the place that readers don’t like it, you’re a lousy business person, and you’re also kind of an ass. Why would you do something you know makes people uncomfortable? And please spare me some over-the-top comparison about how if I have that attitude about books I might as well have that attitude about whatever else that might make people uncomfortable.

        What possible reason would an author have for commenting on a negative review of her work other than out of insecurity?

  6. Janet W says:

    I agree with this comment by Ron Hogan: “Instead, I reject the premise that “you’re going to alienate readers every time you respond to a review” because it assumes that readers are all alike, which I’m reasonably certain is not the case. Will you alienate some readers, some of the time? Quite possibly. That may well, however, be an acceptable risk.”

    Clearly many authors feel it is an acceptable risk. Let me share the place where I find authorial intrusion most unacceptable–on Goodreads. If a reviewer reviews an author’s book and the author disagrees with the interpretation and decides to pleasantly share background clarification to illuminate the reviewer’s understanding, that will always alienate me. Always. Politeness has nothing to do with it. But some readers like the author interaction. I don’t. The author is trying to change the way readers feel about his or her book. I don’t like that, not at Goodreads. If a lot of readers are, in your authorial opinion, “mis-interpreting” your book, find another way to change hearts and minds. Maybe blog about it. But leave the review space alone. My experience with a book is mine. If I choose to review it, that too is up to me.

    So I suppose authors, like all of us, need to make their best informed decisions. Just know that for many readers, this is indeed a bright line that they don’t want crossed and authors who do, no matter how charming or personable, risk leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.

  7. Ridley says:

    An author contacting an Amazon user who reviewed her book is like someone making eye contact with strangers on the streets of Boston and saying hello. It violates the social contract and is downright creepy.

    Telling readers to accept this unwanted contact is like telling Bostonians to be friendlier. It’s a waste of time, and makes you no less creeptastic.

    • I think every person I’ve read who’s objected to authors responding to them has been a woman, and that’s not a coincidence. Women have, by necessity, a pretty sensitive creep meter, because creeps too often equate to threats. So we’re going to be a lot more hostile to creepiness in our personal space – and comments on a review anywhere but a professional setting are going to be in our personal space – than men are.

      I don’t think Ron Hogan or most men understand how differently women perceive the online world. Unfortunately, they don’t listen either when we tell them how we do perceive it.

      • Ros says:

        “Unfortunately, they don’t listen either when we tell them how we do perceive it.”

        Or they listen and tell us patronisingly that we are perceiving it wrongly and just need to grow a thicker skin. Thanks, guys.

  8. kaetrin says:

    The other thing I don’t get is WHY an author would want to stifle the discussion on one of their reviews.The kiss of death for an author is nobody talking about their book. The reviewers and commenters are telling authors that author intrusion into the review space (as opposed to other social interaction, which is fine) stifles the discussion. By shutting down the discussion the author is stopping people talking about their book. Even negative reviews generate sales. What stops sales is silence and bad author behaviour. Author intrusion into the review space at best causes one and at worst, exhibits the other.

  9. sonomalass says:

    Whether we’re right or not to object to the author joining in a discussion, the fact is that many reader who write about books do feel that way. To ride rough-shod over those feelings is not the way to engage readers positively or encourage discourse.

    I’ve heard it said by many authors that the worst thing that can happen to your book is for people not to be talking about it. So I’d think avoiding behavior that chills discussion and makes people less likely to want to review your books is kind of a no-brainer in terms of PR.

    I wish someone would set up a space (maybe specific areas of Goodreads, since they seem so determined to service authors) where readers are invited to discuss books with the authors, and where the ground rules clearly include the participation of the books’ author. Then readers who want that could get it, and authors who want to engage readers about their opinions could do so, and the rest of us could watch and see what happens. Who knows, if it wasn’t a train wreck, maybe it would catch on?

    • “I wish someone would set up a space (maybe specific areas of Goodreads, since they seem so determined to service authors) where readers are invited to discuss books with the authors, and where the ground rules clearly include the participation of the books’ author.”

      Isn’t that what author blogs and Facebook/Twitter are for?

    • Ridley says:

      Goodreads runs live chats with authors and also encourages authors to set up groups where readers can come by to chat about their books. Both have been pretty successful, the live chats especially so.

      But this isn’t about interacting with readers, really. This is about gaming a review/rating system. Why else would Lothlorien hold up the changed star ratings as her evidence that her scheme works? What do more stars in a rating really show here?

      • VacuousMinx says:

        Ah, yes, the successful author groups. The ones I know best are successful precisely because they are gathering places for fans of the author but the conversation ranges more widely than just the author’s book.

    • VacuousMinx says:

      The problem is that authors don’t want “special” spaces, because too many readers won’t go there. They want to go into communal spaces, as authors, and talk to readers.

      Goodreads has a few groups that are author-reader groups. I don’t think they’re all that popular, and they are highly susceptible to being sidetracked by promo, or by issues that authors care about but readers don’t.

      Amazon has the “Meet Our Authors” board, which was a response to readers complaining that authors wouldn’t stop self-promoting in the reader threads. But very few readers go into the MOA threads because it’s all author promotion.

      • Ros says:

        I like things like the Smart Bitches book club. You know the author will be there. You know you can chat about the book with her for that hour. But the rest of the time it’s a reader space.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Yes, I enjoy interacting with authors. I enjoy talking with authors about other people’s books (i.e. talking to them as readers). Sometimes I enjoy talking to them about their own books. But that is not in the context of a review–there are some things I, personally, would choose not to say in that kind of fannish conversation. I think context matters a lot–it creates expectations about who will participate and how.

      • kaetrin says:

        Yes. I would ask the author about upcoming books or where she got her inspiration or perhaps something about a character’s backstory during a discussion where the author was present.

        I would not feel comfortable saying that I didn’t like the asshat hero or that I thought the heroine was TSTL in such a discussion. I would say it without the author present if that’s what I thought in a reader discussion but it just seems rude to say it when you *know* the author is there. Others might not but that’s me.

  10. VacuousMinx says:

    When I first started reviewing at DA, I made it clear that authors were welcome to comment on reviews. I wasn’t bothered by it and there is a lot of author participation overall there. But it became apparent to me that a lot of DA’s audience did *not* want authors responding to reviews. So in this case, it wasn’t that the reviewer minded, but that the target audience of the review, which comprised readers, did. So now I follow the norm and when authors ask me about commenting, I tell them it’s not a good idea because it alters the conversation in ways many readers don’t like. Let me repeat: my target audience for reviews at DA is DA’s reader audience, not the author of the book I’m reviewing. So what the readers want is the policy I follow.

    On Goodreads, though, I agree with Janet. However much GR wants to become an author service site, they need readers to feel comfortable to keep getting content. And readers there want to talk to each other, not to the authors of the books they’re talking about.

  11. Liz Mc2 says:

    Thanks so much for all the thoughtful comments (don’t stop!). I can’t keep up, and it’s not like you need me to weigh in on them individually.

    The power question is a really interesting one. I think many self- or small-published authors, maybe even many NY-published authors, do not feel empowered when it comes to reviews. They are desperate for attention for their books, and reader reviews are one of the few places they can get that. They see a negative review as having the power to kill a nascent career (probably out of all proportion to actualy power).

    But many, many readers feel deferential to the author as the “expert” on the book. That perceived power is, in my mind, as important as real power. I have the weight of a PhD in English and 25 years of a firm belief in the (theoretical) Death of the Author behind me, and I am not going to give the author’s reading of her book any more authority than mine has. Moreover, I am comfortable with the idea that my reading is one among many–there’s no right way to read a book–so if someone’s opinion differs from mine, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong and I’m not particularly defensive. But plenty of reader-reviewers don’t have that confidence.

  12. Ron Hogan says:

    “What if you’ve shared your personal information with personal friends, who suddenly stop being friends, 13 years ago? And they decided back then to put your real name and information on line out of a grudge? And that real life information is being passed around now by badly behaving authors to avenge some imaginary wrong?”

    If “badly behaving authors” are engaging in genuinely harassing behavior, they should be criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent possible in the relevant jurisdictions and held up to public ridicule as appropriate.

    No, I wouldn’t agree with the position that any and all accessible information is “fair game.” What I WOULD agree with is the idea that people should use the same sensible, reasonable precautions online they use in the offline world, because they’re all the real world.

    My impression, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you and other commenters are consistently shifting the conversation to the worst-case scenarios and then conflating those obviously inexcusable behaviors with ALL contact from authors, declaring that (some/many/most) readers therefore find ALL contact from authors intimidating, and concluding that because SOME authors are jackasses who don’t know how to conduct themselves properly, ALL authors should refrain from contacting their authors.

    I think we can all stipulate that some authors are jackasses and that some authors and their fans engage in harassing behavior. But I disagree that ALL authors should always refrain from contacting readers because those stipulated conditions lead some readers to find all authors intimidating.

    And, since I probably haven’t made this clear, I would never encourage authors to either contact or not contact readers. I WOULD encourage them to think carefully about it before they make a decision, and that would include gauging the likelihood of the reader to have the type of reactions you describe and then considering whether it’s worth the risk.

    • Ros says:

      Okay. I would encourage you to stop SHOUTING when you leave comments here. It makes my ears hurt so I don’t listen to anything else you say.

      I would also really, really encourage you to start listening to what people are reporting as their experiences, especially as women in the online world, and respect that they know better than you do about those experiences.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        If you would like to suggest an alternative form of emphasizing individual words that doesn’t make your ears hurt, I’ll think about it. It is certainly not my intention to alienate any synaesthetic readers.

        I am, in fact, listening to what people here are saying about their experiences. The fact that I disagree with some of you about the most effective ways to deal with (or to prevent) those experiences, or about what we should expect of every author in the world because of those experiences, does not mean that I am not taking those experiences into consideration.

      • kaetrin says:

        italics works at the start and then the same but with a / before the i to finish.

        Or, you could *emphasise* with asterisks.

        It’s not what we “expect from every author of the world”. It’s what we’d like. Smart authors would listen to that. It’s one of the ways we identify the ones we don’t want anything to do with. We’re only talking about invading the reviewer space. Most of us have author friends and interact with them either personally or on social networks. That sort of interaction can be a lot of fun.

