Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Fuddy-Duddy Speaks

Okay, the forecast is for more thunderstorms tonight. Therefore, I'm posting my Wednesday blog early in case I lose power again.

The romance industry has been on high gossip alert for the last ten days.

It started with one blogger's blistering online review of a romance writer's latest e-book release. While the review was amusing, I thought the blogger's comments went a bit further than I would have, perhaps stepping over the line into "harsh." However, learning to deal with tough reviewers is a part of every writer's job.

But that was only the beginning. Over the next few days, the comment trail to the review got really out of hand. Everyone and her brother dogpiled on top of the reviewer's critique. The tacky comments moved beyond the unfortunate writer to include her editor (by name) and her publisher. There were 71 comments to the first post and 106 comments to a follow-up post about the e-publisher the next day.

Some writers tried to deflect the stream of invective that followed. Others threw gasoline on the fire by preaching. The comment trail kept growing. Eventually, it even included one of the biggest names in romantic fiction, who added her two cents to the discussion.

I didn't finish reading the comment trails for either day. What had originally seemed amusing to me quickly deteriorated into something darker. I was particularly disturbed by the vicious glee of some of the commenters--especially those who hid behind the username "Anonymous."

Those comment trails started me thinking back to when I got serious about writing four years ago. At that time, my plan was to pen thrillers. My first efforts at networking came when I joined Sisters in Crime, thinking that was the right organization for me. Upon advice from another writer, I also checked out RWA where I was bowled over by the kindness and support I encountered. I ended up joining Romance Writers of America and have never regretted that decision. Over the last couple of years, I've decided my genre is probably romantic thrillers.

I'm firmly convinced that the help and encouragement I got from the published writers in RWA is a big part of the reason I was able to sell my first book. Multiple writers offered to critique my work. While many were tough on me, all were fair. And I never attributed their comments to anything other than a sincere desire to help my writing improve.

Bad reviews are a fact of life for artists of any stripe. However, I think it's important to distinguish "professional" critiques from "personal" attacks. A professional critique is about the work. A personal attack focuses on the artist himself.

A few days ago, during my post on networking, I quoted Howard Dean. He'd said something to the effect that the Internet was the greatest tool for democratization since the printing press.

I could not agree more. The beauty of the Internet is in the way in which it levels the playing field. Individuals now have the power to make themselves heard around the world.

There's been a lot of talk lately about newspapers dropping book reviews from their pages. While it's obviously a cost-cutting move for the papers, their editors point to the fact that readers are increasingly turning to other readers on the Internet for such reviews.

But that megaphone comes with a price. Stan Lee wrote, "With great power there must also come – great responsibility." I still remember learning that lesson as a little kid reading my first Spiderman comic.

Sure, I'm attracted to outrageous blogs. It's also human nature to slow down at trainwrecks. First, we summon help. Then we seek to give comfort to the survivors. And, somewhere deep in the recesses of our brains, we also celebrate the fact that the Grim Reaper didn't number us among his victims.

However, when stopping to rubberneck, we shouldn't choose to stomp on the exposed throats of the survivors, nor to stab the victims a couple of times ourselves.

Last month, I did a post about a new initiative to bring more civility to the blogosphere. You can read about it here. This is not a bad thing.

In closing, let me add that I am very aware I have not given the URL of the blog that prompted this post. This was a deliberate decision on my part. While I don't object to the original review, I do not choose to drive traffic to those comment streams.

Go ahead. Call me a fuddy-duddy. I'll wear the title proudly.


Marie Tuhart said...

Maya, I won't call you a fuddy-duddy. The blog you are talking about I have read and I am appalled by some of the comments, especially when it came to naming the editor. Publishing is a small business, never name names especially in a public forum.

Fab Grandma said...

I agree with you in that when a person is allowed to post a comment anonymously they can afford to be more critical, meaner, vindictive, and just plain nasty. If they are required to give their identity before being allowed to comment, they usually tone it down a bit.

That is one thing that I have found to be consistent across the internet from chat rooms, to forums, to blogs, to places like MySpace and Gather. It doesn't matter where it happens, if allowed to remain anonymous, posters can be cruel.

B.E. Sanderson said...

No need to post the URL. I haven't been there, but I've heard about it. Other places have it posted but I won't go to it. There's enough negativity in the world without going out to look for more of it. Thanks for the post, though, Maya. As always, tasteful and pertinent.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, Marie, Grandma and Beth: I debated whether to say anything or not. When I sat down to write a follow-up on another subject, I found myself writing this post and decided to go with it.



Lisa said...

I agree with your comment that with great power comes great responsibility. I'll be pretty disappointed to see newspaper book reviews disappear if it comes to that. Although the online community certainly contributes...a LOT in the area of opinion and review, it's just not the same as reading a book review from a known quantity. I was surprised to read in a recent blog post how many people rely on reader reviews at Amazon. I typically don't put much, if anything into those reviews at all because I have no idea who's posting them.

Maya Reynolds said...

Lisa: Thanks for your comment and for stopping by.

I agree. I do buy books that I've read about in newspaper or magazine reviews.

Sherry Davis said...

I love this blog!