Friday, June 23, 2006

Snarkilepsy: a LONG rant

Audience or author: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous blog posts
Or to take arms against a sea of critics
And by opposing... multiply them?

Picture this: Changeling Press has just published the bard’s latest masterpiece, the erotic novel Shrew Taming. The cover portrays a muscled naked man (clearly CG) walking through flames (also clearly CG). Petruchio, perhaps? Whoever it’s supposed to be, the cover strikes you as ugly. You immediately make fun of it on your blog and, since you get so much site traffic, Shakespeare hears about it. Should he:

(a) address your comments on his own site;
(b) briefly and intelligently respond to your blog post;
(c) spend hours of his day torpedoing you (and any other potential readers who dare criticize any aspect of his work);
(d) ignore the Internet entirely as he composes his next masterpiece?

This may seem like a rhetorical question because, of course, Shakespeare hasn’t been exhumed to write erotica. But since modern authors must negotiate so much online criticism, it’s not rhetorical at all to ask yourself about bad reviews, rumor-mongering, and cover snark. Bloggers: how much is too much? Authors: what’s the appropriate response to critique?

Put on your seatbelts, readers. It's going to be a long and bumpy rant.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love intelligent snark. This is one of the reasons DSW heartily recommends you to follow the Smart Bitches link in our sidebar—their
Ranty McRants defend our right to mock everything about the genre we love, from the medieval cover models sporting eye-shadow to the virgin secretaries who suffer amnesia after being knocked up by dashing Arabian sheiks. And if you don’t feel like producing your own criticism, satisfy yourself by reading theirs: it’s intelligent, it’s funny, and it’s clearly rooted in love for the genre’s authors and readers. (Similarly savvy soapbox thoughts to be found from Mrs. Giggles.)

Lately, the snark has spread. In fact,
Karen S’s post about Changeling Press prompted a snark storm. Some of the writers’ responses prompted Indida to post this little diatribe about the relationship between readers and writers. And an anonymous someone clearly thought that the blog rants were getting out of hand, because she’s decided to criticize people who criticize other people. Sweet lord, folks: meta-snark.

I don’t know how to feel about all of this. On the one hand, I love a good blog post that sparks intriguing debate. On the other hand, I know that—regardless of whether or not I like her novels—a writer’s process and efforts deserve some respect. So, is it possible to simultaneously value and mock the romance genre? I think so. After all,
a sense of humor and perspective does wonders in any aspect of life.

I’ve come late to the debate, but I can’t resist putting on my Civics Teacher Hat to share some of my thoughts:

To everyone who has an opinion: good for you. I hope you exercise your
First Amendment rights and shout whatever you’re thinking to the intrigued masses. With that in mind, though, might I make a suggestion? Consider the purpose and potential impact of your words before they go public.

Put another way: don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

To readers: Authors don’t “owe” you anything except their best possible work. If you have a blog then, by all means, critique away. As a reader, I especially appreciate other readers who give me information I can use. That said, if you absolutely can't stand an author, tell us once and then stop reading her. It's really that simple. Yes, authors are responsible for the gems and the dross that they produce—but as a consumer, you are responsible for whatever’s lurking in your TBR pile.

Indida, I thought your blog post was funny as hell, but I disagree with you. Yes, authors provide a service—but that doesn’t make them servile. Teachers and doctors also provide services, but shouldn't we respect the time, money, effort and education they’ve invested in their craft? I believe authors deserve the same respect. After all, they spend countless hours creating a novel, seeing it through publication, and enduring the reviews. That can’t be easy.

To authors: Please keep in mind that readers have a right to critically evaluate the texts that you provide—be they best-selling novels or blustering blog posts. Once it’s out in the world, it’s available for public consumption and critique. Specifically on blog posting: anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of the cash register! Your blog entries and comments become part of your public persona; which can help you (Angelina fights child poverty!) or hurt you (Author fights free speech!)

Don't get me wrong, though. I believe in your right to defend your work. There’s nothing I love more than an author’s
salty, intelligent response to her critics. Just keep in mind that messy, incoherent outbursts tend to alienate people. Just look at what happened to Tom Cruise post-Oprah: he went from “A-List Box Office Sure, Sexy Thing” to “That Crazy Dude Who Jumps on Couches and Can’t Carry a Summer Blockbuster.”

Everyone, let this be your couch-jumping cautionary tale: don’t succumb to the Tom Cruise Overshare.


Holly said...

Amen, Kate! As I commented on Rene Lyons' blog recently:

Without us readers, authors wouldn't have a careeer. And with you authors, us readers would miss out on hours and hours of pleaure. Can't we all just get along?

I think the snark has recently gone too far, and personally, I'd just like to see the end of it.

Seeing an author speak out in a very unflattering way towards her readers (implying that we're witless idiots who don't know our own minds) makes me not want to read anymore of their work. But by the same token, hearing readers bash authors (whether their good or bad is personal opinion, right?) just makes me roll my eyes and want to avoid certain blogs.

I, for one, agree with everything you just stated here, and hope that everyone takes your advice.

Just stop already!

sigrid said...

I agree with you--especially about the need to be able to take criticism if you dish it out and that if you don't like an author you should stop reading him/her, rather than grind out your hatred in highly unproductive ways. We get comfortable in the role of critic, and it often limits people from actually approaching things in a helpful manner.

Selah March said...

Thank you, Kate. Well done.

Vivi Anna said...

Only Tom Cruise has been voted the most powerful person in Hollywood. The couch jumping and crazy antics haven't hurt him THAT much!

Lynne Connolly said...

I write. I've always written. If I do it for myself, as I did for a long time, then I have nobody to please but myself. If I write for publication, I'm expecting someone to shell out their hard-earned to read my book.
That's when I have to care what people think. I'm not providing a service, I'm providing a product.
If my product is below par, ie badly spelled, grammatically wrong, unsatisfactory plot, badly produced and so on, then the reader has a right to criticise. Some (like the spelling etc) is fact - sort of - some is opinion (plot etc). But whatever.
If the criticism is constructive - ie tells me what is wrong, then if I agree with you, I have a chance to fix it in my next book. If it's destructive, ie just tearing the book down because of the reader's private opinions, then that's not much use to me unless lots of other people share the opinion, too. I don't write for one person, unless that one person is myself.
I'll take what you say on board, but I'm not promising to act on it.

Kate D. said...

I like what you've said, Lynne. There is definitely a difference between constructive and destructive criticism, just as there's a difference between public and private writing.

Kate R said...

or if you do start jumping around on the couch, wear a mask and speak in a squeaky unrecognisable name.

Or pretend to be MJD. What the heck, everyone will suppose the post is hers anyway.

Dylan said...

Amen to all of this Sister Soldier!

Gail Dayton said...

Thank you, Kate for your reasoned response to the insanity. I happen to love the Smart Bitches, and I loved them before they loved me. I agree with you, and with Lynne, and my reaction to mean, destructive criticism is still going to be the ostrich-thing and "write, bitch, write" 'cause I just don't like conflict of any kind, unless I'm in control of it on the pages of my latest manuscript. I'm probably going to react the same way to well-reasoned, constructive criticism--maybe. If a reader criticizes (in a sane, "this is why I didn't like this") something I did deliberately, I might explain why I did it--but mostly I don't. I tend not to read reviews. I tend not to respond to them, except to say "thanks" if they're good ones. There aren't enough hours in the day to keep up with everything as it is, and sanity--well, it does sometimes seem to be in short supply on the internet, doesn't it?

Anyway, I wanted to say that I love your attitude and the exhibition of sanity. Now to look over the booklist and see if I've missed anything...