LonCon3 #26: My Opinions Let Me Show You Them + The Art of Reviewing

Panellists: Foz Meadows (Shattersnipe), Thea James (The Book Smugglers), Aidan Moher (A Dribble of Ink), Adam Whitehead, Justin Landon (Staffer’s Book Review)

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There are many different approaches to book blogging: some focus on news and announcements, running author interviews and ARC giveaways supported by publishers; others concentrate on reviewing and opinion pieces; still others are devoted to raising awareness of certain types of writing, like SF Mistressworks or the World SF Blog. Our panel discusses how they chose their blogs’ format and focus, how the blogs evolved over time, and how they found their ‘voice’ and their audience.

Panellists: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Paul Kincaid, Elizabeth Hand, Matt Hilliard

John Clute is one of the people who lifted reviewing in the field to an art form. What makes the difference between a workmanlike review that tells us what we need to know, and a review which becomes a text worth studying in its own right? Under what circumstances does a review transcend its immediate subject, and become part of the wider conversation about genre? Who are reviews for: readers, authors, industry, other reviewers?

What do Book Blogs Focus on?

Many in the book blogging community generally all write reviews. This however tends to be one of the least viewed features on a book blog, unless they’re of negative reviews. News, opinions and memes – such as ‘top 10’ posts – tend to be more popular. There are those that specialise in a particular topic, for instance, femimism or diveristy in books and raising awareness of those issues, or specialising in providing content for specific audiences such as young adults, although most bloggers address multiple audiences with the same reviews and other content because adults read as many YA books as YAs do.

Does Book Blogging Pay?

Thea and Aiden do have advertising on their blogs but generally you don’t make much, if any, money from blogging. It can, however, lead to opportunities that do make you money. Foz now gets paid to write for Strange Horizons. Justin is paid by Tor.com. And other bloggers have been snapped up by sites like io9.com. Organisations like these are stealing the best bloggers from the blogging community.

Thea gets paid by Kirkus to write for them. She also works for a publisher but doesn’t review anything pubbed by her employers. She’s been blogging on Book Smugglers for 7 years and is going to start publishing short stories in the autumn.

Elizabeth is an author and a professional, paid critic for the Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon) and the LA Times, among others, and now doesn’t have time to read for pleasure, only to read what is assigned. But she writes does write negative reviews, as she should, because no one likes everything they read, though she’s careful to emphasise that she’s polite with her criticism. She’s also aware that Goodreads and Amazon reviews are now of equal or of more value to readers than professional reviews.

Controversy and the Pitfalls of Blogging

Justin pointed out that his fellow female panellists receive threats but as a male he doesn’t. Many female bloggers are the targets of sexist remarks and threats of violence for simply expressing their opinions, and it’s a problem not confined to bloggers but to any women putting forward her opinions online.

Justin writes brutally honest reviews in a journalistic but snarky voice for his audience who are mainly publishers. Most authors respect honesty, but not all. Adam has had a run in with Robert Stanek, a badly behaving author. Justin’s most controversial post was on Patrick Rothfuss’s misogyny on Reddit. Aiden’s most controversial post was ‘Terry Goodkind’s still an asshole’.

Many reviewers and bloggers, especially in the last three years, have experienced various types of harassment from authors for a variety of reasons. Some have even deleted their blogs and associated social media accounts over the abuse they’ve received from an author’s fans, the authors themselves or just random people on the internet. Others choose to turn comments off completely to prevent trolling. Most comments on blog posts come via Twitter these days anyway. In the same breath that panel members were discussing the death of the blog comment, they were also heralding the death of RSS too.

While it’s good to write honest negative reviews, there are still a few – a minority – who deliberately write clickbait, malicious and mocking reviews which sometimes personally attack and threaten an author whom which they know little about. Reviewers are only free to criticise the product, their books, and an author’s opinions and that is all.

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3 thoughts on “LonCon3 #26: My Opinions Let Me Show You Them + The Art of Reviewing

  1. Is it still click bait if you only mock the product? I mean, I write scathing MYST-like reviews of really horrible erotica, for a multitude of reasons. Yes, one of them is that they’re popular, but that’s only a small amount of it. Mostly I sometimes need the laughs. And yes, I get a lot of laughably bad porn on purpose.

    As people have pointed out, that’s the same reason a lot of people watch cheesy 50s sci-fi movies, and it’s kind of in the same vein as why those dudes started MYST.

    Does that intent – needing a break and to laugh at, say, Plan Nine From Outer Space, or the porny, literary equivalent – make it click-bait? (And for the record, I’ve made it clear that, hey, this author called me a truly disgusting name/killed me in this book – and yes, it’s happened – but I never say I want to harm the author. I’ve said I wanted to slap a character, but I try not to bring up the author at all, and keep my reviews focused on the piece of work itself!)

    And I kind of ask this question because I wonder about the click-bait and if my reviews come off that way. Not only that, if by malicious you mean attacking the author, I don’t consider myself part of that. If by malicious you mean scathing about grammar and mocking that? I guess you might consider my reviews malicious.

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    1. I guess it is click bait but since some erotica / porn titles are laughable, they’re pretty much inviting you to mock them. I don’t know how you write a review for dino porn without mocking and laughter.

      I meant malicious by attacking the author. Any book published with dire spelling, punctuation and grammar deserves a negative review, mocking or not. After all, you’re criticising the book.

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