      • kaetrin says:

        I see that example of html coding didn’t work. back to my day job…

        Go with the asterisks Ron!

    • Ridley says:

      My impression, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you and other commenters are consistently shifting the conversation to the worst-case scenarios and then conflating those obviously inexcusable behaviors with ALL contact from authors, declaring that (some/many/most) readers therefore find ALL contact from authors intimidating, and concluding that because SOME authors are jackasses who don’t know how to conduct themselves properly, ALL authors should refrain from contacting their authors.

      Pretty sure we’d just been telling you that authors commenting on reviews violated the social contract and therefore runs the gamut of being merely awkward or being massively creepy, but whatever.

      Some people in Boston will smile back and say hello if you approach them. I wouldn’t cite that as evidence to suggest you give it a try yourself. A smile or two hardly seems worth everyone else thinking you’re a creeper.

      • kaetrin says:

        …authors commenting on reviews violated the social contract and therefore runs the gamut of being merely awkward or being massively creepy

        Yes.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        What I’d say is that in a climate where a number of authors have “lost their shit” in really unpleasant ways, those readers who are aware of those stories absolutely do perceive any comment from an author on a review as potentially threatening and unpleasant. These interactions are not happening in a vacuum or a neutral space. That is what Ann means when she says some authors are ruining it for everyone.

    • “If “badly behaving authors” are engaging in genuinely harassing behavior, they should be criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent possible in the relevant jurisdictions and held up to public ridicule as appropriate.”

      Oh gosh, why *ever* didn’t I think of that?

      After all, it’s *never* the case that publishing private information doesn’t rise to the level of criminal harassment, or that the cost of issuing a subpoena put the action out of reach for all but the well-off (this artist was quoted $5000, for example http://skepchick.org/2012/10/sifting-through-lies-and-moving-forward/)

      And it’s also *always* the case that law enforcement agencies when contacted, take harassment seriously, and when they do, they can always make it stop before anyone gets hurt. Yep, that would be the case, every time.

      “My impression, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you and other commenters are consistently shifting the conversation to the worst-case scenarios and then conflating those obviously inexcusable behaviors with ALL contact from authors, declaring that (some/many/most) readers therefore find ALL contact from authors intimidating, and concluding that because SOME authors are jackasses who don’t know how to conduct themselves properly, ALL authors should refrain from contacting their authors.”

      MY impression is that a good number of people here have given you the benefit of their real world advice and experiences, and you continue to condescend and talk over them.

      The “worst-case scenario” is happening all the time, to lots of people, all of them women. If you don’t know that, you’re not paying attention. Women – readers, reviewers, ordinary unpaid consumers – get attacked personally routinely for criticising creators, and all too often those attacks lead to situations which put them or their loved ones in danger.

      I am *not* talking hypothetically, which you would know if you were listening.

      As an author, I know from personal experience that even reviewers who are friendly to me, don’t want me commenting on their reviews. They don’t want to have their space dominated by author voices, even those of people they like. I know from reading the experiences of many reviewers and authors, that this is a pretty constant feeling.

      I also know that that this feeling of wanting freedom is now compounded by an intense fear of being attacked by a crazy person – and of that crazy person doing pretty much whatever the fuck they please, without any legal sanction possible or feasible. Ridicule only encourages them.

      But hey, what do I know? I’m just a woman online. Obviously my views are of no importance to you.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        I have acknowledged both the existence of serious online harassment AND the importance of doing something about it, so your continued insistence that I’m not taking that problem seriously seems unhelpful. You clearly disagree with my positions on how to deal with that serious problem, but dismissing those positions because I’m a man, or implying that I disagree with yours because you’re a woman, doesn’t seem like it will lead anywhere useful. (But I’m not singling you out for that, as a few other people have made similar comments.)

        Your point about some harassers thriving on ridicule is well noted, and I suppose I could counter that perhaps the appropriate response to such people would be shunning, but since we already agree that online harassment is serious and should be treated seriously, I really don’t see much point in going over the fine details any further.

        There are some much more frutiful lines of discussion elsewhere in these comments, and I’ll do my best to check in on those Tuesday.

      • “so your continued insistence that I’m not taking that problem seriously seems unhelpful”

        Oh you take it seriously – when you believe it’s happening. The problem seems to be that you don’t believe anything that doesn’t fit your own (peculiar) definition of abuse, attack or harassment, is worth worrying about. You think that calling your wife a ‘screaming arsehole’ isn’t an attack. Most of us would disagree – after all, if you called someone that in a pub, you’d end up with a broken nose. And more than that, this kind of rhetoric can and does end up with the reviewer receiving death threats (look up the case of Emily Giffin if you don’t believe me).

        “You clearly disagree with my positions on how to deal with that serious problem”

        Maybe because I’d had to deal with it, and you haven’t? Just a thought?

        “but dismissing those positions because I’m a man, or implying that I disagree with yours because you’re a woman, doesn’t seem like it will lead anywhere useful.”

        Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Because that immediately invalidates my opinion, which serves you best

        “(But I’m not singling you out for that, as a few other people have made similar comments.)”

        Fancy that. I can’t *imagine* why. But clearly *we’re* all wrong, and you’re right. Even though we’re a group of people who have experienced direct harassment from authors, and you’re dealing with second hand abuse (which you don’t even believe is an attack – your wife must be a saint. Or perhaps she’s just used to it.)

        “There are some much more frutiful lines of discussion elsewhere in these comments, and I’ll do my best to check in on those Tuesday.”

        I bet those owners of vaginas you deem worthy of your masculine attention will be just *thrilled* to receive it. Get ready, girls! Tomorrow we find out which one of you won first prize!

        As for me, you’ve become too tedious a troll to be bothered with any longer. You’re a patronising sod, and your opinion is worth what I would pay for it. Which is to say, not a bloody thing.

    • Robin says:

      My impression, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you and other commenters are consistently shifting the conversation to the worst-case scenarios and then conflating those obviously inexcusable behaviors with ALL contact from authors, declaring that (some/many/most) readers therefore find ALL contact from authors intimidating, and concluding that because SOME authors are jackasses who don’t know how to conduct themselves properly, ALL authors should refrain from contacting their authors.

      Actually, a number of us have commented on positive interactions we’ve had with authors online, even in the context of reviews. We’ve accepted that authors can have good intentions and can comment in non-aggressive, even reader-winning ways.

      None of which changes the fact that we all recognize a climate issue that we are trying to explain, and you keep resisting. Which, of course, if your prerogative. But you’re hearing from a relatively diverse groups of women who represent a number of different online nodes, and we’re all reporting similar views — not just our own (and in some cases, not our own at all) — that there is a broad resistance to authorial intervention in a review environment. We’ve tried to explain why that is — how it’s related in part to extreme situations, and in part to real or perceived power differentials, and in part to trust issues, and even some gender issues — and none of us is advocating the equivalent of the Berlin Wall between authors and readers. We’re talking time, place and manner, basically.

      I think it would be fantastic if authors could talk with readers about their own books in a non-contentious, non-self-conscious way, but as I’ve said a couple of times, I think we’re a few substantial steps away from that. I think there are some great discussions to be had about what it would take to build that kind of mutually-trusting climate, but as it stands, there are many readers who would not see advocating author intervention into the review space as welcome in the current environment, nor likely to move us any closer to that mutually-trusting ideal.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        “Actually, a number of us have commented on positive interactions we’ve had with authors online, even in the context of reviews.”

        When I said “you and other commenters,” I was not being all-inclusive.

        I really like a lot of what you’ve said here, and I would agree with you that there’s a lot of progress to be made in author/reader relations.

        I think one of the widest disagreements here is that while I would absolutely agree with many of you that authors ought — for the sake of both courtesy and practical wisdom — to respect metaphorical “Readers Club No Writers Allowed” signs on the metaphorical fences around “safe spaces for readers” where they exist, we appear to be placing those signs and those fences in different places — or, in some cases, demanding that their existence being implicitly assumed.

      • Robin says:

        I think one of the widest disagreements here is that while I would absolutely agree with many of you that authors ought — for the sake of both courtesy and practical wisdom — to respect metaphorical “Readers Club No Writers Allowed” signs on the metaphorical fences around “safe spaces for readers” where they exist, we appear to be placing those signs and those fences in different places — or, in some cases, demanding that their existence being implicitly assumed.

        I think there’s also disagreement about who has the right to draw those boundaries. I get the sense that you feel readers need to be pushed to a different (better) place, or at least that there’s a burden on readers to have the same “professional” behaviors in regard to their public book discussions as authors do about work they commercially produce and profit from. While I agree with you that we all need to be aware that anything we say in public can be challenged, I think authors have a greater burden in the reader-author exchange, at least when they’re in their authorial persona.

  13. kaetrin says:

    Didn’t this whole discussion start when Mr. Hogan’s wife was attacked by an author over a review?

    • Ron Hogan says:

      My wife would be the first person to say she was not “attacked” by an author over her review. An author made an insulting comment to my wife about her review. Rather than feel intimidated by it, she told him that he was being pouty and insecure, at which point he became condescending and rude.

      So I wrote a blog post about why it’s a bad idea for authors to be condescending and rude to their readers, and how if you’re going ro respond to your readers’ reviews, there are more appropriate ways to go about it.

      As they’ve been described here in comprehensive detail, I understand the underlying dynamics that lead you to describe what that author did as an “attack,” but that’s not what it was. To be honest, as I grapple with this subject, I wonder if describing this merely obnoxious behavior as an “attack” TRIVIALIZES the genuinely reprehensible harassment.

      • From Websters on-line:

        Attack.
        1: to set upon or work against forcefully
        2: to assail with unfriendly or bitter words
        3: to begin to affect or to act on injuriously
        4: to set to work on
        5: to threaten (a piece in chess) with immediate capture

        Since ‘to assail with unfriendly words’ is the second meaning of ‘attack’, this seems an exact and appropriate way to describe what happened.

        You set up a straw man so you can accuse others of over-reacting. Bad show.

  14. Liz Mc2 says:

    Maybe I should have called this post “Hey Author, Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You.” Because I think what we readers are saying is that in almost every case, we would prefer to initiate contact with an author rather than vice versa. Maybe that seems unfair to people. But I don’t think an author can go wrong respecting that wish.

