Being a Nice Book Blogger

Recently some corners of the book blogging world have been in turmoil. It seems that some authors have objected to the critical comments in on-line reviews. They especially minded if they provided the copy for review. Abusive comments were sent. Trolling occurred.

This is not the first time book bloggers have been in trouble. In 2012 the Man Booker Prize head judge Peter Stothard complained that book bloggers are harming literature. I think this argument has about as many legs as those who say that comics prevent children from developing good reading habits, texting damages spelling, Kindle will kill off ‘real’ books and so on. There is space for book bloggers alongside the more traditional literary criticism.

Do bloggers have to be nice?

I think two principles can collide in book reviewing on-line. The blogger should be respectful, not take opportunities to be negatively critical, offensive or rude. But there is also a human obligation to the truth, and let’s face it some books are disappointing, challenging to finish when the writer has not made you interested in the characters; when the book is distractingly littered with typos, spelling and grammar mistakes.

The blogger has no obligation to write an endorsement for an author who has provided a book. They do have an obligation to their readers to declare the source of the book if it was not from their own stock. Some editors appear to think that bloggers owe them something. Here’s a link to Spiritblog who wonders if an angry editor knew what book bloggers can and do do to promote books.

And despite a recent flurry remember that book bloggers are readers, or as the hashtag has it #Bloggersarerealpeople. Margaret Madden wrote a piece for the Irish Times in February 2017 about some nasty goings on in the book club world: Book Bloggers are Real People.

Do authors have to be nice?

Well, authors don’t have to be nice, but they should not be not nice, not troll bloggers who don’t want to review their books or judge their books unfavourably. The blogger and tweeter Terry Tyler posted on Rosie Amber’s blog some advice to writers: Bookblogger bashing: in the end you’re hurting yourself.

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Bookshop at the British Museum 2016

As a reader of many, many books I have to select what to review on my blog. Some books I read don’t get reviewed because they don’t fit the profile of the blog: Mark Doty’s memoir Dog Years was a fascinating book that made me cry, about animals and death, but not in the genres that I have lead my readers to expect. Most of the books I review are fiction, but not all.

I don’t always agree to review books I am offered. This may be because they are only available on-line, or because they don’t interest me. Some books I read aren’t included on my blog because they are not special enough. There are too many great books out there to waste readers’ time on mediocrity. (Yes, I’m a book snob.)

I can’t see that anything productive would come from making negative comments, except if I am exposing stereotypes, as in the series on older women in fiction. If a book does not do justice to an older woman, drawing on the sweet, eccentric image I say so. There are only a couple of those.

And reading would be bland if everything I reviewed I said was lovely. And I try to add more detail than a simple recommendation: excellent characterization, nuanced examination of tricky subjects, imaginative plotline, and so on.


A place for Blog Reviews?

In answer to the criticisms by Peter Stothard that book bloggers are harming literature, John Self provided a spirited defence in an article called Why book bloggers are critical to literary criticism in September 2012.

I value the editorial processes that ensure standards in literary journals. But bloggers are readers too, and I like nothing more than to be told someone enjoyed reading a book I recommended. Furthermore, as women writers are so badly represented in literary reviews (both as reviewers and as novel writers), bloggers have an opportunity to shift the balance a bit, including many male bloggers.

So I argue that there is a place for professional reviews and for bloggers’ reviews and I will continue to select my reading choices from the reviewers I have come to trust on blogs and from literary publications.

Book-bloggers are readers.

Over to you! Any reactions to these comments?

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Filed under Books, Reviews

19 Responses to Being a Nice Book Blogger

  1. Interesting piece, and I thought the Madden article was accurate and measured. I’m not paid and I read and blog for my own pleasure. I try to only request or accept books I think I’ll like, but if I don’t like them I’ll be honest and why anyone should expect otherwise is beyond me!

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this, and I think you are an excellent book blogger to follow.
      I agree, the behaviour of some people is not really easy to understand.

  2. Thank you for the mention, I think the arguments on many sides will go on for a long time. I enjoy reading and if I can help readers find some good choices amongst the saturated book markets, then it makes me feel good. Primarily my reviews are for readers but sometimes I hope my feedback can also help authors.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for for this reply. I like your blog and your tweets in support of good reading. You are a model for social media activity, and very helpful about tweeting for writers and for recommendations and reviews.

  3. I think it’s important for bloggers to be kind and support one another. I always make it a point to like, retweet and comment on bloggers who do the same for me. I have found a core group of such nice bloggers, including you, who are a pleasure to interact with.

    I have had a couple of very mean and downright abuse emails from authors whose books I didn’t like and chose not to do a review. Unfortunately, some authors believe that if they send a book they are automatically entitled to a positive review.

    • Caroline

      Hi Melissa,
      I’m shocked that you have had mean and abusive emails from writers, especially as you did not review their books, so didn’t expose them in any way. What a bad way to behave.I wonder have you ever been thanked by a writer for a review, or had them RT a review post?
      I guess solidarity within the blogging world is what we must go for. I love your reviews and am pleased to follow your choices. I guess we all have ‘a core group’ and I’m pleased we have mutual respect.
      Thanks for these comments.

