If you hang around me for more than five minutes, you'll figure out a few things about me very fast. One, I'm prone to explode with fangirly joy about Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music, since I not only like to listen to it, I like to play it too. (And I'll often sneak references to it into posts that have nothing to do with music. Like this one!)
But two, I'll also prattle on at the drop of a hat about the latest thing I've read--because I do love me some books. My father used to tell me that I won a bet for him when I was four, reading an article in the newspaper out loud without any prompting at all. I've been a voracious reader all my life. And moreover, I've been passionate about talking about my opinions on books with others. When I discovered Goodreads, I was overjoyed. A site where I can keep track of my vast collection of books, you say? Where I can post reviews and read the reviews of others, and use those to decide what I'm going to read next, you say? Sign me the hell up.
Now, though, I'm an author myself. And this presents a set of unique challenges when it comes to talking about books online.
Reviewing a book in general online can open up entire shelves of cans of worms these days. The ease with which authors and readers can interact, and with which authors can find out what fans are saying about their work, means that it's very, very easy for an author to find reviews of their work. Sometimes they don't even have to go looking, since if an author is well known, their readers will come find them and let them know in no uncertain terms what they thought of their latest release.
And we've all heard the Authors Behaving Badly stories--people who blow up at getting bad reviews on Amazon, or on Goodreads for that matter. People who rally their fan base to go and blast the hapless reviewer, regardless of how politely the review was or was not written.
If you're a reader, yeah, you have to be careful about how you phrase your reviews. But if you're an author, all the more so. Those authors you're reading are now not just people whose books you're reading. They're your peers, members of the greater writing community you've now joined. And the last thing you want to do is alienate your peers.
So what do you do?
A lot of authors I know refuse to review another author's work at all. Others won't review in their own genre, while still others maintain separate accounts for their author and reviewer online presences. And some won't post reviews unless they're specifically positive ones.
And some authors will still review--but keep in mind that they'll need to exercise greater diplomacy when expressing opinions on books that they didn't write.
Me, I've had less time in recent years to write reviews now that I'm actively working on my own work. But when I've reviewed in the past, I've always tried to be objective and fair, and if I don't particularly care for a book I'll try to find at least a few things I liked about it along with the ones I didn't. These days I haven't had time to do more than drop ratings on things I read, with periodic non-review-y posts about books I simply have to explode with that aforementioned fangirly joy about (like, say, Alex Bledsoe's The Hum and the Shiver, or Robin Maxwell's Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan).
That passionate discussion we've had on the Carina loop, though, has given me a lot of food for thought as to how to move forward with any future reviews. One thing though stands out for me, and I think it's vital to keep this in mind whether you're an author reviewing other people's work, or simply a passionate lover of books--or when you're posting on the Internet in general.
And that is, don't say something online that you wouldn't say to somebody's face.
We're all thinking, feeling people at these keyboards, part of a world-spanning community of readers and writers, and every so often it'll do us all good, I think, if we take a step back and remember that.
Fellow readers, let's remember that even if we didn't happen to like a book, it may have hundreds if not thousands of people who did. And those other people's thoughts and feelings on the work are every bit as valid and real as our own.
Fellow writers, let's remember that while we'd all love to have each and every one of our reviews have five stars, not every reader is going to love what we write. That's okay. And for the love of all that's holy, let's not attack someone's negative reviews of our stuff. People remember which authors behave badly. Let's aspire instead to be the authors who own their less-than-stellar reviews with grace and comedy.
And if I ever have a suitably scathing one-star review of my work come across my radar, I'll set that puppy to music.
Angela Highland is the author of the epic fantasy Valor of the Healer for Carina Press, and (as Angela Korra'ti) the urban fantasy Faerie Blood. Come say hi to her at angelahighland.com. But if you come bearing bad reviews, bring an accordion, bagpipes, or a kazoo.