The OF Blog: Shitting Your Bed: A Snarky Look at the Incestuousness of "Book Blogger" and PR/Authors

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shitting Your Bed: A Snarky Look at the Incestuousness of "Book Blogger" and PR/Authors

Although I have operated this book for nearly eight years, I have never considered myself to be a "book blogger," as what I do revolves more around discussing what interests myself much more than trying to promote anything that may pejoratively be labeled "the new shiny."  There is something liberating to be said for covering dead tree works written by dead people in a variety of languages.  I don't have to worry about pleasing people (pissing them off is a worry of a different sort, one that I only occasionally have some vague inkling of remorse).  I am, in short, that sort of literary asshole that makes occasional assholish statements because sometimes this world isn't full of cotton candy and flying unicorns that fart rainbows. 

So it goes with the writing of book commentaries online, often for an honorarium or gratis.  Some, like myself, view this as a way of writing commentaries that are incisive and might mean something to readers besides those who choose to eschew Wikipedia and instead plagiarize my reviews for their papers (Yes, I'm certain this happens.  No, I won't be calling out anyone).  Others seem to view book reviewing as a sort of online party where they can make BFFs or discover which authors are best to take to a bar and get shitfaced with them.  Not that there's anything wrong with thi....fuck that.  There's quite a bit wrong with that.

I don't go out and search these things online (I prefer to read about dead people and dead languages like Sumerian than actively search for inanity), but I was linked today on Twitter to a post that was almost positively dripping treacle.  I am not going to be making any blanket statements about the presumed genre(s) that attract such coziness between authors and book bloggers (a term I use in the context of these people not aiming to write anything remotely analytical; they seek to promote works and not to dissect them if necessary).  What struck me about this post (and really, it's not an unusual post, only the first such one linked to me today) is that it's almost like a loveletter in the language used and the general tone of the piece.  Hey!  We <3 ya!  You rawk! 

Yeah, typing that made me feel ill.  I couldn't help but think, "Why do these people keep shitting their beds?"  After all, too close of an identification between a book blogger and an author (or in some cases, their publicists as well) can lead to some rather odd behavior, especially on that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Goodreads.  There are authors I converse with, including one with whom I've done some collaborations.  I also don't review those authors anymore, because of conflict of interest.  If I wanted to just say, over and over again like a parrot, "I liked this and you may too!," I'd start a Tumblr and post that same sentiment over and over again while alternating between showing images of a squirrel attacking a dog and a squirrel biting a snake.  Perhaps such is the easiest way to make a point, because if in some quarters, one writes a negative commentary, it seems that Kumbaya Hi-Pro Glow feeling of fuzziness fades rather quickly and the knives are drawn.

Such strong and virulent reactions to a negative commentary, whether they appear on Goodreads, a review forum, or even saintly humble abodes such as this one, in many cases speaks to the too-intimate bonds that sometimes form between readers and authors.  Oh, sure, I could lambast say a Robert Stanek and get at most a few sockpuppet responses.  But what if I were to say that I thought a popular author (fictitious for this example) was whoring him/herself out too much by promoting constantly on his/her site reader comments that could have been the work of a barely-literate third grader?  Beyond those that would (rightly) question if I should "be going there," there would be those who would take immediate offense, make some meant-to-be-disparaging comment about my blog, my career, my looks, my age, my gender, my ethnicity, my religion, my dog, squirrels, etc.  While I might not be called "a cow," as one such book blogger was by an author (or was it her publicist) in a spat that led to a massive one-starring of the offending post at Goodreads (again, must I reiterate my contempt for "five star reviews" and "one star reviews?"), I could imagine some heated commentary for criticizing an author's writing and his/her blatant attempts to manipulate coverage.

