Saturday, January 29, 2011


I rarely criticize the work of a live writer on this blog but once in a while I do on someone else's--not really thinking much about it. Last week, I made a slightly negative comment about a current book and to my embarrassment the author responded. Now he was gracious and gave a good explanation for what I criticized, but it reminded me again of how small this world is--especially with google blog alerts.

Almost every writer is able to track what people say about them. I do it myself. So my question is: where does good manners meet open discussion. Are you hesitant to say I didn't like the ending of a book? Do we need to monitor every word? I am not sure.


Ron Scheer said...

I tend to speak ill only of politicians, media hogs, and the dead.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

I think it depends on whether you're being critical of the book or the author, if you see what I mean. Not to say that, if someone speaks ill of a story of mine, I don't get offended--but tough luck for me; I put it out there to get published, so people have a right to talk about it as they'd like. The price of being read is that not everyone will like what you've written.

Clair D. said...

I agree with Olivia. Plus, if the author has to explain something about the story(no matter how dense the reader) they have failed at part of the job as a writer.

Anonymous said...

Patti - I agree with Olivia, too. Speaking as an author, I know very well that my work is not perfect. Of course I don't want to be attacked personally, but if someone has a criticism of one of my characters, or the way the plot moves, etc., well, nobody's perfect. Including me. I would only add that any criticism should be specific, should be respectful and polite and should not be personal. But I cannot imagine your criticism was anything but those things, so I say, give your honest reaction.

David Cranmer said...

I try to avoid being negative because I’m a writer not a critic. If somebody asks for my two-cents in an e-mail then that is fine. Now I'm reviewing a Patricia Highsmith book next week and have some mild disparagement but I doubt she cares and I am sure I'm not going to hurt her sales.

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for serious criticism of many of my novels, I would not have become aware of my weaknesses. Deep pain is a necessary part of the literary life. It comes from editors, critics, and the reading public. It is always personal: my writing rises out of my self and cannot be separated from me. Lucky is the author who can separate his writing from himself. Intuitively, I prefer to avoid naming names, or listing titles, or even naming publishers when I am discussing someone else's story.

Gerald So said...

I've posted many critical comments on discussion lists. By critical, I don't mean necessarily negative, but probing. I'm not interested in casual yeas or nays without supporting arguments.

Knowing that my comments will be read, I do my best to explain why I liked or disliked something. If my opinion is based on a plausible read of the text, the author can't very well refute it. S/he can only say s/he didn't like my comments. His/her dislike doesn't cause me to be embarrassed of my well-considered comments.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Like others have mentioned, as long as it's not a personal attack on the author and focuses on the book, I don't see there is an issue. If you put something out there for the public to see, you have to accept that they are going to have an opinion.

Chris Rhatigan said...

I basically side with David on this one. Since I don't consider myself a reviewer (more a recommender) I rarely say anything negative.

In my opinion, if a writer and an editor put in time and effort on a story that is available to me for free, who am I to criticize them? If I don't like it, I can just stop reading!

If a writer is making money--and I spent money to read what they put out--all bet's are off. Then I will say what I please.

Charles Gramlich said...

If I 'really' don't like something I'll often keep it to myself. AT least on the blog. I prefer to review only books by writers who aren't with us anymore so I don't hurt people's feelings.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Brian and I were just having a discussion, about learning from the works of others when you read them. I was telling him something I've been aware of for awhile, but that's recently been re-emphasized by some of my work as a tutor for writing diploma programs.

Not everyone can learn the right lessons from what people do wrong.

There are some sites online that 'publish' stories without any editorial process at all; everything is accepted. That isn't an endorsement of quality. Unfortunately, to the untrained and unknowing, they can read content and think it's an example of what's publishable, and replicate common mistakes the writers made, because the material may not have been that good to begin with.

The critical voice is valuable, not only to consumers but to other writers as they're learning their craft. Who amongst us all commenting here, who claims to be a writer, has not heard a constructive evaluation of a short story or novel at one time or another, and learned something about how to improve their writing as a result? Is the editorial feedback we receive behind closed doors really that much different from the critique of a published work that might appear in a review?

