The other day I was mooning around, trying to think up a topic on which I could write a solid journalism-style article (and never you mind why), and Jessica suggested I could interview her about her fabulous and exciting life and ideas. Knowing just how fabulous and exciting (not to mention shiny) Jessica generally is, I obviously accepted.
It was my first time really interviewing someone–unless you count the third grade project I did where I interviewed my mother on her youth and how she got appendicitis on a family vacation, thereby becoming The Daughter Who Ruins Good Times For Everyone–and it kind of shows; the topic sort of meanders from my original idea and I often Show My Opinions more than I really should when I’m supposed to be asking someone else about their opinions, but Jessica saves the day by being an interesting and informed interviewee. So, for your reading pleasure, I present: Jessica’s Fabulously Exciting (and Shiny) Thoughts on the YA Mafia and the Author/Reader Dynamic!
Mia: So, what do YOU think about this whole YA mafia thing?
Jessica: I guess, to sum up, I would say that the YA mafia as it is exaggerated certainly doesn’t exist. There’s no conspiracy in it. But a lot of YA authors are friends, quite a few blog and review on their blogs, and there is some fuzzy grey area there. I also think that just with how present many authors are online and how many of them have google alerts set up on their names…being an author is hard, I’m sure. Books are your babies and you want everybody to see how beautiful and perfect they are. But I don’t think an author should ever respond to a review, and I don’t think reviewers, whether they want to be in the industry, should be afraid of giving negative reviews. On the other hand, if you want to go into the industry, you’d have to realize that if you write a negative review from an agent’s favorite author/book, it might make that agent think that you’re not a good fit for her/him. And of course, if you’re going to be an asshole online, whether in a review or not, it might create negative impressions.
M: Could you talk a little more about what you mean when you say that “an author [shouldn’t] ever respond to a review”?
J: Obviously, an author shouldn’t respond emotionally to a review. “Oh, my god! You hated my book? YOU HATE MEEEEEE WEEEEEEP!” That is not appropriate. But every few months, there is a scandal involving an author bitching about a review or calling her fans to go troll a bad review or whatever. I’ve read at least a few authors who say that they will only respond to a review if they feel that a factual error has been made. But here’s my question: is it really necessary? Does it really matter? Not to mention that what you think was a factual error might be more grey than you think.
Even if a reviewer misread your book, don’t forget that you might be misreading their review.
M: Where is the line, do you feel? What is appropriate author/reader author/reviewer interaction, especially (as they say) in this day and age of heightened accessibility?
Is it reasonable for readers to expect a larger degree of accountability from an author, or vice versa?
I’m thinking of Jasper Fforde, who encourages his readers to write in about errors, typos, misspellings and what have you via his website.
J: Hmmm…that’s a big question. I love it when authors have blogs, I love knowing about their projects before they’re published. But it’s a different experience reading a book when you know the author’s voice from a blog. This isn’t totally true, but to some extent, the closer I am to an author, the harder it is for me to fall 100% into their book. On the other hand, I’ve discovered authors I like after finding their blogs.
I was just writing about a thing where authors and reviewers are friends, but I deleted it. Instead I’m going to say that I don’t think that authors should comment on reviews of their own books. If it’s positive, it’d be alright to leave a “Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!”, but don’t get into the nitty gritty. That’s for a more personal conversation than on a blog. As long as it’s not a review of your book, I think it’s totally appropriate to be a part of the reading blogosphere. After all, writers are all readers, too!
As to the accountability question…that depends on what you mean by accountability.
M: Yeah, it is kind of a vague word.
I’m thinking about the specific sort of conversation and potentially the sort of argument readers/writers can get into with such an easy connection.
A reviewer can say, “Hey, this author said this in their book,” and the author can show up and say, “That’s not what I was saying,” and the reviewer can say, “Nuh-uh, look at this passage here.”
J: Right, I think that’s exactly the sorts of conversations authors should avoid.
M: I guess that’s not so much accountability as confrontation, but it seems to me like with such an open connection a reader/reviewer might expect more direct answers that the author should be accountable for (hey, why did you do or fail to do this?) and so on.
There’s a line that fans shouldn’t cross, I think most people generally agree, but there’s this idea of celebrity where I think people allow famous folks to get away with more because they’re talented or special.
J: Yeeeeeah…I think that generally every reviewer feels like they are reviewing for the reader, not the author. Even at Dear Author, where they address their reviews to the authors epistle style, reviews are for readers. I don’t often see reviews where readers are asking direct questions of authors. BUT it isn’t hard at all to find an author’s email address or blog and I’m sure that authors get a lot of mail/comments like that, especially if they have a strong online presence and reader feel “betrayed” by a character’s death or whatever. Obviously that’s a silly thing to do. The author doesn’t owe the reader anything but a story and the reader doesn’t owe the author anything except to read their book (if they want)!
M: The idea of “owing” in terms of a creator/absorber relationship is interesting; I agree with what you’ve said, but in particular instances with a musician or an author or what have you, especially if they are very close to their fan base, the reader can start to see that they own part of the author’s work or have a greater share of say in how it should be made.
J: Definitely. And a lot of people are just generally entitled and will feel that way anyway. I’ve been upset with authors for something in their work before, but I still have never tried to contact an author about it! I think that’s the line. And on the other side, authors have the same line. No matter how hurt you are by a review, or how many mistakes you feel the reviewer made, you should vent to friends and family, not the person you deem responsible. Rarely will that go well.