Full Disclosure

This week’s New York Times book review section featured a pair of essays by Zoë Heller and Adam Kirsch encouraging novelists to review fiction. Both acknowledge the reasons many writers are reluctant to do so (publishing is a pretty small world and people don’t want to burn bridges; writers have empathy for other writers’ struggles). But they insist that reviewing is important. Heller argues that because of their perspective as writers, “their contributions help maintain the rigor and vitality of the public conversation about books,” and are therefore an act of self-interest. Kirsch suggests that critical reviewing is “an essential part of defining their own artistic identity” and that writers like George Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Henry James used reviews to argue for or educate a readership for the kind of art they wanted to create.

These essays felt especially timely to me, because the issue of authors reviewing, and of the conflicts of interest reviewing might involve in the age of social media, has recently come up once again in Romanceland. I’m for more reviewing, not less. I’d love to see more authors write critically about the romance genre, and I think the genre would benefit from it. 

I get that it’s not easy. The world of romance writers seems even cozier than the literary world generally, and there’s a culture of mutual support that’s highly valued and valuable. I’m not arguing that writers should all go out and get hatchets and swing for each other. I don’t think critical commentary has to be harsh, and I don’t even think it has to be negative (though it’s better if some of it is; if you never write a negative review, it’s hard to know how to value your positive ones). But even in my few years in Romanceland, I’ve watched what can happen when people’s writing careers take off. As aspiring or newly published authors, they write reviews and thoughtful commentary on the genre (this is often how I discover them). As their professional standing grows, they’re much more likely just to praise their writer-friends’ books and retweet book promo. Partly it’s because they’re busier, and I don’t want review-writing to take over their writing time. But I feel a loss to the critical conversation; as they get stronger in writing craft and more knowledgeable about the genre, they have less and less to say (at least publicly) about these things. At least tell me why your RWA chapter-mate/critique partner’s book is so great.

Also, please tell me that the person whose book you’re tweeting about is your chapter-mate. I find it kind of ironic, if unsurprising, that the amateurs of Romanceland are often much more conscious of and concerned about potential conflicts of interest (as in this thoughtful post from Kaetrin) than the professionals are. It’s unsurprising because reader-reviewers feel a responsibility to speak honestly to other readers, while for authors, we’re customers. It’s ironic because disclosure of conflicts is a professional responsibility (I’ve had to disclose a personal relationship in a work situation where it might have been or have been perceived as a conflict of interest).

I mention disclosure because I think it’s necessary to the creation of a culture where authors can contribute usefully to the critical discussion. At this point, I ignore pretty much everything a romance author has to say in praise of specific romance novels (exceptions would be older books). That’s because I’m often unsure what the author’s connection to that book might be. Is it a random book she loved, or was it written by a friend? (And, you know, if it was written by a friend, did she really 5-star-love it!!!, or did she just feel she had to say so?).

A recent example of the complexity of disclosure for the author-reviewer is the so-called “yellow banner of shame” at Dear Author. I do not mean to criticize Dear Author here; I think Jane’s comments in the yellow header make clear that she gave a lot of thought to how to deal with the potential conflicts inherent in having a soon-to-be-début author review at a prominent site. Both identifying AJH as an author (and using his real name) and not doing so had advantages and drawbacks. And as people pointed out, his author identity was only a click to his Twitter bio away. I also don’t think there’s “shame” in deciding it was time to disclose. There’s nothing wrong with having multiple roles–it’s often a fact of professional life; as Kaetrin points out in her post, in this age of social-media “friendship” between authors and readers, some kind of conflict (of feelings, if not strictly interests) can be a part of amateur life as well.

Still, my own preference would have been for full disclosure from the start. I found AJH’s review of a Suzanne Brockmann book thoughtful and worth reading, but I think readers should have known when it was published that his editor had already been tweeting Brockmann’s raves about his forthcoming book for some weeks. I don’t think, myself, that this is a conflict of interest that should keep one writer from reviewing another. Her praise might bring more readers to his book, but I’m not sure it can really make a meaningful difference to his career. On the other hand, I do think readers of a review should know about any relationship that might bias the reviewer. That way, we can make up our own minds about how to value the review. That’s what disclosure is for.

There’s not nearly enough disclosure in Romanceland. I’ve been surprised more than once to learn through casual Twitter mentions that someone I thought was “just a reader” is an aspiring writer or is working part-time for a publisher. Why not be open? (And if I have to click 5 times to find the information, you’re not open enough). It’s when you don’t disclose that you appear to have something to hide.

This post feels pointless because I don’t believe anything will change. But I’d love to see more transparency and a more honest critical conversation. My Twitter feed seems emptier and emptier in terms of meaningful discussion of books. The promo onslaught, on the other hand, is making me think about quitting.

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147 Responses to Full Disclosure

  1. SonomaLass says:

    No! Don’t quit Twitter! Seriously, we can and should have more substantive discussion there, or at least links to substantive review rather than all promo all the time. I haven’t made time for review writing of late, and I rarely feel that I’m reading the same books as others, so I don’t work to generate discussion. But maybe we can synch some of our reading so that we discuss more? Let me know what you’re looking at reading in the genre in the next month or so, and let’s think about coordinating.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Honestly, the Twitter mention was kind of a tangent that expresses my recent frustrations with it. As Jessica says below, it’s hard to have a truly substantive discussion on Twitter. But I feel like it used to link me to interesting things, and spark discussions that became interesting blog posts, more often than it does now.

      Yes, what happened to your “On the same page” idea? It’s kind of hard to organize. But it was a good one!

  2. Jessica says:

    Hey, I did my Twitter part by asking what’s the difference between a marriage of convenience and a forced marriage Saturday night! Sonomalass, Willaful, JanetNorCal, and the gang schooled me.

    But in general, I hate trying to have real discussions on Twitter. I get annoyed by the 140 character limit, overwhelmed trying to follow discussions with a lot of participants, and fearful that I am going to miss replying to someone. So that’s my excuse.

    On authors reviewing, I did not see the NYT piece, but I have to admit, while author reviews are a thing to be desired, that is pretty low on my personal list of concerns about book blog land. I’ve observed that as bloggers become authors, they seem to want to spend most of their time writing and doing authorly things, so it seems like a natural transition. I know some bloggers are big advocates of more author reviews, but I don’t see many authors themselves lamenting a culture in which they are fearful to review lest they damage their brand. One example that comes to mind of a blogger-turned-author who never changed her blogging style (including calling out bad author behavior and writing negative reviews) is KT Grant/Katiebabs. I can’t think of more at the moment.

    On the DA thing… just one question: I thought that when people referred to it as a badge of shame, they meant that it had the effect (not an intended effect, but …) of shaming AJH, not that Jane was personally ashamed of not disclosing. But maybe I read your post wrong, and maybe I misunderstood those comments that used that term.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yeah, you’re right about Twitter, as I said to SonomaLass.

      I don’t expect every author to have a review blog. I think one issue I didn’t consider (and this is what happens when you decide you’re going to try to write more posts in an hour or you’ll never write any) is that there are not a lot of places in Romanceland where a writer could do the occasional review. Where’s the equivalent of the New York Times or other newspaper book sections?

      My sense is that when blogs (including professional sites like the HEA blog at USA Today or Romance at Random, which is obviously publisher-sponsored) invite guest posts from authors, it’s promotional. I never go to those places because of that. But even when they talk about craft, they’re usually talking about crafting their own books and the purpose is self-promotion. I don’t blame them. That’s what those platforms are intended for. But it’s a pretty shallow conversation most of the time.

      Yes, I think people meant Jane was shaming AJH, and my not very clear point was that it didn’t read that way to me because there is nothing for him to be ashamed of in being both reviewer and author–and I didn’t get the impression Jane meant to suggest there was. I think too often people think “conflict of interest” means someone did something wrong, but you don’t need me to tell you that it is typically just a structural situation we can find ourselves in when we have multiple roles. The wrong-doing comes if someone handles it poorly. I raised the Dear Author example not just because it is fresh in my mind, but because I think it would be too bad if AJH had to stop reviewing because there were too many conflicts of interest. I just don’t think the conflicts rise to a level where they can’t be negotiated with disclosure and/or the person not reviewing in their own subgenre. I think “he can’t review” would be a bad message to send (if he wants to stop, that’s a different story).

      And yes, Katiebabs is a good example of someone who really hasn’t changed because she became an author.

      • willaful says:

        I just want and saw the banner and it doesn’t seem like shaming (or being shamed) to me at all. It’s a perfectly reasonable disclosure with an acknowledgment of potential issues. Of course, considering I also write for DA and am fond of AJH’s writing, my own biases might be coming into play.

        An outsider’s opinion: “I can see how someone could read that as shaming, without context… the background color, the use of phrasing that sounds weighted even if it isn’t (“conflicts are simply too numerous”). I don’t think it was intended that way, but text on the internet is not known for its ability to convey subtle nuances of emotion.”

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Yes, I can see the outsider reading. I figured the bright yellow header was about making sure the disclosure was really obvious and not fine print meant to be missed. It was about being open. And I took the other wording to mean that negotiating conflict of interest isn’t a one-time thing, but something to keep paying attention to. I appreciated how forthright it was.

        I think I’ve already said this, but a lot of people assume that “conflict of interest” = some kind of wrong-doing, and that’s just not so. I think more transparency helps to keep people from reading it that way. If everyone is open, there is no sense that something is wrong or shameful to talk about.

        Of course, sometimes there is motivation not to be open. Street teams, for instance. Many of those people are no doubt true fans, but they are also getting some kind of (very minor) compensation to say positive things about or book, or just to mention it a lot. If we all KNEW that, wouldn’t that make it less effective? I’d certainly discount it in a way I don’t praise coming from “just a reader.”

      • Robin says:

        As someone who has my own “yellow badge” on DA, I’m going to call it the yellow badge of disclosure (there’s got to be a Stephen Crane joke in here somewhere!).

        Seriously, though, AJH isn’t the only one who’s gotten that disclosure statement on the blog. I don’t mind it. I tend to be kind of quiet about my freelance editing, not because I want to hide it, but because it feels weirdly like bragging to talk about it, when these aren’t even my books. Not that I begrudge those who are more comfortable with the self-promo, especially editors who are building a serious business or who work for publishers and are therefore representing a particular brand. But in any case, i think it’s up to each of us as individuals to disclose that information. I hadn’t even thought of street teams until this discussion; that’s definitely info I’d like to have in regard to someone tweeting out or reviewing/blogging about a book.

        In regard to DA, I think it’s up to those of us who post there to tell Jane, because — contrary to what some may think — she’s not the all-seeing eye and doesn’t know what all of us are doing all the time. And yet, it all comes washes back on her and a site she’s worked her ass off to build if one of us fails to let her know something that could appear to be a COI (because, as we know it’s all about appearance,not about the certitude that anyone would intentionally be deceptive or unforthcoming). Why shouldn’t she want to draw attention to that potential COI (I’m not arguing with you, Liz – just clarifying the situation from my POV, as someone who’s been similarly badged).

  3. AMG says:

    I’m still finding my way in the Romanceland review world, locating blogs/pubs/reviewers who I trust, as opposed to the hot mess, barely literate gushers. Often I get recommendations for my next book from twitter friends who tweet out something they liked/wrestled with. This is a lot more satisfying for me rather than promotional log-rolling. I’m getting a bit sick of getting hit in the TL with promotional nonsense on a book I will never read of the hype. I do, however, skim through their tweets until the craziness dies down.

    I honestly wish some blog ‘reviewers’ would read some famous literary criticism or reviews just to get a baseline. They don’t have to follow these blueprints, but take a look at the history. Actually, this makes me sound hopelessly stodgy. But really, Siskel and Ebert were more than ThumbsUp/ThumbsDown gimmicks. Their reviews, even on TV, had heft and craft.

    Twitter is a difficult venue to have a substantive discussion on many issues, but because some of the back and forth, I have discovered some amazing Twitter pals, new blogs, and different streams of thought. Since so many have blogs, I’m now stopping by more regularly to read and comment. It’s been good to get out of my shell.

  4. willaful says:

    I’ve just been wondering lately if I should put something in my GoodReads friend question like “Please disclose if you’re an author, working for a publisher, on a street team” etc. It’s unpleasant to realize these things after the fact.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes! It’s not that I wouldn’t talk to people who have those roles (although I am not a fan of the street team); it’s that when I only find out about them later, I feel used, like someone DID treat it as something to hide and just wanted to market to me.

      People’s roles change over time, too: a blogger becomes an author, or a consultant for authors, or works for a publisher. I think they should make it really clear when that happens. (Usually people are happy to announce they have a book coming out, but they don’t necessarily make a very clear, public announcement of other role shifts).

