Positing a New Author-Reviewer Relationship – Sam Sykes Guest Blog

sam sykes

I’ve occasionally suggested to those who know me best, and subsequently to those who know me to be a terrible human being with few redeeming factors past my ability to imitate Hugo Weaving, that the only part about being an author I truly regret is the fact that I can’t enjoy internet meltdowns like I once could.

I mean, I cut my teeth at Something Awful, I know what it is to enjoy a good meltdown. And lord knows between Anne Rice, Christopher Pike and, more recently, Jacqueline Howett, there’s never really a shortage of internet drama to watch and cackle fiendishly at. But after being published for a year and a half, I just can’t take the same joy in someone coming apart at the seams that I used to.

Part of it, I’m sure, is an attempt to drift under the radar of karma, lest I someday be put in a situation where I want to call a reviewer an okapi-molester. But moreover, I think it’s because I look at them no longer as meltdowns, but learning experiences. And as we all know from years at school, learning isn’t supposed to be fun.

But still, I find myself analyzing each conflict, each outburst, each burst of seam and subsequent spilling of embarrassment onto the internet. I find myself wondering how it could have been stopped before authors were embarrassed and reviewers were alienated.

And with alarming frequency, I find myself coming back to the idea of the author-reviewer relationship and how it contributes to the act of meltdown.

If you’re of a mind to pay attention to it, you can hear some of the weirder grudges out there: reviewers are entitled and throw fits when they don’t get the acknowledgement they think they deserve, authors snub those who think they can’t appreciate their vast, overrated genius, and so on.

Maybe this is the norm. I have no idea. I make it a point to never pay attention to anything happening around me, a policy which has thus far led me to six vehicular manslaughter charges, two broken femurs, and one rare instance in which I somehow accidentally artificially inseminated a panda while on my way to a wedding. But more importantly, it has led to me being able to discern what I believe to be the honest truth about the author-blogger relationship.

Getting bad reviews sucks. But it just sucks.

I’ve gotten more than a few in my time and, for the vast majority, I’ve remained friends with those who have given them. There have been a few that might have a problem with me that goes beyond what I wrote (understandable, since, as has been pointed out, I am a wretched, wretched man) but they sort of prove the point I’m trying to make.

Currently, I fear that we’ve hit a point where we’re uncomfortably straddling a line, our gonads grinding upon a beam hovering between an exclusive, adversarial relationship and a scenario in which reviews are endless circle jerks of praise and plugs. Going too far to one side ends with the same outcome: unsatisfying reviews for people who want to know more about a book.

Thus I wonder if the solution for our sore groins is not to go to one side or the other, but rather to lift ourselves up into an entirely different direction, thus alleviating the pressure and giving our genitals some room to—

Okay, that metaphor died sooner than I thought. Let me cut to the point.

I sometimes think a lot of the meltdowns and bitterness occurs because an author frequently feels left without recourse to a negative review. This tends to lead to feelings and resentment being bottled up and eventually let out in rather embarrassing ways which might be funny, but don’t tend to do a lot for the reviewer other than put them in a brief, fleeting, and negative spotlight.

Thus I wonder as to the virtue of making blogs more than what they are, transforming them from brief reviews into in-depth discussions about the book, interviews that are not merely for promotions or the standard “where is sci-fi going” questions, but thoughtful conversations between two people about a work in question in which issues and motions can be more adequately discussed.

This is, of course, not without its own perils. Acting under the assumption that one might have to confront an author about their work might lead to intimidation or gratification, thus compromising the objectivity of the review in favor of the author. Some interviews could quickly become fellating an author, which is just plain nasty to watch. And it’s certainly no guarantee that people won’t still meltdown entirely into a raving fit.

But still, I can’t help but wonder what it might do.

And whether it’s worth pursuing just to find out.

Sam Sykes is the author of the acclaimed Tome of the Undergates, a vast and sprawling story of adventure, demons, madness and carnage. He lives with two hounds in a small, drab apartment and has eaten at least one of every animal on earth.

3 Replies to “Positing a New Author-Reviewer Relationship – Sam Sykes Guest Blog”

  1. “God knows, people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp-following eunuchs of literature. They won’t even whore. They’re all virtuous and sterile. And how well meaning and high minded. But they’re all camp-followers.”

    — Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to Sherwood Anderson, 1925

    While I don’t personally go as far as the Esteemed Hem, I do confess to occasionally posting links to monumentally terrible reviews on my blog, usually without comment, as ignorance is generally self-explanatory. I’ve been known to do the same with uncomplimentary “fan” mail.

    Try it. It’s less embarrassing than arguing with them and produces much the same effect.

  2. As a reader I’d much rather read an interview or hear a podcast in which a conversation occurs. Authors are people, not story machines. That being said I willingly blind myself to the idea that authors and readers and all the people in between (reviewers/advertisers = and that circle jerk thing is right too many reviews are just plugs) are in a business relationship in which one person offers up a good and the other consumes that good.

    i’d much rather think that authors are thoughtful and approachable people that would very happily discuss their work, pitfalls and all, with someone who wants to talk to them about it.

    there are lots of authors that are very accessible via the internet (yay internet) that are more than happy to include their readers in their processes or just answer questions, and there are others who whine and post angry rants about how they owe their readers nothing and how dare anyone criticism anything they do (don’t like it? don’t read it! blah blah blah)

    But all this basically boils down to – I like blogs and reviews on blogs. Especially because it opens the position of “reviewer” up to non-professionals who aren’t being paid to promote the bias of their employer.

  3. As someone who reviews and sometimes interviews and has paid attention to some of the “how not to review” discussions that pop up periodically, I just want to say that I enjoyed hearing an author perspective on it.

    Most of my reviews tend to be positive, probably because I don’t bother finishing and then reviewing a book I’m not liking. I don’t get off on snarking about how terrible something was, which would be the only point to me in continuing to read and then discuss a book I didn’t like from early on. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why there sometimes seems to be a dearth of critical reviews…just that volunteer reviewers don’t bother reviewing what they don’t enjoy reading, and only a handful of books take you on a good ride and then dump you off at the end into Lake WTF.

    That being said, I think there IS a problem in that too many of us (and I include myself in this) look at reviewing as, well, REVIEWING. giving an overview of the book, what spot of my sub-genre/sub-niche shelf it hit, and who I think might also like it, as opposed to really getting into the MEANING of it all. unfortunately delving like that often involves spoilers so it’s not “the thing to do” on a review blog. I’m curious how you (or any other authors reading this) would feel about having more article type reviews that might spoiler the crap out of your work but also give significant talking points?

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