  15. sonomalass says:

    I can’t say for sure how I’d feel about this issue if no authors had behaved badly — because they have, and not just recently. Some authors (dead ones, even) whose works I really admire were known for ranting about their reviews, or belittling the concept of reviews in general (always seemed defensive to me). If the book sold well but got poor critical reviews, it was “listen to the readers.” If the critics loved it but that didn’t mean a lot of people wanted to buy it, then the readers were plebeians with poor taste. So this kind of thing isn’t new; it’s just that today’s online world makes it easier for readers to share their views with each other, and it also makes our opinions easier for authors to find, if they are so inclined.

    Maybe my problem is coming from an academic background, where texts are studied and discussed by a lot of people, but never the author. Sometimes I have found that the author’s biography informs something about her or his work, but generally I have found that the study of what they author “meant” to say is less interesting and less relevant than exploring what the text *does* say to different readers. But that sort of separation between author and text is a lot harder to do if the author is “in the room,” as it were, and I think most readers would have a hard time not just conceding to the author as the voice of authority on her or his own work. I’m sure it’s possible to have a discussion with the author contributing what she or he meant and the readers discussing whether the book worked that way for them or not, where the exchange of ideas would be enlightening to all involved and no one would feel stifled or misunderstood, but it wouldn’t be easy, and the derailment potential would be extremely high.

    Even my favorite ever example of an author joining in the conversation about her book shows the problem, and that’s the infamous Pregnesia review on Smart Bitches. The author’s response was classy and funny, but it also pretty much derailed any discussion of the book.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      The Pregnesia example shows what authors *can* get out of engaging, of course. It was a PR win because, as you say, it made the conversation at least as much about her classiness as about the book and the problems with it. This kind of derailing did, in fact, benefit the author and her “brand.” Frank conversation among readers still lost out. The more of that there is, the more likely some readers will take their conversations private, and that will be a loss for everyone.

    • VacuousMinx says:

      My experience at DA (which had nothing to do with extreme bad author behavior, quite the reverse) occurred well before any of the blowups of the past year. So while I completely agree that the environment has been deeply and adversely affected by the recent unpleasantness, this antipathy to author intrusion in conversations about reviews is of long standing and held by a range of reader types.

      My academic experience is somewhat different. Not only do I regularly deal with the works of living authors, those authors are sometimes in the room. One of my first advanced seminars in graduate school had the author’s work presented by a discussant rather than the author herself, and then the author responded briefly and the discussion took off from there. We still use that model for some seminars and conferences. It can be odd at first, but everyone gets used to it and most authors and discussants behave well.

      But that’s kind of beside the point, because this is most emphatically not an academic setting. Our reviews are for each other (including authors as fellow readers, but not the reviewed author). If authors insist on entering conversations with readers who do not want them to be there, those authors will be reviewed by those readers less often, and as Kaetrin says above, the conversations will diminish. What author really wants that?

  16. Liz Mc2 says:

    I find it somewhat ironic that Ron Hogan, who argues that if you don’t want people to respond you should not publish your ideas, does not allow comments on his site. Granted, as we can all see, he is happy to debate his ideas elsewhere. But this seems an inconsistent position.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      I don’t see any inconsistency in believing that (a) people have a right to respond to what I write, while (b) I don’t have an obligation to provide them a platform to do it.

      I chose to drop comments from my site a long time ago because I found the time spent administrating comments was better spent on other things. I accept that my decision came with a potential loss of reader interaction, and I’m okay with the trade-off that’s resulted. I’ve found that if people want to talk about what I’ve written, they have a lot of places to do it; it’s even possible to contact me directly.

  17. GrowlyCub says:

    So, here’s a guy who gives advice to authors (many of whom are women) about how to interact with their readers who in the case of romance are in the majority women, too. And then readers and reviewers who were all women in this case, tell him why his advice is bad. So what’s his reaction? *All* the women are wrong, because their opinion doesn’t jive with his advice. So instead of listening and learning and giving better advice to the authors who pay him for it, he insists it’s the readers/women who are wrong and need to change.

    Except, guess what? That won’t happen and his advice won’t sell books, so he’s giving really, really, *really* bad advice and the authors who pay him for it will learn that eventually, possibly after their careers have been derailed by his incompetence. If it weren’t so damn sad, it’d be funny as shit. On the other hand, I have zero empathy for authors who are too stupid to live by paying a guy for his bad advice. So, I get to spend money on books by authors who aren’t dumber than door nails and said authors benefit. Survival of the fittest!

    • Ron Hogan says:

      Your characterization assumes that I tell EVERY author I work with that they should contact readers if they want to understand why those readers gave them a negative review, which I have never argued.

      What I DO tell authors is that if they choose, after careful deliberation, to contact readers about their negative reviews, there are guidelines about what they should and shouldn’t do during those exchanges.

      Clearly, it is worth explaining to authors that there some readers have so little respect for authors that they view even polite messages from authors with suspicion, distrust, and hostility, as several of you have demonstrated here.

      • ” it is worth explaining to authors that there some readers have so little respect for authors that they view even polite messages from authors with suspicion, distrust, and hostility, as several of you have demonstrated here.”

        I bet you never explain that you personally are incapable of intruding your person into a female-friendly space without alienating everyone in it.

        Or that the kind of author who believes they are the exception to the widely given advice (by actual professionals even!) not to comment on reviews, is likely to be the kind of special snowflake who goes around telling people that it’s not the author who’s clumsy, rude or patronising (or obviously pushing an agenda which is worth money to him), but those nasty bitches who just hate all authors. (Even when they’re authors themselves.)

        Oh, and you never announced who won your Best Vagina In Show award. I bet those who fancied themselves above the hoi polloi are just crushed.

      • GrowlyCub says:

        The problem isn’t that I don’t have respect for authors. I respect authors who treat their readers with respect. When the community tells them it’s a bad idea to respond to reviews, they respect that and don’t insert themselves where they are doing themselves a disservice.

        Authors are trying to sell readers their books. They are the ones with a lot to lose. So for you to give them bad advice, which will lead to ill will toward them and to lost sales can in no way, shape or form be considered a smart decision – either on your part or theirs for following your advice. As an advocate for authors and a self-proclaimed authority one would have assumed you’d even consider 1 lost sale one too many. Obviously not.

  18. When my first book came out, I felt it was my duty to reply with a “thanks for the review” to each review of it I read (there was at least one I did not read). I did engage in one discussion, but I felt as if I’d been invited to respond that time. Also, at the time I didn’t feel the divide between “reader” and “writer” very keenly within myself, and still don’t. It takes deliberate thought sometimes to behave as a Writer in a social situation.

    However, by my third book, I was responding much less – first, there are the issues Liz mentions above, about chilling discussion, and I’d read more about those issues by then, and second, it’s one more thing to do. In place of the direct acknowledgment, I think it might be a better idea to simply provide a link to the review. Posting a link fulfills some of the social media “requirement” of having Things to Say, and also gives the reviewer more potential readers, hopefully without seeming interfering or pressuring; plus it satisfies my urge to thank them for bothering.

    The exception, for me, is always people I know fairly well, either on- or off-line, and consider friends; ignoring their reviews seems rude. Sometimes, the link just doesn’t feel sufficient.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I do think context really matters–e.g. whether the author has a relationship with the reviewer. Getting a comment from an author “friend” is really different from having a complete stranger engage you about your opinion of her work.

  19. jillsorenson says:

    I understand Hogan’s point of view–it’s common among authors. Most of us think we’re the exception to the “don’t comment” rule. We can discuss any number of topics without losing our cool or insulting readers. In cases like Pregnesia, authors are praised up and down for being good sports. “She’s so classy! I’m buying all of her books.” This doesn’t look like bad marketing from our end.

    To be honest, I’ve worried that *not* responding to a review, especially at a blog I frequent or have contributed to, will seem impolite. I don’t want anyone to think I’m miffed.

    I’ve also had good experiences with commenting on reviews. A reviewer at Amazon once criticized my teen character’s views on homeschooling and corrected the way I used the term. I thanked her for the correction and explained that my characters’ words/views are not the same as mine. I don’t think homeschoolers are religious wackos, for example. This reviewer wasn’t intimidated by my response, as far as I know. She didn’t change her grade, but I think she came away with a more positive feeling about me as a person.

    Other points in favor of commenting. Some reviewers are flattered by the attention and will be more likely to buy your next book if you make a personal connection. Chilling a discussion is no problem when 1. there is no discussion, as with the vast majority of online reviews and 2. that discussion is a pile-on of mocking/unfavorable comments.

    The pros of commenting might outweigh the cons, at least for me as an author. The reason I don’t comment anymore is that I value the community more than a slight personal gain that is impossible to quantify. I value the discussion, negative or positive, over my feelings, which aren’t hurt in any case. I value the opinions of those who say I shouldn’t comment. These are smart women who know what they’re talking about. I value a reader’s space, her privacy, and her right to share her thoughts without my intrusion.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Thanks for commenting, Jill (glad you were not intimidated into silence by all the readers saying they hate comments). Maybe I should add something to my About page saying that I don’t like authors to comment on their reviews! After all, as you say, not all readers feel the same way about this. One problem is that places like Amazon or Goodreads don’t give a review’s author any control over the interaction.

      To me, it makes a difference, as Robin said above, that you also review. Not all readers would know that, of course. But I think it makes you aware of ways to enter a conversation that don’t feel chilling, and it creates a level playing field where we are all people talking about books. For the most part, that level playing field does not exist online, and I think that is why authors commenting on their reviews so often feels problematic.

  20. The obvious is being overlooked. Silencing a conversation or a reviewer who does not like your book is the entire point. There is no benefit to Ron Hogan (or anyone) openly admitting that the goal is not really interaction. Authors who manipulate their reviews will never gain my respect or readership. Those authors have decided that is a small price to pay for the perceived benefit of inflated rankings. Their speech is more important than your speech. It is against Hogan’s self interest to admit this, so he has to frame his conversation in shoulds instead of in is. He cannot do anything but continue to argue that the reality should not be what it is, because to concede undermines his, and the author’s, perceived self interest. One reviewer writes a review. A handful of readers end a discussion. How many others see the changed review with no knowledge of the history? Hogan & the authors are making a cost benefit judgement that considers a percent of the review and readership expendable. They should be honest about that. Cost of doing business, you know.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      You know, I feel conflicted on this, because I believe in a vibrant critical culture, and that does mean readers need to be willing to stand up for their views. Such a culture does not have to prohibit authors entering the discussion. But right now, at least in Romance where authors by and large do NOT review or only comment positively on others’ books, we don’t have that culture. And as long as authors are entering the conversation primarily with an eye to self-promotion, changing/correcting readers’ views, or making readers “feel good” about the author, then their interventions into the discussion are not promoting frank debate, and overall I agree that the effect is both chilling and is meant to be. I think the quote from Elle Lothlorien makes that crystal clear, though of course she does not put it, and probably does not see it, in those terms.

