Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Author feedback

A couple of years ago, I wrote a positive review, one where I wholeheartedly recommended the book. Still, I pointed out my one problem with the story as a sort of warning to any reader who might get turned off by it. The next day, the author responded to my issue by dismissing it and even almost mocking it. I was at first a bit surprised that the author would bother reading my review and then slightly annoyed. I had stated my opinion but to be ridiculed by the author for it seemed a bit harsh.

In recent months, I've seen this happening in a number of places. Authors can now be found quite easily on the internet. They write about upcoming works, keep up-to-date blogs and websites, and are very involved in the internet publicity of the book. Along with this, though, come situations like the one described above: authors find reviews of their books and respond to them. Sometimes graciously, sometimes less so.

Immediate feedback is a general internet trait, but when it comes to writing, it seems to take on a life of its own. Talk of "interactive literature" (where readers can respond as the author writes the story) and mass-reader reviews make it much easier for the author to see reader responses (sometimes positive, sometimes not). At the same time, it makes it much easier for authors to respond. An author can immediately try to defend his/her work and "fix" the image or correct the interpretation. I once saw an author try to explain that her book was not part of the genre the reviewer assumed it to be, was not about what the reviewer felt and the reviewer had, in fact, missed the point. Which, of course, raises the question: How can a reader who interpreted something differently than the author intended be missing the point? It is still a fault on the side of the author.

But author feedback brings many good things too. Just as it's incredible to read authors' letters and notes on a manuscript in order to further understand their writing, it's helpful to see them blog and describe how they see their books. It's adds another level of understanding, the same way a biography might. Author responses give the impression that they really care what people think and that they read each and every opinion, meaning that they might possibly learn from the less-than-favorable opinions.


  1. I've gotten both the good and the bad from authors. Either way, it's so incredible, as you say, to be able to interact with them. And I don't blame them at all for being a bit fragile after spilling out their heart and soul for all to see. But I also admit it has made me more sensitive about writing reviews for fiction works, i.e., more intent on stressing the positive and avoiding comments that might be construed as gratuitously negative.

  2. This is an excellent, thoughtful essay. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    Personally, I have mixed feelings about authors participating in the review process. On the one hand, I admit I like it when an author leaves a comment on my Rose City Reader blog. The attention is flattering.

    But on the other hand, I think there should be a wall between the creative process and the review process. Once the book is published, I feel like it is then up to readers to judge. Authors traditionally respond to reviews, if at all, through interviews or, maybe, essays of their own -- but not one on one with the reviewer. I prefer that formal approach.

  3. Great post! I love interacting with authors and have generally had good experiences with it, so I'm in favor of the "immediate feedback" resulting from the internet. That said, I've received my share of hate mail after posting negative reviews.

  4. Interesting post. Over the years I have good and bad experiences with authors. However, on the whole, most authors are very grateful that a reviewer has taken the time to review his or her book and as they say in the publishing business, any review, good or bad, is better than no review at all.

  5. Good post. I don't think many authors hang around my site. That they do yours says something very good about its quality. I guess writers are sensitive about any criticism with respect to their one would be about criticisms of one's children. I guess the only way to avoid that is to read only authors who have been dead awhile. And even then, I'm not so sure...

  6. I have a fairly definite opinion about this since I write fiction as well...I understand that a writer might be sensitive about how someone has criticized their work but I believe once something has been published the writer should sit back and leave the reader to their own interpretation. In many ways the writing doesn't belong to the writer anymore, they've let it go and yes, that is a risky endeavour and fraught with all sorts of worry, but going on to someone's blog and insulting their opinion seems rather immature to me. I think if a writer is interested in discussing creative process, that's one thing, and there is a certain time and place to engage in that kind of discussion, but nitpicking over or disputing how someone has categorized or interpreted your work...doesn't seem especially useful for the writer or the reader.

  7. Good post. The whole purpose of reading fiction/literature is that readers play a signicant role in interpreting and breathing new meaning in the works. Since writers write to be read, I do not see any criticism to be detrimental, provided that the criticism is well-meant and it bears resemblance of respect and gentility. I second verivore that there is no point in disputing how the work should be categorized.

  8. A very interesting essay, relevant to all book bloggers - thank you.

    I've corresponded with a few authors and translators as a result of my blog. Richard Zimler of "Last Kabbalist of Lisbon" was particularly helpful.

  9. Boy do I have so many feelings about this...

    I've never had a bad experience with an author, and I've had a couple good ones. But I have to say, the thought that an author might read and comment or email me is always a little niggling reason why I don't like to post on books by living writers. I mean, I do it anyway, and I don't pull punches (though I'm always polite, because that's just what I'm like anyway).

    And I have to say I'd be a bit irritated to get more negative feedback from a writer. In most cases it raises so many issues of philosophy of reading and writing that it just feels like wading into a mire.

    And it's a tough thing. You want to keep things friendly, because who doesn't? But you don't want your analyses to be colored by that either. And I think since so many bloggers are amateurs, without much if any formal training, we are more easily cowed than maybe we should be.

    It's a conversation that's been going on for a while now and I think will continue for a while yet. Too much upheaval from the traditional ways to the world of litblogging for this to resolve quickly.

  10. I have always found it exciting to receive a comment from the author, although it hasn't happened very often. I wonder how I'd feel about a reprimand and I think the answer is: somewhat irritated. If you've written a balanced, in-depth review then there is nothing to warrant that kind of behaviour and the author should take their fragile ego elsewhere. After all, the mainstream press is capable of writing absolutely terrible dismissals of books, and generally I find bloggers to be more polite, more thoughtful and more constructive in their criticism.

    Very interesting post - certainly made me think!

  11. I recently wrote a not very positive review of a book. The author commented on the post saying he would like to defend his work. I see absolutely no problem with that. But even defending has to be done so that it does not offend the reviewer or the people who have commented. It's the way I take care not to trash an author completely even if the book was bad.

    When we as reviewers take so much care when its really very easy for us to be snarky, the authors, though welcome to voice their opinions, should be a little careful about the words they use.

    Sorry for the rambling, the review is still a little fresh in my mind :)


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