I was wrong. Here's the first line of the message: "Thanks so much for reading and sorry it wasn't quite the book for you." Kudera went on to talk about some of the book's more positive reviews and why he thought others may have enjoyed it more than I seemed to. I was kinda shocked — if it were me in his shoes, I would not have been quite so not querulous.
One of the last lines of Kudera's message again thanked me for reading because ".. what you are doing is clearly helping books--if you like them!" That was intriguing to me, as I constantly wonder what authors think of we amateur book bloggers and what (if any) influence we have. Even though I was in no position to petition for a favor, I asked Kudera, a lecturer in the English Department at Clemson University, if he'd be willing to answer a few questions about the blogger/novelist relationship and the degree to which he thinks bloggers are part of the publishing conversation now. He agreed. Here's what he had to say:
(Note: This is Part 1 of the interview. Part 2 is here.)
Greg: What do you, as a published author, expect from a blogger in terms of review rigor? Do you expect "reaction" — with lots of "I thought..." or do you prefer more academic/journalistic style reviews?
Alex: Hi, Greg, and thanks for having me aboard for this interview. I appreciate your generosity in sharing some time at New Dork although it sounds like my book was not for you. To be honest, when I saw “Dork” in the title, I thought your blog and my book might be a perfect match. Alas, it was not to be.
But back to the question, I’d say that the most important thing is exposure, and that any published author has to be grateful whenever his or her book is mentioned online, in print, on the air, or anywhere else. So, to an extent, as authors, we should be grateful even if the review is indifferent or worse, and we’re not in a position to judge the “rigor” of the review.
At the same time, the most detailed reviews are almost always the best reviews, and we can see on amazon that review readers find these to be the most helpful as well. So perhaps the wide world of readers can help sort out these in-depth reviews from the others?
But because a mediocre review can be a conversation stopper, my personal rule for writing about books and authors is based upon my understanding that it is extremely difficult to write and sell one and that writers have starved and publishers have lost huge amounts of money by making a wide array of literary fiction available to the reading public. For these reasons, I almost invariably post positive notes about books, and so at my blog or GoodReads, there’s a bit of a “if you don’t have anything nice to say..." rule in play. I do realize that one could argue that this jeopardizes the integrity of my blogs and comments.
For Fight for Your Long Day, I like it when reviewers love the book, “get” the humor, and include specific favorite quotations. The more favorable and detailed the review, the more I feel like I’ve connected with that particular writer-blogger.
Greg: What interaction have you had with book bloggers? What has been the nature of this interaction? Contentious? What outcome?
It seems like authorial suicide to be contentious with anyone, and when I’ve lost my cool, it’s mainly been due to the combined workload and stress of teaching, parenting, writing, and promoting. I try not to get angry, of course, and it has hurt me when I’ve lost my cool in various situations. Teeth Are Not For Biting is one of my daughter’s favorites, and its lessons can be applied to the adult world, too (let’s leave the saying, “always treat children like adults, and adults like children” for another interview). I’ve been teaching for 15 years, and in commission-based sales before that, so I’ve grown accustomed to being on the front lines of a service economy, interacting with lots of people every day.
I guess, whenever a writer is frustrated by the process, my best advice is to try to remember that the potential blogger, reviewer, or bookstore manager could also be an extremely stressed-out, overworked person trying to endure life in a backbreaking world, and that taste in literature can be very personal.
And also, just to breathe, and take a break from book promotion — let it rest for a couple days and then find other readers to connect with. There are hundreds of different ways to find readers and promote books although it can still seem difficult to sell them.
So, what do you think? Do you agree that authors aren't in a position to (or just shouldn't) judge the rigor of a review? As a blogger, do you abide by the "if you don't have anything nice to say..." rule? What rules in regards to the relationship to authors (if any) do you think bloggers should follow to be responsible, ethical, and informative?