      • But right now, at least in Romance where authors by and large do NOT review or only comment positively on others’ books, we don’t have that culture. And as long as authors are entering the conversation primarily with an eye to self-promotion, changing/correcting readers’ views, or making readers “feel good” about the author, then their interventions into the discussion are not promoting frank debate, and overall I agree that the effect is both chilling and is meant to be.

        This definitely caught my eye and I definitely agree! I’m sorting out how to respond to it since it feels so loaded for me. Will probably return in order to do so. :)

      • Ros says:

        You know I more or less stopped reviewing about 12 months ago. It was actually a little bit before I got published and not related to that at the time. But since I’ve been published I have been wary of returning to the review blog. I think now is the time for me to start reviewing again, as honestly as I did before. I never reviewed every book I read and I won’t now, but I will review a mix of books that I loved and books that I didn’t. I’m going to do it on my main blog, not on the old review blog. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I always enjoy your reviews, so I’d love this. I understand why the culture of Romance makes it seem (and maybe be) very risky. It’s hard to be one of a handful trying to take the first steps into a different kind of culture. But I do think it could be valuable to have authors participating more in a culture of open discussion.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      “Silencing a conversation or a reviewer who does not like your book is the entire point.”

      That statement, and everything that follows from it, makes you sound like you have a problem believing that people are capable of acting in good faith. Your admitted unwillingness to trust authors indicates to me that it would indeed be impossible for an author to have a meaningful dialogue with you or anybody else who shares your view of human nature.

      • Robin says:

        I absolutely believe that you are acting in good faith in regard to your role in consulting authors. I mean, at the most base level, it would be against your self-interest to give bad or counter-productive advice, so for me it’s illogical to see your intentions as against the reader-author relationship.

        Given your most recent tweets, however, I feel that you are deliberately misunderstanding a number of the points made in both Liz’s post and the comments, and that you are conflating the knowledge that the reviewer has of the author’s existence and potential reading of the review and directly responding to reviewers, especially in the reviewing space. Moreover, I don’t think anyone here has suggested that the entirety of the public space is at issue here — we’ve all been pretty careful to differentiate and to recognize that context is key. You’re obviously welcome to ignore us, of course, but I think if you’re advising authors to pursue readers regarding their reviews, you’re going to see some harsh backlash, and for reasons that are far more legitimate than I feel you’ve been characterizing them (at least on Twitter).

      • The irony, it burns.

        I’m actually a reviewer that does not find author commenting on my reviews problematic, nor do I change my reviews based on them. I’ll leave my authors to decide if their discussions with me are beneficial or if they have some self harming fetish I’m unaware of.

        Looking clearly at issues of interaction, power, effect and the like doesn’t indicate a lack of faith in human nature or anything at all about me. It does demonstrate that plain speaking is hard for some people to engage in, if they are reviewing or not.

  21. sonomalass says:

    I feel for authors in the current social media craziness, I really do. I have a friend who has her first romance coming out this month, and just watching her try to figure out what to post where, and how often, to maximize her book’s positive exposure, is exhausting. We’re all still figuring this out, and most of us are going to make mistakes, readers and authors alike.

    This was turning into a really long comment, because I put on my “communication professor” hat. I’ve deleted those ruminations and will let them ruminate a little longer before making them into a blog post of my own, linked back to this conversation, of course.

  22. Ron Hogan says:

    “I think if you’re advising authors to pursue readers regarding their reviews…”

    That’s a broad oversimplification of my position, as I’ve indicated elsewhere.

    I would obviously not include you, Robin, among those people who have openly declared they are ready to treat ALL authors with suspicion and distrust. But clearly such people exist.

    • Robin says:

      As some of us have tried to explain, it’s not merely a question of suspicion and distrust (and the distrust is not a function of disrespect, which I feel is what you’re implying). It’s a complex climate issue (and as someone who works on campus climate and speech issues in higher education, I’ve spent way too much time thinking about these issues), such that even when an author moves into the review space with the best of intentions and the least aggressive self-representation, it can chill reader discussion. Is that ideal? No. Is it what I’d like to see in the community? No. But it does not necessarily represent a lack of respect for the author (in fact, sometimes it’s *precisely the opposite* — that is, an overestimation of the author’s power and authority), nor a lack of moral conviction on the reader’s part. Those aspects of your comments have disturbed me the most, because, well, among other things they feel disrespectful and condescending, especially since the discussion here has at least begun to parse the factors at work in creating the current climate.

      My own advice to authors — unpaid and as amateur as it comes — would be to consider reviewing the work of other authors in the genre first — that is, to become part of the critical conversation as both reader and author. I think that would change the climate radically, and would help to build a sense of camaraderie between authors and readers that could more easily lead to the type of engagement you’re proposing.

      • “become part of the critical conversation as both reader and author. ”

        This is a great ideal, but as I know from experience, it can’t work. Reader fans of the reviewed author accuse you of jealousy (this is if the review is less than perfectly favourable), and others suspect you are shilling (if your review is favourable.)

        And some authors just dismiss you as a jealous, bitter outlier whose views must be ignored or suppressed, and the other authors see the reaction to you and decide it’s simply not worth the grief.

        As can be seen in this very thread, the ability of authors to react with equanimity to harsh criticism however justified, should be reasonably estimated at zero unless you have concrete and long-term evidence to the contrary. When someone’s income is on the line, rationality goes out the window.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        “the distrust is not a function of disrespect”

        I can agree that perhaps for some people it’s not a function of conscious disrespect.

    • Robin says:

      Okay, it finally dawned on me why I feel this ‘engage the reader directly about her review’ tactic feels so wrong-headed to me: because it seems to come from a place of *selling* and *ratings* and * commercial success* rather than from a place of wanting to be part of the overall critical conversation about books without direct financial self-interest. And that’s why I think that authors reviewing other authors’ work in their own genre puts the money where the mouth is in that regard.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Robin, this is where I am, too. I have yet to see anyone, including Ron, explain what the *reader* would get out of the exchange (except maybe feeling better about the author as a person, but nope, that good feeling is really just important to the author, as well, and again conflates author and book). The idea of engaging readers about negative reviews is all about the author’s needs.

        Why is the author approaching me, except as either a complaining douchebag or a marketer? People don’t trust either of those groups. No wonder we don’t welcome an author contacting us about a negative review. If an author wants insight into why I gave a negative review, shouldn’t that be in my review? If it isn’t, is my opinion worth anything, either to the author or to other readers? It isn’t my job to help the author learn from my negative response (I already paid for, read and reviewed the book). I think part of why you are getting a critical response, Ron, is that you don’t seem particularly interested in how this could be a meaningful exchange for both parties. Also, you’re tweeting dismissive argument-killers about how it’s “precious” to care about this when girls are being shot for seeking an education, which doesn’t make us feel that you yourself are being especially respectful or trustworthy. Are you engaging thoughtfully, or not?

      • Robin says:

        I have yet to see anyone, including Ron, explain what the *reader* would get out of the exchange (except maybe feeling better about the author as a person, but nope, that good feeling is really just important to the author, as well, and again conflates author and book). The idea of engaging readers about negative reviews is all about the author’s needs.

        Which holds even if you extend the “customer service” logic of Elle Lothlorien. If, for example, you complain about a Dyson vacuum, it’s not James Dyson who emails you or calls you asking what your issue was and debating you about your rating at Amazon or wherever. First, companies don’t generally contact consumers, and if they do, it’s to inquire about or rectify an issue. A disappointing book can’t be rectified, so that’s one problem, but even if the consumer contacts the manufacturer of a product directly (again, not directly analogous to the book review situation), you speak to someone who works for the company, who acts as a buffer between you and the people who actually designed and made the product. So I find the whole “customer service” analogy to be completely inappropriate here.

        Beyond that, yes, you’re right in that there is basically no discussion of the benefit to the reader. If it’s about “better” books, then that can be executed without any direct interaction with reviewers, and if it’s about compensating the reader for a bad experience, that’s something very different as well.

        Constructing this issue as one of “respect for the author” strikes me as reader-blaming, which, as we know, is one reason we have the current climate we do. It’s those accusations that have kept readers from feeling like there is an open environment in which they can be candidly critical about books. Which I don’t think serves authors, except in a very narrow and myopic sense of shutting down negative reviews. And while there are many authors who I think believe that will help their sales, I think it’s more likely to push readers away from buying books, because they no longer have a network of critical commentary to help them distinguish between the books that might appeal to them and the books that won’t.

      • Erik Sherman says:

        As both a non-fiction author and a reader, I could see value in some types of author interactions with reviewers. When the author says “I meant this” and the reader says, “I took it as that,” you have additional material to consider both the author’s ability at self-expression and the reviewer’s discernment.

        I suspect that at least one reason an author’s comments can chill discussion is because people will take that as the official “answer,” so why bother to continue? That would be a good reason alone for authors to stand back, for the most part.

        However, when people reviewing become authors in their own right, which means they can also come under scrutiny. In some cases, people are quick to leave opinion but make factual misstatements about a work. (I’m thinking primarily about non-fiction, though this could apply to fiction as well.) It might make sense for the author to see if someone corrects the point, but if not, why shouldn’t the author? A reviewer doing so can also cause needless harm out of either sloppy reading or disingenuous intent.

        I think one of Ron Hogan’s points touches on this. When you review, whether you like it or not, you step across the line from being a reader to being an author, in this case of a review. The potential of having a discussion with an author, even one that is entirely insecure, is here and has been since here have been reviewers.

        That said, authors should develop thicker skins. So should some reviewers.