    • Tasha Turner says:

      My profile on Goodreads makes it clear that I’m a blogger, reviewer, social media coach, and writer. I play social media coach on GR by telling authors to use GR as readers and that don’t promote beyond giveaways or they annoy everyone. If the admins of the group have an area for writers to discuss writing I might participate there. Usually one of the 1st things I do is post a list of articles by others on how to use GR properly.

      Do you think authors & others should click the messages option and tell you that? It never occurred to me. I only friend people I’ve been conversing with in groups or I know from FB or Twitter. But maybe I should be adding a message “I know you from x where we’ve been talking about y. BTW I’m an author”. I’m not being sarcastic – this is my 1st time commenting here – you have an interesting point & I’m wondering if its something I should consider advising authors & others to do.

      Unfortunately too many authors think GR is for promotion.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Some readers like to friend authors on GR. I think authors should be aware of people’s preferences. Personally, I don’t accept friend requests from authors I don’t already interact with elsewhere and enjoy talking to. If someone sends me a friend request and s/he has rated 5 books but has 3500 friends (these people are always self-published authors) I ignore it because I assume they are there to spam me, not to talk about books. If they send me a second request, I block them. Disclosure that the person is an author would make no difference to me in these cases–it’s usually evident in their profile (and if it’s not, it should be).

      • Tasha Turner says:

        Fair enough. I totally agree with you on this.

  5. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2008, and I use it like a reader (I lament the day I excitedly changed my account to “Author” when I released a book last year!). The only time I felt a genuine conflict of interest was when I was agented and when I went on an agent quest–I felt uncomfortable reviewing books repped by agents I’d queried because there was a chance they wouldn’t take my activity on Goodreads as completely unrelated to my career in the publishing industry.

    I do feel twinges of discomfort when if I review the book of an author I follow/friend/like, but it’s mostly because of the “You might need them one day!” mantra that is subtly enforced between authors. I love that authors in Romancelandia are so helpful and encouraging, but that mantra seems rather mercenary and calculating to me (if someone reaches out to me, or I to them, I hope it’s genuine and not based on other elements–after all, your relationships with personal friends and family aren’t based on conditions). I continue to review or leave stars as honestly as I can because Goodreads is about the books, not author promo or author egos (even my own); I cherish the prospect of leading people to unsung or underrated books, and I love bookish conversations. Because that’s what reviewing/reading blogs and websites are all about: the books.

    • “I do feel twinges of discomfort when if I review the book of an author I follow/friend/like, but it’s mostly because of the “You might need them one day!” mantra that is subtly enforced between authors. I love that authors in Romancelandia are so helpful and encouraging, but that mantra seems rather mercenary and calculating to me (if someone reaches out to me, or I to them, I hope it’s genuine and not based on other elements–after all, your relationships with personal friends and family aren’t based on conditions).”

      Yes! I have not come to my own consensus about this and Goodreads. I need to pick a policy and stick with it but the “You might need them one day!” call is as much of a constant, steady buzz as cicadas in August in the South and I’ve not yet been strong enough to resist it.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I focused on the negative in this post, but in fact I know a number of authors who I think negotiate the reader/author balance in their own roles very well. They may or may not review; they may decide to say only positive things about books in the genre; but there is enough content in their positive comments about books that it feels real to me, not just promo. They talk about all kinds of books they like, not just recent ones. I really appreciate these people (like both of you), who DO add to the bookish conversations I’m part of.

        I completely understand how the “You might need that person” mantra is hard to resist. And then, of course, if no one will test it, we don’t know if it’s true.

      • LOL! I’m a pretty gung-ho DIY person for all manners of reasons, good and bad, so the mantra is something with which I struggle. So maybe I’ll be that test, Liz. ;)

  6. I agree that bloggers seem to be much better about disclosure than authors. They note if they were given an ARC and often mention connections to author (“I follow her on twitter”). It’s essential to disclose any money/favor exchange. If you’re being paid to promote the book (and not just with an ARC or a signed bookplate) I want to know.

    In the past year or so, I’ve noticed that groups of authors will tweet about a friend’s book release/99 cent deal. It seems scheduled, esp if 4-5 authors are tweeting the same thing. And then next week it’s Author B’s turn. This is a favor exchange and it’s never disclosed. I’ve also seen my Harlequin editor tweet book buzz with “Ad” as a preface. This signals to me that her tweet is not a personal rec. I appreciate the difference.

    As far as author-reviewing. Someone asked on twitter the other day “How do you feel about a blogger publishing a book in secret?” and I said “no, disclose.” The majority of responses were the opposite. Many authors advise other authors to review under a separate name because of possible backlash. I think this is unfortunate and, well, wrong. Of course I understand the temptation, when any critical comment from an author is looked askance at or called “trashing.” I made a non-cheerleader comment at a group author site a few months ago and it didn’t go over well. It seems like the only proper thing for authors to say to each other is “you did great/you’ll do great/you’re awesome.”

    • willaful says:

      You’re making me miss Regretsy and “The Only Sane Person in the World.”

      Those tweet bombs are really starting to bother me. I’d like to be able to post honest praise without feeling like I’m being sucked into some giant hype machine.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I actually hesitate on Twitter to say anything positive about a book these days (especially a new one getting lots of buzz) or to retweet a blog review I found interesting. That’s pretty sad.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      After writing that about bloggers I wondered if it is true, or just the bloggers I follow. I think more bloggers than I realize are offering services to authors or otherwise engaged in “the industry” in ways that are not visible to their audience.

      The whole issue of reviewing under another name is so complicated. After all, many many bloggers and Goodreads and Amazon users use a pseudonym (I didn’t use my full name on my blog or Twitter at first, and I still don’t have it on my Goodreads account). And I don’t have a problem with that. There are privacy issues and the fact that reviewing seems to open one to all kinds of attacks these days.

      I guess, though, that for authors to review under another name reinforces the idea that there is something wrong, bad or mean about it. And that troubles me. It also seems to reflect the bad side of the female culture of romance–where people are super nice and supportive to your face but secretly stabbing you in the back. That’s a bad thing about how women are socialized in my opinion and I sure wouldn’t want a system that perpetuates it.

      But speaking critically under your own name as an author, however politely, is difficult to do in this climate. I do appreciate that.

      • “I guess, though, that for authors to review under another name reinforces the idea that there is something wrong, bad or mean about it.”

        This was the one easy decision I had to make about keeping up my Goodreads account (calling it reviewing seems so much more formal than anything I’ve ever done on Goodreads). It seemed to me that reviewing under another name would be found out pretty damn quickly and then it would look like I was trying to hide something and then, if I was trying to hide something, it must be for bad reasons and not just for the sake of privacy.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, and I meant to say re. your editor: I don’t understand all the ins and outs of FTC regulations, but I think someone is supposed to disclose when a tweet is “promotional” (i.e. when the person has a financial stake in the recommended product). So she’s doing the right thing. Unlike a lot of tweets I see.

      I remember the kerfuffle when some Friday Reads tweets turned out to be promotional and there was no disclosure that Bethanne Patrick was being compensated by publishers. I think that the upshot of discussion was that that was not just hinky but against FTC regulations, but I may be remembering wrong.

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  8. Ros says:

    I have been trying to get back to reviewing. I do miss it. I didn’t stop because I became an author, I stopped because the thesis was killing me and I didn’t have any spare energy. But now I am done, I hope that I’ll have more brain cells and enthusiasm for reviewing again. I mostly don’t understand buy in to the ‘all authors have to be lovely to each other thing’ and I’m happy to say when I didn’t enjoy a book (and why).

    I do think disclosure is an increasingly difficult issue. People are online in multiple places, sometimes with multiple identities and roles. It’s not always obvious when and how these need to be linked up. The AJH case is an interesting one to me. In the first few reviews he wrote at DA, he was a guest reviewer without a bio, so the only link to his blog was through clicking his name in the comments. For me, I think that’s asking too much of readers to count as disclosure, even though the information is not secret. He was already contracted, I think, so I think it would have been better to disclose from the start.

    But I also think that the line between ‘reader’ and ‘aspiring writer’ can be fuzzy. For instance, I can’t remember when I became an ‘aspiring writer’ in my own head. In fact, I don’t think I ever thought of myself like that. Did it change the first time I subbed to a publisher? Entered a competition? Or the first time I completed a manuscript? Or wrote online fanfic? All those things happened in overlapping and complicated ways for me. I never intended to hide who or what I was, but I might well not have disclosed everything immediately, because it wasn’t always clear what my status actually was.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this post. It’s put reviewing back onto my to do list.

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  10. Isobel Carr says:

    My main problem with reviewing books I don’t like is that A) I’d have to finish them (or enough of them to make it look like I tried, and I barely have time to read as it is), B) My reasons for disliking things are so often due to historical errors that clearly doesn’t affect the majority of readers’ enjoyment of the same book, C) My giving poor grades to books that are my competition seems self-serving at best and sour grapeish at worst, and D) I really don’t want to deal with the flak (which is a copout, I know).

    So I’ve come down on the side of recommending books I genuinely love. And yes, 80% of the time the author is probably also a friend of mine. I don’t consider my re-tweets as endorsements necessarily either. I often retweet announcements or sales I think my followers might be interested in, even if I’m not (just like I host a wide range of historical authors on my blog to talk about their new releases, even if their book doesn’t appeal to me on any level).

    • “C) My giving poor grades to books that are my competition seems self-serving at best and sour grapeish at worst,”

      This is one of the arguments against authors reviewing that I find hardest to swallow. While people may be picking up Sarah Mayberry instead of me (I’m picking an awesome author who writes in the same line as I do for ease of comparison), better writing and better books benefits us all. Our real competition isn’t each other but video games and television and other leisure activities that people do *instead* of reading. I want people to read (and buy) my books, but if they read a Sarah Mayberry Superromance instead of one of mine, then at least they’re reading. And if they’re reading, then the chances that they will pick up my books may increase because reading Mayberry book was so awesome and much better than watching The Bachelor.

      Plus, I think this assumes that the readers reading my negative review of another contemporary author can’t read other positive reviews and make up their own mind.

      I do think that the sour grapes/self-serving argument is a natural corollary to the promoting of friends. If you (I’m speaking generally, not of you, Isobel) sing the praises of your friend’s book, even if you hated it, then you might pan people who are not your friends, even if you liked their book. I see those as two sides of the same coin. I’m sure most people probably only participate in the positive side of the coin, but the negative side is floating around.

      This being said, much like Isobel hosting authors on her blog, I promote books that I don’t like all the time at my library (and will recommend books that I didn’t like via twitter if I think they’re appropriate to what someone expresses and interest in reading). If I didn’t like a book but it sounds like you will, I’ll tell you.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I think being a librarian gives you a whole different perspective on these questions (more of a “readers’ advisory” attitude). Teaching English long ago broke me of the expectation that other people will love the books I do, but I still have a hard time recommending a book I disliked or think is bad to someone I think would like it.

        I agree with you on panning as the flip side of pimping in some ways. But I also would understand authors commenting only positively on books in their own subgenre. I like your Goodreads reviews/ratings, Jennifer, because they cover a whole range of books thanks to your dayjob. It gives me a feel for your taste. (I appreciate when other authors do this, too, like Ruthie Knox talking about Lois McMaster Bujold, which is obviously not log-rolling, or Molly O’Keefe raving about Adam Johnson’s Orphan Master’s Son).

        Isobel, you are so clearly a person with strong opinions, including negative ones, that when you recommend a book I believe you are sincere, even though you usually don’t publicly criticize specific books in the genre. I don’t think reviewing is a *requirement* for authors to enter book conversations in a meaningful, non-promotional way.

      • I will admit that my strident defense of authors reviewing is incredibly self-serving. When someone said I shouldn’t review or should only post positive things to Goodreads, I panicked. Until Goodreads I had never been able to keep track of what I read, nor of my thoughts on those books. The prospect of losing that record makes me clutch at my throat to keep the scream in.

        And “I don’t think reviewing is a *requirement* for authors to enter book conversations in a meaningful, non-promotional way.” is true for everyone.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        I’m not sure why it’s hard to swallow. If I review a new book by someone in my subgenre and my review basically says, “Wow, this book is an ahistorical mess, let me count the ways…” (and it quite frequently would, since bad history is a major issue for me), and I did this on a regular basis, I honestly believe I’d catch a LOT of flak. I catch enough when I mention historical errors on Twitter and someone recognizes the book I’m talking about. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but my flaying a book for bad history does, I think, imply that I think my book is better than the book I’m talking about in a way that my saying the world building in Naked in Death didn’t work for me doesn’t.

        Also, I think there’s a difference between “promote” and “recommend”. I promote stuff I haven’t read all the time (retweets of sales, guests on the blog, etc.). That just comes with being an active part of the community. But I only recommend stuff I’ve read and liked, and those recs are entirely independent of friendship (plenty of my friends write books that don’t really work for me, and I don’t read them, and plenty of books I love are by people I don’t know beyond following them on Twitter).

        But in all honesty, even if “C” wasn’t an issue, “A” still would be.