I don't think it really is. I never wake up on any given day thinking I hope I'm going to find a story I hate or throw a book against a wall. I want to find works that get me excited, that I can be enthusiastic about. But I do feel there's something to be said for signposts for others, to express why something works for us or doesn't. It's part of how we learn how to write, and it's part of how we identify works we want to spend our time reading.

There's nothing more irritating than someone saying to you that your novel didn't really work for them, and when you ask why they say they don't really know, it just didn't. There's no way to translate that negative into a positive learning experience. I dismiss wholesale any critic who can't explain the basis for their feedback, but if someone can explain to me a mistake or present a logical argument about a character inconsistency or plot hole or something like that, even at the end I may not agree, but it's a healthy thing to be forced to think it through. It's what my editors and translator do for me, and every time I'm questioned on something, that's what I become most certain about in the final version.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sandra-It is so good to hear your voice.
The novel did work for me. What I questioned was the change of POV from a really compelling voice to a lesser one. The explanation was the author couldn't tolerate spending more time with the original POV.
I can buy that because it was a creepy POV.And I once wrote a story where a similar thing happened.
But the substitution was much less interesting. Still a very good book though.

Charlieopera said...

There have been blog wars (don’t I know it) about this kind of thing. Author A says something bad about Author B’s book and friends of each side align for the ensuing blogocalypse ... I avoid public reviews of books I don’t like at all by not reviewing them. It’s a tough enough business without the extra negatives. On the other hand, I “might” (and have done so ) write an author personally if I had a problem with something, making damn sure to point out that I’m ONE reader (what any ONE reviewer is no matter who they might represent) and that whatever issue I had shouldn’t be taken too seriously (or seriously at all). Even then, it would only be because I saw something particularly good about the writing itself and maybe wanted something different from it. That said, one does need to heed the waters before stepping into them (piss off the wrong people and he/she may not get reviewed at certain spots, etc., or reviewed badly). It’s a fact of the business and it’s as silly as any other form of fraternity/sorority. I once defended a guy who took issue with nominations after he was lambasted for it. It took the guy less than a day to reverse his position and issue an apology from his knees. Poor bastard, I thought (still do).

A legitimately great new writer creamed one of my novels and I couldn’t take offense at the creaming because what he’d said had been said by one of the 4 industry reviews (while another gave it a starred review), which only goes to prove it’s always ONE reader/reviewer’s opinion (not the magazine, paper, etc.) they are writing for. If someone publicly dumps on a book of mine, I have to assume they didn’t like it (so it goes). Same, however, goes with someone publicly praising it. It means that ONE person liked it (not the universe). Either way, it isn’t going to make a difference one way or the other on my poor sales record (a bad review might stop 1 or 2 people; a good one might persuade 1 or 2 to purchase).

Regarding negative comments, reviews, I think our emotional skins get tougher with time.

Publicly taking issue with the ending of a book (or any other part) as opposed to writing a bad review, I (this ONE person) doesn’t think is a sin worthy of excommunication. Again, that said, there have been some authors who have experienced something akin to that for giving publicly unfavorable reviews of those considered untouchable (flavors of the day, etc.), even when the forum they reviewed in was a review site.

Dorte H said...

Good question.

While your blog is a writer´s blog, mine is mainly a review blog, and I believe that my readers expect honest reviews. So when I don´t like an ending, I mention it. But after two years I have also come to know several writers (or the writers comment on my reviews though I didn´t know them - usually they are very kind), and I have had to think about my practise.

If I were to read a really weak or disappointing book by a writer I know, I won´t review it. If it is 3 stars or more, I´ll explain what I like and what I don´t like - and most writers seem to take that well. Attitudes and reactions to a book are personal, and as long as we explain WHY, other readers may in fact like what we didn´t and buy the book anyway.

Cap'n Bob said...

When I became a published author I stopped being publicly critical of the work of others. If I don't like something, I don't write about it. What I hate are anonymous reviews that lambaste someone's work. People who claim to be critics should come out from under the cloak of anonymity. They're cowards in my book.

Anonymous said...

