My Two Cents

Recently a discussion and a subsequent complete and total free-for-all developed over a book review from another writer. A development that I personally believe was intentional. The review was not the issue for me and never really bothered me. Everyone has a right to review as they see fit. Of course, many reviewers rip a book to shreds and feel better for doing so. The writer of said book is often, okay always, expected to turn the other cheek and let said criticism slide.

As a writer, I can easily do that if the reader was just that; a reader. When a writer reviews work written by their peers there is a different set of expectations based on professionalism and respect for other writers and the craft itself. A writer is not free to review a book and simply say ‘It sucked’. Nathan Bransford made excellent point recently when discussing how a writer reviews.

From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.
Isaac Asimov

First, let’s define review. From Wikipedia: a book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit.

From a reader: contains evaluations of the book on the basis of personal taste.
From a writer: they should contain evaluations based NOT only on personal taste, but opinions based on quality of writing, plot, characterization…the elements of fiction writing.

Now, tone and intent play a huge role in reviewing and how that review will be perceived by others. On occasion the reviewer has an agenda, a purpose in leaving their review. Sometimes it’s personal, they do not like the writer, are jealous of the writer’s success, or they’re in the other camp and really want to help the writer do well.

Usually the tone of a bad review is meant to imply superiority or that the reviewer is ‘better’ than the writer and possibly knows more, has experienced more or whatever. Writers can convey tone (or at least they should be able to) that typically non-writers (for lack of a better word) cannot without literally saying the words they are implying. This is the important point here. This is what set me off in this whole nasty debacle and what made me reevaluate my friendships and associations in a particular community. It is what made me open my big mouth and as a result brought criticism of my ‘professional reputation’.

I am not really a mean person and typically I’m known as someone who does not judge. But, my temper is rather…short. I do not tolerate misinformation, rudeness, and manipulation. Knowingly posting a review that will spark a debate and then sharing the resulting discussion on other public forums and misrepresenting what other writers and readers said as a result so that it appears to be more than it is and feigning shock and dismay; quite another thing.

Some interesting things were brought up after many writers said their piece and dropped the issue and I want to address these things as I’m accused of lacking in this area (as are others). No, I’m not trying to keep the ball rolling. I want to clarify several points that others brought up because I feel too many words are being bandied about in an effort to shut people up. I don’t care if it upsets anyone. “Bitchy much, Renee?” Of course. That is part of my character. But seriously, I think that this is an important topic to cover as a writer and for other writers to consider. I’ll explain once I define.

Reputation: ‘the result of what you do, what you say, and what other people say about you’. (Wikipedia)

Your reputation is built on how you intentionally present yourself (but only minutely), how others evaluate you to be (mostly) and how the two combine. Reputation changes constantly and is based on errors, deception, and manipulation by you or others around you. It might be based purely on misinformation in public forums, but can also be based on facts, as in ‘real life’ actions.

Reputation is powerful as it might not even be realized by the person it sticks to, and is out of their control. It is more of an ‘eyes of the beholder’ type of thing. You can do what you will to change, improve or eliminate it, but it is how others choose to see you that will define your reputation. Is it accurate? Most often, no it is not.

Many a man’s reputation would not know his character if they met on the street.
Elbert Hubbard

Character can be defined many ways, but the character that I am discussing here involves the features or traits that form the individual quality of a person. Many consider someone with good character to have qualities like courage, integrity and honesty. Bad character, by contrast, is defined as showing dishonesty, cowardice and malice. Many people around you do not realize your true character and often confuse this with reputation. Reputation stains character, but it does not define it. Who you are inside is something that most don’t look hard enough to learn.

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
John Wooden

Opinion: a subjective (existing in the mind; personal; individual) statement or thought about an issue or topic. It’s the result of your personal emotions or how you interpret facts. Often, when reviewing or critiquing, opinions are (and should be) supported by an argument or substantiated fact. Opinions rarely change based on new facts because they are such a personal thing. An opinion is the result of a person’s perspective, understanding, feelings, beliefs, and motivations. In general opinions are not often based in knowledge and fact-based beliefs but a personal ‘feeling’.

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
John F. Kennedy

Respect: Ah, a tricky one as frequently people claim to feel this, when in fact, they don’t. They believe they are showing it, but really, unless one genuinely feels it, it’s difficult to convey convincingly. Respect is acceptance, courtesy, acknowledgement of someone’s basic rights. Respect is a gesture of esteem or friendship; consideration. To respect someone is to refrain from intruding on their rights or their beliefs and to show enough courtesy to acknowledge their personal right to ‘be’ and to ‘do’. Respect is shown in many ways and can be misrepresented as well.

