Sunday, December 19, 2010

Honesty + Publishing; Or, Have You Ever Lied to Protect Your Reputation?

Miranda Kenneally, author of SCORE (Sourcebooks, 2011) posted this today: Walking on Eggshells in Publishing. ALL the Time.

She talks about fearing putting her name to an opinion because it might have a negative impact on her reputation.

That got me thinking, "So, if you get your book deal, that automatically means you keep your mouth shut so as not to offend anyone. Keep your eye on the ball."

Then I thought, "But wait, what about before that? When you're hoping to sign with an agent? Wouldn't you worry about offending one of them if you disliked something by one of their clients?"

I'm not saying any of these concerns are valid and would result in you not getting an offer you might've gotten otherwise. I can't see an agent being that fanciful, especially if your book has HUGE commercial appeal. (Business standpoint.)

But--well, that's something I'd worry about, because if I were querying, I would be obsessive and do everything down to the very last detail to ensure I didn't turn away an agent for some foolish reason.

And all of this just got me thinking how this can apply to anyone in publishing, not just authors. What about me? I think I might want a career in editorial or agenting some day. While I have never, EVER, and would never post a positive review for a book I hated just to please someone, I confess to holding back a couple of negative reviews because I know the agent or something.

Once, I posted a negative review of a book by an author I really admired and, against what I knew was right, I took it down. She was hurt and we haven't talked since, and that sucked.

The truth is, sometimes posting a negative review just isn't worth it. (Which, again, doesn't mean I change the rating, it means I don't review the book at all or give any public opinion on it.) And it's something to think about if you have a personal interest in the business. How honest can you afford to be?

I'm having second thoughts on publishing this because I don't want people to question my integrity. This is tricky. Oh, well, I'll just hope people take my word for it.

Anyway! I think Ms. Kenneally did a wonderful job of talking about her experience and opening up the discussion about the state of things. If you have any thoughts about this - is it right, is it wrong - please go over there. I don't want to hog the responses she would have gotten from that. My goal with this post is actually a bit of a followup...I want to hear about people who've found themselves in this situation and what happened. To sum it up: opinions, go here. Experiences, that's what I'm interested in!

Have you, a publishing hopeful, a writer (publishing or not), an intern, a professional, a blogger, ever found yourself in a situation where your opinion would be compromising? What did you do? Lie? And if not, how did it work out? Tarnished reputation or just nothing really happened? This can be about anything, not just your opinions on certain books. Regardless, I would love to get a sense of how common this actually is.

Feel free to post anonymously, because honestly, if that's the only way people will be honest, THIS BLOGGER doesn't blame you, judge you, or even really care - I get you. I care about the experience, not the name attached to it.

Not sure if I'll get any responses, but it's worth the try!

ETA: This ETA is like five minutes after I posted. I just want to clarify something before it comes back to bite me in the ass. Just because you know I've read your book and didn't review doesn't mean I hated it and don't want to come out and say so. There are a multitude of reasons I don't review certain books, and the main ones are: I don't think I can write a good enough review because I don't have all that many thoughts about the work, or I can't articulate them; I don't see a reason to review it; I read it just for fun; I tweeted about it and feel that's enough; and, this is the biggest one, I don't review every book I read as a rule, because it would severely cut into my schedule. There's only been one -- maybe two, but no more -- book I've withheld posting a review for because of, well, publishing politics. If you don't see a review for your book it is most likely because I haven't read it, though, as my TBR pile is just huge.


Lexie said...

Once. I once with-held a negative review for a book from a (then) primarily e-published author. It was actually a DNF for me b/c I could not get past a certain trope used in the romance plotline. It just kept...taunting me. I wanted to rip my hair out, bleach my brain and play target practice with my laptop it was so bad.

Problem was I had reviewed all her previous titles, I was beta reading a forthcoming title and she asked me, every time we were on google chat together, what I thought. Well, I didn't tell her. I said it was an entertaining read and based on her other works I was able to fabricate enough 'detail' to satisfy her. While ignoring the glaring one that made me cringe.

Book came out, other reviews came in and that trope I had such issues with was a BIG problem. A lot of other reviewers mentioned it. She came back to me and asked me why I didn't say anything and I admitted it was a big problem for me as well.

Well I'm sure you can guess how that went.

We've since come to peace over the fact (like a year later), but I've always felt guilty and our relationship isn't the same for it. She told me, and I believe her, that if I had told her my problems with it to begin with she would have been less hurt than feeding her a line with what I thought she wanted to hear.

So now of course whenever an author asks me how I feel over something, and its an author I'm friendly with, I am as deadpan honest as I can get without being insulting.

Christina said...

I can only remember one occasion specifically when I held back a few harsher thoughts on a review. I didn't want to, but it would've worked against me to be completely honest.

It sucks that we have to do things sometimes, but honesty isn't always the best policy.

Anonymous said...

This is really scary! After reading the post you linked to, I can see why aspiring authors would want to "play nice" and why so many only review books they loved.

I've never blatantly lied, but I have wrote reviews that were worded to sound more positive than what I really felt about them. I think that's fine. It's not my job to pick out flaws and throw them in an author's face when there is nothing they can do at the published point to change them anyway. All I can do is give a flavor of the book so that my readers can get a sense of whether it would be a good fit for them or not.

But will a lukewarm review hurt you too if you are trying to get published? How sensitive are editors and agents about their client's work?

Steph said...

But will a lukewarm review hurt you too if you are trying to get published? How sensitive are editors and agents about their client's work?