      • It’s hard to argue with A. My goodreads has skewed positive only because I don’t finish a book I don’t like unless I have to for a book club (and I don’t always finish those). I also don’t finish many a good book, sadly.

        “but my flaying a book for bad history does, I think, imply that I think my book is better than the book”

        You’re probably right about this. I suppose I don’t want you to be right about this because I’d like to believe that everyone can be told they were wrong about this or that detail and either be confident they were right (and so ignore you) or learn and do better next time. But neither the world nor myself work this way all the time.

      • Tasha Turner says:

        Amazon now considers it against policy to give a bad review to someone in the same genre as you (it’s unclear if that means sub-genre, genre, or fiction). They do consider us to be in competition. They may remove that review or any review you’ve ever left. They may also remove your books.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        This is a distinction in types of reviews we really didn’t touch on here. I think Amazon is interested in consumer ratings that will help sell books, not in critical discourse (although that sometimes happens in Amazon reviews). Hence their rules, which make sense in their context. I’m not interested in that, so I while I sometimes look at those reviews, I don’t leave reviews/ratings there. My Goodreads “reviews” are pretty brief and aimed at my own memory and my friends. On my blog, I think of myself as engaging in critical discourse. I don’t “review” so much as reflect on what I am reading. I’m not concerned about whether my posts help people decide whether or not to buy a book, though sometimes they have that effect.

    • “I don’t consider my re-tweets as endorsements necessarily either. I often retweet announcements or sales I think my followers might be interested in, even if I’m not”

      Yes, I do this also. If I go out of my way to type up my OWN promo tweet for someone else’s book, that is an endorsement I feel. Those are the tweets I see authors doing in groups as a united promo effort. They aren’t RTs. I can’t say if it’s against regulations (I don’t know), but the difference to me is like this:

      1. Author A’s book is on sale! Yay!! BUY LINK.

      2. Author A’s book is on sale! Yay!! BUY LINK (I have an agreement with 12 authors and we all tweet each other’s deals)

      Most people probably don’t care, but I see much more value in a sincere personal rec. Which would have to include more detail than either of the above, such as “I read Author A’s debut novel and really enjoyed it.”

    • This seems to imply that you pick up books with the expectation that you’ll flay them for historical inaccuracies, etc. I only read what I want to read, so DNF’s are a rarity, and I typically only leave reviews/stars for books I have read to the end. If I know something is going to get my goat (historical inaccuracy, plots I don’t like, writing I’m not fond of, etc), I don’t even bother looking at the book. I’m not a professional reviewer or book blogger, so there’s no obligation for me to read and/or review everything that crosses my path.

      Perhaps it’s because I don’t write in popular time period that I don’t see other historical romance authors as my competition? In truth, I’m more apt to recommend or read any book set in my time period because I want people to get out of their Regency rut! *g* Other than that, I do guard my recommendations rather tightly because of the platform I have established for myself as a blogger of Edwardian/WWI/Gilded Age history. Even if my perception of my influence is just in my own head, I do feel I owe it to the gobs of people in my circle to remain as honest and aboveboard as possible.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        “Seems to imply?” Where? I’m completely baffled by that conclusion. I said that it’s a frequent reason I don’t like books. This is a simple statement of fact. I certainly don’t go looking for books I think I won’t like. Nor do I go out of my way to try books that I already know will make snakes pop out of my head. Thankfully, there are more than enough reviews out there to warn me off the most egregious works. But if I was going to actually review books across the board (other than books I LIKE) there would be a LOT of flaying. Again, simple statement of facts on the ground given what I see in the genre.

        Maybe “competition” wasn’t the word I was looking for. Because the way you’re using it certainly isn’t what I meant. What I meant is more along the lines of slagging off books in my own genre (books that may be more successful than mine, since I’m midlist at best) smacks of sour grapes and an author having a petty tantrum (as well as reader shaming). Just not something that holds any real interest for me AS AN AUTHOR (I did a LOT of it when I was a reader though, my Amazon reviews were harsh; if blogs had been a thing back then, I might never have become an author, I’d have been too busy dissecting my reading).

      • Hm, well I guess we approach reading and reviewing in a different way! Plus, I’ve mostly stopped reading historical romance–save the Harlequin Historical line, and the single title novels that piques my interest–so that’s probably mitigated any possibility that I’d end up reviewing stuff that irritated me, or come across as having sour grapes.

  11. Sunita says:

    I’m so glad you noted that conflict of interest has nothing to do with having done something wrong but is about negotiating multiple roles (and that is a great way to think about it). There seem to be two ways of thinking about disclosure responsibilities: one places the burden on the person providing the opinion, while the other places the burden on the readers to follow links, etc. My own experience pushes me toward the former, i.e., if I’m doing something where there might be a conflict of interest or not-obvious connections between me and the subject of my post/tweet/whatever, it’s my obligation to provide that information *in the venue in which I’m offering the opinion*. Not everyone is on Twitter. Not everyone clicks links in a comment thread. Hell, not everyone bothers to read the material that is front and center. But if you put it out there in plain words, at least you know you’ve done your duty.

    The biggest reason I got off Twitter was the promo. Isobel (who is far from the worst offender) says above that promo is being part of the community, and I understand her perspective. But I’m not part of that author community, yet that stuff was tweeted into my stream day in and day out whether I was following the people or not. I didn’t realize initially that there were these author coops and quid pro quo arrangements, and I got burned by picking up some books that got a lot of attention and then wondering why on earth they were being publicized so much. Sometimes I didn’t even realize it was fellow authors tweeting the endorsements and RTs. Now I just ignore 99% of positive author reviews, blurbs, and other types of publicity. I’m sure I miss genuine recommendations, but I’ll live with that.

    Twitter is a place to sell stuff now. Just like the rest of the internet. That doesn’t mean other good things can’t happen there, but it’s almost impossible to cordon off the non-author-centric material from the promo and author stuff. And it’s only going to get worse, promo-wise, once the IPO occurs, because Twitter will have to find a way to keep people from avoiding ads/promo or their shareholders will punish them.

    I have always believed authors should review books. I’ve enjoyed reading Jennifer’s and Jill’s reviews and thoughts on books. But sadly, they are becoming the exception for me, not the rule. Not for the first time, I recently saw someone who is being paid by a publisher reviewing a book from that publisher, without any disclosure of the financial relationship. That’s not OK.

    • Isobel Carr says:

      “I didn’t realize initially that there were these author coops and quid pro quo arrangements, and I got burned by picking up some books that got a lot of attention and then wondering why on earth they were being publicized so much.”

      I didn’t realize this either! And to be frank, I have unfollowed a lot of people because they over promote and/or behave like a SPAM bot. I try *really* hard not to do that. I figure the people who follow me on twitter probably already know I have a book coming out. So a tiny bit of promo (some of which might get retweeted to people who don’t follow me and don’t know I have a new book out) is my ideal use. Mostly, I’m there to talk to readers and reviewers about things OTHER than my books. I like all the history and museum accounts. I find a lot of books there via bloggers. And I just generally enjoy the hell out of it (unlike FaceBook, which I find to be a real chore; outside of a couple of private groups, I just don’t find FB all that interactive or interesting).

      • Sunita says:

        I don’t mind self-promo if it’s kept to a dull roar (and I’ve never noticed you doing a lot of it, Isobel). I *expect* authors to tweet when they have a book coming out. It’s when promo tweets are the majority of the stream, or when people RT everything promotional that shows up in their stream. They may think that RTing everything is more neutral, but it is basically spam.

        I don’t know if Twitter promo is effective or not for authors. I don’t blame them for producing it in large quantities if that’s an important part of their Twitter presence, because Twitter is a public-access venue and everyone has the right to use it in ways that work for them. It’s not as if they’re hiding that they’re authors trying to alert readers to their books, so it’s my responsibility to avoid it if I don’t like it. What I did object to was not being able to distinguish the promo-driven tweets from the unsolicited endorsements, and when I went looking for possible connections if I saw a book recommendation, the majority turned out to be for books by people with whom the endorser had some kind of connection.

        My response has been: get off Twitter, which cuts down my exposure to the weekly/monthly NewNew Thing; cut down the number of ARCs requested to only those books I really want to try and I don’t think anyone else at DA is going to read; and only accept unsolicited ARCs (occasionally) from authors I’ve read and enjoyed. So far it’s working for me and I seem to have my reading mojo back.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        Well I’m glad you’re getting your mojo back. I think my eye must just slide right by all but the most egregious of the spam promo stuff. I only notice it occasionally, and when I do, I tend to unfollow (or block; today I blocked the Starz Outlander account because people are retweeting the hell out of it and it’s NOT something I want to read about).

  12. Oh, I have wrestled with this stuff so much – i could go on for hours about it, but let me just pick up on a few points.

    Firstly the model of authors as group marketers for not just themselves, but other authors. I must admit I hate (and ignore) promo in my own tweetstream and assume – possibly wrongly – that other people ignore it as well. This has led me to a basic approach of non-participation with other people’s promo. I feel uncomfortable with it, so I don’t do it. I just do a small amount of self promo. Possily the odd retweet when something relates to a friend (but I am not a good or reliable friend in this regard and that makes me feel bad).

    naturally, these things are based on quid pro quo, so i get little promo from other authors (except those friends – who I then feel guilty for not promo-ing). Sometimes, I castigate myself for being stupid and amateur. Often actually. It’s not like i think I’m being noble for not doing it, it’s more that I find the whole thing kind of embarrassing/ cringey which is pretty pathetic, probably. occasionally I dither over it and then go back to not-doing-things which is my basic default position.

    Then there is reviewing. I used to blog a fair bit – this was in the aspiring author days yes, but I blogged because of a genuine love of blogging, not to make a name (in fact I used a different name). I gave up blogging because I knew something had to give – I was getting stressed at that point and, frankly, was dssatisfied with the feedback I was getting from blogging. It felt like the conversation had moved away from blogs. Everyone was on Twitter, usually in different timezones from me.

    As regards writing negative reviews, it was long before I was published that I found that I was disinclined to blog about books i hadn’t liked. There were various reasons for this, and i would be lying if I said that it didn’t occur to me that it might not be a good idea to alienate anyone, but actually, the two main reasons were that (1) I get bored writing about books I don’t like (my fundamental and abiding interest is in examining the elements of romance novels that really *get* me and asking myself why they do so) and (2) I gave myself permission to DNF books I’m not enjoying.

    These days I occasionally review at my author site but it tends to be when I love something so much I feel like I have to talk about it, or when I have a run of good books I want to talk about it. I still want to have open conversations about reading, the way I used to. I don’t think it’s being an author that’s stopping me – these days it’s an inability to find the place to speak with the people I want to connect with about the things I want to talk about.

    • Joanna, for what it’s worth, I do very little retweeting of others, and usually only do it if it passes the “do I think my readers would be interested?” or “do I think this is interesting?” test. I very rarely tweet reviews of my book, never ask other people to tweet for me, and I actively stay away from cross-tweeting/facebooking schemes, and nothing will make me drop a group faster than someone saying, “So, let’s all tweet each other’s releases…” I do try and say something specific for a book I’m genuinely excited about.

      I can’t say if that limits the amount of cross-promo that people do for me–I’m in a different place than you–but I’ve held this line since I first started and see no evidence that my failure to promote like a fiend has made a darned bit of difference for my career.

      The only things I think have made a difference for my career are (1) write books that a lot of people connect with and (2) get as many copies of those books as I can in the hands of people who might like to read them, and (3) put in place mechanisms so that people who are genuinely interested in reading my new books can find out when they come out. So I don’t worry about how you’re doing.

      As to the rest of this: Before I was an author, I reviewed books on Amazon. Some of my reviews were gushingly positive. Not all of them were. (Understatement.) (My tumblr shows how I reacted to the Lizzie Bennett Diaries when they started going off the rails. I’m not exactly soft-spoken, and I react strongly when something pisses me off.)

      After I started writing romance, and then going to RWA and meeting authors in person, I found myself tempering the reviews I put up. Not because I was afraid for any personal consequences–but because I found it hard to say, “This book is a hot mess!” about a book where the author had told me a funny story about kittens. I ended up deleting all my reviews before I sold my first book, because I didn’t feel that I could trust myself to review honestly any longer.

      I don’t have a problem with authors reviewing but I do not think I am personally capable of reviewing any more.

    • Tasha Turner says:

      Joanna you might find this post on Twitter comforting http://bit.ly/1dn6nqd . Keep in mind its the quality of your followers not the quantity that matters.

  13. Liz Mc2 says:

    This discussion has gotten more traction than I ever expected, maybe because I mashed a couple of different issues together in the post.

    Obviously, I wrote from a reader’s–and to some extent an academic literary critic’s–perspective, and I just wanted to say how much I am appreciating all the thoughtful comments from authors’ perspectives. Thank you all.

  14. willaful says:

    I didn’t know you could block specific retweets! Must avail myself of that feature.

