I Was a Reader First…

So, I’m gonna do another post about current-internet-affairs  here. (Two in a row! *gasp* Weird, right?) Anyway, the last few days there’s been a certain amount of Twitter and blogosphere discussion about whether authors should negatively review other books. This is part of a recurring and ongoing discussion that pops up periodically over whether authors should write reviews about anything ever or just keep their goddamn mouths shut and smile for the birdy. Usually I don’t bother to weigh in on it, but it sort of occurred to me that as I’ve been writing more and more posts about the books I’m reading here, and since my first (and so far only) paid (theoretically) work has been for a book review, perhaps it’s time I did.

This particular discussion really crossed my radar because of two posts by two authors who I follow on Twitter, read their blogs, respect enormously, and generally like as people. They pretty well represent the opposing arguments here, in respectful and non-prescriptive fashion. Chuck Wendig wrote an “anti-negative-review” opinion and Jenny Trout wrote the “pro-negative-review” rebuttal. You should go check out what they have to say and then come back here, because I’m not going to rehash what they’ve already said so eloquently. So go on, I’ll wait.

Ok, you back? Good. Because I agree pretty much point-for-point with Jenny and disagree respectfully and only for myself with Chuck. I can get behind “authors shouldn’t review on Goodreads, or Amazon” or wherever else they’ll decide we shouldn’t express our opinions next. Those are privately-held sites and they can make whatever rules they’d like. Also, they are communities, and communities make rules for themselves, and the rest of us can either play by the rules, get drawn & quartered by the community, or just stay the hell away from it.

But the thing is, no one should be telling anyone else what they can post in their own space on the ‘net. This here blog? This is my little virtual house. Terrible Minds is Chuck Wendig’s, Whatever is John Scalzi’s, and Sweaters for Days is Jenny Trout’s. We all, regardless of our experience, professional standing, or career-choices, get to make the rules for our blogs/websites. We get to decorate them as we please, welcome or ban people as we please, and lay around in our underwear as we please and feel comfortable. If you came over to my real house and started telling me that you didn’t like the curtains and could I please put different clothes on because mine clashed with yours, then one of two things would happen. I would either laugh at you, or tell you to get the hell out of my house if you didn’t like it, depending on how much I liked you before you started trying to dictate my space to me.

Here in this space, on my blog, I am a writer (albeit in the very early stages of my career), but I am also a reader. I was a reader first, and looong before I ever even considered the notion of becoming a writer. I started reading when I was about three. Books spoke to my soul and provided a refuge when life got hard. They were my escape and my comfort, and I’ve always been grateful and a little bit in awe of the magic of books. When I got a bit older, about 7 or 8, I started to realize that these people called authors created books, they didn’t just pop out of the bookshelves like magic beans. I thought that was pretty amazing, and determined to give this peculiar sort of magic a try myself. Naturally, I failed miserably because I was 8 and didn’t realize that writing is a skill to be honed from raw talent, not just an innate part of who you are. So I returned to reading. I read and loved and loved and read, and I would certainly consider myself a fan of books in general. Now, anyone who has met a fan of anything knows that one of the things fans do is have opinions about the things they love. I’m no different. I have opinions about books because I love them, and I share those opinions in the hope of finding other people who love books enough to have opinions as well. And frankly, if that somehow tanks my writing career forever, well then it’s worth it to me. I love to write, and I’ll keep doing it, but reading is my first love and always will be.

Now, all that being said, I probably will rarely, if ever, post a truly negative review here. This is for the very simple reason that if I don’t enjoy a book, I don’t finish reading it. Reading is my hobby, my pleasure, and if I’m not enjoying it, it becomes rather pointless for me. I don’t really like reviewing books I haven’t finished, so it’s not real often that I’m going to write entirely negative reviews. The only thing which might induce me to do so would be if I ran across a book which I felt was dangerous (as opposed to one I just didn’t enjoy). Then I might talk about what I thought was wrong with it, and why I think people should only read it with a critical eye. Otherwise, I’ll just keep on writing about the books I enjoy, why I like them, and what problems they may have despite my enjoyment. Because it is perfectly possible to love a deeply flawed book (helloooo Ender’s Game), and I think it would be both dishonest and a disservice to my readers to ignore the problems with something just because I loved it.

So, that’s my opinion, and the train of thought which informs what I post here. Mr. Wendig is of course perfectly free to NOT post negative reviews on his site, and Jenny is totally within her rights to post reviews of things she really hated on her site. And no one should try to tell any of us that we’re “wrong” for doing so, just because we also happen to write fiction. Because Writer and Reader are not mutually exclusive occupations.



  1. September 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Writers should definitely be readers too, otherwise, how the heck are they going to do their jobs properly? You have to study and truly KNOW your raw materials before you can use them well. Besides which, reading is just flat-out fun.

    I really don’t, and will never, get this ‘be nice’ philosophy in the writing world. Readers aren’t expected to be all sunshine and rainbows in the face of something they dislike; why should writers be? Because it will lose us fans? Who cares? For every one you lose, you’ll gain another who respects your honesty.

    I blogged about this too (blogpimp, blogpimp) and the only conclusion I can come up with is, arrogantly, based on my own opinion. I think at the bottom of this refusal to review is the fear of damaging one’s own career. It’s nothing to do with not wanting to upset other people. It’s a matter of “I don’t want to upset someone I may have to work with in future.” I know that’s the case with me, what with erotic romance being such a small, incestuous world.

    However, it’s also something I’m working to get over. I have to re-start my career and build up more credibility first, but I hope to get away with reviewing books from the genre in which I write at some point.

    • Lia said,

      September 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Oh I would absolutely agree that a lot of it is fear of screwing your career. And to his credit, that’s one of the main points of Wendig’s post, which is will you get enough out of it to be worth the potential risk to your career. Which I think is a fine question to ask oneself, and everyone will have a different answer for their own personal use. But I despise the pressure I keep seeing on every author to conform to one way of running their career or else they’re “sunk.” Not everyone exerts that pressure, and most of the people I truly respect repeat that everyone’s career and path is different and THAT’S OK.

      For me, I don’t feel that fear as much, I think because for me writing will always be a second career. I’ll always have some other career I’m pursuing, perhaps in a parallel line to the writing career, but separate and therefor if no one reads my books/stories until I’m dead and gone, it’s not as if I mean to support myself entirely this way. That takes the pressure off in some ways, I think.

  2. September 20, 2013 at 7:39 am

    I’m not sentimental about old media vs. new media. Nothing will ever replace the sublime feeling of sanctuary created by the printed page, but I treasure the books on my Kindle too, particularly when I’m reading at 30,000 feet. What I love is words — storytelling, the flow of well-wrought sentences, the gradual unfolding of a long and thoughtful tale, the private communion with an author’s mind.

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