Reader conversation

So, as happens with some regularity in Romancelandia these days, discussion has turned to reviews, reviewing, author-reviewer relationships, etc.  Specifically, see this post on Dear Author about whether the fun has gone out of reading and this post from Sunita about the good ole days (my word choice implies more snark than I mean, but I like the image of someone shaking their cane at kids these days, so I’m sticking with it).

All this reminded me of an email I wrote almost a year ago for an author loop of some kind (who can remember which?) and my ex-husband convinced me not to send and so I didn’t. The text of the email was still on my computer. Here it goes:

I’m going to enter this conversation about bad reviews from a different perspective. I’ve only been a published author for a week, but I’ve been a public librarian for 7 years and worked in public libraries for almost 10. I’m going to illustrate my points from my experience as a librarian.

There is a woman (we’ll call her Peg) who comes into the library and loves Fern Michaels. She only ever reads Fern Michaels and has never liked any author I’ve suggested who isn’t Fern Michaels. The only thing Fern Michaels does wrong is not write fast enough. Hopefully we all have (or will have) fans who think of us like that. It’s great. But, when Peg stops reading, only Fern Michaels career is harmed. Peg is a fan. Her reading supports one author and one author only.

Another woman (Mary) reads all different kinds of books. Mary came into the library the other day to get on the list for 50 Shades. Mary is pretty sure she’s going to hate the book, but she wants to be part of the conversation. Mary is the kind-of reader who goes on Goodreads and writes, “I don’t normally read Y-genre, but I read this book because of X and I didn’t like it.” When Mary decides to watch a video on her Kindle Fire instead of reading her book, the conversation about books gets a little quieter.

Mary is a reader and readers like to talk about the books they’re reading. They like to talk about what they hated about books and what they loved about books. Readers take a solitary activity (reading) and make it social. They go to book clubs, they post reviews, and they tell the checker at the grocery store what they’re reading and how they feel about the book. Readers engage in conversation and sometimes this conversation makes authors smile and sometimes this conversation makes authors cringe. But the conversation means they’re reading instead of watching TV or playing Candy Crush.

When the conversation about books by readers (good or bad) dies, our industry and our careers are die with it.

You don’t have to like bad reviews of your book. Those bad reviews may hurt your feelings. Complain about them to your friends, to your husband, and your dog (‘cause your cat don’t care).

But remember, so long as people are talking about books, we still have a job.

Jennifer

I admit that I edited this a little for posting. I changed Farmville to Candy Crush (to stay current) and PAN-Loop to “your dog” because I no longer think the PAN-loop is an appropriate place to complain about bad reviews. Oh, and it used to say:

“Those bad reviews may hurt your feelings (I’m sure my first bad review will hurt mine).”

I edited out the parenthetical statement because I’ve now gotten a bad review (a D, from the blog of a colleague) and it didn’t hurt my feelings at all. It was a bit like the first taste of Brussels sprouts. You think they will be terrible because everyone says they are, but really they’re just a vegetable. Your mileage on reviews may vary. Hell, my mileage on reviews may vary. There’s always a chance another one will hurt my feelings.

Anyway… otherwise, the text is the same as when I wrote it a year ago.

It’s sad that this unsent email is still relevant.

Comments? Sadly, while the “comment enabled” button on my blog is clicked, the option to add comments never appears. One of these days I’ll get around to fixing it. So, if you disagree, agree, want to comment, etc, feel free to contact me via TWITTERFACEBOOK, or email me at jenniferlohmann (at) gmail (dot) com.  I may be slow to respond, but I will try to respond to everyone.