Sunday, 15 January 2012

Discussion: Author/Blogger Relationships and Reviewing

I have been catchin up on the blog posts of adult urban fantasy author, Stacia Kane, and her last series of posts (Something in the Water? / Freedom of Speech / I'm Not a Reader) are about authors responding to negative reviews, how people review, and author reviews. The posts actually go a lot deeper than how I've summarised them and say a lot more, but at the very, very basic, that's what they're about. I highly recommend you go and check them out because they're so fascinating and interesting! I just love when authors write posts like this, it's such an eye opener.

Anyway, in one way or another, the idea that authors getting friends and family to review/rate their books on Amazon and Goodreads is wrong crops up a few times. Of course it is, I'm not disputing that whatsoever, but it got me thinking about a few things that are only slightly related, and I wanted to ask what people's views on them were. And so here we have a discussion!

Imagine these situations:

Situation A:
There are two book bloggers. Over time, among others, these bloggers comment on each other's posts. Along with others, they chat on Twitter. They may bump into each other at author/publishing events, or go along to blogger meet-ups and they chat. About books; characters, authors, recommendations, etc etc. They're not the bestest of buddies, but they know each other, they have conversations, and they get on. Skip to several months/years down the line, and one of those bloggers has a book published. The other blogger receives a review copy from the publisher.

Situation B:
A blogger hears about a debut novel that will be released several months down the line that they like the sound of. They look it up to find out a bit more about it and come across the author's website. Deciding that this is a book they think they will enjoy, and therefore also think they will enjoy what the author has to say, they follow the author on Twitter, after finding the author's username on their website. This author tends to be pretty active on Twitter about various things, and blogger responds to some tweets. The author replies. After a while, the author and the blogger respond to each others tweets quite a bit. They're not the bestest of buddies, but the author knows of and talks to the blogger. Then the blogger received the author's review copy from the publisher.

Situation C:
At an event, be it an author, publisher, or blogger organised event, a blogger meets an author (not the author who's event it is) who's debut will be released in a fair few months time. Blogger and yet-to-be-published author, along with others that are at the event, chat books and everything to do with them. They may chat a little bit online after the event, on Twitter via reviewer & author blogs. As in Situation A, they know each other, they have conversations, and they get on, but aren't the bestest of buddies. When the book is close to being published, the blogger is sent a review copy.

For each situation, with the assumption that the blogger is an honest one and would write based on their actual views of what they've read rather than anything else, is it ok for the blogger to review the book? Obviously, the blogger could have thought the book sounded good and have bought it once it was published, but for this discussion I'm saying the blogger was sent a review copy because then there is the hope for a review from the publisher (where as there's not necessarily any need for a review for a bought book). In each case, the author hasn't asked for a review, it's come straight from the publisher, so it's not the author asking a friend for a review. But would they be considered "friends" anyway? That's my point, would the possible review be seen as wrong in some way because there was some sort of relationship/prior interaction (however you wish to class it) before the book was published?

In what situations other than I've mentioned would it be frowned upon by... readers/other bloggers/authors, whoever, if the blogger reviewed a book? Is there a line? Do bloggers have to watch how they interact with authors? What are your thoughts specifically or generally on what's mentioned in this post?

ETA: It seems there has been a little confusing with what exactly it is I'm asking, so I'm going to put it slightly differently. If the reader of the possible review is aware of the blogger's "relationship" with the author, should you review if there's the possibility that the reader will doubt your honesty if the review is positive?

Comments from bloggers, readers, authors - anyone! - welcome!

16 comments:

  1. Interesting question! I think for me it simply boils down to honesty. If what you write in the review is your honest opinion of the book it doesn't matter to me if you are friends or friendly with the author. I just want to hear your thoughts on the book and whether you like it and why.

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  2. Definitely interesting questions you've raised. I've become quite friendly with many authors since book blogging, either over twitter or at events and that sort of thing. The first time I read a 'friend's' book though, I felt really nervous about what I should write in my review, wondering if I should write some sort of disclaimer stating that I'm on friendly terms with the author. I've even NOT reviewed a book because I felt nervous about it.

    I've mostly gotten over that now, and I think eh, I'm just going to write what I thought about it and not worry about anyone else. I've recently written a not-brilliant review of a book in which I'd chatted a bunch with the author previously on Twitter. It didn't feel great to do, but it was how I felt about it.

    I don't think any of the situations you listed below make the blogger and author 'friends' in the same sense. I think of friends as people I know more, people who have seen me cry or who'd I'd invite to major functions in my life like a wedding or my child's birthday party. Somebody who is invested in my personal happiness in a deeper way that I would be interested in say the author I've tweeted with on occasion.

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  3. Sammee - That's what I think. However, for other situations, I've read that people, for example wouldn't trust reviews for a book if they were all 5 stars, so I think if those same people were aware that the blogger was on "friendly terms" with the author, they may doubt the review. So with those people in mind, would it be better not review? Or review anyway?

    Michelle - Oh, I am in no way suggesting that these situations equal friendship, but there is some sort of relationship there, even if it's not a close one. And it's based on that relationship and how the people reading the review may view it that I asked. Does that make sense?

    I find it interesting that you actually didn't review a book because you had been on friendly terms with the author, even though you have no problem now. The relationship made you worry at that point. So do you think there should be some sort of line bloggers don't cross, that they distance themselves to a certain extent from authors, to not get to that point where they end up worrying?

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  4. This is very interesting and I'd love to know what other people think. I definitely do worry about this kind of thing sometimes, as a writer and a book blogger. On the other hand, many professional reviews in newspapers, etc, are also written by people who might well have interacted with the person whose book they're reviewing. I think maybe the most important thing is discussing books and sharing opinions with other readers...

    Thank you for this fascinating discussion.