        Finally, before some here shout me down (which, given the interactions I’ve read in these comments I largely expect), I’ll point out that to chide someone for not listening and then to disregard careful listening in return seems ironic.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        We will have to agree to disagree about whether someone is being “shouted down” when he is welcome to keep expressing his views and a whole lot of people simply disagree with him. I don’t think that “listening” means “agreeing with me.” I do think it means not just dismissing what people say and acknowledging their logic, which several of us have done about points we disagree with, and others of us have not.

        My initial point was simply that I don’t feel engaging with a reviewer is useful “customer service.” I expect to read books I don’t enjoy or think are bad. That’s part of reading. The author cannot make that good for me (the way a restaurant can improve a bad experience with a free drink) nor do I expect or wish her to try. Ultimately, I see these exchanges as solely for the author’s interest/benefit, while in a good customer service exchange, both parties benefit (even your examples are pretty much about the author).

        I do think a reviewer is a writer, and that her opinions are up for debate or discussion. But if she is not a professional, she’s not in a directly parallel position to an author, for the reasons others have pointed out. I think it is rarely to the author’s long-term benefit to join this discussion, because s/he cannot be just like any other voice in the conversation. That is why I don’t welcome authors entering comments in a review space.

        Re your non-fiction example (or any factual issue), I do think this is different. It would depend on circumstances, for me: how central is this fact to the review and to the book? Is it really a “fact” or a matter of interpretation? I have seen examples–and I mean things like authors writing a letter to the editor in response to a New York Times review–where the author came off as petty and defensive, and where the “facts” at issue were more matters of historical interpretation. Did the author really gain anything from writing that letter? I wouldn’t say never do it, just that it requires careful consideration. And I sure wouldn’t call it customer service. It serves the author.

  23. Ron Hogan says:

    “You think that calling your wife a ‘screaming arsehole’ isn’t an attack. Most of us would disagree…”

    I trust my wife’s judgment on the difference between a snotty remark and a genuine threat more than I trust yours, especially given your inability to discuss the issue, or any issue in this discussion, calmly and without prejudice.

    Let me put this into plain English: Some jackass saying “Shoo, fly” to my wife on Twitter is NOT the moral equivalent of the Emily Giffin story, and claiming it is diminishes the seriousness of the Emily Giffin story. The suggestion that Elle Lothlorien’s polite emails are the moral equivalent of either incident borders does even worse harm.

    As for what I have or have not experienced online, that’s really not any of your business, and I CERTAINLY don’t feel any need to share personal information in a public forum where I might be treated with discourtesy and contempt by people like you.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I don’t think anyone, even Ann, was *equating* what happened to your wife with a reviewer getting a threatening phone call. “Attack” can mean a lot of things, however. It’s often used in the sense people here are using it–to be called a screaming asshole or be told to shoo, fly is a personal attack, not an engagement with the points of her review, as you addressed in your post. There’s a spectrum from “nicely” telling a reviewer that something in the book she found uncomfortable to read is *not* in fact squicky to name-calling to threats. All of those things make many reviewers feel reluctant to engage with any author. Everyone from self-published authors to NYTimes best-sellers has melted down at reviewers. If we don’t “know” the author who e-mails us or comments on our review, how do we know s/he is not next? Why wouldn’t we be wary? I’m not sure why you are so intent on blaming reader-reviewers for this. Sure, it catches a lot of innocent authors in a bind. But in this climate, which is not one of open, respectful debate, engaging is more likely to backfire than not.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        My reading of Ann is that she WAS explicitly making that equivalency, particularly when she suggested that what happened to my wife was a slippery slope to the Emily Giffin story. Furthermore, if my wife had the slightest interest in coming to this forum and telling you herself that she hadn’t been attacked, my reading of Ann’s insistence that “most of us would disagree etc.” is that it might reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to invalidate my wife’s feelings about what happened to her. Instead, because my wife chooses not to engage in dialogue with people who conduct themselves online the way Ann does in dialogue, all Ann had to fall back on was the “You’re a man who doesn’t know what’s going on in the world” line, even though I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I know what’s going on in the world.

        You’re going about this in a politer fashion, though, and I believe you’re not consciously trying to invalidate my wife’s feelings.

        I would suggest that if we are NOT in a climate of open, respectful debate, treating anybody who makes the effort to engage in open, respectful debate with distrust and contempt is a good way to make sure we never achieve a climate of open, respectful debate.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I think it *is* a slippery slope (and slippery slope does not mean equal). Not every case goes all the way down the slope, of course. But every Emily Giffin type incident began with an author tweeting something to fans, or making a nasty comment to a reviewer, and devolved from there. Is it any wonder we’re gunshy and fear any contact from an author might be the first step down that slope?

        Your wife can, of course, feel however she likes about her own experience and she doesn’t need to come here and explain herself. I don’t disbelieve your account of her response at all. I think it’s pretty much common parlance to refer to something like that as a “personal attack,” though, however the recipient felt about it. That doesn’t mean we think she should have been intimidated.

      • “I think it’s pretty much common parlance to refer to something like that as a “personal attack,” though, however the recipient felt about it. That doesn’t mean we think she should have been intimidated.”

        She probably didn’t feel intimidated. That doesn’t mean shyer flowers reading the author’s rant and language weren’t deterred from reviewing negatively. If an author creates a hostile atmosphere towards reviewers who aren’t slavish devotees, then all critical reviewers – actual or potential – are affected. The net effect is to silence criticism. Hogan even admits that neither he nor his wife will buy the next book – which means it won’t be reviewed, and so the chance of at least one critical review has been averted. Author’s mission accomplished, I would say.

    • “The suggestion that Elle Lothlorien’s polite emails are the moral equivalent of either incident borders does even worse harm.”

      If the intention is to silence the reviewer, or make them scared to review that author unfavourably in future because they might get (a) a ‘polite’ email chastising them (b) be called offensive names in public for sharing an honest opinion or (c) receive death threats, then yes, they’re morally the same.

      Clearly in terms of upset and distress (and legality), the methods are different – but the aim is the same in every case, and if you say differently, you’re lying. Lothlorien’s explicit aim is remove or alter negative reviews of her products. Clearly she’s unable to fix the book experience, so all she’s doing is trying to make sure that negative experiences aren’t reported. There is no benefit whatsoever to the individual reader from Lothlorien’s tactic, and much harm to the reader/reader discourse.

      The fact you think Lothlorien being ‘polite’ is important, is telling. You’ve made a clear distinction in this discussion between women like me who aren’t pandering to your need to be respected for your views, and women you consider of social value to your aims, like Robin. You’ve chosen to frame this as an issue of respect and politeness. You’re falling on the oldest trick in the book men use to silence and shame women for speaking out.

      Unfortunately for you, we’ve – all of us, polite or impolite – got your number.

  24. Ron Hogan says:

    “Why is the author approaching me, except as either a complaining douchebag or a marketer?”

    That’s an issue I’m still mulling over, and would prefer to discuss on my own blog, in my own time, after I’ve thought it through carefully.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      If I contact an author directly about something she has written, it is because I think the exchange will have meaning for *her* (ie I am telling her I love her work or what it meant to me). It isn’t solely to benefit me. I’d appreciate the same from authors. Is this an *exchange* of some kind, or are they seeking their own benefit? When other readers comment on my reviews, even–or especially–when they disagree (which of course I expect, and sometimes it is uncomfortable), we both benefit because there is an exchange of ideas. I really value being challenged to think further about my reading. If I were advising an author thinking about contacting negative reviewers, I would suggest s/he think about whether there is anything to benefit the reader in their motive for the contact. Again, I think it is awfully hard for an author’s interjection to promote open critical engagement, though it is possible, because the author’s relationship to the book is not the same as anyone else’s.

      • Robin says:

        Your comment, Liz, reminds me of a discussion on AAR a number of years ago about one of Lisa Kleypas’s historicals. A reader disliked the language used, and Kleypas came into the discussion — so incredibly gracious — explained her reasoning for her choices, told the reader how sorry she was she did not enjoy the book, and offered her a refund. Now THAT, IMO, is a customer service-type interaction. And it made other readers feel that it was okay to critique the book, as well as putting absolutely no pressure on anyone to re-think their reaction.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I wonder if that interaction would/could go so well today?

  25. Ron Hogan says:

    “It’s those accusations that have kept readers from feeling like there is an open environment in which they can be candidly critical about books.

    But there IS an open environment in which readers can be candidly critical about books, as long as they’re willing to accept that public exposure comes with the risk of public response. I’m not talking about the risk of crazy people or harassment, which we all agree is unacceptable. I’m saying that if you perform a public act, there’s a possibility somebody (and it doesn’t even have to be the author) will respond to it, and the possibility that you won’t be happy about getting that response.

    People who are unprepared or unwilling to deal with that risk have several options for creating “a network of critical commentary” that limits their exposure and creates a safer space “to help them distinguish between the books that might appeal to them and the books that won’t” free of conditions they might find intimidating. I just don’t see that it makes much sense to pretend you’re in a safe space when you’re not in a safe space, even if you think it OUGHT to be a safe space.

    Privacy settings are one way to achieve a safer space, but not the only way. I would certainly agree that if somebody created an open-access forum with terms of conditions that explicitly stated “We Don’t Want to Hear from Authors,” any author would be a fool to ignore that explicit warning.

  26. I almost decided not to leave a comment because I haven’t time to read the whole thread in detail, but what the hell. First up, I agree with the whole authors staying away thing. I’ve only published one novel so far but I blogged and reviewed for several years before that and I’ve had the experience of being chilled by author comment.My most egregious experience of this went as follows: I was (justifiably in my view) scathing – the first comment was the author’s (and it was *gracious*) – I felt chastened – there was no discussion. Honestly? I believe to this day everything I said was justifiable and that she was wrong to comment (but equally and FWIW the experience helped me understand what I was comfortable saying – and being called on – online).

    However, having said all of this, your comment about the desirability of a vibrant critical culture in chimes with me too. Is this a helpful way to think about it: your post begins with your assertion that you are not the author’s customer. I agree, and as a corollary of that, I’d say that an author is not a bookseller. However, these roles (of author and bookseller) clearly, and increasingly, coincide. Do we therefore question in what capacity a comment is being made? Is the author entering the discussion to further that critical discussion, or are they using their author identity in unfair way e.g. to chill discussion in a way a mere hawker of goods could not?