  15. kaetrin says:

    It makes me sad when a book I really enjoyed is getting so much promo that my genuine tweets or conversations about it get lumped in with “spam”. I got all grumpy the other week about it because I felt like I couldn’t say I liked a book. Then I just decided, well, it’s not a crime to like a book and if I want to talk about it I will. And, it’s not a crime to not like a book (even the same book actually) and it’s okay to talk about it too. I’m fortunate that my timezone issues (which means most of my online friends are awake when I’m sleeping) mean that I miss out on a lot of spammy tweets and I skim over many anyway. I have blocked a couple authors recently because there were all promo all the time. I don’t need to see every review of your book. If I really want to, I will go find them myself. Truth.

    The disclosure thing is an issue I’m still wrestling with in some ways. I think, in part, it’s important that the questions are being raised. When one doesn’t even consider them, perhaps there is a problem. Just where the line is is so subjective. For example, I follow Sarah Mayberry on Twitter and she follows me. We sometimes have brief Twitter chats about another book or about our dogs or news of the day. But we aren’t friends. Maybe someday I will meet her and we will strike up a friendship. Maybe not. But right now, I don’t have any difficulty in reviewing her books. I mean, generally I like them – it’s why I started following her in the first place – but if I don’t like something, I don’t feel any compunction in saying so. So, for her, for now, I don’t feel like I have to say at the top of the review “BTW, I follow her on Twitter”. But there are other authors where the relationship is stronger than that. So, whether I say anything will be purely subjective. I imagine that the internet will school me heavily if I get it wrong.

    I like authors reviewing. I can spot a non-genuine review at 20 paces but if I miss it, I’m likely to only get burned once by that reviewer/author. I like authors participating in the online community in general. I enjoy talking to them in blog conversations such as this one and on Twitter and about reviews (but not of their own books). Authors are readers too after all.

    • I’m always interested to know which books you like, whether they’re hyped or not, Kaetrin. Hype doesn’t always put me off, not if I’m truly interested in the book. And if hype lasts, there’s usually something going on there, in terms of book quality.

    • Sunita says:

      It is sad when genuine enthusiasm gets lumped in with the obvious promo and both get categorized as spam. But it’s not surprising, because when one follows the other in a tweetstream, or a GR update, they kind of blend together for the non-invested onlooker. I wish the people who were producing all the promo would think about that, that when they flood social media with their unspontaneous enthusiasm they’re potentially reducing the effect of spontaneous enthusiasm. If I see your name attached to it, Kaetrin, I’ll treat it as genuine, but that’s because I know you and have read your reviews and your blog for quite a while. But I don’t always have that information about a commenter.

      I’ve always said “just disclose,” and for a long time I thought that was enough. I still think it’s a minimum requirement, but lots of dislosure-accompanied promo is still lots of promo.

    • Isobel Carr says:

      I had the same thing happen (I’m guessing about the same book). I genuinely adored it, top 5 of the year for me so far, but there were so many people in my tweet stream complaining about the buzz/promo that I felt like I couldn’t talk about it or do the give away I’d been planning without angering them. Really bummed me out, as I almost NEVER seem to like books that get heavy buzz and promo.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I’m not an author, so I’ll be blunt. GLITTERLAND is a good example. I felt about that book the way you’d feel if your cousin/friend announced she was pregnant, then posted FB photos of her growing belly every week, announced the baby’s sex and name months before its arrival, etc. I was interested the first time I heard about it, but by the time it finally arrived I just felt like “Shut. Up. Wasn’t Little Johnny born 3 months ago?”

        I do not follow the author. I do not follow the publisher. I do follow Sarah, the editor. And she seemed to RT every bit of advance praise and her own excitement about the book for, like, 6 months. How many times do I need to be told Suzanne Brockmann loved it? It was overkill. (And yes, I know I can mute. But I hate to do that when I also enjoy engaging with someone). And then a bunch of authors, as well as bloggers, were given advance copies and started tweeting about how great it was. None of the authors said why (maybe you did, and I’m mis-remembering). It was all “Oh, this is so great, readers will be so lucky when they can read it.”

        So. I know a lot of readers I follow like it, but their genuine enthusiasm, by the time it arrived, fell on ears deafened by the preceding noise. I might try the book one day (though honestly, given the excerpts I’ve read, I’m not sure it’s for me). But the excessive early promotion by the editor and others did, as Sunita says, make the genuine responses read as less genuine (I mean, I know my friends were honest, I don’t think they are on a Riptide street team, but I was like “not more about That Book”).

        This has happened to me before more than once. Authors (or editors) are not doing their author friend a favor when they tweet from the first time they read the friend’s draft about how great this book is going to be, how important, how we are all going to be so lucky for our reader selves to be blessed with it. If they’d dial it back, genuine word of mouth would really shine through. Also, if they’d add a tweet or two about WHY they liked the book, it would make the tweets feel less like hype and more like book discussion.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        To be clear: I think much of this praise from authors/editors is genuine. But I think people in these roles need to consider how their praise will come off–how frequent, how substantive, etc.–and how they can couch it to convey its genuineness.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        By the time I got a copy (at RWA) many of friends on Twitter were already *UP TO HERE* with the promo, so I didn’t talk about it much (I do follow the author, and I haven’t seen him do much promo, it’s been mainly Sarah and bloggers who loved it).

        Basically, I loved the voice (and I’m NOT a fan of 1st person pov, and I pretty much loathe dialect, so it had a lot to overcome to win me over). It was snarky and smart in a way I really appreciated and connected with (if you don’t like the voice in his reviews on DA, you probably won’t like the book either, it’s quite recognizably HIM). The specific references and images were things I that as an Anglophile I totally got, and they really worked to fill out the world and inform the characters. I liked the secondary characters quite a bit (even though the ex-boyfriend has my little brother’s uncommon first name, which I just had to get over), especially the bi-sexual guy. I’d so read a book about him and his wife. Hell, I’d read a book about all of the secondary characters. It was a vivid world and I enjoyed my visit.

        There’s a bit about a country house built in the 90s being styled a “manor house” that slayed me. There were lots of little snarky one offs that just *worked*. My friends and I were giggling over the snark all through Costume College.

        On the down side, I thought it was too short and ending felt rushed. I wanted to see a few of the outstanding issues resolved a little more concretely. But that’s an artistic and editorial issue. I get told the same thing about my own books (too short, too abrupt, needed time to wallow) so I guess now I know how it feels!

  16. I love talking books, but being part of the industry does change things. Now I basically do two things: I only write about what I loved/liked about the book, and I write about books where I have little personal/professional relationship with the book/author. And I’d think of them more as reader reactions than reviews.

    It does give me a pang not to be able to write about books like in the good old days of being an aspiring author (cue rose-colored glasses). I recently wrote up an essay to myself about a trilogy in another genre, which went off the rails for me even while I found many aspects of the entire series exciting. But I guess that’s only for me, because I can’t bring myself to post it publicly.*

    And I’m not even convinced that’s a bad thing. I have to accept what consequences and I do and do not want to contend with. And, related to the conversation above, yes, I think reviewing books can look like you’re bashing the competition. At the very least you can look like you’re trying to create content (which authors are encouraged to do), and using other authors and books to do so.

    Despite that, if an author wants to review, they should. Presumably people will see those people who love reviewing for reviewing’s sake.

    I’m also a little leery about people pointing to the past and, say, Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf. The world is so much more immediate, so much smaller. The context seems quite different.

    Regarding RTs, I do try to always use the RT function, in any context, so that it at least won’t appear again in other people’s timelines. But obviously this isn’t the solution to people feeling overwhelmed by promo!

    Anyway, fascinating post and comments.

    *if nothing else I wouldn’t post a negative review of an author I think is more talented than I am. I think I have a fairly clear idea of my writing, and I would (personally) cringe to criticize an author who can write circles around me. It felt much different before I was published.

    • “I wouldn’t post a negative review of an author I think is more talented than I am”

      Yes, this.

      • I feel the opposite! I’ve disliked books by some very talented authors. I would never presume to suggest that I’m better than them just because I didn’t enjoy a particular book. I hope that’s not what a negative review from me projects.

        I think it’s easier, in some ways, to criticize a popular, talented author. It won’t have as much impact. Punching down vs. punching up sort of thing. I feel more conflicted about leaving negative reviews for new/unknown authors. That’s another set of conundrums to add to the pile. I would rather give attention to lesser known authors/subgenres (like lesbian and f/f) but in doing so I am “punching down” in many ways.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I sometimes review for the literary magazine associated with my college, and they wrestle with this all the time. They mostly review small-press fiction, poetry and non-fiction. The kind of stuff that doesn’t get a lot of attention. So the big question for them is, do they publish negative reviews? Do they have a “promotional” role or a responsibility to talk about things they think are good? It can definitely feel like “punching down” to criticize a book (however fairly) that many people reading your review wouldn’t even have heard of otherwise. Whereas negative reviews really don’t make a dent for a popular author. (Not that popular always = good by a given reader’s definition or “better than my book”).

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I, of course, do this all the time. I’m not saying authors SHOULD do this. But I do think you can talk about what you admire and respect in a book even if it didn’t work for you. I’ve done this on Goodreads. normally I rate purely based on enjoyment there, because otherwise it’s too much like work. But there are books where my personal experience was just OK, but I think the book is brilliant and I’m not giving it 2 stars.

      • I agree with Jill. A negative reaction to a book doesn’t imply that I think I’m better than they are (though it might be combined with a “I could do this better” and that’s a trickier business). A negative review means that what they wrote didn’t work for me. There are some books out there that I can point to and say, “everyone loves this book because of A, B, and C and the author is very talented, but finishing the book for me was a slog.” And I can think or say that without thinking I’m more talented than they are, or even while thinking that they *are* talented and it still didn’t work for me. To pick a non-romance example, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower was awful. I read two stores and couldn’t finish it and couldn’t even bring myself to go to the book club meeting to discuss the terrible thing (and I run the book club!). However, Tower is INCREDIBLY talented. His writing is unbelievable–which, given his subject matter, is probably one of the reasons I hated the book so much. A less talented writer would have produced less vigorous writing and so his themes and characters would have been more palatable to me. Now, many people in my book club LOVED the book, so if you love to read about horrible people doing horrible things to each other (and many people do), go buy that book immediately!

        A reaction to a book is so personal and the talent of the author is only a minor, minor part of the reader’s reaction.

  17. I can’t find a reply button so @Jill and @Jennifer: I’m only speaking for myself. And I think people can write reviews where they’re not coming across as saying they are better writers than what they are reviewing. But once I became published, I just felt tied in knots about the whole issue—so I don’t do it.

    I think your punching down comments are interesting too, Jill, and I don’t know what the answer is. I have enjoyed your reviews which led me to the excellent Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      The system will only let you thread comments so far, so they don’t become unreadable. I don’t really like threaded comments but I’m not committed enough to spend money on blogging.

    • Robin says:

      As a reader, I would LOVE it if more authors reviewed really popular books. There are so very many ways in which those reviews would not come across like self-aggrandizement. But then I think writing fiction and critiquing fiction are two very different skills, and one of the things that irks me the most is when someone responds to a less than glowing review with “Well, write a book yourself and see if you can do better.”

      Because you don’t have to be a writer of fiction to be a good judge of a fictional work. And you know, some writers of fiction may not make the best critics, either. I can’t tell you how many authors I adored for their blogs, but when their books released, I did not have the same enthusiasm for their fiction writing. The voice just didn’t hit me the same way, and over the years I’ve learned not to be disappointed by that, but just to chalk it up to a preference to one version of their voice over another, with neither being superior.

      At the same time, though, because authors and readers are already so intermixed in the community, it seems to me like authors reviewing (especially reviewing directly as authors, not anonymously — although I do NOT begrudge authors doing this) might actually make things feel more honest, open, and, I don’t know, collegial. Because it feels like every time a boundary is found to be crossed these days, it’s in a negatively perceived way, when there are plenty of positive ways in which lines are being crossed, too (like when a blogger you read gets a book deal — thinking of Elizabeth Vail here, as a recent example).

      • Oh, I agree this “write a book yourself” response is beyond silly, and irritating, and missing the point!

        I also agree the skill-set when it comes to writing fiction and writing reviews, while overlapping, is not somehow equal. On top of that, there are authors whose books I love but whose taste in books I do not love.

        I like writing up book talk, but I’m under no delusion that this does anything good for my author brand, given my stats. But I don’t care, it’s simply that I enjoy writing about books and I want to share when I’ve liked a book. I can no longer enjoy writing up a negative review so I don’t do it. I’m not even sure though that a number of authors reviewing honestly would solve the over-promo situation that is going on now for some readers. But maybe I’m wrong there.