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  5. I suppose that's true, but would the interactions between professional reviewers and authors be similar to that between bloggers and authors? I don't know, I'm asking.
    Thanks for commenting! :)

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  6. I wouldn't think it was wrong to write a review in any of these situations, but I would personally worry about offending the author in situations A) and C).

    I think it is ethically questionable to review a book written by someone you are actually friends with, though. For example, I don't think I would review any of the books written by my friends from my MA programme. I might talk about how much I loved them in comments on other people's reviews, or in forums, but I couldn't trust myself to give a fair review on a book that I read in its early stages, and became emotionally attached to before it was finished.

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  7. Oh, the latter part of your comment I completely agree with. I have a mate who's trying to get published, and I couldn't review their book. Completely different situation.
    Thanks for commenting!

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  8. I think it is important to understand that we don't write reviews for the authors or publishers. We write them for fellow readers. We are to give our honest opinion about what we liked or what we didn't. That being said, I believe that we should write our reviews carefully. It took a lot of time, effort, and money to publish a book and that demands respect. If you didn't like it, write a review that reflects you didn't care for it but someone else might like it. There is a book out there for everyone! Just because you didn't like it doesn't mean someone else won't. We need to keep that in mind and be respectful.

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  9. I completely agree with everything you've said, Mary, and that's exactly how I review. My point is if the reader of the review know about your "relationship" with the author, will they trust that your review IS honest? And if there's likely doubt, should the book be reviewed?

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  10. This is a toughie. I've reviewed a lot of books written by authors I talk to on twitter or have met once or twice in real life, and I didn't feel any conflict over it because in my reviews I'd mostly focus on what the book is *like* rather than whether I *liked* it. If I'd read a book by one of these particular authors and hated it, I wouldn't have reviewed it. Simple as that.

    The weird issue for me is that I've previously reviewed a couple of books by an author I'm now friends with. I wouldn't feel comfortable writing a review of her subsequent books, and I think those 'disclaimer: I know the author' taglines ironically make people think you're being biased rather than honest.

    That said, you see published authors blurbing their writer acquaintances' books frequently, and I don't have a problem with that. I actually think it tells the reader a lot about the type of book they're getting.

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  11. Wow,becoming friends with an author you've previously reviewed is a different situation altogether. But since you've mentioned the disclaimer tags don't work, I assume you've not edited those reviews in some way to say... well, anything about the friendship. I'm curious, have you kept the reviews or have you deleted them?

    And that's an interesting point, if authors can blurb the books of authors they've met/may be friends with, surely it's ok if a blogger reviews a book of an author they can call at best an "acquaintance"?

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  12. Jo, I have kept the reviews as they were. Mainly because at the time there wasn't an issue, and I stand by them 100 percent.

    The fact is, author/reviewer interaction is just one of the things that could theoretically influence a review. Bloggers get invited to publisher brunches and special events and occasionally get other freebies. Some bloggers are friends with publicists. Realistically, any or all of these factors could conceivably influence a blogger's opinion - or they may not influence the blogger one iota. I also remember one episode of author-blogger interaction a few years ago that I would *bet* influenced *some* bloggers negatively about a particular US title.

    I think you seem primarily concerned about your own credibility - and I think the point is that you're asking yourself these questions, so you're obviously thinking objectively about your own approach. You could maybe put something specific in your review policy if you come to any solid conclusions. Ultimately it's hard to control the way that your opinions are perceived, but I would personally always trust reviews that back up opinion with specifics.

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  13. Oh no, I'm not changing the way I review at all. I have been in a few of the situations I mentioned above, but never even considered the possibility that there could be any problem - if there is at all one - until the question was sparked by the posts I read. There was never any plan to change the way I personally do things based on what people say, I was just curious as to what other people thought. And I like a discussion :)

    I like your point about the other factors that could potentially influence a blogger's opinion of a book, or not at all. I guess it all comes down to the individual blogger's way of reviewing, and they individual reader's view of the reviews, and there's no blanket answer, really. I'm lost over which US book you're referring to. Either I don't remember, or I was never aware of it. Unless... I've thought of one it might be, but I guess it's a different discussion altogether.

    Thanks for your comments!

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  14. I like a discussion too. I think this kind of thing is interesting precisely because blogging is still relatively new territory, and like you've said, there's no blanket answer.

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  15. Honesty really is the best policy - and also, your regular readers will completely know what your "triggers" are when it comes to reviewing books - things you like / dislike. Publishers encourage us to be friendly with authors and it is a great thing, I think. Bloggers make them (authors) "human" to normal readers who don't get the chance to interact with them socially, as we sometimes get the chance to do.

    We get to find out about them and they get to learn about what blogging entails and how much pressure we sometimes find ourselves under.

    And yes, I think Mary is so right when she says we don't review for authors or publishers - even if we get sent books to review. I'm utterly selfish and review for myself but I know that I have followers and I hope that what I say, and how I say it, will appeal to them, to encourage them to buy a book or consider a title they may not have thought about picking up.

    This is a fab conversation and I love you to bits, Jo, for asking the questions!

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  16. Lauren - I think that's exactly it - no real answer because it's still new.

    Liz - Aww, thank you! :) I was thinking something similar; your regular readers know how you review, they're going to know if suddenly a review seems a bit off. But they will also know when you're being honest despite any kind of interaction, so I guess they can judge for themselves.

    That is a brilliant point about us bloggers kind of bridging the gap between readers and authors, and making them seem "human". It's a two way street as well, as you say, with authors learning from us too. Can only be a good thing.

    I'm with you, I review for myself - if it stopped being enjoyable, I'd quit. But I also love the feeling when someone has read your review, really liked it for whatever reason, and will be picking up a book based on your review. To encourage readers to start or continue reading is just amazing. But that is slightly off topic.

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