This is the latest interesting debate to surface in the genre blogging community.
The article basically asks whether authors that engage in discussion of their books are at risk of (among other things) scaring potential contributors away, and therefore killing the debate. The article cites the example of Peter V. Brett, who recently commented on a review of his novel The Painted Man over at The Book Smugglers as he felt the need to explain the reasoning behind a particular sexual scene in the book. After Peter left the comment, the conversation died a bit of a death - something he admits on his blog.
Now, maybe this was because the conversation had run its course. But maybe it was because readers felt reluctant to get involved once the author had posted a comment of his own. So, do authors kill debate by getting involved in online discussion, or does it depend on the nature of their contribution?
One thing is for sure - this is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2004 Anne Rice took exception to some critical reviews on Amazon of her novel Blood Canticle (you'd think she'd know better - Amazon reviews are usually of little critical value. Harriet Klausner anyone?). The result, inevitably, was a classic interweb shit-storm. Rice was forced to back down and eventually released a statement on her website in an attempt to set the record straight. The whole thing reeked of a hasty PR job, with Rice trying to cast a positive glow on it by saying "The whole experience has been amazing." Four words - stable, door, horse, bolted.
There are more recent examples of where things have got a bit fruity after an author entered the debate surrounding their own work. Paul Kearney took exception to Aidan's 'review' of The Ten Thousand and subsequently attracted some criticism with his reaction, though Paul showed his quality by later making a sincere apology.
The exchange that really springs to mind though is the tasty bit of friction that resulted from Simon Spanton (Gollancz editor) calling out Pat about his review of Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains and requesting that Pat make their email exchange, about the nature of hype, public. Cue a load of anti-Spanton vitriol from angry readers that took exception to the tone of his emails.
The debate then intensified when Richard Morgan himself posted a comment, which included the line "I think you failed to enjoy my book because you just didn’t like it – and I think you’re being too diplomatic, or possibly just too nice, to come out and say that. Or you’re fooling yourself." It's at about this point when you have to step back and just ask, "Hang on, is this going a bit too far?" After the considerable debate engendered by Pat's review, Spanton's request that his emails be made public and Morgan's contribution didn't really achieve much at all; the general reaction was more negative than positive and I don't think either of them emerged from the whole incident with much credit. Then again, Morgan seems to have a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way, nicely illustrated by his recent article about Tolkien and his comments in the ongoing threads about The Steel Remains on Westeros.
Anyway, this is old news. Back to the issue at hand: should authors (or editors for that matter) get involved in debate/post comments on reviews of their novels?
For me, it depends on the tone of their comment/contribution. Brett and Morgan, in their posts, both addressed issues that they felt had been misunderstood and subsequently had cast their respective novels in a negative light. Nothing wrong with that. But whereas Brett's post was dignified and polite, Morgan's was a bit of a rant that included a personal criticism of the reviewer (and as we all know, personal criticism is just not the done thing). It's unsurprising therefore that the reaction to Brett's post was received more favourably.
Generally though, I think it's best for authors to just keep out of it. In this day and age, anyone who has a book published has to accept that it will most likely be discussed online, and that plenty of people will dislike it. Some criticism might be fair, some might not. Some readers might be getting totally the wrong end of the stick. But authors should be thick-skinned enough to deal with it, and to not let it upset them. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter that much anyway - the vast majority of readers don't venture online, so online book reviews don't really have much impact on a book's success or failure.
As for the other question - does an author's contribution to a debate run the risk of ruining the discussion? - I think that is much more difficult to answer, as it depends on a number of factors - which blog it is on, how many people have already contributed, the type of people contributing, etc. I don't see any intrinsic reason why an author's contribution would kill discussion. Again, it's largely down to the tone of the comment. Personally, I wouldn't be put off by an author getting involved.
As a blogger, I like authors to interact with readers. It's fun and it's one of the best things about the online community. But it should be through the correct channels; ie, a guest post or a Q&A session. The comments section of a book review probably isn't the best place - especially if the author in question is looking to vent steam at a negative review. Then again, there's nothing like the smell of flamewars in the morning...
Tia has also given her thoughts on her the issue. Feel free to add your own, I'm interested to see how other folk feel about this issue.
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