    Whatever the answer to that, I’ll take the safe route of staying away from reviews of anything I write.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I’m glad you commented! It’s interesting that all the authors commenting here are or have been reviewers–and honest, critical, thoughtful reviewers.

      Yes, I think part of the mistrust or discomfort with authors commenting is that it can be really hard to tell the author’s motives, especially if the author does not engage in critical (by which I don’t just mean “negative”) commenting anywhere on line. And *because* the author is the author and because their online persona is partly about marketing, their voice in a discussion is *never* on a level with everyone else’s. As Robin says, the chill is often from respect and deference.

      The way that the internet confronts us with authors as people is a good thing, too. I try not to pull any punches because the author might be reading, but I also try to say things I am comfortable standing behind, and try extra hard not to say them in a way that could be taken as personal attack. That way, when I do get dissent (which I have not yet had from an author) I feel comfortable about being unapologetic about my views.

  27. Ron Hogan says:

    “A reader disliked the language used, and Kleypas came into the discussion — so incredibly gracious — explained her reasoning for her choices, told the reader how sorry she was she did not enjoy the book, and offered her a refund. Now THAT, IMO, is a customer service-type interaction.”

    Apart from the nature of the forum, that sounds rather like what Elle Lothlorien does, based on the evidence of her case studies rather than the misrepresentations of what she does that some people have perpetuated. Although perhaps those people would also accuse Lisa Kleypas of simply trying to manipulate that reader into feeling bad for publicly criticizing her book.

    • Ridley says:

      FYI: I think it’s a weird thing to do, and I bet it scared lots of people back into lurkdom.

      As the saying goes, “Once the book opens its mouth, the author must shut his.”

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I’ve read Lothlorien’s case studies in Digital Book World. And though she *says* that her aim is not to get readers to change their reviews or ratings, she also highlights (the bolding in my quote from her is hers) as part of her “success” that they did so. I can’t believe others won’t follow her lead with that as their goal. And given what a big point she makes of it, how can I not believe it is part of her goal in engaging in dialogue? She just doesn’t ask the reader *directly* to make those changes.

      I personally would find it uncomfortable to be part of a discussion where Kleypas did that, actually, however graciously. I think the venue makes some difference to my feeling about that, though I’m not sure I can say why. Perhaps because a discussion is different from a review–it does not put one reader’s opinion on the spot in the same way.

    • Robin says:

      Actually, there are a lot of critical differences, and the first is precisely the forum. It was an open board discussion, not a review. In fact, it was well over five years ago that this happened, before the rise of the reader review and blog. Authors were known to engage on AAR, and even though I was impressed with Kleypas, I think it was a gutsy move, even then, because there were some author disasters that happened on those boards. Although because it happened before the Dixieland Mafia and DeborahAnne MacGillivray and Victoria Laurie and Cassie Edwards, etc. etc. etc. etc., the climate was definitely different. And here are some more differences:
      1. Kleypas had a sterling reputation. In fact, she still does. I have never heard one bad word about her. Not one. She also has a very, very large fan base and had built up credibility and trust over many years.

      2. Moreover, she did not advocate “always” responding to readers, as Lothlorien does. In fact, I think all of us were surprised at Kleypas’s entrance into the discussion. I find the Lothlorien “always” to be incredibly unwise.

      3. Kleypas made her comment and then bowed out. She did not ask to contact the reader by email; she did not make any attempt to convince her of anything, nor did she claim to “disagree” with the reader, as Lothlorien does in her first case study. Nor did Kleypas ever have an “always respond to the reader” policy. In fact, I think her engagement was quite unusual.

      4. For Kleypas, there was no rating or review at stake. She saw a reader who was disappointed in the book, and she offered her a refund. She wanted to offer good will to her reader, which, in turn, might also benefit her. But at its heart, the offer was made in the spirit of a mutually-beneficial exchange. No matter how well-intentioned Lothlorien might be, it is very clear from her case studies and her article that she is aiming to change her readers’ minds and their ratings of her books, as I think Liz articulated really well.

      This, by the way, is where I take real issue with your insinuation that reader resistance to this strategy comes from a lack of respect. I think it likely comes from the opposite — an IMO false belief that the author is the ultimate authority over her text by gently “teaching” her the right way to read it. I have much to say about this topic, as I’ll be doing in my own post next week, so I won’t go on about it here, but I will say that I find this gentle re-instructing of the reader incredibly problematic on multiple levels.

  28. sonomalass says:

    Ron writes: “I’m saying that if you perform a public act, there’s a possibility somebody (and it doesn’t even have to be the author) will respond to it, and the possibility that you won’t be happy about getting that response.”

    I don’t think anyone is denying the possibility; these things have happened, and will continue to happen. What many of us are doubting is the value of that response, if it comes from the author of the work in question. Does the author have the right to chime in? Sure; it’s a free county and these are usually open fora. But what good does it do? Clearly in some cases it does the author some good — shuts down negative discussion, gets a reviewer to change a rating, builds good will and even sells a few books because the author is so “gracious.” But I think Liz’s question is the salient one here: what does the reader gain from the author joining the conversation? The cases I know of where author comment has been actually helpful to discussion are along the lines of the Kleypas example Robin gives — the author responds with an explanation of a choice she made and acknowledges that it’s a choice not everyone would make or agree with. Not trying to get the reader to see the book more favorably, not telling the reader she’s wrong in her opinion or interpretation, not defensively pointing out how many positive reviews the book has received from others. Even then, I think there’s a chilling effect. I get the impression that some people think the chill is a good thing — readers should be aware that authors (or their representatives) are listening/reading, and that somehow should change how we talk about the book.

    It’s fine to talk about creating safe spaces, rather than wishing for public spaces to be safe, but that does a disservice to our fellow readers. If I want people to be able to read my thoughts about a book as part of their decision whether to read it or not, that review needs to be somewhere people can find it. In my case, that’s Amazon and Goodreads. In neither place do I engage in lengthy discussion of my reviews, but I still wouldn’t welcome an authors $0.02 in response. If I got it, I would not review that author in future — as much my right as the author’s right to comment. If you want people not talking about your books, this seems a great way to go about it.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      “If you want me and people like me not talking about your books, this seems a great way to go about it” seems to me a more accurate way to express that. Now, it may very well be the case that more people are like you than aren’t like you, but I don’t know that to be the case, and I think there are occasions where it’s worth taking a chance that a reader might not be like you.

      What I’m saying is that, rather than assume every reader is as resistant to hearing from the author as you and others profess to be, and thus never saying anything to a reader ever, an author should think carefully about why she wants to respond to a reader, whether that individual reader is likely to be as resistant as you are to hearing from her, and what the likely outcome of making that response could be–and if, after all that deliberation, she still wants to make the response, that there are ways to go about it without being a total jackass.

      One of the main points of disagreement some people seem to have is not with any of these premises, but with the idea that Elle Lothlorien has some sensible advice about how not to be a jackass. (I’m not lumping everybody into that group; Liz and Robin and you among others have focused on the broader, philosophical issues.) I haven’t seen any convincing evidence, however, that Lothlorien’s been a jackass; instead, I’ve seen cynical misrepresentations of, and attributions of bad faith motives to, her actions, which in some cases have extended not just to a resistance to contact from any author but defensiveness and hostility to the concept of an author responding to a reader.

      Obviously, there’s no way to be sure that a reader won’t react badly when she hears from an author, just as there’s no way to be sure that an author won’t react badly when she comes across a reader’s review. I’m not convinced, however, that it does authors or “literary culture,” whatever that is, any good in the long run to live in fear of every reader being the one who might react badly to a thoughtful, well-intentioned response.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        This conversation feels increasingly pointless for all of us. But I guess re Elle Lothlorien’s approach, I’d just say you don’t have to be a jackass to make readers feel apologetic/guilty/intimidated so they change a rating or review, or to silence them.

      • sonomalass says:

        You’re right, Ron, of course. I can only speak for myself and people like me. If an author, or someone advising an author, does not believe that voices speaking out, here and elsewhere, represent the readership they seek, then they should sail merrily along. We won’t read their books, and they won’t care that we didn’t.

        As for Ms Lothlorien, I can’t get past her characterization of a reader changing the star rating on a review as a “customer service” victory. To me that’s the classic example of pressure brought to bear that makes author engagement problematic.

        I’m with Liz; this conversation feels increasingly pointless. I still don’t see what the reader/reviewer has to gain from these theoretical “thoughtful, well-intentioned response[s],” other than the opportunity to add a star to our honest reaction to the book.

  29. Ros says:

    I just checked Lothlorien’s The Frog Prince on Goodreads. Over 40 readers have it on a shelf labelled with some version of ‘author to avoid’. I have not included any of the shelves that are negative in a more general way, but it’s entirely possible that some of those are also to do with the author behaviour. That is at least 40 sales that Lothlorien has lost due to her particular form of ‘customer service’. The real number is, of course, way higher, because most of us don’t use Goodreads to track that kind of thing. Why exactly would you advise another author to follow this example?

    • Ron Hogan says:

      Ros, as I feel I’ve made pretty clear over the course of the last day and a half, I don’t advise authors to FOLLOW Lothlorien’s example, and I don’t advise them NOT to follow. her example. I advise them to CONSIDER it along with all the other things they ought to think about when they’re thinking about whether they really want to contact readers about their books, and to decide for themselves whether they think the risk that somebody, somewhere might be upset about it is worth whatever they want from that exchange. As I’ve stated before, some people find the risk acceptable.

      At this point, I think Liz is right: After a full day, the conversation seems to be going around in circles. It may be a good time for me to gather my thoughts and write the next blog post that deals more coherently with the points Liz originally raised.

    • kaetrin says:

      I don’t have an “author-to-avoid” shelf. I’m not that brave I’m afraid. I read Lothlorien’s posts in their entirety on Digital Book World. After that I decided I would never read any of her books.

      If there is a problem with a digital file for example – badly formatted or full of errors and the author contacts me and says, “I’m sorry your copy was poor, here, let me give you a clean copy/a refund” I wouldn’t be offended by that kind of contact. That is a “customer service” kind of contact I wouldn’t mind. But engaging me in a discussion about why I didn’t like his/her book in some misguided attempt to make me feel “better about the experience” is something completely different. (Pro tip: It’s not going to make me feel better about the experience). I doesn’t matter how polite the person is – the only purpose of the contact is to get me to change my mind about the experience. Mr. Hogan has already said that if my mind could be changed my review would have “lacked moral conviction” so there’s no win for me here in this interaction.

