Friday, December 10, 2010

Walking on Eggshells in Publishing. ALL the Time.


I’ll admit it. I speak my mind. Almost ALL of the time.


I tell bosses what I think. I’m straight-up with my husband. We fight constantly. (It’s a healthy thing in marriage – trust me. J )

I’ve disagreed with a Deputy Secretary of State. To her face.

And I lived to tell the tale. People at work respect me for my opinions.
But most of the time, I’m scared to death to talk about how I really feel about publishing and books on the market.

A lot of book bloggers and reviewers have admitted that they won’t post negative reviews of books.

Why? They don’t want to ruin their reputation.

This year, a book came out that I didn’t really like, but everyone else adored it.

Of course, I didn’t say anything about the book until I was at the American Library Association Conference, where two trusted friends and I talked about how we didn’t think the book was all that much to call home about. 


But we whispered about it. And then we swore we’d never say anything in public. Several months later, I saw one book blogger write about how she didn’t understand what the big deal was about the book.
It was the first time I’d seen this book publicly questioned.

Did I agree with her and say so in the comments section of her blog? Hell no. I didn’t want anyone to know my thoughts on the book. What if I said something about the book and then it damaged my relationship with the author? The publisher? The readers who adore the book?

As an author who’s about to have her debut novel published, I can’t risk that.

Recently, my friend found out that her erotica book had been flagged by Amazon as being not appropriate for kids or something, so readers couldn’t find it using a standard search. Readers had to have a link to find it.

A bunch of worse erotica/porno books are out there, and they’re searchable on Amazon. That’s not fair. 

My friend’s book did not deserve this, so she’s going to battle to get it on the search bar.

I’m all for this, of course. I said, “Where do I light my torch and sharpen my pitchfork?”

But other people told her, “Don’t worry about it! Don’t say anything. Don’t rant about Amazon!”

My first thought was, “Well why the hell not? She wants to sell books. She should be fighting this, not ignoring it.”

Going further, sometimes famous authors/editors/agents act a bit mean online. I’ll admit I’ve stopped following a few of these people after watching them humiliate wannabe writers online. Okay, so maybe the author doesn’t know all the “rules” of querying, but do you have to call them out personally in front of your thousands of followers?

I know someone who deleted their Twitter account after being humiliated by some agents.

And instead of authors standing up and saying, “Whoa. Was that really called for?” everyone either 1) Ignores it, or 2) Laughs along with the agent.

Me? I ignored it. And that makes me ashamed. But I can’t really risk it, you know?

And then a month ago, a Twitter friend, who is represented by a great agent at a different agency from mine, and I were chatting about how now that we have agents, we rarely get good honest critiques of our work. Before I got an agent, readers and friends and critique partners ripped my work to SHREDS.

Now, it’s either that 1) People think everything’s perfect because we have agents, or 2) They are scared to question us because we have agents, and they don’t want to upset us and hurt our relationships.

I think this is total bullshit. If I critique a book/pages by someone, I tell them the God’s honest truth about how I feel, because if I lie and coddle them, what’s going to happen when they finally send the book to an agent and editor, and the agent/editor comes back and says exactly what I said? (This has happened before.) You’d be pissed, right?

You can take my advice or leave it, I don’t care, but I feel like I owe you an honest opinion.
I feel like people owe me an honest opinion.

Sure, I might hate you for five minutes, but then I’ll probably learn from whatever you said. And then I’ll thank you.

If everyone is too scared to say what they think, how will we ever weed out the good from the bad?

I feel like society is already on information overload, information coming from all different sources and angles, and it completely confuses people and makes it harder to think.

Is publishing like the Stalin era? We’re so afraid to say anything wrong because we’ll be sent to the PUBLISHING GULAG?!

What say you guys?

Have I gone too far?

Does everyone hate me now? J

Happy Friday!

20 comments:

Elena Solodow said...

I've often felt this way...it's a good point. But also hard to overcome.

Krista Ashe said...

HAHA, I was grinning at the first part of your post, and then nodding my head through most all of it.