        Aside: I’m not actually that affected by it personally. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve got more hats than a reader, or that I just find it easy to ignore the superbuzz. For example, I bought Glitterland and fully intend to read it and I strongly suspect I’ll enjoy it. I also bought and read and adored Captive Prince (I was ignoring the buzz until one reviewer said just that right thing to catch my attention) and THEN I did a post on it, contributing to the numerous posts that already existed. Because I was excited about the book and, well, had to tell the world.

        Anyway, obviously I’m not saying that those who are buzz-fatigued shouldn’t be, or that promo isn’t a problem when it has chased or is chasing people off Twitter. Or that those hankering for more book talk, shouldn’t be. Especially that latter. But I suspect, as as has been discussed elsewhere here, that buzz does generate more sales than turn people away.

        [cannot seem to keep quiet today]

  18. Glitterland is an interesting example because it shows me just HOW much I ignore promo tweets in my tweetstream – I sampled it cos it came up on my Amazon reccs and I liked it enough to buy. As soon as I’d read it, i suddenly noticed there were HEAPS of tweets from people I follow about it but I hadn’t noticed at all before. I tweeted about liking it and had a handful of tweets with online friends about it but that was all. But there must be lots of people like me who just ignore all this promo noise (and who are driven away from Twitter because of it). I liken going on Twitter to panning for gold. I usually just browse for a minute or two and if nothing grabs me, I’m off.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I will be the first to admit that my Twitter habits compound my problem with hype. If I paid less attention and were on there less. . . . I’m working on it. On the other hand, a lot of Romanceland users are heavy Twitter users. So there are times when I ask myself “Do I need to RT this, or mention this book, or will all my followers already know about it/have seen it.” Am I adding something new to a conversation, or amplifying noise? I am sure I don’t always strike the right balance on this. Because we notice “hype” more when we don’t share the love.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        Don’t we just! I am *UP TO HERE* with the Starz Outlander stuff and it isn’t even filming yet. I could end up very, very grouchy if my block doesn’t weed out enough of the sighing and squeeing.

      • Sunita says:

        I think you have the same problem I do, Liz, which is that Twitter is most valuable to us for the community aspect and the interesting conversations that spontaneously emerge. I had the same problem with muting; I didn’t want to mute people I enjoyed engaging with just because they had so much promo, but then I was stuck with all the promo, plus all the promo that other people I engaged with RT’d, and on and on. I wish I could dip in and out like Joanna does, because then I would still be there!

        I also should emphasize that I have a low threshold for what I think requires disclosure, and if I’m involved in giving early feedback on a book I don’t feel comfortable endorsing or publicizing it. It was really hard, when Joanna’s m/m historical came out, not to squee about it because I think it’s a terrific book. But I only made one comment, at DA, and that was because as one of the m/m reviewers there it might have seemed odd or misleading not to say anything. I knew that reading it at the draft stage and offering suggestions would mean I couldn’t talk about it, but I don’t see the point of “I beta read this and it’s really good!” I mean, it’s not as if I’d ever say “I beta read this; stay away!” Or “I beta read this but she didn’t take any of my advice and it sucks.” If someone asks me specific questions about history or asks me to fact-check something, that’s different; disclosure still required, but I’m just a hired gun for a particular issue in the larger project.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        My approach on the beta-reading issue was to say “I beta-read this so I won’t be reviewing it, but here are the things I really enjoyed about it,” as part of a round-up post on my blog. I think I tweeted something similar when it came out. But a lot of people I know follow the author, so I figured that was plenty from me.

        Also, that is precisely the kind of thing that I think requires disclosure from me. I *am* biased. I wouldn’t want to say anything negative about that book, and though I have never met the author (OK, I should just say it is Jackie Barbosa, it’s not like I’m being secretive) I definitely feel friendly towards her and in some way invested in the book. If I said something positive without mentioning that relationship, and then people later found out about it, I think they would rightly feel that I did something shady, even though my liking for SKIN IN THE GAME was completely genuine.

    • I agree that Joanna’s Provoked was something to squee about. I LOVED it. I would have loved to hear your thoughts on it, Sunita, though I understand you holding back too. (Can’t wait for book 2!)

    • My approach to the beta reading situation is somewhere between yours, Liz, and yours, Sunita. I try not to talk about stuff I’ve beta read at all, but sometimes it’s really hard to restrain myself. If I do talk about it, I disclose that it’s a CP’s upcoming book.

  19. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I worried that I overtweeted stuff about the new book. But it’s a hard road to navigate, honestly. I’m not a huge author–I’m not even a somewhat small one . . . I constantly struggle to get to where I would like to be as an author. So it’s a question of do you retweet things or not? Sometimes it feels like no, because you’re just retweeting things to people who follow you and they’re either going to buy the book or not. And sometimes it feels like yes, because it’s like how else do you get word about your book out there? I don’t know. There’s a happy medium that I’m still trying to navigate as an author.

    And there are times when all the overpromo benefits the author—like there’s one author who has had a TON of promo on release day and has broken the top 15 in Amazon in the few days since release. That placement will most likely get her a trad book deal for a lot of money. I won’t lie–it would have been *awesome* to break into the top 100 as an author. You do get notice then and make money and your readership starts increasing. So it’s an odd thing for authors–because I’m very aware what works and doesn’t work, but at the same time, I would LOVE to get to the next level and generating word of mouth through promo is one way to get there.

    But I do know what doesn’t work for me as a reader and buyer, so I’m very aware of that and probably why I’m so self-conscious about what I RT about myself. I also found the promo for Glitterland overkill. And there have been a couple of other authors who get ALL the love, and it makes me very wary about trying their book. Like recently, there has been a new romance that has gotten a lot of praise. I bought it as I’ve liked the author’s previous works, but I haven’t even read it becuase everyone who reviews it is OMG I LOVE THIS AND THIS HAS BROKEN ALL THE TROPES, and I’m like eeeeeeek, what if all this love is building this book up so much that I’ll end up not liking it. I know that really over-hyped books tend to fall flat for me–like everyone told me to read The Bronze Horseman because it was the best book ever, and I DNF’d it after two chapters. It’s just too much love can work against the book for me.

    As to other type of retweets, I will RT an author if I liked their book, if it’s a friend and it’s good news and I’m all SQUEE and happy about it, or things that just interest me with books. Like I seriously LOVE Laura Florand’s books–and I only read her debut novel due to a review Sunita had written on DA–so when I RT things in regards to her, it’s totally because I genuinely love her books and think others would love or like too.

    This is tl;dr–sorry about that and for any typos in here.

    • Robin says:

      I really appreciate your comment, Elyssa, because I think this is the case with a lot of self-pubbed authors, especially. You want to get word of your books out, but you’re essentially entering a stream that’s already over-crowded with everyone else’s promo. And yet, if you don’t enter the stream at all, how will readers know about your book?

      I don’t know what the answer is. I do think the book community is suffering as a critical discourse and reader enjoyment community, because it’s become so inundated with commercial content. I’m just not sure how to solve the issue when you’ve got readers who should be able to do what readers are supposed to do (express enthusiasm or dismay about books) and authors/pubs that see a viable and legitimate medium in which to promote their product (which is the meat on which the reader response feeds).

      • Isobel Carr says:

        I agree with Elyssa, especially when I see that many of the authors I have unfollowed or blocked due to their relentless promo are hitting lists and doing really well. It’s hard not to wonder if you’re letting yourself and your books down by NOT being a promo machine.

        I just try to tell myself that I have no proof they wouldn’t have been hits WITHOUT all that promo, so copying something I find annoying (and sometimes flat out offensive) isn’t necessarily going to improve my sales. But the niggle of doubt still exists.

      • Robin, I found myself thinking about this post in connection with your freedom of speech post at DA last night – with reference to a marketplace of ideas becoming an increasingly commercial space – something you nod to in this comment. There is something here around the stifling effect of commercial content – something I want to muse on more.

      • Robin says:

        Joanna, As I was working on that post I was thinking all the way back to the plagiarism discussions we had a number of years ago, and how even in cases where there was no issue of copyright infringement, there may be community norms and ethics involved, and how we don’t really stop to sort these things out often or persistently enough. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

        Ken White’s post on “consequences” was incisive and thought-provoking as usual, although it was focused more on the individual level. I really want to go in a slightly different direction, because I think this is really a community issue, and I’d like to think we can talk about how to more deliberately create/contribute to the kinds of spaces we’d like to see and participate in. All of the promo backlash discussion has made this more urgent, I think, because while all of this is legitimate behavior on an individual level it does have community consequences that are deleterious. And as we all know, it’s much easier to break down communities than build/sustain them.

        I was thinking last night about how self-pub promo, especially, falls into the category of unintended consequences. Because while it absolutely has widened the selection of books for readers, it’s also contributed to the fatigue we’re seeing among readers who feel overdone and a sense that people can’t talk about certain books because of all the hype fatigue. And by the time books actually release, it’s like everyone’s already tired of them, so we don’t necessarily get great book discussions. Sure, we can filter things out of our Twitter stream and block/unfollow (and one of the reasons I’m not on Facebook is to do this), but I’m not sure that’s a solution that really helps build community.

      • And by the time books actually release, it’s like everyone’s already tired of them, so we don’t necessarily get great book discussions.

        This. I really miss the more substantive discussions we used to have.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Sometimes I wonder if that is just rose-colored nostalgia. But I really notice on the academic listservs I belong to there is no longer any substantive discussion. I am not sure if those conversations moved elsewhere or got lost. I love Twitter, but it lends itself to promo/quick squee or pan more than to conversation. Boards, lists, even blogs can create a different atmosphere. So I think the format of Twitter, more than (or as much as) any shift in behavior, might lead to this feeling of being swamped in empty promoish soundbites. Even genuine love from readers can easily come off this way in 140 characters.

  20. I’m also not sure how to feel about this. I mostly gave up reviewing when I got my publishing contract, not only because I didn’t have time for it once I had deadlines on top of my day job, but also because I stopped having any interest in reading books I didn’t like. I stopped *finishing* books I wouldn’t rate at least a B, which made my reviews less valuable.

    And yet, many of my good friends still run review blogs, etc, and I try to promo their stuff. If my friends are giving away books on their sites, I will retweet them. Not only because everyone loves free stuff, but also because they *are* my friends, and most of them take reviewing very seriously so I think their sites are valuable. I don’t retweet author promo as a rule (unless it’s more of the “free stuff” ilk) because most of it turns me off.

    The books I really like, I do talk about on Twitter. But the fact is, I am very picky. I rarely participate in Twitter conversations about books because I generally don’t understand the popularity of the stuff people seem to love. Often, I put it down to “the author must be a really nice person and that’s why all these people are saying such great things about her book.” (Or people say “it’s so cracky, I can’t stop reading” which is code to me for “you will hate it with a mad passion.”) I think it’s very hard to read objectively if you know the author. Not impossible, certainly, but hard.

    I agree completely about the overhyping, though I don’t know how to prevent it. I remember reading Molly O’Keefe’s Crazy Thing Called Love a couple of months before it came out and loving it sooooo much I really, really wanted to tell everyone to go read it. And now I wonder…did I do more harm with my enthusiasm than good? I do think both authors and editors need to stop tweeting every positive review, tweet-comment, etc, which makes me absolutely crazed.

  21. Oh, and let me add…I cannot even express how much I abhor the “street team” concept.

  22. Liz Mc2 says:

    I want to pick up a thread from a Twitter conversation about these issues.

    A lot of authors (and editors) ARE tweeting about books they genuinely like (as is evident here). And even when they are tweeting about their friend/critique partner’s book, well, in many cases those relationships exist in the first place because they like each other’s work. But. Many of these people are also doing promotional tweets/RTs (including for free stuff, etc. that their followers may wish to know about it).

    So I acknowledge that there is a Catch-22 for authors. Why shouldn’t they be able to talk, as readers, about books they like just because they are also sometimes using Twitter for promo purposes. I mean, I started here by saying I wished more authors reviewed and/or talked about genre and craft. And I think it is even worse when READERS hesitate to speak because their friends are complaining about hype. We don’t want to kill bookish conversations (and there is self-interest for authors here, because word of mouth is excellent promo).

    I don’t think this is easy to negotiate; to some extent, everything an author does on social media can be seen as “promotional” or “branding,” which is awful and unfair. They should still get to be people. I do think authors might want to think about how and how often they are expressing their love for books so that it appears distinct to their followers from a promo exchange. In some cases, they might want to take their appreciation of each other’s work offline more of the time. Does your whole Twitter world really need to know you are so excited you just got another chapter of BFF’s/editee’s draft to read? Or that your crit partner gives awesome feedback? Why? (Is that just talking a little about your daily life, as many of us do, or is it super-advance promo? How am I supposed to sort out the difference?)

    • Isobel Carr says:

      My least fav “super-advanced promo” is when they tweet little bits of their WIP. I don’t know why it’s such a huge turn off for me, but it REALLY is!

