There was a full moon last week. I blame some of the recent craziness on that. In Romancelandia, writers were off on another tangent (which is something we’re sometimes wont to do) about reviews on Goodreads. Quelle Surprise! The question under debate had to do with whether or not authors had the right to post “honest” (for which read “unfavorable”) reviews. “Don’t I have a right to my opinion?” was, I believe, how the question was most frequently framed. And, much as I’d really, really like to be able to say “yes” to that question, I’m really not sure we do.
I think once you give up your amateur standing you might have to rein in a little of your freedom to say whatever you please about someone else’s books in a public forum. And not just because you might hurt someone’s feelings or lose a few friends, but because I don’t think it’s very professional.
Wanna criticize it in private, or among friends? Go for it. Someone asks you directly what you thought of the book? No need to lie. But to offer an unsolicited review, your very subjective opinion, in a way that might dissuade people from buying someone else’s book? A book that (opinions being what they are) they might actually have fallen in love with? That’s a little more iffy. Personally, I just happen to think it’s a poor business practice.
And this is a business, which leads into the next part of my story.
My husband and I went away last week and spent the night in a lovely bed and breakfast. As luck would have it, most of the guests were loosely involved in creative fields, film, music, writing. Which should have been fun, right? Something in common? As it turns out, not so much.
At breakfast, the conversation largely revolved around new technology and how it’s ruining so many things. Being something of a technophile and a proud early adopter, I politely kept my mouth shut until the woman seated beside me (who happened to be a psychologist) turned to me and asked me what I did for work.
I said I was a writer. She asked me what I wrote, I said novels, mostly in the romance genre. She favored me with a look of Extreme Skeptical Disbelief (I know this look. I have this look. I wear it often myself.) and asked, “And you actually make a living from that?”
I knew I should have just said yes, because many people can and do just that, but the truth is if I, personally, had to live solely off my royalties at this point...well, let's just say I wouldn’t be staying in lovely bed and breakfasts very often. So instead I said, “Not yet,” and my husband, bless him, launched into a passionate defense of my books in particular and digital publishing in general.
I could have told him it was a waste of time, and sure enough, his remarks were quickly met with cries of, “I know it’s supposed to be exploding, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it, myself.” And, “I like a book I can hold in my hands.”
Luddites. They’re everywhere.
But it got me thinking. What is it about books and writing that makes people think it's okay to be rude? To ask personal questions that they'd never think to ask about anyone else's income? Why do some people believe that their opinion is so critically important that they simply have to express it at any cost?
I mean, I shoot my mouth off as much as the next person, and sometimes I shoot first and ask questions later. But do I go around asking random psychologists that I meet at breakfast if their choice of a career is an attempt to deal with their own psychological issues? Do I go around offering my unsolicited opinions of other people's work or career choice, or…well, anything that’s not actually my business, and then get offended when said people are not properly grateful for the gift of my fabulous insight?
Sigh. Well, anyway, the fair was lovely. And ooh, look; fireworks!