Thursday, March 15, 2018

Should You Be Afraid to Review?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? In the big, wide world of semi-anonymity we call the internet, it seems at times that people are afraid of nothing. Strangers say things online that they'd never say if looking someone in the eye.

It’s tempting to tell people where to get off—especially when they're being obnoxious or unfair. People don't want to debate rationally; they only want to belittle those who don't agree. If you don't believe me, try explaining to a gang of vehement Teachers' Union supporters that all homeschoolers are not, in fact, "inbred, narrow-minded, homophobic hypocrites." Wow. And those were the ones who didn't refer to a variety of body parts and animal acts.

It's not worth my time to argue with strangers who don't want to hear someone else's point of view.

But what if those strangers could affect your real life? Would you still express your honest thoughts?

I’m forever exploring Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and writers’ blogs to keep up on the business of writing and editing. A disturbing number of people mention unwarranted attacks by authors who don't agree with someone's review of their book. Apparently, author/reviewer bullying is a pretty big thing.

Since when did an honest opinion become a bad thing? There are tactful ways to say the negative things that need to be said—like when my husband says, "Well, I know you like it and it's comfortable, but it's not the most flattering outfit you own." I'd rather hear that than overhear someone whispering about how awful I look.

In the case of a book review, an author should be prepared for the occasional negative. No one likes to hear that what they've labored over isn't loved by all, but it should at least be expected once in awhile. I've not always used delicate phrasing in a review, but I am prepared to stand by my words if confronted.

I can think of one instance where I ended up wondering if I'd overstepped my bounds, years and years ago. A book I'd edited got two stars from someone who admitted she didn't finish it, it was not her typical genre, and in fact, she didn’t really like that particular genre. So I asked her why she'd bothered to read or review it, when all those factors would never have led to a favorable review. I was polite, I clearly stated that I was the book's editor (which I didn't have to disclose) and wasn't asking so I could jump to the author's defense. I was genuinely curious. The reviewer didn't reply, but another GR person did, accusing me of being unprofessional by telling someone what a review should be, on a book which I "helped to create."

Well, first of all, I didn't create the book. I didn't help to create it. The novel was the author's hard work, not mine. I edited it. As much as I'd love to take credit for a book's success—and I do celebrate with them!—my work is the frosting, not the cake itself. I don't even have to like the books I work with, I suppose; I only have to correct them. So of course I felt that was a moot point. However, the person who criticized me was polite, I responded in kind, and we went our separate ways. I'd intended no harm, she said her piece, and I realized it was probably not my business to ask the original poster anything at all. But I'm curious like that, and now I know that curiosity is not always appreciated. I'm thankful that my post didn't do any damage to the author, but I didn't feel it was right to remove it, either. After all, I said it, and I needed to stand by it.

My point, if I can still get back around to it, is this: if an honest opinion is wanted, then prepare for it to be honest. "Honest" does not always mean "favorable." And if your loyal fans jump to your defense, please make it clear to them that bullying your naysayers is NOT acceptable. I’m incredulous that people can be so vicious to strangers over a book review, methodically stalking them across the social networks. In some of the cases I read, the author and the reviewer blamed each other for attacks that were actually launched by their friends. Once the true culprits were revealed, apologies ensued . . . but the damage was already done.

Most authors genuinely desire honest reviews. Reviews encourage people to purchase a book, and they let authors to know their work is noticed. The relative obscurity provided by the internet should never be used as an excuse to lash out at anyone who doesn't happen to agree with us.

Have you seen or experienced this? Ever found yourself in the middle of an unintentional knock-down-drag-out internet kerfuffle? Tell me all about it and I’ll be sure to give you a heartfelt “there, there.”

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Why Do You Blog?

Bloggers tend to be a unique group. Introverts or extroverts, we somehow manage to talk online with strangers on a variety of topics.

We write because we love to write.

We write because we have something to share.

We write because we think you'll be interested in what we've learned.

And we comment because we want others to know we appreciate their efforts, too.

I love knowing that I have blogging friends all over the world. Some, I may never meet in real life, but interacting with them has opened doors to other cultures, other traditions, new ideas, education, arts, and more.

My last three posts have been intense book recommendations, so I thought I'd open up today's blog post to you, and ask the burning question: Why do you blog?

I blog in two places: here, and over yonder at Wordpress (my personal blog's link is in my sidebar if you feel like visiting—Life As Only I Know It). The personal blog is mostly a "dear diary" for me. I write whatever's on my mind when I sit down with my laptop. Something timely, like a family birthday; something I've been learning in a class; observations on regular life, happy and sad.

Here at ERE, I write about things that interest my readers—and that usually involves reading, writing, or editing. I mean, hey, that's what I do, so that's what I write about.

Why I blog is a whole 'nother animal, as we say in the backwoods of Pennsylvania.

I started this blog when I started my editing business almost five years ago, in 2013. I thought it would be a good way to get my name out there to drum up some work, and to explore the blogging community. I read a few blogs here and there, but I never commented because I didn't think I had anything worthwhile to say. After all, bloggers were Somebody and I was just me.

Two people broke my fear of commenting. The first person was S.K. Anthony, an author I'd started working with very early in my editing career. She introduced me to a lot of terrific bloggers by sharing her favorites. She taught me good blog etiquette (e.g. no "thanks for sharing!" comments, which we can all relate to) and shared my blog with her followers to help me get a leg up.

The second person was author Raymond Esposito. I'd run into him on some Goodreads threads and thought he was hilarious and sarcastic, so I followed his blog. I tentatively commented on a couple of his posts, adding that I felt like a pest by commenting each time, and I'll never forget his response: "You're supposed to comment. Otherwise, I'm talking to myself."

Well, needless to say, I took that advice and ran with it. And now the two of them are award-winning authors who are some of my best friends. They own a business together, Writers After Dark, and they work hard to provide essential resources for writers. I’ve also discovered over the years that they each have genius-level IQ, which could be intimidating except that they don’t rub it in my face. But I digress . . .

I now follow a number of blogs and try to thoughtfully comment on all of them when there's a new post, and I don't hesitate to comment even when I'm reading a post written by a complete stranger. I know, you're all gasping with shock and perhaps admiration, but this was a serious thing for me to overcome. I had to get past the idea that I didn't have anything to contribute . . . that someone would point me out for a fraud if I said something stupid enough.

Fast forward to today, when I say plenty of stupid things and don't look back. I own my words, good or bad, but in general I try to not start internet fights with strangers. I enjoy the blogs I follow and try not to overextend myself by following so many that I can't keep up. Confession: I will give up on a blog with okay content but no interaction. On the other hand, I will stick with a blog that holds dubious interest for me, as long as the blogger interacts with followers. I see it all as a community, and I don't want to spend time with those who don't care to spend time with me. I'm not offended; it's a busy world and no one has time to waste on pointless things.

Funny thing about the "why" when I started this blog: I've almost never gotten a client through it. People have found me in other places and have come here to contact me, but I can only think of two people, ever, who said they found me through my blog alone. So I guess all that community stuff really does matter.

I ask again, then: why do YOU blog?