Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Objectivity In The Age Of Twitter

What I've always found so interesting about the romance genre is the connection that readers share with the authors. Even back in The Dark Ages, it was pretty easy to send "fan letters" to authors. To this day when I crack open a book from the early 1990s, I often find a PO Box address listed at the end of the author bio.

Then the Internet happened. Authors got web sites and e-mail and it got even easier for readers to "mingle" with authors. Now in the age of social networking? Forget about it. It's a free-for-all.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Let's be honest here. Pretty much everyone outside of the genre tends to scoff at romance. It's poorly written crap. The authors are making money churning out Mad-Libs style books. The readers are idiots happily lapping up simplistic drivel. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you have that kind of scorn directed at you from "the outside," you're naturally going to look for approval from "the inside." So romance authors and readers have banded together as a clan, of sorts. It's pretty cool actually.

Where it gets sticky for me is when we talk objectivity. The line started blurring the moment the online romance community was born, and now in an age where anyone can start their own blog, it's gotten really murky. I'm all for everyone and anyone to start blogging (the more the merrier I say!), but when it comes to reviews and promotion, it's throwing a wrench in the works.

I'm a bit of a cynic at heart, but when I see an author and reader Tweeting each other, commenting on each others' blogs, and then I see the reader post an A+++ (squeeeee!) review for the author's latest book? Yeah. Doubting Thomas at 5 o'clock.

OK, so I'm a bitch.

And a hypocrite.

There are authors who comment on this blog. And authors who I follow on Twitter. Over the years I've unabashedly championed some authors (Maggie Osborne and Portia Da Costa coming to mind). So what makes me think I'm "different."

I'm not really. I'm a fan. An unabashed fan. What it all boils down to is objectivity. I've been accused of being "too hard" on books and being "hard-hearted." That last one, I hope, jokingly. But for me? The author is not their book. There are countless authors I have "met" (in person and virtually) over the years who I think are wonderful, beautiful, incredible, lovely human beings.

But I can't stand their books.

Do I feel like a shit-heel for it? Yeah. For about half a minute. And then I move on. Because my not liking a book is just that - me not liking it. Doesn't mean countless other people out there won't love the book and want to have babies with it. It's just that I don't. Also it doesn't mean I won't buy the book for work. Hell, my job is all about objectivity. Otherwise I'd never buy another Danielle Steel book as long as I live.

I think most authors are grown-ups and "get it." Maggie Osborne is retired, so she probably doesn't give a hoot that some crazy librarian fangirl didn't care for The Stranger's Wife or Shotgun Wedding. Portia Da Costa still talks to me even though I wasn't wild about one of her Spice Briefs short stories for Harlequin. Heck, Jennifer Lyon still acknowledges my existence despite me whining about her leaving behind mysteries (which I really liked!) to write paranormals.

Do I feel like crap when I meet an author in person and I gave one of their books a "negative" review? Yeah. I feel like shit. But I know it's a business, they know it's a business, and in the grand scheme of things, is my one less-than-enthusiastic review of their book going to ruin their lives? Highly unlikely. I don't have, or want, that kind of power.

Although if I did have that kind of power, just think what I could do for historical westerns?

Ultimately it comes down to the reader/blogger being honest with themselves. If they recognize that remaining objective is "hard" for them, maybe they need to decide what they want more. Mingling with authors via social networking or reviewing their books for a blog? I don't think being a fangirl is necessarily a bad thing (well, unless you're crazy - then that's no good), but own it. Admit it. Revel in it. Be upfront about it. Because I want honest reviews giving me good, solid information about the book. If your honest opinion is "Squeeeeee I love everything this author has written - including all the doormat heroines, 'man roots,' 'love grottos,' and asshole Alpha jerks who rape the heroine until she falls in love with him" then so be it. But own it.

Don't pass yourself off as being objective when you aren't. Because frankly, that sucks.