I hate how the business muzzles us...yeah we're writers, but dammit, we're individuals with thoughts, feelings, impressions, etc. It's sad that we don't feel like we're at liberty to give our honest opinion. I got an ARC of a book through NetGalley the other day, and I'm scared to write what I really thought. So, I guess when it comes to reviewing(since I've started doing that as part of the deal), I'll have to censor myself. AND THAT SUCKS!!!

I srsly roll my eyes at the "book reviews" done by agented, pubbed, or soon to be pubbed authors....even though I'm in the same boat myself, it just seems like we turn on the Hoover vacuum suck up attachment or something, lol.

GREAT POST! I'll have to Twitter this one when I can get past the Big Brother filters at school! LOL

E. Kristin Anderson said...

I love this post, Miranda!

I was actually talking last night with my author-friend's non-author husband about why we don't post negative reviews online. I was like okay, well, check this, Husband. Say your wife didn't like Book X. And so she went online and slammed Book X on her blog and gave it one star and a scathing review on Goodreads. Then her agent tries to sell her next book to an editor at Book X's house. Or, even scarier, to Book X's editor. That editor is going to Google your wife. And these things will come up, and it could cost her a book deal.

So, while I think that, yeah, sometimes it SUCKS that we can't have public negative opinions, I also don't think it's THAT big a deal.

Now, that's not to say that if a published/agented/etc. author asks me for crit I'm not going to go at it with kid gloves. I may or may not have recently shredded a manuscript by a fellow YA-5er. And she's like famous and stuff. Multiple book deals. Completely genius writer. But No matter how genius you are, it's going to take an outside opinion or two to make that first or second draft into gold. In fact, I am more likely to go hard on a crit partner who's been through the whole process before than a new crit partner without a lot of publishing credits. Because a pubbed author has already heard worse from editors and agents. I'm just the first go-round, if you will.

To me, once the book is out there, there's not a whole lot of critical feedback that I can give that's all that useful. People don't want to get called out on blogs by writers they don't know. If I am talking to an author friend while they're working on a new book, I might say "I think this is better than your last book because x y and z are better developed," or some such.

I'm also sort of a hippie and don't really like putting a lot of negativity on the internet. Even if being negative online wouldn't make me appear curmudgeonly and difficult to work with, I'd rather post recommendations on my blog than review every single book I read. I'd rather interview an author and find out how their book came to be than review it piece by piece and overanalyze the things I didn't like. And I think part of this is the sense of community that kidlit seems to foster in us. Famous Author of Book X could be our BFF one day. And you don't have to like someone's first few books to be their BFF. But it sure would suck if they found out their new friend thought their writing was crap, huh?

So I totally think that honesty is important. But if I hate a book, I do my best to find someone else who might like it that I can pass it on to. Because books are hard work, and everyone isn't going to like the same things. And also I'm a total hippie, as previously mentioned, with all that peace and love and stuff. So I will be honest when I rave about a book. If I'm raving, you know it's awesome. If I'm recommending, you know it's worth checking out. And I use silly rating scales like "this book gets 5 Linda Blairs for creepitude" rather than "this book gets 3 of 5 stars overall" because these scales are so subjective, we may as well be silly about them.

I don't think this format works for everyone. And, yeah, the eggshell-y feeling can be pretty annoying. But that's where I think it comes in handy to have a Google Group for your crit group/writing group or some form of RTA list/listserv where you can bitch to each other in a non-public place with an agreement that none of this goes on the record. Gossip is healthy. Just so long as it doesn't get out of control.

I have had too much coffee and too little food, so, this ramble is getting extra rambly. So, in short, I agree with you, Miranda. And I hope that the poster above me willnot roll her eyes at my blog, in which I only say nice things. Can I have points for calling myself The Hate-Mongering Tart? Please?

xEmily

Roni Loren said...

Great post, Miranda. It is such a weird, touchy situation. When I started blogging, I did honest reviews. I was never scathing, just open about what I liked and didn't like. Then as I started getting more serious about writing, I started to get worried. So what did I do? Yep, I went back and deleted all book reviews that I had given less than 4 stars to and stopped doing reviews all together. It just wasn't worth it. Now I'm even wary on Goodreads. If I hate a book, I just just will mark it as read and won't rate it at all. I refuse to lie, but I don't feel comfortable giving a bad rating either.

