Sunday, September 15, 2013

Twitter, author interactions and other thoughts

One of the reasons I joined Twitter a couple months ago was to breach what I felt was an uncomfortable divide between myself and the greater literary world. Does this sound pretentious? Stupid? It's probably a bit of both. For so long, I had seen bloggers shifting towards Twitter for their quicker thoughts and opinions, for wit and for a much simpler blogger-publisher connection. And blogger-author bonds, for those who read a lot of books by living, English-speaking authors. To put it simply: I wanted in.

Whether or not my attempt to enter the Twitterverse has been successful is up to debate; what isn't is my new awareness for aspects of the literary world that I never even imagined. Bloggers give each other advice, talk directly to publishers, authors, bookstores... it's rather incredible*. There's an entire community of book lovers who live only on Twitter, just like those who live on Youtube, or Tumblr, or even here in what I think of as "book blogging central".

This is a long and hesitant opening to what is a rather difficult post to write. Because a few hours ago, I witnessed a fairly painful, intense argument between many different book bloggers I follow. I don't particularly feel like linking to it, but the argument (in Hebrew I would say "ספק דיון, ספק ויכוח", essentially meaning not really a discussion, implying an argument...) covered topics ranging from authors involvement on blogs to the definition of bullying and... more.

I mostly want to talk about the first point. Like I said earlier, part of the reason I started using Twitter in the first place was to be a bit closer to authors and publishers. When I write a review of a book, I don't assume the author or the editor or the publisher are actually reading my review**. I write reviews for two purposes: firstly, to share my thoughts on a book with other readers, and secondly for myself - I enjoy the process of approaching a book from different angles, whether analytically, critically, emotionally or anything else.

But here's the catch: I don't object to authors reading my reviews. And I definitely don't mind if they want to talk to me about my thoughts. I know that authors have been trained to avoid responding to negative reviews (and let's be honest, most of my reviews are not exactly glowing), but I have no problem with an author politely engaging me in a debate. I probably won't change my opinion on the book, though it will certainly change my approach. Vaddey Ratner probably wouldn't like my reviews of In the Shadow of the Banyan. But if she wanted to tell me why she chose to avoid subtlety and why she opted for certain tropes I felt were cliches, I would listen. I would probably also gain something from it.

I understand that some readers want a bit of distance between themselves and authors. It's not easy to have that "face-to-face" interaction. I understand getting frustrated by authors who leave defensive comments on reviews. Not everyone wants to deal with it, and I'm not sure they have to. I honestly don't know. But I definitely think that authors have the right to respond (politely), and I feel like it might be a bit of a double standard to invite certain authors for interviews and allow them that personal interaction, but then avoid interaction with authors who maybe aren't as thrilled with your appraisal. But... it depends. And not wanting it and expressing that feeling, while maybe not something I personally agree with, isn't bullying. So there's also that.

I don't really know how to summarize these thoughts. I know pockets of arguments like this often crop up online and will probably continue to exist until long after I've quit this corner of the internet***. I can only hope for calmer discourse in the future, and maybe this is the advantage of old-school blogging - we have to pause and take the time to really think about what we're writing... and even then, we may not have all the answers.

* The other day I tweeted a recommendation for the next Goodreads app update. I received a response. Whether or not they actually take my advice to heart, someone noticed.
** This is in large part because I have a generally under-the-radar blog, which can be both a blessing and a... something boring and unnoticed.
*** Not something I'm planning on doing any time soon. I know, I know, so disappointing...

8 comments:

  1. Seeing that conversation get so vitriolic so fast made me sad because neither opinion that was driving the conversation was entirely wrong; they were just preferences, and both valid ones.

    I'm like you in that I don't mind if an author comments on one of my posts, although I'd like them to be polite when expressing disagreement, just as I'd want any commenter. And if an author is obviously rude and aggressive in comments or tries to dominate the discussion, I'd probably respond sharply, just as I would to any aggressive commenter. However, I do think in general that it's wisest for authors not to respond publicly to negative reviews, only because even if they say they're just trying to have a discussion, it's hard not to come off as defensive when responding to criticism. And a smidge of defensiveness can come out sounding more aggressive than intended.

    Yet even though I don't mind author comments, I'm not interested in rolling out the welcome mat for them either. If they find me, fine, but the longer I've been blogging, the less direct interaction I want with authors and publishers. I don't mind it, but I'm not looking for it.

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    1. I'm really not sure about whether authors should or shouldn't start responding to negative reviews (part of the whole confusion), but otherwise I think we're both pretty much on the same page. As for the last point, I think it really depends on the blogger. I know of bloggers who as they grow (and even as they grow relatively "old" within the book blogging world) prefer more and more contact directly with publishers, and less in the more roundabout, "conventional" ways. And then there are bloggers like you. Probably a very personal thing.

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  2. This really never happens in my corner of the blogosphere - where are all these offended writers attacking me on my blog? Please?

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    1. Probably not reading many English-speaking blogs!

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  3. I didn't see the twitter debate you are referring to, but I do find relationships with authors difficult and try to avoid them where possible. I don't mind authors who comment on my blog posts, but it depends a lot on their attitude. I once had a fantastic exchange with an author who disagreed with a review I'd written about her book. I complained that it wasn't realistic and she wrote a fantastic email to me about how it was all based on fact and how truth is stranger than fiction! She actually changed my mind about her book, but that is a rare thing.

    The main problem I have now is that authors tend to engage with me after I've written a glowing review of their book. That leads to a difficult situation when I don't enjoy their subsequent books as much. Another reason to avoid starting that relationship in the first place!

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  4. I also didn't see the debate, but I agree relationships can be very problematic. Like Jackie says, a positive relationship can be just as difficult as a negative one. I would say that I tend to be a bit more generous to authors once I have gotten to "know" them, virtually or otherwise, but it is actually even true without any interaction at all, because of all the pressure (peer and otherwise) not to be "snarky" and to try to be generous and kind. So even if my initial reaction to a book is "this was an amateurish waste of time" I would absolutely not post a review that said that. Rather, I would say I didn't like it as much as other readers, and here are some of the reasons, etc. So I think that the very act of posting in a public forum in and of itself can change the whole process. But as for authors attacking reviewers, I think they also have some obligation to meet these informal rules of the [online] road and be polite and respectful.

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  5. From watching twitter today I now sort of understand the debate you were referring to and support the right for authors to comment on blogs/negative reviews if they so wish. I thought you were talking about the problem of bloggers and authors getting too friendly and failing to write honest reviews!

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  6. What you say about needing to pause before saying something is part of why I'm not on Twitter much. The author kerfluffle sounds, from the description you give it and what I'm reading in the comments, like another attempt by bloggers to enforce a kind of general civility. What I've found over the past five years is that a lot of authors read blogs about their first novel, but when they come out with a second or a third, they no longer have the time or emotional energy, so it seems to me that the problem eventually solves itself. In the end, the writing has to stand on its own, without a lot of context.

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