I guess that's a tricky one if it is someone you know. I would definitely be as diplomatic as possible with a friend if I didn't like their book, but more likely than not I just wouldn't bring up the subject.

There is also the matter of taste. I might like someone as a person but not read the type of book s/he writes.

What I don't like is when someone dislikes a book and slams the author personally, as "this guy must be a moron" because no one but could write such tripe.

And like Cap'n Bob I dislike the anonymity of the internet, that allows anyone to spew their most venomous thought without worry about retribution or having to defend what they've said.

I know people (authors) who have said (for example) that TWILIGHT was the worst book they've ever read, but they don't need to slam Stephenie Meyer as a person to say so.

Jeff M.

Heath Lowrance said...

That's a tough one, especially if you're a newer writer just breaking in... self-censorship becomes vital. Like you, I rarely say negative things about other writers work-- if I don't like it, I just say nothing at all. The only exception is if it's a writer who won't be affected in the least by my comments, I mean the BIG NAMES, you know? I'm sure that James Lee Burke or Lee Child couldn't give a damn what I think... hah.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am very conscious of what I say on here because this is not a review site for new books. And now I will guard what I say other places as well. This was a good lesson that glib offhand remarks have their impact.

Yvette said...

Well, you do have to be careful. I found out when I mildly criticized a book myself and the author posted on the blog. But he couldn't have been more gracious.
And after all, my criticism WAS mild. Lately I've had authors post more and more on my blog about their books if I've reviewed them, so I'm extra careful. I never review books I don't like, so I think I'm okay. Doesn't mean I LOVE them all to pieces, but if I dislike a book intensely I don't review it. It's the safest way. :)

Richard R. said...

I figure if I'm being honest and have a sensible to me reason for my statement, then it's okay. It's my opinion, and I'm entitled to it. I'm not one to soft sell or offer praise where none is due.

Todd Mason said...

No one has the right to be free of criticism; if one is going to be critical, it would help if one actually knows what they're talking about.

Growing up on all sides might be useful.

Grant Jerkins said...

You must be talking about me and my book? This is great. First, it's not like you just went off and savaged me. An aspect of the book didn't work for you - for a legitimate reason. Would you have phrased it differently if you knew I was watching? Maybe. But if you had, it would no longer have been genuine, and would have had no value for me or anybody else.

Here's the interesting part. As for my "watching," that's not the issue. It's my responding that's the issue. I would, for instance, never dream of responding to Amazon reviews of my book (and a few of those really did savage the novel.) So why would I think it's okay to respond to your crticism in a blog post? Frankly, I don't think I should have. My publisher saw the original blog and suggested I chime in the discussion. It didn't feel right to me (still doesn't) but I want to be a team player, so I joined the conversation. I am new at being a published author, and I am new at social networking - still trying to figure out my comfort levels with all of it.

Lastly, I will say that I too have made comments online about other authors work that I now wish I could take back. Not because what I said wasn't true, but because, as you pointed out, it really is a small world, and those authors could soon be my peers.

Again, you have nothing to feel bad about. My feelings were not hurt. In fact, when you invited me to submit a piece on How I Came to Write This Book, I didn't even realize you were the same person who made the critical comment. I just stumbled across this post while reviewing your blog and I put it together.

Okay, group hug.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You are quite an amazing fellow. And on the whole, I think the book was terrific. I just liked the first voice (and I know it was a hard one for you to write) because it was so dynamic and unreliable. Love the unreliable narrator.
I wrote a story a few years back for the first issue of Murdaland and it was about a guy who kidnapped little girls. I have never forgiven myself for writing that in the first person and giving him more sympathy than he deserved .
BTW, the books was a birthday present from someone who liked it a lot. And I passed it on to someone who also didn't have my problem with the change in POV. So maybe it was just me. Thanks for chiming in.
BTW, I once attacked someone who attacked my daughter's book on a blog and paid hell for that (Megan Abbott). It's best to step back from it if you can.

Grant Jerkins said...

Megan Abbott is your daughter? (smile) Love, love, love her work.

I'll look for that story in Murdaland. I'm intrigued.