As for the Amazon censoring thing, I am so there with the picketing signs. That whole thing is ridiculous.

modicumoftalent.com said...

Great post. There is a mystique around the whole publishing industry that people are afraid to confront, I think. Don't criticize agents... don't criticize authors... don't question traditional publishing methods/means/processes...

I think those walls are breaking down. Enough people have been disgusted by the humiliation you mention that those practices are being called into question by a few brave souls. And publishing is changing enough that authors are slowly becoming braver about their opinions, I think.

I'm going indie, so I don't have too much trouble questioning traditional publishing or calling out agents or editors or whoever if I need to at some point. But where I have trouble is reviewing other indie authors. I want to be supportive of the indie movement, but if I read a book that I think is horrible, how will I review it/react? Probably like Roni I'll just mark it as read or something... It hasn't happened yet, but I'm sure it will.

Good discussion.

Amy

Jennifer Wolf said...

Great post Miranda. I think we all feel that way to some extent. I wrote a lengthy e-mail to my agent about how I'm afraid to do Mom reviews on my blog, if I say I don't think a book is appropriate for a certain age group because of the content, is someone going to scream censorship? (A dirty word in this industry). But as a mom I would like to know that kind of information so I can help my kids make educated book choices. Not every book is appropriate for every kid, and it helps to know that content.

HOWEVER, as an author I know how HARD it is and HOW much work it is to get something published, so it's hard for my to slam someone else's work. That and I really like stories, so I rarely come across a book I truly don't like.

Critiques are different. At that point, I need to be more harsh as a reader, because it's HELPFUL for the writer.

Jesilea said...

Brava!!! I agree with you 100%!

I too have stopped following some agents who are rude an unprofessional on twitter. I think they need to understand that they work for us and we are their paycheck. Business is cyclical. With the rise in e-publishing making self-publishing so easy, it's posible that in the future, fewer authors will require their services. I was published without an agent. I'm not saying they don't provide valuable services, but when the market turns, the good agents will float to the top. Just sayin'.

As for negative reviews... I review books on my blog. I feel I'm honest in my reviews. If I don't like something, I will say it. I just try to be respectful about it. I remember that even bad works required months of labor on the author's part. The reason you might not see more negative reviews from me is more due to the fact that if a book is bad, I won't finish it. If I don't finish it, it's not fair for me to review it.

~Jesi

Natalie said...

YES!!! I so agree. This is the reason I keep my goodreads private, so only my friends can see reviews. It's too risky to be honest and public. Sometimes I just don't like a book. Giving 5 star reviews to everything is nice, but it's really not all that helpful.

Teh Awe-Some Sauce said...

Great post Miranda. But I'll do you one better.

I never much thought about opening my big mouth about a book. Then I went to a conference. There, an agent was asked a question by an author about whether book blogging was a good way to build a platform. He shrugged and said "Only if you don't do any negative reviews."

He then went on to detail how he had a client with an amazing book, one who also had a book blogging site that had given an extremely negative review to a certain editor. When she recognized the name of the author she immediately rejected the book. About a dozen or so other editors did the same, and all interest in the book dried up.

Was the story true, or is this a publishing urban legend? I don't know, but getting published is hard enough, and I don't want to ruin my chances with a Jonathan Franzen-like backhanded insult. My goodreads account only has the books I liked well enough to give three stars or more, and I never trash a book on twitter or facebook.

Better safe than sorry.

SafeLibraries said...

This is one of the best blog posts I have read in a while. I agree with the other commentators, brava!!

Sara said...

*big smile*

I literally JUST typed this in an email, "I don't post about books that I don't like." *sheepish grin*

When someone submits a manuscript to me for editing, I shred it. But, I also accompany my notes with a healthy dose of "if this feedback FEELS wrong to you, let me know - it's your art after all."