      • A great trash-treasure example! That’s one of my favorite types of promo. :-) I can manage to ignore the rest, but that’s one I really enjoy. There are some authors who really pick great excerpts.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        What I don’t like is sex scene snippets. Out of context/not knowing the characters, they rarely engage me. And they make it seem like the genre is always about sex. But other lines can be enticing.

    • Isobel Carr says:

      Can we talk about what you’d like to hear from authors re genre and craft? I’ve talked some about my beliefs about the historical genre on History Hoydens (and managed to piss off tons of people while doing so), but I don’t talk much about craft (unless you count research as part of craft, which I do). I leave the craft talk mostly for RWA where it seems more applicable.

      I have talked about craft a bit on twitter, but mostly along the lines of, “WTF is happening with the POV in this book? Did the hero really just think of his own shoulders as broad and manly? Srsly? #POV”

    • I have tried to be a Twitter Author and have failed massively at it, LOL. Twitter is mostly my fun space, where I shoot off about various topics, or RT things I think my followers will be interested in. I’m more Authorly on Facebook or on writers’ forums, where my being an author is more consciously delineated. But I just might be incredibly old school with my internet use–back when it was just chat rooms, message boards, livejournals, and listservs where you could bond with of strangers (who sometimes became friends) who shared your particular interests or fandoms. Social media to me is just one more facet of community-building, not a marketplace.

  23. I review over at The Good, The Bad and The Unread. When I started I was offered a sock identity, but I know these things always come out. And it didn’t feel right. What I am contributes to how I feel about a book. I know the reviewing has held me back in some areas, but I really wanted to do it, because I was asked to review from an author’s perspective, as well as a reader’s, and I felt that there weren’t enough of them.
    Full disclosure also means that I can set my rules. I won’t review a book from a publisher or line I’m with (for instance I review a lot of category romances, even though I have a book with Carina, but internally the lines don’t have any points of contact). I will only review a book from a friend if I disclose that the person is a friend. And when I promo, I make it clear that’s what I’m doing.
    However sometimes it makes sense to refer to a book that I’ve written, or the way I wrote something. I always feel a bit awkward and I don’t do it very often, but I know my own work and process best, so sometimes I will refer to it.
    I think that if writers are transparent, i.e. do it as themselves, that’s doing a service to everybody. It gives another perspective on a book, and it means the reader can take what she knows about me into consideration.
    But people who know me know how much I hate gaming and manipulation, so maybe that’s not a surprise.
    It’s not always done me any favours, but I knew that when I started.

  24. Keishon says:

    This was a fascinating read and discussion, Liz. I enjoyed reading this post. I think my opinion is mashed up with yours and Sunita’s. I choose a long time ago to limit my time on Twitter. I realized that a lot of the people I follow on there do not have or seem to have the same interests as me – mysteries and my love for Jo Nesbo. But that’s okay and I’ve moved on. Focus for me these days is offline things like my career, family and friends and trying to keep blogging when I can. Whenever I gushed about any writer it was rare and few and far between.

    I must also echo you in saying that I am also surprised to learn who has aspirations to be writers or who work behind the scenes in publishing these days. It seems like almost everybody I know has a hand in it somewhere. At any rate, I follow only a handful of the romance community so maybe that’s why I don’t see a whole lot of this promo/RT to the nth degree stuff and I think I only saw Glitterland maybe once in my tweet stream just by luck. Great post and a lot of great discussion but I don’t think that it will change anything in the long run. Authors will still have books to sell and readers will still gush about them and the cycle continues.

  25. The longer I am in Romancelandia, the quieter I become. After two years of reviewing books, interviewing authors, and participating in social media, my overwhelming feeling is there is no rule book for interaction and reaction that doesn’t make someone feel a line has been crossed.

    • Isobel Carr says:

      True, but that’s why there are so many different pockets for people to land in. I love the freewheeling, chatty nature of Twitter. FaceBook bores me to death (though I force myself to use it). And I love blogs like this, and some of the author blogs that are focused primarily on research (which shows how bad I am at promo, since it seems to be the FUN FUN FUN MASSIVE INTERACTION blogs that draw tons of readers).

  26. Great post and discussion. Lots of excellent points here.

    The main reason I don’t review is because it takes too much time and effort. If I did, I’d probably stick to books I like because I can’t be bothered to finish, let alone spend time writing about, a book I’m not enjoying. That said, books that grip my attention often have things I don’t like. The mixture of good and bad is part of what makes talking about books interesting.

    I don’t believe any writer who has self-esteem bigger than a pea minds a thoughtful and intelligent review of her work, good or bad. As a reviewer I would want to treat my fellow writers thus, which brings me back to “too much time and effort.” Writing is hard work that I prefer to save for my own books. If I meet any of you IRL though, I’ll be happy to gab about books for hours over tea or drinks.

    Re. promo tweeting, I basically regard it as advertising and I am used to ignoring advertising in other media. My eyes runs unheeding over about 90% of my tweet stream. (I never heard of Glitterland until I saw the DA review. I must have ignored numerous tweets & had no idea it was by the guy with initials whose reviews I enjoy.) When something penetrates my fog, I don’t mind hearing about new releases or titles on sale, whether from an author or her friends. I’ve heard about books I may want to read, and books I want to buy for 99 cents.

    I’ll admit I do promo tweets for my friends and colleagues. I figure I am helping them get their news out. I accept that YMMV and some may choose to unfollow if they find me doing too much promo. If I say I loved a book, I mean it. I don’t say “I loved this book” if I disliked it or (more likely) haven’t read it. If there was more room in the Twitter profile I’d add a disclaimer.

    “I love this book” isn’t terribly helpful, true. Between the limits of 140 and the time and effort (see above) it takes to formulate an intelligent response, I rarely do better. I have massive respect for those who take the time and trouble (we all know you get the big bucks!) to write thoughtful reviews.

  27. And I guess I should add that I don’t feel hushed as much as uneducated. There are so many impassioned voices in Romancelandia’s social networked world–I’m interested in taking the time to listen and learn from them.

  28. Erin Satie says:

    I’ve been writing reviews online for…almost ten years now? I started writing reviews before I got serious about writing books & I got serious about writing books at about the time when, under other circumstances, I would have started a book blog. I thought about it, and ended up picking a pen name instead.

    But I didn’t stop reviewing, because I love it. I love having a record of what I read, how I reacted. I love engaging with a community of other readers & I get most of my book recommendations through word of mouth, by following reviewers whose tastes jive with my own. I feel REALLY good when I convince someone to read a book, and REALLY, REALLY good when they enjoy it.

    But I know that if/when I ever get a contract (aha, maybe never! Long live reviewing…) I’m likely to take the Courtney Milan route and delete them all. I’ve had years to think about the extent to which I’m swayed by free books (somewhat–I just don’t get quite so ANGRY when I hate a book I got for free), or personal relationships (a lot). I doubt my honesty would survive.

    And then, in the end, I’m just not ballsy enough. I wish I were. But I’m not.

  29. kaetrin says:

    I read Glitterland in May this year – some 3 months before it was released. I wrote the review straight after I read it (as is my usual practice) and then I sat on it until release weekend. I didn’t change the review after I wrote it. At the time I read the book and wrote the review I didn’t actually realise that it wasn’t releasing until the end of August (reading a book too early sometimes stresses me out because I’m trying to create content for the blog and if I can’t post a review shortly after I read I get twitchy). At the time, AJH and I were “friendly”. I’m friendly with Sarah F having encountered her first at DA. She introduced me to mm romance (and BDSM romance – is she a bad influence on me? LOL). In the time between reading/reviewing and release, I became more than just a friendly acquaintance of AJH’s. I consider him a friend now. I had no compunction about posting my review because I knew what I wrote was my honest thoughts about the book and I didn’t feel the need to update the disclaimer at the beginning because it was true at the time I wrote it.

    Not everyone likes Glitterland. Brie over at Romance Around the Corner (who I also consider a friend) didn’t. I commented on her review and I thought we had an interesting discussion about our different viewpoints and I don’t think anything other than genuine book reactions came into it.

    But I do feel a bit uncomfortable talking about some of this stuff now. Because he *is* my friend. If I defend anything, I look like I’m “just” defending a friend. I have bitten my tongue in many conversations because I am afraid of doing more harm than good. But, FWIW, I agree that there was an awful lot of promo pre-release from Riptide, the editor and bloggers in general. There wasn’t much/any from the author. He did a bit in release week but not as much as a Sylvia Day (unfollow) or Katy Evans (unfollow). I understand people complaining about the hype and too much promo. It bothered me too because I felt it got in the way of the book (which I liked very much but didn’t think was the best thing ever). I understand people saying they didn’t like the book – because not liking a book isn’t a crime, even if it is a book I love (I’m looking at you Janine Ballard – I’m still crying over your Heartless review – and also “la la la-ing” LOL).

    But there is an element of romland that just doesn’t like him. Which is fine. It isn’t a crime to dislike someone, even if it is a person I like. What irked was that the element of dislike of person piled on the complaint wagon and there seemed to be, from some corners, a certain delighted glee in tearing him down and generally shit stirring. I do not enjoy bitching. I do not enjoy bitching about people on Twitter. I do not enjoy bitching about my friends. I had the same reaction when the bitching was about DA Jane or DA in general (I know that’s not what is happening here Liz, I’m referring to kerfuffles some months back). I can separate critical discussion (which I am all for) from bitching and I know bitching when I see it. It feels very high school and small-minded to me. And that, of all things, is what keeps me off Twitter sometimes.

    I enjoy reading AJH’s reviews at DA – like most of my friends and most of the reviewers whose posts I enjoy reading, he makes me laugh and he makes me think. It’s why I sought him out on Twitter and ultimately, how we became friends. I don’t have any special knowledge re AJH reviewing at DA. (As you know, I started doing some reviews there recently – I’m very happy to be there and hope to continue for a long time to come, but I don’t have anything to do with the running of the site itself.) But, just from what I know of the people involved, I’d say that both AJH and Jane were well intentioned, not trying to mislead and genuinely trying to create a “functional silo” (which I mean in this sense and in a positive way: http://www.technology-training.co.uk/functionalsilo.php). Maybe they would do things a bit differently if they had it to do again, but I don’t think there was any attempt to deceive, hide or otherwise act improperly. Disclosure is something we all have to wrestle with and it can be a bit of a movable feast.

    Sorry for the tl;dr

    • meoskop says:

      I am starting to feel like all roads lead to AJH & DA. You know, except for my Twitter feed which is MY space for people to follow or not, I have not discussed either. I think I’m about to break that. You packed a lot of shit stirring and bitching into a comment about disapproving of both. Maybe you should examine that.

      Since I’m not planning on making what was a great conversation a referendum on your friend and someone else’s website, I will leave it there.

      • kaetrin says:

        Clearly, I wasn’t talking about you Meoskop so I’m uncertain why you’re offended.

      • kaetrin says:

        For the record, if anyone is thinking that my post above is meant to be some kind of “leave my friend alone” type thing. That was not at all my intention.

        I was, perhaps badly, trying to say that it makes me sad and unhappy when I feel my friends are being picked on unfairly. I feel like that’s a common thing for many people. I don’t expect the fact that I feel that way will, could or should change anyone’s behaviour.

        I am all for critical discussion. I think I said that in my comment but perhaps it was missed in the overabundance of words.

        My apologies for any misunderstanding. DA, Jane, and AJH do not need me to defend them. I make a very poor champion in any event.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I really struggled with whether to use the AJH example. Obviously it was fresh (and complex), but on the other hand, his reviews have been a lightning rod in some cases, so I hesitated to bring him up. Without going off on too much of a tangent: there’s the issue of whether romance readers tend to give a man reading romance special attention, which I think is a legitimate thing to discuss (what female reader new to romance would get a platform like that?); there’s the fact that his style is very distinct and some people just will hate it (and since it’s in a site that gets a lot of eyeballs, that will get discussed); there’s the Mayberry review, which obviously I had some issues with. That is, I think there are real reasons besides “bitching” or “disliking” in some personal way that people are discussing his posts. Did I want all that baggage?

      But I think that Jane’s comments in the disclosure banner were a good example of how complicated the issues are and why it’s important to keep rethinking them as roles change. Her desire not to offer someone a platform to indirectly promote his book to readers on the one hand, and the importance of providing information to help people make up their own minds, when conflicts might arise, on the other. The fact that I would have made different decisions doesn’t make their choices wrong nor does it mean I think they were not well intentioned.

      I think full disclosure is always best for a few reasons: people can then make up their own minds about how important a potential/perceived/actual conflict is (and they might decide it is not; I would be interested in what you had to say about another of Hall’s novels even though you consider him a friend, because I’m interested in what you have to say in general, but I’d want to know you were saying it from a friend perspective. Being friends with an author is arguably not even a true “conflict of interest,” because you have nothing material to gain from saying nice things about his/her books); and we are not always the best judge of our own intentions or actions, particularly where there is some kind of conflict that biases us.