My best guess? Probably not. I really, really doubt agents and editors would be this petty. On the other hands, trust me when I say querying authors usually are very paranoid and don't want to give even the slightest reason to get the axe. When you in know?

But I'm speaking in very general terms anyway, because I'm neither an agent nor an editor, and I've never queried.

Roni Loren said...

I think the only way for a writer/aspiring writer to safely do honest reviews is to review under a pseudonym. If someone is a reader and simply wants to be a reviewer, then I think honesty is great. But when you're trying to "break" into publishing, stepping on toes is not wise.

I started out doing reviews on my blog--honest ones. Then I joined my local RWA and one of the writers I had reviewed (very positively, thank God) was part of the group. I realized at that point that it could have just as easily been someone I had reviewed negatively. And that would've been seriously awkward. Fast forward a year, I now have a book deal and who did my editor send my book to for a possible front cover blurb? That writer. So imagine what a bridge I could've burned had I not liked her book and posted a bad review? *shudders*

I now have cut out book reviews all together. I'll recommend a book if I really liked it by mentioning it on blog or twitter, or I'll do an Amazon/Goodreads review. But anything three stars or below, I don't even go there.

Tori [Book Faery] said...

I have been struggling with this for a long time... On one hand, I want to be honest and let people know that "hey, this book does/doesn't work for me." I think that a lot of my readers appreciate my honest reviews. On the other, I REALLY don't want to step on any toes because, well, yeah I want to be a published author someday.

One of my friends told me I write some of the nicest reviews (even when they're low ratings). If a book didn't work for me, I tend to state why and then give some constructive criticism. I'd like to think that the authors might consider my input for future works if what I stated was an issue for a lot of readers. Now I'm worried it might not have the effect I hoped for :/

I had one author who took issue with a statement I made in a 3-star review of their work. I don't think it was a very scathing comment, and neither do a few of my friends I asked, but the author thought otherwise.

With situations like that I truly wonder if it's even worth reviewing anything that's not a 4 or 5.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I have no intention of ever writing a book, or being in the publishing industry. I work full-time and my employer could care less what I say in my blog about books. I mean, I plan on going to grad school someday, but I highly doubt any of my reviews will affect whether I get in or not. Therefore I have nothing to fear or nothing to lose and thus write what I feel in my reviews. Granted, I'm not a total asshole. But I'm not going to shut my mouth on something I don't like for fear of reprisal.
Plus, I know what I like as a reader, so I tend to pick out and accept books that I know appeal to my tastes, which usually helps my enjoyment of a book. While I do write honest reviews, the positive reviews tend to outweigh the negative.

Ceilidh said...

I write reviews. I've written serveral bad reviews, mainly for a project I did where I looked at the YA genre from a feminist point of view (yes, I was snarky but more on that later) because I thought it would be interesting to see what tropes are common in the genre, especially since it's so popular nowadays thanks to the Twilight fad, and to see if potentially problematic tropes were prevalent throughout other books. I want to be a YA writer in the future (trying to write a book now but that's sort of grinded to a halt right now) and I've been flat out told by people I'll never be a published writer because of my reviews.

I've never written reviews to be some sort of genre hating Debbie Downer, I genuinely love YA and wanted to point out some of the problems I had with it and why I thought they were troublesome, but there's something really weird and wrong about the industry being so high school cliquey with people treading on eggshells, terrified to offend and desperate to kiss butt with writers who aren't very good but are popular. It sucks that we live in a 'it's-all-about-who-you-know' world, especially when that attitude lets a lot of problematic tropes slide, like sexism and anti-feminism in YA.

I am a snarky reviewer sometimes but I always try to back up my snark with evidence as to why something irritates or worries me. If I have problems with something then I'll call it out. Of course it would suck if someone reviewed a book I'd written negatively but I wouldn't black list them. If they had genuine concern and criticism then I would definitely pay attention because you want to give your readers the best story possible. If I end up on some sort of blacklist because of my reviews making it impossible for me to become published, regardless of the quality of my work, then frankly I'm not sure that's an industry I want to be a part of.

Liviania said...

I have withheld bad reviews. But I've posted very negative reviews too. Mostly, I only withhold a bad review when I received a review copy from the author. They have a limited number of copies to give out and I'd prefer to pass mine on to someone who will enjoy it. If I bought it on my own or received it from a publisher then it's fair game.

I do try to be nice in my bad reviews. I don't snark for snark's sake. I try to only say mean things that I really mean and soften them with a few compliments.

Anastasia said...

I've only withheld a negative review once, and that's because the author is local(-ish) and sort of a darling around here, and I was seriously worried I'd be shunned at every local book event afterwards if I published it. Not that I think my negative reviews are really cruel or anything, but...yeah.

Other than with local authors, I'm not overly worried about censoring myself because of a fear of being blacklisted or anything. And like Ceilidh said, I try to back up my complaints with evidence on top of trying not to be "too negative" (whatever that means), so I generally feel okay publishing negative reviews of books.

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Rachael Stein said...

I have never withheld a negative review. Sometimes I try wording differently to seem less harsh, particularly if I know the author. I don't think that writing a negative review or even receiving a negative review is necessarily going to make or break someone's reputation. It's really tricky for reviewers, though, because on one hand, we're expected to be really honest when sharing our comments but on the other hand, we kind of have to be diplomatic with publishers, authors, agents, etc.

Frankly, though, most people who work in publishing or are associated with it in any way are pretty mature and can get over the fact that so-and-so doesn't like this-or-that book.

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