Professionalism: ethics, behavior and activities while carrying out one’s profession. Having an interest and desire to do a good job as well as holding positive attitude towards the profession and colleagues are important elements in professionalism.

So, because I spoke up, voiced my opinion about someone else’s behaviour and actions based on their opinion, (and originally I did so respectfully) my reputation and professionalism as a writer (along with others) was called into question. I was given the advice that as a writer, reputation is everything and to comment on bad reviews or shots at myself or other writers or to debate decisions I’d made and others’ opinions of them would damage my reputation as a writer and in the process I’d lose credibility and readership when I do publish.

To that I say, bullshit. Here’s what I think. (Just my opinion which you may like or lump, put on the fridge to glower at daily or shove it somewhere unpleasant to make yourself feel better. Frame it, love it, whatever; it’s only my opinion.)

I am a writer, but first and foremost I am human. My reputation should reflect that no matter what profession I am in. I respect other writers, and I believe that censorship is something that should be carefully considered and only applied if what is said or done perpetuates violence or hate or physically endangers someone. To censor humor, opinion and art is wrong.

Now, I desire to do a good job and I enjoy helping other writers do the same and encouraging all voices, whether I like them or not. When I review a book I try to explain why I enjoyed it or didn’t enjoy it and I strive to put at least one constructive thought into each review I choose to write. I also try to respect the time and work that a writer has put into their book or story because no matter how crappy I may personally think it is, that writer poured some blood, sweat and tears into that piece and should be given consideration accordingly.

I’ve written one negative review that I can recall since I feel I’ve earned the title of ‘writer’. I tried to read Twilight. Now, I have said very clearly on many occasions that I do not like the writing in these books. Meyer hit on a market with a theme that was brilliant. But, for me as a writer, the writing skill just isn’t there. I can’t focus on plot and character when errors in basic elements are assaulting me. The review was something like this: I can’t rate this because I didn’t finish it. So, it wouldn’t be fair to try to give a rating. I read a little more than three chapters. Distracted by the ‘writing’ I couldn’t get into it. Maybe another time.

I could have went on a rant about how I don’t understand the appeal. It’s terrible, awful and just plain ridiculous or I could have said that Meyer is a hack; as many other reviewers chose to do. But I didn’t. Why? Because although I don’t know her, I do believe she deserves a certain amount of consideration for her efforts. And hey, she obviously did something right. Hello, bestseller? And I truly do not believe she’s a hack or that the books are ‘awful’. The writing is not what I enjoy reading as a writer. A few years ago, I might have ate it up like so many others. Who knows?

Now, when someone begins to pick at me or other writers personally then I lose the easy going, non-judgemental attitude and the gloves are off. I will not be a doormat and I will not sit idly by and allow someone to make an idiot out of me or whatever it is they’re hoping to do. Personally or professionally, it makes little difference to me. I have a backbone and I use it. I have a voice, and you will hear it. My reputation occasionally whispers ‘bitch’ and ‘asshole’, and I embrace that. Why? If my readers feel that I’m a person who will turn the other cheek every time, or that I’m someone who is so worried about what others think of me that I would allow myself and my readers to be manipulated and talked down to, then my readers don’t know my character at all.

If I lose readers because they think I have a big mouth and I shouldn’t voice my opinion, debate an unfair (unfair being the operative word) review or call someone on unprofessional and disrespectful behaviour, then so be it. I don’t want those readers anyway. They won’t enjoy my work at all and so it would be a waste of their time to try.

Renee Miller’s Professional Reputation as she sees it: hard-working, generous, opinionated, temperamental, caring, slightly unbalanced, inquisitive, defensive, determined, ambitious, loyal, bitch.

Renee Miller’s Character as she sees it: See above.

Renee Miller’s Professional Reputation according to the rest of the world: fill in the blanks. It’s your opinion.

Renee Miller’s Character according to the rest of the world: Probably not accurate.

One last definition for you:

Writer: Human

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.

Harvey Fierstein

5 thoughts on “My Two Cents

  1. Viva la revolucion!*cough*What?Well said, Renee. I think you touched on certain points that, erm, some people may have overlooked when they got a bad case of word vomit.

  2. I really enjoyed your discussion on reputation and literary criticism/review. You are so right that the writer is first and foremost a human being, as we all are and that we all have the right to speak our opinions yet doing so in a mature, tactful way.

  3. Well said, Renee. As one wise person has said, "If a reader criticises stories because he doesn't understand them, his critique might say more about his reading skills than about the capabilities of the writers."

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