      When I had a non-voting role on my college’s Board, I disclosed my relationship with my husband because he was at that point the president of our faculty union. It was highly unlikely that would ever have created a conflict that didn’t already exist by virtue of me being a member of the union (I’d already have had to leave the room if they ever discussed labor negotiations in any specific, confidential way). But if it had come out some other way, they might have felt I was hiding something or that I was acting in bad faith. I had the best of intentions about recusing myself if necessary, but by disclosing in advance of any necessity (which never happened) I ensured that I wouldn’t be making the decision about when it might be necessary on my own. In fact, most COI policies I have seen say that you disclose and then the committee decides if recusing yourself is necessary. It should NOT be a private decision. They make it together with full knowledge of the conflicting roles/interests.

      • kaetrin says:

        I struggled with whether I should say anything. I think I should have picked door number B. I don’t know whether I would review another of his books. I’m still thinking that one through.

        That is, I think there are real reasons besides “bitching” or “disliking” in some personal way that people are discussing his posts.

        Agreed.

        Just, for final clarify before I shut up for the day, the “bitching” reference was to small pockets of conversations that might have been included in (or might have been separate to) a wider conversation. The wider conversation being something I had no problem with. If my comment was unclear, again, I’m sorry.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I appreciate you commenting on your own thoughts about when/whom to review, because I loved your post on these issues.

        I think the questions you’re raising here get to the heart of the issues for bloggers: even when we are doing the *obvious* right things, by disclosing we got an ARC from the author, say, there are all kinds of murkier questions. How much tweeting constitutes a relationship that will bias our reviews, for instance? That is a hard question to answer, and I’d err on the side of disclosure, generally. But I’m not sure I always follow through on that myself. I think that’s why conversations with lots of points of view are so valuable–gives us more perspectives.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        Quite a bit of the negative stuff I’ve seen about AJH on twitter ISN’T about the book, it’s about HIM (which I do have a problem with, and which violates the “rule” most people say they maintain of talking about the work, not the author) or it’s about romland’s response to him (which he has no control over). So I honestly *get* where Kaetrin is comeing from.

    • The other thing about transparency – it’s easier. You don’t have to remember who you are that day and what you’re supposed to say. You don’t have to hide. I’m considering using a pseudonym for a new venture, but that’s for different reasons, and if I get found out – meh. It shouldn’t affect anything. Or it might. The thing is, it won’t tarnish what rusty reputation I have.
      Mind you, I’d kill for publicity like this. (KINDA SORTA PROMO ALERT: I had a new release this week, and for several reasons, the book means a lot to me. Is everybody talking about it? What do you think? But I wrote that book and I had the utter satisfaction of making it work, so I’m happy).
      AJH and Miley Cyrus – who’d have thunk it?

  30. Diana DC says:

    I’ve been playing in online romanceland for over 10 years now and it’s fascinating to watch hot topics cycle through and then cycle back on through again. A lot of the observations made by other commenters are true for me as well. I’m about a thousand times mellower than I used to be and I doubt that I’ll ever participate in another old style romanceland kerfuffle. Yup, I’ve hung up my holster.

    * Firm proponent of disclose, disclose, disclose. Not disclosing a relationship — especially when money is involved — is never a good idea.
    * I don’t have a problem with authors engaging in promo as long as it’s not all you tweet about. Common sense. If you bludgeon your followers with promo you’ll lose them. Twitter is a natural place to promote books. One of the reasons I follow any particular author is because I like her books and I wnat to know release dates. I ENJOY those tweets where authors share the writing process. Also dog and cat pictures.
    * Authors who want to review, please do. But please know that SOME people (not me) may think you’re a douchebag for doing it. I often wonder why anyone thinks they can say whatever on line with impunity. Sheesh, I know that if I throw a bitchy tweet out there, someone is going to say to herself “what a bitch.” And I’m okay with that. Common sense. Firm believer in own what you say.
    * I’m much more likely to react negatively to authors who habitually take drive-by potshots on twitter or in review comments than I would to an author who writes well thought out reviews.
    * Clearly we’d all never agree on a set of rules for online romancceland behavior (har har!) but this discussion is certainly worth reading.
    * The older I get the more I talk in bulet points and short, delcarative sentences. I love the forced brevity of twitter. Bad sign?

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      You’re my role model (I guess I need another 6 years or so). I don’t enjoy the way kerfuffles make me feel, but I get drawn in anyway.

      I do very much appreciate that people discuss issues here in generally non-kerfuffle, respectful ways. Because I love to talk about stuff.

  31. I’m reading this thread with a great deal of interest. I feel like I have so many thoughts on these topics, I’m not sure where to start, so here are only some of my thoughts.

    – I am an author (sort of– only one pubbed short story at this time) who reviews. Since I haven’t published a novel yet, I haven’t been fully tested as a reviewer who also publishes. Whether I’ll continue reviewing after I publish a novel will depend on how I feel at the time that happens — and obviously, on how Jane feels about it. My thoughts on it have been that I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but if I feel my fiction writing interferes with my ability to write honest reviews, I will quit. With a lot of sadness, because reviewing is truly a labor of love for me.

    – I was struck by what Evangeline said about how the way she views Twitter is an outgrowth of her earlier experiences online. The same is true for me. My reviewing for DA is an outgrowth of book discussions I’ve participated in for years (before DA existed) in a few different online communities. Those discussions were lively, invigorating and critical. I loved them and in some ways I miss the dynamics of message boards in those days when there was little promo and posters were on more equal ground.

    – Reviewing helped me keep writing for the years it took to complete a draft of my novel. Writing fiction feels solitary but when you blog, you hear from your readers immediately. They let you know when they think you’re wrong as well as when they agree with you, but the back and forth is stimulating to me and helped bolster my confidence in myself as a writer in the early days of wrestling with my fiction. So for all the people who think reviewing is incompatible with writing fiction, there’s one of the ways it’s not.

    – I started out with some anonymity at DA, but I outed myself as a writer who was trying her hand at a romance novel in a blog post I wrote for DA about a year and a half after I started reviewing. The reason for this is that both of my CPs (I only had two at that time) were about to come out with their debut novels and although I didn’t want to review their books, I wanted to be able to comment on them without feeling dishonest. I wouldn’t have been able to feel good at DA had I not disclosed. In those days DA was small enough that readers didn’t give us the same level of scrutiny but it felt like the right thing to do and still does.

    – I agree with Robin that sometimes disclosing can feel oddly like bragging. I hate that. I am always conscious that I might seem like I’m dropping my CPs’ names to impress people when really I’m doing it to disclose COI. I hate that, but I don’t see a good way around it and I prefer to disclose and appear to be a show-off than to not disclose and appear to be deceptive or dishonest.

    – I also really relate to what Evangeline said about her agent search. That process did make me conscious of how many agents’ clients I’ve reviewed negatively in the past. Fortunately the discomfort of that passed quickly due to my luck in finding an agent fast. My agent doesn’t rep anyone I’ve reviewed and I’ve told her I won’t review any of her clients’ books. But I would be lying if I said that the experience didn’t make me a bit more aware of what a small world the publishing industry is. I hope that there aren’t any agents who would rule me out because I panned their clients’ books — if they would they’re not people I’d want to work with anyway — but I can’t say the possibility didn’t cross my mind.

    – On the flip side, I know of editors who have noticed me in a positive way thanks to my reviewing for DA! So reviewing can work out in a fiction writer’s favor and not just against them, and I wish that point was stressed more often when this topic comes up. It seems so many authors want to talk about the downsides of reviewing but few talk about the upsides.

    – I noticed a lot of the authors who posted here said they couldn’t write negative reviews because they don’t finish books they truly dislike. To some degree the latter part of that is true of me as well, but that is what the DNF grade is for. Maybe I’m misinterpreting but it seems like it goes without saying for many authors that a DNF post is too something. Negative, controversial, dismissive? Not sure.

    I write about my DNF reads and I try to be thoughtful about it. In fact it’s easier to be thoughtful about weaker books when I don’t finish them. Personally I think the main problem with AJH’s Mayberry review was that it should have been a DNF and he forced himself to finish it instead. There is a stigma attached to DNFs that I wish would go away.

    – I will also add that the longer I’ve reviewed for DA the more my confidence has grown when it comes to writing reviews. I’m a bit less likely to second-guess my opinions now, and I’m grateful for that.

    Apologies for any spelling and grammar errors that may be in this post. I seem to make heaps of them lately.

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  33. So many great comments here. I could go on about these topics forever, but I just wanted to add that I don’t think reviewers need to disclose twitter connections (I was just using it as an example above) or stop reviewing friends. None of the reviewers I’m friendly with has ever had a problem criticizing my books, as far as I know. I appreciate that so much, because I see reviewing as an act of support, no matter what the grade.

    I also don’t think authors need to stop promo-tweeting their friends. Again, this is an act of support. 9/10 of the promo I do on twitter is for other authors, with no expectations of reciprocating. I’m just not a fan of the scheduled group-author “tweet bombs.” Same with exchanging positive reviews and facebook likes.

    I RT’d some Glitterland promo! I don’t follow the publisher or editor, so maybe I missed the overkill. It’s nice to see a GLBT romance get attention. As an author, I will never worry about too much hype. I hope for hype.

  34. Sunita says:

    I have to disagree on Twitter disclosure. Twitter friends are friends, and if you review friends, you need to disclose. Not everyone you follow or talk to on Twitter is a friend, but if you’re tweeting most days with someone, or exchanging dozens or even hundreds of tweets with them over the course of weeks or months, then that’s a relationship. The fact that it’s online rather than face-to-face doesn’t mean there’s no attachment or emotion involved.

    For people who don’t read m/m, the volume of Glitterland promo (I’m talking about the promo *for the book*) was probably a bit unusual, and the fact that the editor is someone who many of us have known for years meant that a huge proportion of the promo got tweeted into our streams, since so much of it was coming from publisher-linked sources. But the phenomenon of an m/m book written by a man getting a disproportionate amount of attention is not new at all in the m/m community. I can pretty much name a Male-Authored Book Of The Year that’s had a ton of hype for every year over the last five.

    It’s not necessarily the author mega-promoting it, either; in fact, sometimes the author is doing less promo than everyone else. Honestly, it’s unfair to the book, because it makes it impossible for many people to approach it on its own terms and to just *read the book.* And when the book is a debut, the book and the author become inextricably bound up because it’s the only product identified with the author. In the case of Glitterland, the Male Author Writes m/m frenzy was compounded by the “this is MORE than just m/m” message.

    For the last year or two, lots of people with financial and/or emotional stakes in m/m romance have been hoping for a big crossover book. It’s not a new idea (I wrote about my candidates for such a book over two years ago at DA). But this year it’s been even more intense, with a bunch of books coming out in mainstream presses or LGBT-press books that are being pushed as crossover candidates. First the Foster, then the Ward, then the Maxfield, now Glitterland, and on the horizon is Captive Prince. It’s a lot of freight for a debut book and/or a new author (in the last two cases) to carry. They don’t ask for it, but they get used in the campaign by many different actors and then they get slammed with the pushback.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      This is such helpful context on m/m. I felt in retrospect that my comment on Glitterland might seem like attacking the author, but I didn’t get the sense that he was doing a whole lot of self-promotion. Rather, that book seemed to get a long, orchestrated campaign to convince us it was Something Very Special (and quite probably it got that because the publisher/editor believe that, I don’t mean it was fake, exactly). My response to such campaigns is typically to feel that Nothing’s That Special. I avoid the book not just because I’m sick of the hype but because I don’t think–as you say–that I can read it without bringing all that baggage along. I’ll go in to reading it looking, often not really consciously, for *evidence* that it’s Not All That. My response to it is likely to be meaner and snarkier than it otherwise would have been. And that’s not fair to the book. Sometimes I’m ready to pick those books up several months later when the conversation has moved on. Sometimes, I never want to, because I just can’t set the context aside or because I’ve forgotten all about it, the specialness being a flash in the pan.

    • willaful says:

      That’s interesting, Sunita — I don’t think I saw or caught any of the “it’s a MAN” attention. I wonder what will happen with Hall’s next book, which features a lesbian main character. ;-)

  35. Robin says:

    I have definitely said publicly (and stand by it) that I think AJH’s gender has resulted in a certain deference, and I will note (as I have before) that this is NOT a critique of the male in question, but of the COMMUNITY. It’s something I think we’ve seen numerous times — when Bob Mayer started writing with Jennifer Crusie, when Doc Turtle reviewed at SBTB, for example — and I think it may largely be unconscious. Certainly I think it’s systemic & social, and that it’s not about individual people, but rather about group dynamics. Someone suggested that the idea of a male reading Romance could be seen as validating to the genre, and maybe this is part of it. I don’t know.

