April 07, 2008

"What the Fuck?"

When you put out a book, you must deal with the reviews. I understand that. You’ll hit with some people and miss with others.

But I believe in the sex genre we are up against so many hurdles that we should not have to worry about our own peers. We’re going to have to fight the Moral Majority. We’re going to have to take on unreasonable censors. The independent bookstore down the street from me doesn’t even have an erotica section. These are the issues we should be addressing.

Why do we have to prove ourselves to each other?

A few years ago, I published a new writer's story in one of my collections. The author was someone who (unbeknownst to me at the time) had written a no-star review of "Bondage on a Budget." When I discovered the review (taking my collection to task for being too soft-core, and in fact comparing the darkest story in the collection—to something that might be found in a happy homemaker magazine), I wrote to the author. Had she subbed me a hardcore BDSM piece, I wouldn’t have said a word. But her story was exactly the type of tale she railed against in her review. Soft, sweet, ethereal. That’s why I chose the story for my book. She sent me a spluttering email back about how she thought I’d be able to give the piece a good home.

The hypocrisy made my teeth ache.

My mission as an editor is to introduce readers to stories that turn me on. Flat out. I want to put out books that are lovely on the outside and filthy on the inside. And as an editor, one shouldn’t be influenced by whether or not a submitting writer is also a reviewer. But editors are human. Had I seen that review of Bondage first, I would never have published the piece.

Bad reviews sting. But bad reviews from our own writing pool? I simply don’t get this. There are plenty of sites run by readers who like to dish on books. Why do writers take up a pen against their mates? What is the motivation?

My personal feeling is to not review the books you dislike. Sure, tell your friends how bad you thought a book was. Giggle at the local bar about the use of “salami” and “bazoombas” and "hot little love button." But don’t put the words in print. Review the ones that work for you in hopes that other people will buy them. Otherwise, you are taking food out of the mouths of your peers. And in the case of slamming books put out by independent publishing houses, you are quite honestly reducing your own venues for publication. I believe eight independent erotic publishers went out of business in the past few years.

This isn’t a game. People are writing for a living.

As an editor, I would also be highly suspicious of a review written by someone who didn’t get into one of my books. Rejections sting. How can being turned down not affect the way someone looks at a collection for review?

This is not censorship. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. But I don’t think people should say in print something they would not say to another person’s face at a dinner party. I don’t think reviews should be used as places to piss on people’s skills. Clever reviewers understand that even if a novel or collection didn’t work for them personally, the book might be a hit with someone else. There are ways to phrase and craft reviews that are not hurtful. I truly have to question the motivation behind some of the more cruel reviews and reviewers.

Look, I believe in Karma. I believe what goes around comes around.
And I believe writers should not shit where they eat.


P.S. I know the natural response to a rant like mine: "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." But I know my own natural response to reading a slam of a fellow writer: You better be Hemingway before you cast that stone.

P.P.S. Do you recognize my movie quotes? I'm sure Sommer does.


Anastasia said...

It's a justifiable rant. It doesn't make sense to review something for a publication and hate the book, to submit a story in the genre that was butchered by the reviewer. I can respect a person's preferences in terms of genres, but I can't stand it when people don't take erotica seriously as a genre and then have the gall to submit a story as a 'bit of a lark.'

Unfortunately, the other side of writing for a living also means that some writers moonlight, so they swing both ways. In their conservative or mainstream writing persona, they aren't about erotica, and then when they put on their erotica hat, they're 'okay' with it, and this is fine if they respect the genre, but it's not okay when it is, as you state, hypocritical.

Dakota Rebel said...

Fantastic rant. It's funny, I posted a rant today too. Not about reviews, but about a quote from an agent in a well respected magazine about the erotica genre in general.

I totally agree with you, it is hard enough for us to survive out there, we don't need people in our own small circle trashing us. If they think it is going to help them get work by cutting the throat of another writer, they don't understand editors very well.

Thanks for the rant. Keep up the good work.