      We are talking here about author contact on a review of their own work. We are not talking about any author contact ever. If Mr. Hogan could articulate for what purpose an author would contact a reviewer in relation to a negative review (with the exception of the digital file type example above) other than to get the reviewer to change his/her view I’d be happy to consider whether it might be a contact which could be mutually beneficial.

      I don’t (generally) distrust authors. For the most part, I *revere* authors. They write the books I love. Wariness about talking critically about a revered author’s work when they are in the same space is not the same as distrust or disrespect.

  30. Ron Hogan says:

    Sorry, but this is a really blatant falsehood that I feel ought to be addressed:
    “Mr. Hogan has already said that if my mind could be changed my review would have ‘lacked moral conviction’”

    I don’t make any criticism of changing a review because they have sincerely changed their beliefs; in fact, I encourage it.

    The lack of moral conviction is in those readers who change their reviews as a convenience to “get rid” of an “annoying” author, so that those reviews no longer reflect their true opinion of the book. Anybody who does such a thing lies to everyone who reads their reviews; anybody who admits to doing such a thing reveals themselves as someone readers cannot trust to share their honest critical responses to books.

    Excusing a lie as a social convenience does not make it any less of a lie, nor any less harmful.

    • Robin says:

      Here’s what I don’t understand: why do you keep shifting the burden to readers, when they are not the ones with the economic interest, are not professionally profiting from their reviews, and are not “selling” anything? Why shouldn’t the burden for not pressuring a reader to change their rating be on the author?

    • kaetrin says:

      And he misses the point again.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        Please feel free to enlighten us on how lying to your fellow readers to make your life easier is a morally acceptable strategy that promotes open and honest discussion of books.

        Robin, if readers want to create an open and honest discussion of books, the burden is on them to act in ways that promote an open and honest discussion of books. Disavowing one’s sincerely held beliefs because it’s easier to get along in the world by being dishonest gets in the way of that ever happening.

        Since readers who want an open and honest discussion of books have an “interest” in helping such a discussion thrive, since readers “profit” from their participation in such a discussion, and since readers are “selling” their reviews when they write for public consumption, they should contribute openly and honestly to that discussion even when it’s inconvenient to do so–even when they feel oppressed for doing so–because that’s the obligation that falls upon every man or woman who chooses to express themselves openly and honestly.

        Readers who choose to become review writers but are not prepared to rise to that occasion through participation in the public arena have alternative forums where they may face substantially less risk of being challenged for their beliefs, as well as the ability to create such forums for themselves.

        Beyond that, you know quite well that I’ve never suggested it’s appropriate for authors to pressure readers to change their ratings. We all agree that authors shouldn’t do that, along with other things we all agree authors shouldn’t do or encourage their fans to do.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Perhaps instead of cynically attributing a motive to Kaetrin, you could imagine that she misread you or misremembered your exact wording in a much earlier comment in a long, long thread.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        That’s a fair criticism. Sorry, Kaetrin.

      • Robin says:

        Robin, if readers want to create an open and honest discussion of books, the burden is on them to act in ways that promote an open and honest discussion of books. Disavowing one’s sincerely held beliefs because it’s easier to get along in the world by being dishonest gets in the way of that ever happening.

        I agree with you that readers caving into pressure from authors to change their reviews is wrong, and that it undermines the faith anyone can place in those readers’ reviews. I would not, however, call it a lack of “moral conviction.” Although I don’t think you yet understand why many of us think what Lothlorien is doing, for example, is both undesirable and manipulative, even if it’s not intended that way. Regardless, I’d certainly put the failing of caving into pressure from the author below being paid to write fake reviews or sockpuppeting reviews or writing deliberately fake reviews. But I would also say we’re more in the realm of ethics than morals. And I still think you’re ignoring a perceived power differential that’s crucial to consider in these situations.

        More generally, though, readers do not create an online climate by themselves, and if you weigh bad behavior between authors and readers, can we not agree that authors have more often been guilty of unsavory conduct? And yet you seem to believe it’s readers who should take the lion’s share of the responsibility. Even though they are not the commercial players. In fact, we’re largely not talking about readers who would even identify themselves as reviewers, as those who write for review blogs might. And yet you seem to want to hold them to some standard above that of the author in terms of fair dealing. Which just seems inexplicably unfair.

  31. Ron Hogan says:

    “Can we not agree that authors have more often been guilty of unsavory conduct?”

    I can’t agree to that; I can only acknowledge that incidents of unsavory conduct by authors have received a greater deal of attention than incidents of moral failing by reviewers, which include the forms of deception you just described as well as the form of deception I’ve described, and possibly other forms of deception left undescribed — in part because the unsavory conduct of authors is much more conspicuous.

    I’ve never suggested that readers bear “the lion’s share of the responsibility.” I’ve suggested that readers who choose to write and publish reviews bear a responsibility equal to that of published authors, regardless of any perceived power differentials. This is a fundamental responsibility than goes deeper than the commercial realm, or the literary realm. It is a human responsibility.

    That’s why I say that the standard we apply to authors responding to people’s reactions to the work they’ve made publicly available should also be applied to reader/reviewers responding to people’s reactions to the work they’ve made publicly available. Not a standard ABOVE the one to which we hold authors, but the same standard.

    • “That’s why I say that the standard we apply to authors responding to people’s reactions to the work they’ve made publicly available should also be applied to reader/reviewers responding to people’s reactions to the work they’ve made publicly available. ”

      Authors – selling books. Readers – not selling books. Standards not the same, and you know it.

      Just shut the fuck up, Ronnie. You’re the very model of a modern major pain in the arse.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        Such an elegantly succinct response makes it much clearer where your moral authority to dictate to authors how they should conduct themselves online derives from. Thank you for your contribution to this open and honest discussion.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Ann, I agree with you, Robin and Sunita that the two groups, authors and reader-reviewers, are not directly parallel. But please try to keep it reasonably civil.

      • I apologise to you for using intemperate language in your space, although not the sentiment.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        No need. My main concern is that that language becomes an excuse to dismiss you and your valid points. Oh look . . . . Because good people never get fed up and say fuck.

    • Robin says:

      Except that in fashioning your sense of “same,” you’re eliding and conflating myriad distinctions that matter in both substantive and symbolic ways. Which, in the end, makes it not the same at all.

    • VacuousMinx says:

      You keep saying “publish” in reference to readers and their reviews. The readers we’re talking about don’t “pubish” their reviews. They *post* them. For the most part, there is no editing and the reviews are mostly at reader sites like Goodreads, where the approach ranges from no words to many erudite words to GIFs. Or they’re on personal blogs like this one. The quality ranges just as much. And for the most part, these are unpaid reviews done as extracurricular activities.

      Yes, some reviewers get picked up by traditional sites like Romantic Times or commercial blogs like USA Today, Heroes and Heartbreakers, etc. But the vast majority do not. So to equate the goals and actions of commercial, profit-seeking authors with those of these reviewers is just strange.

      If you want to have a discussion about whether an author should enter the comment section attached to, say, Ron Charles’ review of her book at the Post, fine. But that’s not the discussion any of us here are having, and conflating the two is unhelpful, to put it mildly. Several commenters have done their best to point the difference out to you, and you simply ignore it. I’m not sure how you think that is conducive to a useful exchange of ideas.

      • VacuousMinx says:

        Ack! I meant “publish” the second time, not “pubish.” And guess what, I have typos like that in my online reviews all too often, no matter how much I proofread. I don’t have them in my published articles, reviews, and book chapters, because there I have editors and a comprehensive gatekeeping system.

      • Ron Hogan says:

        I don’t consider the distinction you’re making between “publish” and “post” relevant. When you “post” to a public forum, you are publishing, just in a different way. Stripping aside all the circumstantial differences you’ve cited, you are participating in the public realm, and I’m talking about how one should be prepared to conduct oneself in the public realm.

        I fully recognize that the level of responsibility I’ve been describing is more than some people want to or are prepared to accept. I just don’t think it’s productive to pretend that those responsibilities don’t exist because it makes life easier and more fun when we pretend that they don’t.

        I’m not interested in anybody’s typos; I’ve made a few myself. I’m much more interested in, among other things, the fact that people think it’s acceptable to judge all authors by the actions of a few, that it’s acceptable to lie to readers when it becomes personally convenient to do so, or that it’s acceptable to resort to name-calling and profanity when you can’t handle what somebody is telling you. I’m not saying you’ve done any of those things, because you haven’t, but anybody who bothers to read through these comments in their entirety will see where this has occurred.

      • Robin says:

        I’m much more interested in, among other things, the fact that people think it’s acceptable to judge all authors by the actions of a few, that it’s acceptable to lie to readers when it becomes personally convenient to do so, or that it’s acceptable to resort to name-calling and profanity when you can’t handle what somebody is telling you. I’m not saying you’ve done any of those things, because you haven’t, but anybody who bothers to read through these comments in their entirety will see where this has occurred.

        Actually, I think you’ve handily demonstrated here how easy it is to be negatively influenced by a minority action/ton/effect and to over-generalize that influence.

        In terms of your concept of responsibility, I think we’ve moved pretty far out from where this discussion started (and I do feel the terms have been shifting around a bit all along). At the level of generality you’re proposing here, there’s a lot of stuff both authors and readers can be responding to — things that are online in a theoretically public space (whether a blog is public in the way of a town square is at the very least arguable, and technically they’re not the same nor equivalent). But we don’t, for many reasons, including a desire not to foster unnecessary antagonism.

        Not that I think the whole “human responsibility” thing is meaningless; I just think relative to the original issue — authors imposing* on the review space and directly responding to reviews, even in a well-intentioned way — it is not particularly helpful in parsing out specific effects.

        *I use the word imposing not as a negative judgment, but to signify the author’s authority taking a position/being positioned in the review space (actual or symbolic).

  32. VacuousMinx says:

    I don’t consider the distinction you’re making between “publish” and “post” relevant. When you “post” to a public forum, you are publishing, just in a different way.