As for reviews, all I can say is thank heavens I'm not a book reviewer. I don't have the guts for it. I'll rave all day long about books I love. But, if I don't love something, I quietly slide it under the bed and say nothing. Geez - that person has a mom too and they don't need to know my opinion. Besides, someone else may love the work.

Great post! Tricky question.
-Sara

Pk Hrezo said...

It's too bad we can't be honest on our own blogs, but for good reason. Reviews are subjective just as the whole industry is. We wouldn't want a bad review on our own pubbed book out there ...and if it already made it past the gatekeepers, well....enough said.

Great topic, tho! And I'd hate getting nice critiques cuz CP is scared of being truthful. Lucky me, I don't have to worry about that yet. Lol :)

Tiffany said...

I actually used to do book reviews. I only did positive reviews. When boyfriend asked why I said, "I want people to read more, not less. If I don't like a book, I don't review it."

As for the Amazon thing, it's bizarre. They allow a ton of truly adult and pornographic stuff through their All Departments general search but my erotic romance gets slapped as more adult than actual pornography. Am baffled. And I've gotten HELL for saying that on forums. Bizarre. I'm not saying burn Amazon down. I'm saying, Amazon needs to fix their policy.

Miranda's right about walking on eggshells. The internet has made the world VERY tiny. Chaos theory reigns. One little comment about one book on one site can cause a maelstrom in another part of the book world. Ugh.

Good thing I don't actually care what anyone thinks about me.

By the way, I accidentally ate a lot of grape seeds today. Will that make me poop weird?

Has No Filter,
Tiffany Reisz

alyssalinnpalmer said...

I review books on my blog, but I tend to choose ones to review that I liked. As with Tiffany, I'd rather people read more than less, and so I'm not likely to review a book that I hated. I want to be able to gush and recommend strongly. I'm the type of person that will buy a book for someone else because I loved it and I think they might too.

I do try not to walk on eggshells online; I am aware of what I say, but I'm not going to get all paranoid if one of my tweets is strange or links to something that might offend. The last thing I want to do is start self-censoring... I just don't have enough time in my life to stress over every word. (heck, I'll do that with my novel, thanks.)

Btw, Miranda, I thought you were going to write about masturbation? ;)

Miranda Kenneally said...

It seems like many of you choose not to comment publicly regarding a book you didn't like, rather than telling people "For me, it wasn't the greatest read."

So how do we regulate the book market?

I mean, it's not like your typical reader says, "Ooh a new book. Let me go check Kirkus and Booklist before I read," like millions of people would consult Roger Ebert's website before they spend money on a movie ticket.

alyssalinnpalmer said...

I'll do the 'I didn't really like that book much' to people I talk to in person, but I rarely ever do it online unless something about the book really irritated me. (e.g. Twilight and Bella's inability to not be a doormat). :)

SafeLibraries said...

I have linked to this blog post here:

School Excoriates Book Reviews that Fail to Disclose "Graphic Sexual Details" in Books for Children; Lush by Natasha Friend is "Wildly Inappropriate" for Certain Children

So again, brava.

Pam said...

I was unaware it was the popular thing not to post negative reviews. At Bookalicio.us I say whatever I want, I am not all popular opinion.

Stephanie Faris said...

It's all about professionalism. Unfortunately, the Internet has made it all too easy to communicate without censorship. Once in the 90s, I posted excerpts from a scathing rejection letter I'd received, not realizing the editorial assistant who had written it was on there. I said nothing bad about her...just asked for advice on the letter, which had some confusing advice in it. Everyone else attacked her and, when she spoke up, I started getting private e-mails telling me I'd better apologize and didn't I know how small the publishing world was. I did apologize to her but I still had said NOTHING WRONG. The others were the ones attacking her...I just was saying, "What does this sentence mean?" Anyway, life went on and everyone chilled but it taught me a lesson in just how sensitive everyone is. (Although I still wonder if us writers aren't the ones who are super-sensitive and most agents/editors won't hold our opinions against us...)

Elle Strauss said...

This post is like the other side of the coin to this one: http://welcometotheasylum.net/2010/12/31/welcome-to-fight-club

--telling us not to burn bridges.

It's a fine line to walk.

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