    But I absolutely believe that within a patriarchal society, male authority still rates as more powerful. And when you’ve got a female-centric community, perhaps the mechanism of that deference is more focused and more obvious, because it stands out more. In fact, the idea that Romance is a female genre is also a gendered assumption, but it’s one that is viewed as largely positive, because, among other things, it creates a sense of ownership of the genre (although there are some *very* problematic aspects of this — the norming of white Romance, for example). And certainly it’s why males who write m/f Rom so often adopt female pseuds — how many readers see female-authored m/f Romance as more “authentic”? It’s similar to the phenomenon that Sunita refers to with male-authored m/m Romance.

    Is it fair? I don’t know. Does it feel personal to the authors in question? Probably. I think things always feel more personal when they’re linked to people we know and like. Because no one will offer specific reference to “personal insults,” it’s difficult to evaluate them. I’m not saying that people haven’t made personally insulting comments to/about AJH (hell, they’ve been made to/about me, so I know it happens), just that it can be difficult to figure out where the line is without examples.

    • willaful says:

      Another issue with twitter — it’s very hard to track down specific examples from conversations. I know what Kaetrin is talking about, but couldn’t possibly track it down.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Even when there are specific examples, people interpret them different ways. But it helps to have concrete language to discuss.

      • Robin says:

        I also think it’s difficult, because I’ve read things in the midst of a disagreement that feel much stronger to me at that moment than they do in retrospect a few days or even weeks/months later.

      • Ros says:

        Also, with social media generally, there is the potential for pile on. A hundred people might all be saying things that are fair and rational and so on, but taken together they can constitute something different. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the responsibility lies not with the individuals but in the community as a whole. I think this can be particularly true of twitter because you rarely see all the conversations.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        And of course this is part of where the feeling of “over-promo” comes from. Individual actions make sense, cumulative effect may be troubling.

    • meoskop says:

      Pretty much everything Robin just said.

      I think the disclosure issue is important because it is so easy to think your intent comes across when your intent may be invisible. It’s one reason (after a brief flirtation) I abandoned promo contests. It felt wrong for what I want, which is reader centered spaces & evaluations. Which does not mean promo is inherently wrong, just that it changes the nature.

      I find myself actively caring little about disclosure issues on a personal because I am a cynical old dog & assume sites with ads are sites making placement deals. But because my intent is not transparent to people outside my brain I try to over disclose on my reviews.

  36. Liz Mc2 says:

    I think people are raising some important points here, but I really don’t want this thread to turn into some kind of discussion of AJH/Alexis Hall. And I recognize that I participated in steering it that way.

    I will say that while I hesitated to use his role at Dear Author as an example, because it has been hot-button in some ways, I did it because I think it’s very hard to have discussions about questions of disclosures and lines of various kinds and relationships *without* specific examples. And really, it’s rare that issues of disclosure come up in ways that are NOT hot-button, which is part of the problem. I think Robin’s experience at Dear Author–where it’s simply noted when a book being reviewed (by someone else) is one she edited–is a positive example of timely disclosure that didn’t create any backlash (none I saw, anyway).

  37. This comment is both a response to Robin’s comment on the sub thread above and a general comment about the whole thread – it strikes me that we’re talking about a wider range of concerns and discomforts than the classic COIs that normally give rise to specific disclosure concerns. The concerns that have been ventilated in this discussion (e.g. being an author with products to sell, having friendships at a variety of online and RL levels) don’t just impact on indvidual reviews/ pieces of content but on the value of all contributions by particular individuals / classes of individuals as well as the value of the community as a whole. I think community members are actually pretty good at intuitively reacting to and judging the value of the contributions they see but I do think the effort of sifting feels disproportionate at times and drives people away from discussion spaces they’ve previously enjoyed – as evidenced by the number of people who’ve said they’re leaving twitter. Is this the marketplace of ideas as a bargain basement that members can’t be bothered wading through for items they value anymore?

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      This is a lovely metaphor. I agree that too much commercial speech can kill a sense of community and real discussion. What can be done about that is a question I can’t answer. I look forward to Robin exploring these issues more in her free speech posts.

      It’s pretty loosely related to questions of conflicting (or just multiple) roles and disclosure, except that I think when we are unsure what hat someone is wearing, or what role she is playing, when she speaks, it can create a feeling that everything is, or might be, promo. Whom can I trust to be speaking her truth? My impulse is to trust everyone, but I’ve felt burned.

      • Robin says:

        Joanna, As I said to Liz on DA, I think one place the marketplace of ideas model really works is in a higher education setting. But that is also a highly structured environment, where clear time, place, and manner restrictions, along with any number of campus policies, help contextualize and channel expression. I have long believed (and worked on for the past decade) in the broadest possible speech protections on college and university campuses, in part because the project of critical thinking and intellectual inquiry requires, IMO, a really high tolerance for disagreement and dissidence. But even these natural connections don’t allow us to have these broad protections without certain limits (like you can’t block the educational work of the campus, for example).

        I don’t know if this example is transferrable in any way to the book community, but I do think there are some overlaps (interpretive discourse, critical thinking, artistic and critical expression, etc). Which brings me back to this question of how we imagine an ideal book community and how to strike a balance between defense of extreme speech and support of a vibrant, open, safe space to exchange disparate views.

    • Ros says:

      It is TK Maxx! Or TJ Maxx for my US friends.

  38. Sunita says:

    One of the things that I find difficult about Romlandia is the conflation of the book, the authorial persona that is represented online, and the human being behind the book. Unless I am friends with the author, I never know the human being. When I talk about the book’s author, I’m talking about the authorial persona.

    In my professional environment, when someone criticizes me by name, I know they are not criticizing me, Sunita, the married middle-aged woman with three dogs who likes sports a lot. They are criticizing Sunita the academic’s arguments about the topic she is pontificating on, about which she is supposed to be expert. The goal is to improve the argument, or annihilate it, depending on the critic, but it is all about what I say, not who I am.

    But romland is different. When we invoke the author, even if we mean to invoke the author-as-writer-of-the-book, we are frequently accused of invoking (and criticizing) the Human Being. Sometimes that’s a fair criticism, and we should be called out. But sometimes it isn’t, and yet, friends of the Human Being (and maybe the Human Being herself) will still often feel as if the attack is unfair.

    I don’t want to have to worry about whether the author-as-human-being is reading my words, checking to see if I’m criticizing her rather than the book. And I sure don’t want to worry about the author’s friends’ feelings. But with the merging of these spheres in social media venues, and the inability or unwillingness of many participants (friends and non-friend readers) to separate the authorial persona from the human being, it becomes difficult to talk honestly about the work and the social context in which the work is being received. I think the context, as we have been discussing in these comments, is not only fair game but critical to discuss. But if it turns into a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, the conversation becomes basically impossible.

    • Ros says:

      I agree. I actually do think there are instances where it’s appropriate for reviews to talk about the author, in the sense of authorial persona, and not just the book. And the authorial persona almost always includes more than what is revealed through the book itself, these days (unless you are doing a JD Salinger impression. Though even that reveals something.)

    • Kathryn says:

      Yes to all of Sunita’s post above. I too work in an academic environment and while certainly academics can and have conflated personal attacks with their reviews of each others’ research, the default ideal is that a review is an honest assessment by a peer about the contribution your scholarship makes to the discipline. A negative or positive review is, however, not necessarily correct in all (or any of) its particulars about your research — it is after all only one person’s assessment on your work and its contribution to the discipline.

      I’ve been trying to work out what are some of the conditions and assumptions that underpin the academic reviewing system beyond COI guidelines — because some of them might be worth considering for building a robust romance reviewing community. Here are some that I came up with — to function well a reviewing system might need these conditions: 1) an acknowledgment that author and reviewer are peers because both have knowledge about the subject matter under review (albeit from different perspectives); 2) an acknowledgment that both author and reviewer are invested in extending and improving the knowledge in the field as a whole (that is, you both like and want your discipline to best it can be); 3) that one’s default approach to a review should be that a)it is an honest assessment of a work and b) a starting point for discussion of the work, rather than a final statement. I know that some of these positions have been points of contention between various groups of readers, reviewers, and authors — but I think a strong reviewing community is important and necessary.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I love these statements. I certainly think of my reviews (such as they are; “responses” or “reflections” is more how I think of what I’m doing) as one perspective, and hope they will start/extend a conversation.

        The idea of extending knowledge I think gets back to the original idea about why authors might sometimes review or in other ways make statements about writing craft or genre: to deepen our understanding of how books work, to help us think more about what the genre can be and do and what we ask of it.

        It’s because such conversations DO happen that I stick around, even when I sometimes feel cranky.

  39. A very interesting conversation. Personally, I have no issue whatsoever with how authors choose (or don’t choose) to promote their books or their friends books because I never use reviews to assist me to pick a read. I love blurbs and a glance at the writing style in the book. Nor do I mind authors promoting their books on social media. They are authors. They are there to sell me something. I expect promotion. Actually, I’m pissed off if they don’t promote. I follow them both for their interesting comments AND for news of new books. And if following them means I occasionally will see them spruik a colleague – that’s fine too. If it bothers me I will stop following them on twitter (I’ve done that plenty of times). I do appreciate COI and full disclosure though.

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  42. I like this very important distinction from Sunita: One of the things that I find difficult about Romlandia is the conflation of the book, the authorial persona that is represented online, and the human being behind the book. Unless I am friends with the author, I never know the human being. When I talk about the book’s author, I’m talking about the authorial persona.

    I am in the position of having published fiction as well as nonfiction. In recent years, I’ve made more money from nonfiction, but still think of myself as a fiction writer, and I think am mostly treated that way online. My true reviews are anonymous (for PW), and I do not choose the books, so I don’t feel those can be counted as promo in any way because no one except my editor will ever know who wrote them.

    I do have some input into books for which I do previews, but those are, in general, meant to be positive, telling more about a book so people who might like it can find it. “Here is a book which has X. If you like X, you might like it.” Sometimes a preview book turns out not to be my thing, but I can identify who WOULD like it, and pitch the preview to them. I have previewed books by people I know, which could be considered promo, but the author does not know I’ve chosen their book until it goes live, I don’t consider these to be critical reviews in any way, though I am sure some of my own opinions must filter through.

    And occasionally, I write about books in my own blog, usually older books. In the past, I’ve also had guest posts from friends and acquaintances, which can also get murky. When I did those, I asked them to have some topic other than just “buy my book,” with varying success.

    So, I am not sure where I stand. Somewhere in the middle.

  43. Tasha Turner says:

    I was brought here by a radish reviews link. Interesting conversation. I hope it was ok that I jumped right in.

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  45. Marijana says:

    This is a very interesting discussion and I think there are many different perspectives. I come to the discussion as a reader only. I am not an aspiring writer. I do not blog. I do not review. I do, however, follow blogs and I am on Twitter. So in some ways I consider myself slightly outside of romlandia, my participation is from the outside looking in, very limited. I rely heavily on reviewers to help me make a choice on what I am going to buy/read next. Sure, I have favourite authors that I will always buy, but when it comes to trying something new, or that book I can’t decide on, reviewers play a role. When I make that decision I take in a lot of factors: did the reviewer pay for the book, or did they receive a copy from the publisher; does the reviewer personally know the author; is the reviewer an author; does the reviewer interact with the author on social media, in what context; does the reviewer write balanced, thoughtful reviews; is there a lot of hype surrounding the book. There are more but that’s the gist. This may seem like a lot of factors but I am a paying customer, and because a lot of books have geo-location prices, I’m paying a lot for my books than other people may be. With the increasing use of social media, interaction between authors and readers has changed dramatically. Readers have easier access to authors and the lines in the more traditional relationship have blurred. How do I, as a reader, navigate that? How do I know that a reviewer is being less critical of a book because they didn’t have to pay for it, or they’re friends with the author in some capacity?

    Maybe I’m overthinking, but I buy a lot of books and I have been sadly disappointed in a few of them lately, even though the hype has been high and the reviews gushing. That’s not to say that I don’t gush about books, I’m a reader, of course I do. What I am saying, is that as a reader only, navigating and finding what is a balanced review or thought is becoming difficult. That’s why I agree that disclosure is so important. I feel that’s especially so for romlandia because everybody seems to be some combination of an author, aspiring author, blogger, reviewer, or in the industry etc… I’m constantly surprised to find out certain things about people that I follow on Twitter when I have made the assumption that they are a reader only.

    As for the Twitter hype, I find it superficial in many ways. Especially when it seems to be a group of people tweeting and retweeting each others book releases or “OMG guys, you HAVE to read this book”. I think bloggers take on this may be different because they are somehow involved in the hype, with author guest posts and giveaways. It may add to their blog appeal and draws readers to it. For me, its overkill. I find this happens less so with long standing HR writers.

  46. willaful says:

    I just popped back in to say that twitter has been so much more bearable since I learned about the retweets blocking feature from this thread. (Or maybe authors have been listening and are retweeting less?) Now if only there was a way to cut out the authorial lovefests…

  47. Pingback: Pondering Reviews, Community – and a Bit of Goodreads « All About Romance’s News & Commentary Blog

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