  4. Good and timely piece. The undisputed value of book blogs is especially apparent when you’re looking for some particular book which is not mainstream, which is obscure or, as is the case with the books I’m interested in, which is not available in English translation. Chances are, you won’t find anything about this book in official sources, and then, by sheer luck, you will stumble upon a conscientious blogger who has written an honest and thorough review of that book. That’s what Web 2.0 is about.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this. I can see, now I think about it, that many of the books I have read in translation have been brought to my attention by book bloggers. This is a service for which I am grateful as mainstream sources are not interested unless books in translations are big sellers. That’s why I also think dedicated months and hashtags are a good idea.
      Thanks for your work in this area.

  5. This is such an interesting debate, and thank you for being so clear, measured and *nice* about it all. I’ve been quite lucky that I haven’t had much abuse so far: in fact, some authors have stayed friendly even after I gave them a mixed review, saying ‘Fair enough, justified criticism’ and I HUGELY respect them for it. I may have to review mediocre new releases for the crime fiction website I write for (although our editor does allow us to not review something if we really don’t want to), but I don’t see why I should do that on my personal blog, so, like you, I won’t review things which don’t stand out in any way. However, I don’t like ‘hatchet jobs’ either, funny though some of them are (in national newspapers). I don’t think I would have the heart to do one.

    • Caroline

      Good to hear that some authors are okay to take critical comments on the chin.As you say – respect.
      I would find it hard to review books that are mediocre. There are a couple in my archives, and I always feel bad about them. They are in the series on older women in fiction, and my purpose in that series is to bring forward positive depictions to counter stale stereotypes. So I feel they are justified. But I still squirm a bit about them.
      I guess I was brought up with the maxim ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything’!
      Thanks for leaving this comment, and for all your RTs and great reviewing.


  6. christine_a

    I think the purpose of the blog is also important. I review for a book group blog and our purpose is to show potential members what we read and our take on our choices so a couple of times there have been less than enthusiastic reviews. The books in question were highly-hyped by efficient marketing so it was more of a way of challenging the largely uncritical reception the books were receiving. One of our members has the marvellous verdict “an effortful slog” and I think if some people find Zeitgeisty books fall into that category it’s ok to indicate it was a tough read as long as you give reasons.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this thoughtful addition. I agree purpose is very important, and your book group need that kind of critical comment. I am not at all against critical comments, with good evidence/reasons, and the purpose of helping the readers separate hype from chaff.
      Thanks for this comment.

  7. Thanks for posting this, Caroline. I’m afraid (or relieved) the whole debate has passed me by.
    Experiencing this from both sides, as book blogger and author, I agree that bloggers’ main responsibility is to their readers to tell the truth as they see it. I endeavour to be honest in my reviews and, if I haven’t particularly enjoyed something, open to the possibility that others will read it differently. I’m likely to be harsher in my criticism of overly hyped books or those from more experienced writers that don’t pull their weight.
    Authors are sensitive souls and I can’t deny feeling occasionally disappointed when someone hasn’t ‘got’ my book, but generally I’m extremely grateful to book bloggers for taking the time to read and write about my fiction.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for adding a perspective from an author, also a blogger, whose opinions I value. I often read books on your recommendation, btw.
      I agree that as book reviewers we need to understand the sensitivity of authors, but not by moderating criticism. And we need to remember we are only offering our own opinion, and to acknowledge that others will read a book differently.
      We have a similar kind of discussion in our writing group about criticism and critical feedback.

  8. I think the idea that book bloggers are somehow a separate breed from ‘proper’ literary criticism is really funny, too. The medium of delivery is not the content. I’m a bookblogger with a degree in English literature. I’m not alone. People talking about books is a good thing for keeping a reading culture going – and however anyone does that seems better to me by far than not doing it.

    • Caroline

      So right, book blogging is a form of conversation about books. That’s why I started my blog, to be part pf a community of people talking about books. And you are right, it’s good to talk about books.

      Thanks for this comment Nimue.

  9. I haven’t seen any stuff on this recently – I’m moving in different circles it seems – but this is a topic that comes up regularly. I have never written a highly negative review on my blog. I like to think I’m good at choosing books I will get something out of. Of course not all books I love equally and if I detect some “flaw”, for want of a better word, I’ll mention it but I like to think my reviews are constructive. I do say no to some offers of books – for various reasons – but once I accept it I am usually positive because I’ve accepted it on the grounds that it sounds up my alley. I have only once received a review copy that I thought was terrible and I didn’t do a review on my blog. Just. Couldn’t.

    I have heard from several authors that they love blog reviews that do some analysis – that are more than 200-300 words. For some, one minor negative comment against 100 positive ones will throw them but you do have to be honest.

    Oh, and I recently heard that publishers are generally favourable about bloggers. It’s free publicity BUT bloggers do need to be “nice” I think. You can be “nicely” negative about books just the way you can be when giving feedback, say, to a staff member!

  10. Very interesting to read your thoughts on this issue which keeps raising its head. I agree with everything that’s been said above. I don’t accept many review copies these days – but whether I review my own purchases or books I have been sent I feel I must be honest. There are ways of being honest – diplomati ways of saying things. Spite is unnecessary and never very clever. Once I emailed an author about my review which I knew was honest and balanced it was a book I hadn’t got on with – and the author concerned appreciated that and replied to say they liked the review.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this comment. There are of course some very well behaved writers and promoters out there, but some authors seem to lose all proportion when trying to promote their books and behaved badly. They should be more like the author you describe.
      Honesty without spite. Good combination. Thanks

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