This is a constantly evolving issue, and one that I think quite a few reader bloggers struggle with. I also don't think it's going to let up anytime soon. Especially since so many aspiring author bloggers who have had feet in both Author and Reader blogging worlds are now starting to get publishing contracts.

Stay tuned for further developments.


Elena said...

Ohmigod you've read my latest thoughts with this post. I recently reviewed a book by my uni course coordinator (I know, dumb right?) I gave it a pretty harsh review but I think I was fair and objective. I just kept telling myself he was never going to read it, so that helped.

Aaaand I had a recent experience with a singer from a band who received a scathing review from me 3 years ago, and when we met last month, I realised she still hadn't gotten over it.

Awkward situations, but it's all part of the reviewing game really. Maybe I'm better at objectivity 'cause I studied journalism......*collapses laughing* yeah right.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

It is becoming very hard to be objective. I find myself having that same problem.

Surrounding myself with friends who are published or on the road to becoming just that is something I love being a part of. And I count myself lucky that the majority of the books I read by those I have a personal relationship are good reads.

I guess it comes down to if you are comfortable in reading and reviewing a person's work you are friends with. Have to keep in mind their work is separate from the person who is writing it.

Charlene said...

I kind of think that you have to be objective to know you're not objective. If you know what I mean.

And I think we've all been in the position of really like an author but not his/her work. I've met several wonderful people I liked...and couldn't like their books. The person and the work are not interchangeable, really.

Kristie (J) said...

That's why I'm not too comfortable getting too close to too many authors. There are only a few whose blogs I visit and follow on Twitter. I prefer to keep a bit of distance for the most part in order to try and remain objective although I don't always manage. One thing that getting closer to an author does guarantee though - I may not love some of their book but I will certainly purchase their books.

Kwana said...

Excellent post. You really hit on something here. Thanks so much.

Lori said...

I really only "know" a very few authors. For just this reason. Frankly, for the most part, I don't *want* to know an author outside their books. I make very few exceptions. And only for those that I think can handle it if I say a few things that I didn't like along with the things I did. Cause there's not very often I find nothing nice to say along with the bad *coughChasingStanleycough*.

I have had authors freak out and "drop" me when I said I didn't care for their latest book. Doesn't mean I don't like "their books" as a whole. But grow up. I hate it when people act juvenile. You're in a business. So yeah, overall I try not to get into too many personal relationships with authors.

Now don't you authors I *do* have a relationship with feel special? LMAO!

Cheryl St.John said...

I have good friends whose books I don't like. I love them as people, and we even help each other plot, etc.. But we don't read each other's finished books. And that's okay.

Jessica said...

I agree with you completely that the advent of twitter and social networking has brought this problem to a whole new level.

I follow 4 authors on twitter, 2 of whom I have never read. I follow them because we share non-romance interests and I like "talking" to them on twitter. The other two, I am both a huge fan, and I like them personally.

I do find it very difficult to chat with someone on twitter and then give their book a harsh review. This is why I try to keep author chat to a minimum.

I have also found myself quickly UNfollowed by authors when I have written a negative review. the lesson there was that it may not be "me" they like, but my "blog".

I also agree with you that disclosure in reviews is a good thing. But when and how to disclose? Do I say, "Disclaimer: I had a great conversation with Shannon Stacey and Alison Kent on twitter last night about what we put in our purses?"

Great post!

Jill D. said...

This is a good post Wendy. I love that you aren't afraid to come out and make bold statements and stir people up and get them thinking.

I find that I try to maintain a distance from authors on some level. I do this because I would have a hard time keeping my objectivity, if I was really close friends with these people.

Case in point, I have not read any of LB Gregg's books. I review all books I read, so I feel I might be less critical of a book written by someone I consider a friend and who I want to succeed as a writer. I wouldn't want to be put in the postion where I might have to say something bad about her writing, so I refrain from saying anything at all.

On a side note, I have not been on Twitter in over a month now. Sometimes, I just need a break from being plugged in.

