Drawing the Line

A few weeks ago, Dear Author posted this letter of opinion. For a short time over on Twitter, other authors took up the topic as well, and for the most part, they’re on one side of the fence or the other. To distill it into a sentence, there are authors who think that if you’re going to review a book by another author, you should only review it if you liked the book. Basically, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Bull. Shit.

One commenter pointed out that we were readers before we were writers, and to tell a writer they can no longer voice a negative opinion is to deprive them of their freedom of speech. The flip side of that, pointed out by Chuck Wendig via Twitter, is a publisher could see your negative review, remember it when you come to them with a project you’d like to work with them on, and say LOL nope.

This led me to ask him a question: if an author is also a reviewer (be it a book blogger or a reviewer with a byline in a magazine or a newspaper or whatever), does that mean he or she should refrain from publishing negative reviews?

His response:

Wendig 11_12 review advice

A few of my favorite (0pinionated) authors chimed in with words for the masses, as well:

Cooper 11_12 review advice 1Cooper 11_12 review advice 2Dahl 11_12 review adviceDane 11_12 review advice 1Dane 11_12 review advice 2Lauren Dane and Karina Cooper’s second tweets are similar: whatever you do, take ownership of it. Don’t push it off on someone else.

While Wendig’s words of caution are ones to pay attention to, I can’t live like that. The only thing I love more than recommending books is writing them, and if I had to stifle my reviewer voice and tell y’all only to read the books I deemed absolutely fabulous, well, I wouldn’t have recommended a lot of books this year. I would think that most publishers are large enough that one negative review (mine) wouldn’t impact their decision to work with me. Could it mean I don’t work with that editor? Possibly, and that’s just fine. Chances are, if they take offense to what I had to say about the book they helped birth into the literary world, we wouldn’t work well together anyway.

So what’s a book blogger-cum-author to do?

You have to have a line. And once you draw it, you can’t cross it.

When I started posting more reviews here, I shied away from reviewing books by authors I know well enough to call them a friend. I still do. Reviewing a book written by a friend is like the question “Do I look fat in this?” – there’s no right way to answer it. If I don’t like the book, I run the risk of hurting my friend’s feelings. If I do like the book, there’s the possibility that my readers will brush off the recommendation as “Oh, she had to say that because they know each other”, or worse, readers will stop looking to my reviews as a measure of how good a book actually is. That, my lovelies, would hurt me, if you thought my reviews weren’t trustworthy.

But it’s still not quite enough, you know?

I told Chelsea, the editor for Vampire Book Club, about my upcoming book because we’re both writers and I was super excited to tell everybody and their uncle about it. After the initial exclamations died down, she said that I wouldn’t be able to review books for VBC put out by Entangled, due to potential conflict of interest. Frankly, it wasn’t something I’d considered before, and I’m so glad she thought of it, because she’s right. I wouldn’t want to harm a potential working relationship with an objective (yet not glowing) review, particularly if the book was edited by my editor. Can we say, “Awk. Ward.”

Which brings me to the line I’ve drawn.

You won’t see books published by Entangled Publishing reviewed here at Byrne After Reading. And as I sign more contracts with other publishers, those will be added to the list. Yes, it’ll narrow down what I can post and what I can’t, but I’d rather do that than screw up a working relationship.

As for everything else, I’m human. I’m often tactless. I can be immature at times. I will put my foot in my mouth on occasion. But as long as I own up to it and deal with the consequences, I think I’ll be all right.

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