With great power comes great responsibility – little do online commentators realise how fragile creative egos can be. You might chuckle, but to some, a damaging comment can prevent a writer from doing his or her job properly. Some might crumble for a week, who’s to say? I’ve been pretty lucky, but I cringe at reading scathing reviews of other authors’ work. So whilst I was full of snark at the start of this post, I do actually understand how such things can harm writers. And yes, some writers really do care about what people think of their work. Yes, they receive Google Alerts about the fruit of their labours. Surely that’s a good thing, that they give a shit? I suppose if you’re the kind of person who enjoys attacking creative works for kicks, then you need a little more help than this blog post can offer.There's no doubt that the arena for book criticism and reader feedback has grown hugely since the advent of the online forum, Amazon reviews, blogs, etc. And how a writer copes with this bombardment of criticism, and how it affects them, is an interesting topic.
Author Mark Chadbourn delves deeper into the issue; here's a few snippets from his article:
The net now is like a city centre pub. You’ve got the group getting drunk and having a laugh. The intense couples ruminating over a glass of claret. And you’ve got the swivel-eyed, shaven-headed men in brown leather jackets at the end of the bar who bellow at anyone who will listen. And they’ve all got an opinion, and they all want to tell you.
This analogy isn’t just about bloggers. It’s about anyone who chimes in with their take on a book – on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Good Reads, wherever. If you’re a writer, it’s nigh on impossible not to hear what people think about your book.
It didn’t use to be like that. You’d get a flurry of print reviews when the book came out, and then silence for months while you worked on the next one. Now they come in a torrent, every week, every day.
Back then, reviews were carefully considered. Today some are still carefully considered. But as in that city centre pub, some are rants, abusive, vitriolic, opinions filtered through prejudices. And that’s how it should be – the net has given people a voice, and it’s up to them what they want to say...
So, yes, I pity the new writer. If your first book is coming out, you’ve got it harder than I ever had. You’re going to be judged. You might be torn apart. You might be built up so fast your head is spinning, and then torn apart. It might just be the death of a million tiny pinpricks. Or you might ride that upward trajectory for the rest of your life. But it’s going to be out of your hands, and it’s going to be very hard to ignore it.I like Chadbourn's use of the term 'Bear Pit', which he uses to describe Amazon reviews but which could easily be applied to online genre fandom as a whole. The truth is, the blogosphere has grown to such an extent now that a lot of it is just white noise. While I believe the majority of serious fans are capable of discerning between good and bad reviewers, there's so many opinions from so many different commentators flying around that it's often difficult to know who is worth listening to. I suppose for authors it's twice as bad - because the opinions are about their books, which adds a personal element to it. I don't doubt that it must be tough for new writers to see their book hurled out there and set upon by hordes of ravenous reviewers, many of whom fail to give considered, constructive opinions.
Yet it's important not to view the online genre scene too negatively. Yes, it has its flaws. Yes, it probably puts new writers through a whole gauntlet of emotions (many of them undesirable). But we need perspective here: the online scene is just a small representation of the book-buying public, and the vast majority of reviews and reviewers have barely any influence on sales. Most of the opinions flying around carry very little weight or authority (and I include my own, here), so a writer that sees their book attract a flurry of negative reviews should try not to get too downbeat about it (though admittedly this is far easier said than done, I'm sure, especially when some of those reviews are badly-written).
We should also consider the fact that the online scene allows for a great deal of interaction between authors and readers, and this sort of thing - when handled properly - can help launch careers. Joe Abercrombie is a good example of an author who successfuly used the myriad of online possibilities to his advantage. While we're a small crowd, it certainly doesn't hurt if you can win us online fans over.
So while I fully understand how it must feel to be a new writer being dragged into the Bear Pit, we mustn't lose sight of the positive aspects that online critiquing offers both writers and readers.
Ultimately it's a double-edged sword.