A writer friend used the phrase "walking the tightrope of public etiquette" in an email a while back. I will momentarily stay on that tightrope and refuse to give their name. Hopefully they will forgive me for stealing their phrase if I keep their anonymity.
But I had to jump on (off?) this topic. It's been burbling (yes, burbling) around in the back of my head for a while now. So many questions I've had about what I'm doing as an author. I have worried far too often about whether I should be on the tightrope or not.
The world of writing and publishing is like a giant web. Everyone seems to know everyone, if not personally then by reputation. It's become a very public arena. And writers have to learn how to deal not just with their own agents and editors but with other agents, editors and writers, even those they have never met and probably never will.
This is why I've labored over my decision to review books, especially YA books. What's going to happen if one day my books take off, and suddenly I am face to face with some of the authors I've given negative reviews? Will I be sitting alone in the cafeteria, the one hated by all the populars?
And could those reviews actually prevent my books from ever taking off? Are agents and publishers all putting me on some blacklist somewhere because I gave their client one star? Do they actually notice us small-time authors? Am I going to query an agent someday and be told they can't sign me because I was borderline snarky in some book reviews?
What about readers? Will they turn their backs on me because I wrote a negative review about a book they loved? I've actually asked some Goodreads members that very question: "Would you refuse to read an author's work because they negatively review books by authors you like?" The resounding answer was, "No, as long as they don't get nasty or name-call."
And yet, there are authors who have dealt with this very thing. Kerry Nietz, author of the Dark Trench Saga and Mask, was recently chewed out by a reader for giving an honest review on Amazon. I wouldn't even call the review negative--he gave it three stars for crying out loud and said some rather positive things about it. But the reader got nasty and name-call-y. (The irony is that the reader is also an aspiring writer and if you look at his reviews for other books they are down-right mean.) Did Kerry cross a line? I think not. He has every right to his opinion on that book and wrote a professional sounding review.
I personally think the idea that we can only have positive opinions of other books is wrong. How are we to be respected as writers if we can't be respected as readers/reviewers, only giving out shiny gold stars? Why should we only ever focus on books we love-love-love? As a reviewer--and I consider myself one as I've written 160 reviews on Amazon for mostly books--I feel I have an obligation for honesty, which means sometimes giving a negative review. That's not jealousy. I can attest to that through numerous raving reviews for very popular books.
Another issue is blog posts, like this one about the, um, "publishing" company Jerry Jenkins is starting? Will offering critical views on things like suspicious publishing practices by renown authors put me on the radar in a bad way?
I get that we have to be respectful and professional. This is a business, after all. But should an author not be allowed to voice their opinions or observances?
How far do we take, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?"
There's a lot of criticism out there about authors scratching each other's backs. Only giving five-star reviews. Promoting each other even when writing it sub-par. But when one goes the other way, when one decides to review all and honestly, what happens? And why would we avoid pointing out suspicious happenings in our own industry? Don't we want our industry to be the best it can be? Don't we want publishing companies to run honestly and put the interest of the readers first?
I'm not on a tightrope and I don't want to be. I am afraid of heights both literally and figuratively. I consider myself a reader possibly even more than a writer. Yes, more, definitely. Because it's books I love, stories that make me swoon. It's THAT which I intend to fight for and you can't fight on a tightrope.