I’m noticing a lot of talk about what authors should and shouldn’t do. Don’t respond to reviews. Don’t have opinions about things other than books. Don’t self-promote. These rules really rub me the wrong way. Authors are readers, and often, bloggers and social media users too. Just like us. Why are the rules different?
Confession: I used to be a gossip mag junkie. One of the most inane features in US Magazine is “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” and in that spirit, I present Authors: They’re Just Like Us!
They like to talk about books!
One of the rules I hear about most is that authors shouldn’t respond to their reviews. I hear (but have never witnessed) horror stories about authors demanding that a negative review be deleted, or calling out a reviewer on social media, and basically being unprofessional. Remember that whole Goodreads Bullies thing?
But sometimes, an author’s response to a review is really interesting! A personal response to a negative review makes for better reading than mindless retweets of positive reviews, right? I have a couple examples, one involving a negative review I wrote:
Dinaw Mengestu is pretty quiet on Twitter, but he went on a multi-tweet rant in response to this review of his latest novel, All Our Names. The reviewer called him out on it, basically enforcing that “no reviewing the review” rule. But those tweets gave me a new understanding about the racial issues in the novel, so I say, rant on Dinaw.
As someone who’s been called boy many times in my life, to have that idea imposed upon me by someone who has no idea what "boy" means is…—
Dinaw Mengestu (@dinawmengestu) March 28, 2014
Emily Gould, as far as I know, hasn’t responded to anyone directly, but does a little vague tweeting, and highlights an important issue in how female authors are reviewed:
the gist of it is, if you spend more time describing me than describing the book, it's not a review of the book.—
Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) August 19, 2014
Shane Jones‘ response to this article in 3 AM Magazine about literary citizenship (i.e. authors give positive reviews to other authors, in hopes of getting a positive review in return) made me laugh. The “negative” review also made me want to read his book, The Crystal Eaters.
my apologies to the reviewers/bloggers/writers who didn't actually enjoy crystal eaters but were doing it to be nice—
Shane Jones (@hiShaneJones) July 22, 2014
Earlier this year, I published a very middling review to Corrie Greathouse‘s Another Name for Autumn and my heart stopped when I saw this:
Good bad reviews. I didn't realize that was a thing.—
(@cgreathouse) March 05, 2014
I bravely favourited this sub-tweet and Ms. Greathouse and I ended up exchanging emails over the next few days and talked about reading and reviewing and all sorts of stuff. I can guarantee I will read her next book.
They use social media!
Another hot topic is should/how should authors use social media. Book Riot wrote about Diana Gabaldon’s bad behaviour on Facebook; it was so bad, apparently, the author will no longer read Gabaldon’s books. I can think of several reasons not to read her books (sorry Kristilyn!) but how she interacts with fans on Facebook is not one of them. The article takes issue with this statement in particular: “I don’t owe you anything but a good book,” and I ask, why does she owe you anything but a good book? She’s an author, not a publicist or a marketer or a publisher, she’s a person who’s bound to get irritated and snappy and perhaps didn’t express herself very well (irony) but in the end, I totally agree. I think it’s great when authors are social and accessible, but they can and should use their own social media accounts how they please.
Oh and by the way, Ms. Gabaldon joined a conversation on one of my fav blogs, Rosemary and Reading Glasses, and was perfectly reasonable and kind while responding to criticism.
Some of my favourite authors on Twitter, who are probably not doing it right:
- Jennifer Weiner. I don’t even like her books that much, AND she live-tweets The Bachelor, but I find what she’s trying to do for genre fiction and chick-lit fascinating.
- Margaret Atwood. She spouts off about the environment and flirts with twitter celebs half her age, but hey, she’s Margaret Fucking Atwood so I’m pretty sure she can do what she wants.
- Joyce Carol Oates. I’m not sure if she is bat-shit crazy or the most epic of trolls or what.
- Roxane Gay. I didn’t even know she was an author when I started following her. She was RTd into my timeline constantly for her social commentary. Come for the social justice, stay for the Ina Garten live-tweets!
- Stacey May Fowles. Another one I followed for the social commentary, only later realizing she was an author. Her tweets are an interesting mix of books, feminism, and baseball. Her book Infidelity is great too.
They promote themselves!
There’s a whole lot of vitriol towards self-published authors these days. This post about one blogger’s decision not to review self-published books is making the rounds, and while it makes some good points about how to be respectful and properly pitch a book, the premise is flawed. Poor pitching is not the sole domain of the self-publisher. I’ve received some painfully bad pitches from major publishing houses, and reviewed some wonderful self-published books and ended up having great relationships with the authors.
I’m seeing a lot of bloggers high-fiving each other for not accepting self-published books and it’s weird because blogging *is* self-publishing. I mean, you should have whatever kind of review policy you want, but why be smug about it? You may be missing out on something really good.
So authors, keep being you. Seeing you reading your own reviews, spouting off on Twitter, and promoting your work is much more entertaining than seeing celebrities performing menial tasks.