    No, I’m not. I’ve done both, in various guises: a thoroughly peer-reviewed and edited book and several book chapters at major presses; peer-reviewed and edited articles at major and minor scholarly journals; edited op-ed pieces online-only and in print; book reviews for a major online review site; and informal reviews at Goodreads.

    Those are very different enterprises, in my experience. The only similarity among them is that I approach them all with respect for the audience and a desire to do my best taking into account each audience and the relative importance of each in its sphere.

    I think I understand why you don’t agree. But you are not describing my experience, or the experience of many other reviewers.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      That’s not the only similarity among those. We can identify at least one other fundamental similarity, beneath all the experiential variances: They all involve participation in the public realm.

      I fully recognize that many other reviewers have a fundamentally different understanding of the Internet’s role as part of the public realm.

      • VacuousMinx says:

        But you yourself have demonstrated on your site that there are different approaches to participation in the public realm. You don’t enable comments. I enable comments but reserve the right to block or disemvowel certain comments. At DA I ask that authors do not comment on their own reviews.

        You consider your stand toward commenters fair and you’re comfortable with it. But you consider our stand unfair and take issue. So you’ve already made distinctions, just as I have. The difference is that I honor your right to yours (even though I don’t agree with it), and you don’t honor my right to mine.

      • When you publish something, you’re asking your readers to part with their money in exchange for the entertainment or information they will get. When you post, or even review for a blog, you are not only doing it for no monetary gain, essentially as a public service to the community of your fellow readers, but those readers only give up their time to read what you’ve posted/reviewed. Once you’ve taken another person’s hard-won earnings, you have a different level of responsibility. I don’t understand why you don’t seem to see that.

  33. I haven’t read the whole comment thread (so many posts, so little time), but I think the best analogy here is of someone writing an online review of a movie. People who do this know their review is public. They know that it’s entirely possible that someone involved in the production of the movie may read that review. What they *don’t* expect is for one of the stars of the movie or its director to comment on that review. It’s jarring. Movie stars and directors just don’t *do* that. And I can pretty much guarantee you that if they DID do it, all critical discussion of the movie would grind to an immediate halt over the fact that someone so “big and famous” had decided to comment on the review.

    Now, you can say that most authors aren’t “big and famous” like movie stars, but I feel the same principal applies. Readers/reviewers certainly *feel* that the author is “big and famous” compared to them. And for that reason alone, the conversation will be derailed. Moreover, it feels weird. I can *know* an author might read my review of his/her book, but knowing it and having it confirmed–it feels like a weird form of stalking, no matter how polite or well-intentioned the comment.

    I have commented on reviews of my own books (including here on Liz’s blog), and although I doubt Liz felt I was stalking her (we have a friendship that extends beyond an author-reader relationship–or at least I like to think so!), it was probably not a wise thing for me to do, simply because *other* people participating in the comment thread might have felt weird about saying what they really felt because they knew I was “watching.” I now think the correct policy is exactly as Liz stated in one of her comments–authors should respond only when directly solicited to respond. That’s an EASY policy to follow, and one that will never lead to misunderstandings or accusations of behaving badly.

    • Ron Hogan says:

      We can all agree that it’s perfectly reasonable for readers to create explicit spaces in which they declare that authors should not participate unless invited.

      In the wider, public world, though, I find the “authors should only speak when spoken to” attitude leads to disrespect, condescension, and dehumanization–no matter how often people may frame their attitude towards authors as one of “reverence.” Several people here have explicitly described a dynamic where the big famous author overwhelms the little ordinary reader; several other people have implicitly described a dynamic in which the reader will use her economic power to put uppity authors in their place.

      Some authors may well find it practical to never take the initiative in engaging their readers in public. And, as I said, readers should be encouraged to create spaces for themselves in which they don’t have to deal with authors if they don’t want to. Outside of those spaces, however, I feel that insisting that authors should just shut up and write books if they know what’s good for them generates a climate of privilege and entitlement.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I don’t think anyone is saying “authors should only speak when spoken to.” We are saying we prefer that authors do not comment on reviews of their own work. And, to get back to my original point, many of us are saying that “customer service” making us “feel better” about Brand Author feels both pointless for the reader and self-serving for the author, and is therefore unwelcome to us. My experience of *reading the book* is likely not something that contact from the author can change. To me, the book *is* the author’s only meaningful brand. I don’t care how nice s/he is about me not liking the book. That isn’t going to impact my decision about whether to read more from her, except insofar as she makes me feel annoyed and that I never want to hear from her in any way again.

      • Some authors may well find it practical to never take the initiative in engaging their readers in public.

        I am not remotely suggesting that authors should not take the initiative to engage readers (although, more and more, I feel that it’s a mistake to attempt to use social media as a means of “handselling” your books, but that’s a whole other discussion). It’s perfectly acceptable for authors to initiate contact with readers through their Twitter and Facebook feeds, their own websites, blogs (their own and those where they guest-post), newsletters, etc. Authors have PLENTY of channels through which to engage readers without trolling the Internet, looking for places where they or their books are spoken *of*, in order to initiate engagement. The reason they should avoid this behavior is because the net effect of this kind of contact is the precise opposite of engagement–it’s the shutting down of meaningful conversation.

        If authors want to discuss their books with readers, they can do so in myriad ways without barging into conversations that aren’t addressed to them. Just because someone is talking about you does not mean they are talking *to* you nor is it an invitation to respond. Since it is to the author’s benefit for meaningful conversation about his or her book to ensue, jumping in uninvited is not only rude, but counterproductive because the effect is to scuttle discussion.

        Taking this approach–speaking when spoken to as opposed to when spoken of–doesn’t create an atmosphere of privilege or entitlement, but rather one of courtesy and respect.
        That can *never* be bad.

      • Robin says:

        Several people here have explicitly described a dynamic where the big famous author overwhelms the little ordinary reader; several other people have implicitly described a dynamic in which the reader will use her economic power to put uppity authors in their place.

        A number of us have explicitly said we do not impute bad motives or intentions to all authors who respond to reader reviews. I think this pejorative and IMO snidely dismissive characterization is illustrative of why some here doubt your sincerity in wanting to understand our perspective as readers.

    • Yeah, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. I used to comment on the DA reviews of my critique partners’ books and I’ve stopped doing that. Even though I wasn’t the author of the books, I realized it likely kept some readers from commenting, so I’ve kept quiet. I also regret a few comments I’ve made on reviews at the time the anthology my short story appeared in came out, even on my author blog. They were positive comments and not made on the review threads, but I still worry that I may have inhibited the reviewers, since the reviews weren’t all positive.

  34. Kat says:

    I’ve finally caught up with the comment thread on this post, and I don’t have much more to add* except to agree with some points and disagree with others. As a reviewer who would love to see more author reviewers and who isn’t averse to author-reader dialogue, I can’t argue against the experiences cited here of authors inadvertently ending discussions. I, too, have been amazed at how even a thank you comment from an author pretty much cuts the conversation dead.

    So while I’d personally love more author-reader dialogue, I think authors should seek to do this away from reader spaces. I’ve had an author comment on my reviews on their own websites and blogs. For the most part, that hasn’t bothered me. And I think I agree with Robin that until we have more authors participating as reader-reviewers (and therefore having a better appreciation of reader-reviewer-author interactions), this will remain an uncomfortable dynamic.

    Authors contacting me directly to comment on a review can also be problematic (even though I’ve generally had positive experiences). I read the John Warner article linked from the Beatrice post and while I thought the author-reviewer exchange was fascinating and productive, I still found it creepy. For me, it feels like the reviewer is having to justify the review (even if this isn’t what the author intended). The author also kept asking questions that, as Liz pointed out above, only had value for the author. It takes some nerve for a reviewer to keep that discussion going. Not all reviewers are at that stage. There are many reviewers on Amazon, Goodreads and personal blogs who are in no way even close to being the kind of reviewers who would feel no sense of intimidation or pressure when personally contacted by an author. (Think hobbyists, younger readers, people who would quickly feel guilty if they felt they hurt someone’s feelings, and so forth.)

    All that said, I still think there’s value in author-reader dialogue. But it seems fairly clear, at least from the sampling of reviewers who have commented here and on Twitter, that this is an extremely risky proposition for an author. Given the high risk that an author would come across as confrontational, creepy or needy to the reviewer, surely there are other equally productive and less risky ways for authors to spend their time and effort. And as Ann alluded to upthread, when an author feels like they’re the exception and are justified in seeking to engage the reviewer, it makes me wary that they won’t respect boundaries, so I would tend to be very, very careful. In fact, when our blog was still quite new, I didn’t respond to any author emails at all, even positive ones or those offering review copies, because I wasn’t sure how I felt about direct contact with authors. I’ve generally stuck to this approach unless I’ve had prior interactions with the author either via Twitter (regularly) or in person. (This approach has been very useful when random authors email me multiple times asking me why I didn’t respond to their first email.)

    * Except more words, apparently. >_<

  35. I thought I was done posting to this thread, but I have one more thing to say because I just had an epiphany. The reason you should not post a comment to a review of your own book (unless you are specifically invited to do so by the reviewer) is because, as soon as you do, the discussion stops being about the book and starts being about you, the author. Even the most polite, well-intentioned comment has this effect (because everyone starts talking about how gracious and “nice” the author is, instead of talking about the book).

    Book reviews should be about the book, not about the author. And that is why authors have no business commenting without invitation.

  36. You know, Hogan might be right. Just as there are reviewers who don’t mind authors showing up in their space, and some readers who love interacting with authors over reviews, there may indeed be some authors who are exceptions to the rule “Don’t comment on negative reviews”. They can, by pure force of their charm, manage to engage with a reviewer over criticism and manage not to alienate that reviewer and their readers.

    But one thing I am absolutely certain of – if *you* think you’re the exception to that rule, you really, really aren’t. Authors who think good advice doesn’t apply to them, who think they are immune from bad reactions, are invariably the ones who end up being the laughing stock of the internet.

    So, if you want to have Ron Hogan charge you hundreds of dollars to tell you that you *can* engage with readers over negative reviews for the purpose of ‘winning’ the debate, then that’s your privilege. But it could blow back on you if you’ve miscalculated.

    The question, for every author contemplating this, is thus not “How can I convince this person they are wrong about my book? but, “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

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