Like that one guy said: Good writers borrow, great writers steal. Welcome to the place where all things have been lifted, looted, and otherwise pilfered…Remember, possession is 9/10s of the law.
Alas, such as it is on this blog, we cannot keep talking about one author forever. So, as pleasant as it has been to talk of Gaiman, and as many works as we have left explore of his, it’s time for someone new. But dry your tears, friends, we’ll be talking about Terry Pratchett in April so I’m sure his name will pop up again.
Now for our new February Mentor.
I give you: Margaret Atwood!!!!!!!!!
The reasons Atwood is such a wonderful mentor are so large in number that it boggles the mind. I’m not going to list them here. (I started talking about Atwood late last year, but got distracted. You can see those posts in the sidebar to right, if you are so inclined.)
We’ll just get started – February is a short month!
The first thing I want to discuss about Atwood is related to a recent struggle going around the web-o-sphere about the responsibility of authors and the responsibility of readers in reviewing. This post has very little to do with Atwood’s writing directly, but everything to do with authors this “day-n-age.”
As I’m sure you realize, the world of writing and publishing is teeny-tiny. A MicroWorld if you will. The world of publishing includes the obvious members: authors, Amazon, agents, Amazon, editors, Amazon, publishing houses, Amazon, booksellers, and Amazon. But more and more there are bloggers, online review spaces like Goodreads, and the starred review spaces on the bookselling websites staking out a piece of the literary conversation.
Recently there was a debacle on Goodreads, a site I love because it’s generally been free of the drama that occurs on blogs and starred reviews – the writers and readers mostly discuss books and the conversations stay on-topic. The gist of the debacle is this: a reader/reviewer read a set of sample pages from a YA book and found the sampling offensive. She proceeded to offer a feminist perspective on the pages and stated clearly that she had not finished the book because this opening so bothered her. A few commenters stated that, because of the arguments the reviewer made (and by argument I mean the presentation of her opinion, not that the reviewer was picking a fight) they would not pick up the book.
Does that sting? Yes. Is it fair? Actually, feminist arguments are a more formal form of literary criticism, falling in with post colonialism, minority/Other criticisms, etc. So, yeah – it’s a fair statement of opinion.
Still hurts like a B. No doubt.
What happened next I think was done with good intentions. One of the author’s (Author A) author friends (Author B) spoke up for her – pointing out the reviewer had not read the entire piece, that the POV character grew throughout the novel, and that Author A was intentionally emphasizing character flaws in the POV character. However, some of the comments were made in a *light* tone of typing-voice, so it came off sarcastic when I think Author B was actually trying to lighten the mood.
Result? MASS UNPROFESSIONALISM ON ALL SIDES
Commenters called Author B a ‘troll.’ Author A rushed in to defend her work and her friend – and is generally considered to have handled herself well in the situation, and not sounding at all like this author who cursed out a blogged review of her work and received massive negative starring on Amazon. (I mentioned Amazon was involved in the publishing world, didn’t I?) She was joined by at least one agent in defending the work and Author B. I think they were trying to do some damage control, but it just added fuel to the fire.
Should the authors have responded the way they did? Engaging a reviewer head-on like that? Um…we’ll get to that in sec when I bring in why Margaret Atwood’s our mentor on this one.
Before that, I’d like to speak as a reviewer and the whole thing about the negative starring. When I review a book, I only review books I have read and I star them according to my opinion on the piece. It irritates me no end when I see a bunch of positive stars that are obviously written by close family members, it irritates me when I see authors ‘pimping’ their novels, and it irritates me when I see a campaign to knock down an author with one-star ‘reviews.’
This is what happened to Author B in the debacle. Because of a strong negative reaction to his posts in the comments section of a book that was not his – and because of his Twitter commentary as well, let’s not forget the jumping of spaces! – the commenters jumped from reviewing Author A’s book to reviewing Author B’s character…and they said so on his book’s review space.
‘Campaigning’ like this is not professional, and before someone says “Well, Goodreads isn’t a professional review space” – then I say, instead of unprofessional…it’s not nice. It is bullying. It is unfair. It is rude. And it can be very damaging. Especially when it comes down to an author’s livelihood: his or her book. Be better than that.
All that being said, how should an author react when someone – a reviewer, a reporter, a clown at your kid’s birthday party – says something negative about you or your work?
And now we get to Margaret Atwood. I direct you to this post on her blog. Check out the comments section. See the guy who says “you’re a bitch. I’m sorry I wasted my time and money on a dozen of your books. Most of them were boring anyway“?
Yeah. Let that sink in for a second.
There are commenters who engage this guy on Atwood’s behalf, sure. But note Atwood’s reaction.
Um, yeah. Where is it?
She doesn’t respond. I hope that, as another commenter said, “If the confidence that Atwood has exuded throughout her brilliant poetry and prose is any indication of who she is, I’m pretty positive she laughed at that comment.”
Because the truth is, people say nasty, mean, bullying things – they shouldn’t, because that makes them jackasses. When you’re published they’ll say sh*t about you, they’ll say sh*t about your writer friends, they’ll call your agent fat and your editor doofy. They’ll dislike your characters, your story won’t speak to them, or – worse – they won’t feel anything about you or your work at all. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways of handling these things…and, as an author you don’t have to necessarily stay quiet.
Some things to keep in mind:
1. Authors have this thing called a platform. Margaret Atwood has a Twitter account with 300,000ish followers. She has a website, a facebook page, and a blog. Plus, you know, she’s got those book things. If someone sounds off and presents an argument that she feels she needs to respond to, she doesn’t have to respond on that someone’s turf. She can respond in her own space, on her own terms.
***Atwood recently attended a conference and presented her argument that Twitter boosts literacy – so there’s always public speaking…=)
****And in Weird Synchronous News: Atwood speaks about The Handmaid’s Tale in the Guardian…see? Platform. Use it.
2. History/time and more work will put a review in perspective. Atwood wrote Handmaid’s Tale in the mid-80s. The critiques of today are different than the critiques when the book originally came out. If Atwood spent all her time defending or explaining that one work…we wouldn’t have Oryx and Crake, or The Year of the Flood, or The Penelopiad, or…you get my point? There is work to do. Stop talking to the reviewers on their turf and create a new work that defines your place in the literary world more clearly.
3. “But I’m not Margaret Atwood. I don’t have piles of work or a platform or…or…” you say? Well then – you have more work to do, don’t you?
I write dark fiction that my mother hates. I also review mysteries for criminalelement.com. When not writing fiction/reviews, I'm creating plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre in Colorado Springs.