Jessica said...

Jill write, "Case in point, I have not read any of LB Gregg's books. "

Se, I would read an online friend's books if I wanted to, but may choose not to review them, whether I liked them or not.

Wendy said...

Charlene Said:

I kind of think that you have to be objective to know you're not objective. If you know what I mean.

Ha! You're probably right.

Cheryl - Oh thank goodness! Authors go through this too with other authors! I don't feel so alone LOL

Liza said...

It is very hard to be objective about a book, especially if you count the author among your friends. I just try to be as fair as possible, even when I don't like the book.

Shiloh Walker said...

this is just me speaking, but I don't see any reason you should feel like shit when you meet an author you've given bad reviews to~the book didn't work for you, that's what it boils down to for most people, right?

I've got a couple of friends that I'll enjoy some of their books, but dislike other books. I've got friends whose writing just does not work for me, period. I like books that others that have hated.

it all boils down to personal taste and there's no reason to feel bad about that.

Disliking a book is a far cry from attacking a person and sometimes it seems too many people think that disliking a book is the same thing as attacking an author...we know it isn't.

azteclady said...

"There are countless authors I have "met" (in person and virtually) over the years who I think are wonderful, beautiful, incredible, lovely human beings.

But I can't stand their books.

Do I feel like a shit-heel for it? Yeah. For about half a minute. And then I move on. Because my not liking a book is just that - me not liking it. Doesn't mean countless other people out there won't love the book and want to have babies with it. It's just that I don't."

Can I have your babies, Wendy?

Kidding aside: oh hell, yes! to pretty much every word you said.

Jennifer Lyon said...

Wendy, I'm speaking to you again? LOLOL!

My job is to write (and promote which is not my favorite thing to do). But I don't get to tell readers what to think about the book I wrote.

Besides, Wendy, you have always been a class act!

For the record, I have friends that I am pretty sure don't care for my books. Doesn't bother me. They are never mean about it, I just don't think I'm their first choice of reading material.

nath said...

Great post, Wendy :)

The internet is a great thing, and it does allow fans to be closer to authors... but like many, I find myself maintaining a distance though. I know that authors are people too, but at the same time... you don't want them to be right? I don't want to hear that this author acted badly or another did this and that ^_^;

Also, like you say, it's a great way to still be objective. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to meet authors... Heck, I'm planning to attend to a RWA someday... but at the same time, I don't want to be your pal ^_^;

Jill D. said...

Jessica wrote "I would read an online friend's books if I wanted to, but may choose not to review them, whether I liked them or not."

I agree that is one way to do it, and it may even be a better way to handle this issue. When I started my blog I made the decision to review every book I read. I just felt like every book should get space on my blog, regardless of how much I enjoyed it. I even review books that were a DNF. Looking back, I don't know what possessed me to have such lofty goals.

Now though with such accessibilty to authors, and fellow bloggers getting published, it can be a problem of to review or not to review. I just hope I can maintain my own objectivity and if I think I can't, then I have chosen not to read the book. But that decision may only be temporary. It's highly possible that I could come back to the book at another time.

Sorry Wendy, didn't mean to take over your comments section :)

Janicu said...

I'm probably guilty of this when it comes to Ann Aguirre, but only because I really DO love her books and I've spent time on twitter squeeing over her latest. I am pretty upfront in my review that I'm her stalker and love her books though. I let whoever reads my blog decide for themselves since they have that information.

Usually I follow authors of books I love and am likely to feel positively about them in my reviews or authors who I doubt I'll read but find they have interesting things to say. It makes things easier.

SarahT said...

I follow very few authors on Twitter for this very reason. Actually, a couple of those I follow, I've never read anything by!

Since I base my book purchases on reviews, it's important to me to be able to trust the reviewer's integrity. I tend to avoid sites which only give high grades as that's more promo than critique to my mind.

Tara Marie said...