Dakota Rebel

t'Sade said...

I try, I really do. I review books on my site because I like them, but I also make a point of being neither entirely positive or entirely negative. Mainly because I like those type of reviews myself. Though,

I always worry that someone won't like it. So, there is this balance of being constructive with my words without being brutal. Actually, its that worry that I wonder if I should actually do reviews or just shut the hell up and just write it, not review it.

Alison Tyler said...

There's a difference between trying to write a well-balanced review and wondering in print why someone chose to a writer in the first place.

What I'm ranting on is this concept of negative peer reviews. Especially the demoralizing, destructive ones. I believe the reviewers stand behind the "honesty is the best policy" shield, while honestly, I don't see the point.

Smut Girl said...

Amen and Amen! Whe I reviewed mysteries for About.com (a lifetime ago and as my original self) I never went nasty or attacked a writer personally. I always pointed out the positive. NOt telling the reader they would love a book they may only like, but saying, "Mrs. Smith has quite a sense of humor so even in the slower bits of the book, the comedic nature of the character carries you through." Right? That kind of thing.

Once I got the most gawdawful book ever. It was self published. And don't send me hate mail, people! I am not saying selp pub=bad. Just ask M.J. Rose who self pubbed and now is getting her groove thing on with her best selling books. Anyway, it was self published and my brain caught fire about 1/2 way through page two. I wrote in and told the woman who handled the reviewers: I cannot review this, maybe someone else can. There was no way I was going to force myself to read a terrible book and then turn some hopeful writer's dreams into sushi.

I agree with you. There is always a way to do it with some grace. Leave the eviscerations to readers/critics who ARE NOT writers. Then they can honestly skewer someone and make them miserable if they so choose.


kristina lloyd said...

Blistering stuff! Well said.

I can't help thinking that nasty reviews actually say more about the reviewer than they do about the book under review.

I like Sommer's example of how to do it: if there's a flaw the reviewer feels it's only fair to mention, tuck it away between more positive points. These mean-spirited reviews which open with such gleeful emphasis on perceived faults are just awful. They strike me as pretty amateurish too.

Kristina Wright said...

Well said, Alison.

I was a book reviewer for several years and I wouldn't review a book I disliked. I think I turned down about twenty books in five years because it wasn't fair to the authors to let my personal tastes color my review. (In some cases, bad editing was responsible and though that's not the authors' fault, they suffer for it.)

Writing a fair, balanced review is hard. Writing a novel is harder. It's something reviewers-- professional or otherwise-- should keep in mind when they decide to share their opinion.

Allison Wonderland said...

When I first started reading erotica, I checked to see if I could find any collections at the library. I can't say that I was surprised to find none (well, okay, there was one, but that's it), but I can say that I was very disappointed. I found plenty of nonfiction books on sex and sexuality, so why couldn't I find any fiction books on the same subjects?

Alison Tyler said...

Hey Allison!

Check this out B Is for Bondage is available at the Balham Library in the UK. Is that not totally cool?


Allison Wonderland said...

That is totally cool. Even though I've already got that one, I should ask my local library if they can do an interlibrary loan. I'm sure they will be more than happy to get it for me, lol.

Angell said...

First off, this is YOUR blog, and if you want to rant about how unfair it is that the mating rituals of the japanese panda bear isn't filmed for those of us in North America to see - then you are free to (and I hope to god that made some kind of sense, cuz I'm still half asleep.)

Never apologize, never explain. This is your territory, this is your property.

I have personally never been reviewed for my writing - except on literotica. But I don't have a skin so thick that the words, if not carefully thought out and PROPERLY criticizing, wouldn't hurt.

I can't wait for the day when it's socially acceptable to be an erotica writer. I've heard others dismiss it as something done by those who couldnt' hack it as REAL writers. Yah, well, I'd like to see Stephen King come up with different ways to describe a blow job for twenty different stories and see how he does.

As for crapping where you eat, well....even shit stew sounds good to some.