TheHusband referred to my end of the week blog posts as the Furious Friday slot. He may have a point. Someday people on the internet will stop being wrong and this will turn into puppy-photo day. But until then I’m apparently wearing my ranty pants.
This week we had a surfeit of self-aggrandizing male author and author-promoter types explaining the reviewing world, mostly to women. First, Liz McC wrote a superb blog post on the misguided idea that a “customer service” model is applicable to a reader who dislikes a book and reviews it negatively:
When I read, my “transaction” is with the book, not the author. Our responses to art of any kind are deeply personal. And this is why a “customer service” approach is pointless to me. I don’t care if the author is sorry I didn’t like the book or some element of it. That doesn’t change my readingexperience. If I think the author can’t use commas to save her life, or I hate the kind of heroine she writes, I’m not going to pick up another of her books just because she’s a “nice person.”
She obviously hit a nerve with a lot of us, since the comments section took off immediately. Only one person disagreed with the bulk of the post and the commenters, someone who makes his living promoting and consulting for authors. Let’s call him Author Promoter, or AP for short. When the other commenters tried to make him understand why they took the positions they did, AP responded thusly:
I say that the standard we apply to authors responding to people’s reactions to the work they’ve made publicly available should also be applied to reader/reviewers responding to people’s reactions to the work they’ve made publicly available. Not a standard ABOVE the one to which we hold authors, but the same standard.
In other words, reviewers who write and post reviews of books as a hobby are equivalent to and bear the same expectation of scrutiny as an author who makes the business decision to write, publish and sell a book in the hopes of making a profit. This equivalence was reiterated, in varying-but-essentially-the-same language, over and over in his comments and tweets. AP also equated posting a review with publishing a book and would not be moved.
And any reviewer who felt harassed or intimidated by an author and changed her review to get away from the discussion?
The lack of moral conviction is in those readers who change their reviews as a convenience to “get rid” of an “annoying” author, so that those reviews no longer reflect their true opinion of the book. Anybody who does such a thing lies to everyone who reads their reviews; anybody who admits to doing such a thing reveals themselves as someone readers cannot trust to share their honest critical responses to books.
Excusing a lie as a social convenience does not make it any less of a lie, nor any less harmful.
So reviewers, if you feel harassed and/or intimidated by an author who takes issue with your review of a book, and you delete or change that review to get away from them? You lack moral conviction. Now you know.
Then AP was asked what the reader gained from this type of author-reader interaction:
“Why is the author approaching me, except as either a complaining douchebag or a marketer?”
That’s an issue I’m still mulling over, and would prefer to discuss on my own blog, in my own time, after I’ve thought it through carefully.
Amazing. AP had no problem writing hundreds of words about how authors are helped by the customer service model, but he has to mull over, in his own time, the answer to how the “customer” benefits.
You must go read the whole post and comment thread to get the full sense of how mansplain-y this was, but for people without a spare couple of hours, my highlights give you a taste.
You’d think that marathon exchange would be enough for the week, wouldn’t you? But no.
Next. Yesterday morning I woke up to a retweet of this article. An author I’d never heard of brags about how he contacted an Amazon reviewer and got her to remove her review. Let’s call him SUA, for Self-absorbed, Unreflective Author.
SUA took issue with the review for a couple of reasons. But rather than write to Amazon and use the system in place to report problematic reviews, he noticed that the reviewer used her real name and listed her email address at Amazon. So he emailed her directly about the review. According to his account,
We had a civilised exchange of emails (“It’s great that the already dead ex-girlfriend in your next book won’t die again”), agreed on the cravenness of anonymous reviewers, and she offered to withdraw her review from [his most recent book], “the one I like best, despite its passing strange conclusion”.
AP would probably say the reviewer lacks moral conviction. And he can tell her directly, because SUA posted her full name and place of employment in his article. Oh yes he did. And he ended the article by proclaiming that
For me, the whole exercise was an example of the internet working as it should, a place where people with wildly differing opinions, in this case about books, can engage in constructive dialogue.
I would repeat Liz’s question here: What is the “constructive” value to the reviewer of this interaction? She is contacted unexpectedly by the author of a book she reviewed. She is asked to remove the review. She agrees to do so, for her own reasons (we don’t know what they are because SUA’s article is All About Himself). A win for the author! But for the readers?
When a number of us tweeted our outrage at this article, SUA showed up and engaged us in a conversation. He maintained, among other things, that the reviewer was fine with the conversation and since she is a has a professional occupation, he figured she could take it (my paraphrase of his tweets).
I was offline during his initial tweet-flurry. My response to him when I got back online was basically:
- This isn’t about who the reviewer is, it’s what the SUA did.
- Nowhere in the article did the SUA say whether her obtained her explicit permission to print her name, profession, and place of work. Other reviewers will not know if SUA (or any other) will do the same to them, with or without permission.*
- As a former print journalist for two respected publications, not to mention a former journalist living in the UK, the SUA should be well aware of the potential ramifications of printing identifying information about private citizens in a major newsaper (to which the SUA, as a former employee, may have privileged access). Instead, the SUA automatically assumed that the benefits to him outweighed the costs to her.
- Most reviewers don’t assume that writing an Amazon review has as a logical consequence having their personal information revealed in an article in a major national newspaper with international reach. If reviewers start making that assumption, the number of credible, honest reviewers (and therefore reviews) will decline.
In the comments to Liz’s post, a number of people tried to convince AP of the chilling effects of his position, but he dismissed their arguments. SUA doesn’t even seem to realize that chilling effects exist.
Finally, there was one more example of a man explaining to a bunch of women how collating, posting, and publicizing personal information is not problematic, but this post is already too long and I’m already too depressed.
The tl;dr version: If a man doesn’t think publishing personal information about a woman online is endangering, then it’s not endangering, and concerned women who disagree are just overreacting. Shall we just call ourselves hysterical and be done with it?
I looked around for a Mansplaining Bingo Card but couldn’t find one. Feel free to create one using the plentiful evidence from this week. It will come in handy for the next round.
Maybe we do need to add a puppy-photo to Furious Fridays, so we can close on a happy note:
I think the Corgi may have tried to Corgisplain to the Beagle when they were first getting to know each other. She schooled him quickly. They have since coexisted in an atmosphere of mutual affection and respect. Maybe we humans will get there some day.
*UPDATED: The reviewer states that she did not give permission for her personal information to be made public or for her email to be publicly quoted. For a former reporter to breach an expectation of privacy like this is particularly egregious.