But the worst thing about it?  Knowing that there are numerous "book bloggers" (again, used to denote those who view themselves as fans first and critics lastly, if at all) who will engage in verbal pleasuring of their favorite authors just so they can get more attention, more perks, more hits at Goodreads, etc.  Those are the ones who seem to be shitting the proverbial bed here, not those who guard against being too intimate with writers.  It wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't already know that in some quarters, even those who try to write from a critical distance are lumped in with these fans whose commentaries often serve to diminish the value of online reviews for readers who can't get all yippy-skippy in their glee at reading an amateur blurb.

Others will have dissenting opinions, no doubt.


Bibliotropic said...

I agree with some pieces and disagree with others. While I can say that in many ways I am a fan of certain authors and will go out of my way to promote their works, I also won't shy away from saying negative things about some of what they've written. If I don't enjoy it, I don't enjoy it, and I hold the general opinion that authors should have enough maturity to realize that you can't please everyone.

(Sadly, I often get proven wrong with this assumption, but I continue to hold it because it keeps me honest in my reviews.)

I enjoy speaking with authors, though I can't say I've ever made friends with any of them. I learned the hard way that it can be a real conflict when you talk to an author casually and then find out that you don't like what they're written. I felt compelled to sugar-coat, to speak in round-about ways that meant I wasn't saying anything bad per se, but wasn't saying anything good either.

I'm glad I outgrew that.

While I can't say I'd mind being able to get closer to authors and publishers in some ways, it's probably easier in the long run to keep at least a professional distance, so that I can be honest without feeling guilty, and so that I can avoid filling my blog with mindless, "ZOMG, go buy this book now because it roxxors!" I may not have the best blog in the world, but it's far from the worst, and I want to keep it that way!

Larry said...

Yeah, the intended rant tone probably makes it hard to agree with everything :P

Good points. I'm one of those people who likes a healthy reserve when reviewing. I'll on occasion cover people with whom I chat on Twitter, but that's because there isn't (for me) a perceived inappropriate closeness that would compromise my take on the novel/story. I have few problems speaking with authors, provided the context doesn't revolve around promoting their works uncritically in the guise of a review. That's what worries me about reading those that do this, as it does not lend itself a good reputation.

I like your attitude in the final sentence, by the way :D

Bryce L. said...

This was a great post, Larry, can we be friends? :) But seriously, thanks for bringing this to my attention, it was also fun reading the review that sparked the "cow" comment.

I have to say I agree and disagree as well, but I support your ability to say so. But in the same way I support your ability to say so, I support theirs as well. Luckily for me, I'm not nearly as good a writer, nor am I as astute an observer of our culture as you are, so I'm also not as offended at the reputation these types of bloggers/reviewers are giving the community.

For me, I can spot those types of "reviewers" (if we can call them that) who snuggle up to authors and everything is peachy...and that's enough. I tend to avoid them and I definitely don't trust them.

Larry said...


As long as you don't spam bomb me on Facebook, I suppose ;)

Yes, I can understand the balance needed in commenting on books. I might have sounded more disparaging than usual in my rant (which was meant to be as much tongue-in-cheek as serious), but I can see some valuing that sort of "book blogging" approach that incorporates Goodreads, even when it includes those petty fights. I just think it wouldn't be wise to consider them reviewers, since they are self-professed fans first and foremost. As long as they are not associated with the likes of me, I can deal with it...or at least provide some silly vitriol for a Monday ;)

Adam Whitehead said...

I've met a few authors whose books I have given unfavourable reviews to and generally found them to be okay about it (in almost all cases, they are still publishing new works and doing very well, so it's hardly a big deal).

That said, I have backed off somewhat in the last year or two from attending PR events in London for this reason. There is line between cordial amenity at a potential networking event and going out on the piss at publishers' expense etc, and it's a good idea not to blur it.

I also joined Goodreads with the intent of making use of it, but after spending a while looking at it I realised it really wasn't worth the time or effort to engage with it :-)

Larry said...

Yeah, I never understood the attraction of such company events, as I tended to avoid them when I was an employee. Besides, I would worry about being influenced subconsciously by getting to know publishing people too closely, as we do tend to be more forgiving of those we know best.

Goodreads I'll join after I start posting ratings for my reviews :P

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