Wendy, there is very little objectivity for fangirls, you know that. When the message boards started and there were authors posting comments along with readers, this was discussed. When blogging became the rage, this was discussed. Twitter simply adds one more layer to the reader/author dynamic--good or bad some people are incapable of being objective.

It is what it is.

Tumperkin said...

I both agree and disagree.

Like you said, the blog-world is very big place. And when I read this:

Don't pass yourself off as being objective when you aren't. Because frankly, that sucks.

I suppose I thought: why?

Speaking for myself, I don't regularly visit any author blogs and I don't go on twitter. But I've become friendly with a few newly pubbed authors (who I've chosen not to review) and soon to be pubbed authors and - yes, I'm an aspiring writer myself. So there are various things there that cause potential 'conflicts' and that I've thought through.

But does it really bother me if other people pimp readers they are friends with? Not really. Even when they don't admit it? No, not even then really. I wouldn't tend to visit a blog that did nothing but endlessly positive promo and I can overlook the odd bit of that sort of thing on blogs I like.

I suppose what all of this comes down to is that I agree that all of these behaviours undermine the value of a review. But I don't 'disapprove' of them as such. It's just what it is.

Rosie said...

Dang, you're good SL. Once again timely and direct. I would add that I think a person who's reviewing who's a friend is pretty obvious to anyone who read reviews before making a purchase. It's not that hard to figure out.

SonomaLass said...

I'm not sure there is such a thing as an "objective" review. Liking a book is a matter of taste, which is inherently subjective. What works for me may not for you, and vice-versa, and that's why we have a big ol' genre to play in.

I also don't think there's anything wrong with having certain authors whose books you love -- all of 'em, unreservedly. That doesn't have to result from a personal connection; there are a few authors who have really never disappointed me, and I squee over their books regularly. (Hey, Guy Gavriel Kay, I'm talking about you! Again.)

That said, I agree that if the main reason you like a book is that you like the author, you should know that and yes, own it. I fear some people don't know it, though; you can see it in their reviews, because they don't do a very good job of describing it was about the book that worked for them. Just "OMG it was fabulous, SQUEE!" Of course, that's been my complaint about some reviewers/review sites for a long time, and I don't know that it's necessarily the result of inappropriate social networking.

Most authors whom I respect have Shiloh Walker's mature attitude -- not every book works for every reader, and your feelings about an author's books don't necessarily reflect your feelings about the author as a person.

Megan Frampton said...

I'm good friends with a couple of authors whose books I just don't care for. I haven't had a book out myself in so long it doesn't matter if someone didn't like my book--but I wouldn't care if someone did or didn't, if they were fun to be friends with.

As for the getting cozy with authors thing, and then squeeing, yeah, it's stupid and obvious and makes me crazy. I don't follow sycophants either on blogs or on Twitter. You can tell when someone really *loves* something, and when someone is just sucking up.

Giselle said...

Ugh. I hate that it's come to this.I've found so many new authors and so many great books by reading other bloggers reviews and recs on boards and such. Lately though it's become a lot harder to trust reviews especially when authors are frequent posters.

Shon said...

Let's see what can I add to this discussion....nothing. I follow very few authors as well & more than half I don't read either. I have zero friends that are authors. Maybe that's why I can get away with writing reviews the way that I do.

I did gush to an author once about one of her books. I bought her follow-up and gave it a D. It happens.


Wendy said...

Keishon: And it happened to me, just recently. Loved the author's last book. LOVED IT! Gave it an A or A-. Read the follow-up book (a sequel no less!) and it just squeaked by with a C-. The only thing that saved it from a D was because the heroine found her spine towards the latter half of the story.

I'm still bummed.

Cece Writer said...

>>Because I want honest reviews giving me good, solid information about the book.

FWIW Wendy even as an author, I want honest reviews with good solid info!

And as an author, if I can't say something nice about a book I've read--whether it's a friend's book or not--I tend to keep my mouth shut or just leave it at "that didn't work for me." But I know my position as a writer is different :D