Is it a case of author versus reviewer?

There’s been a huge outcry about a recent column in the well-known speculative fiction magazine, Strange Horizons. All over there are people drawing lines in the sand and defending fans who review and authors who comment.

The column started talk about fan-bloggers/reviewers (which the writer identifies herself as) and industry blogs, talking about recent novels releases and reviews of them. It wanted to discuss our easy access to authors in the digital age, and our ability to rub bad reviews in their face.

What it sparked was a huge discussion of authors interacting with their fans and reviewers, particularly in the online space. There have been some very public examples of people doing it the wrong way, and also of readers planning to bully authors (this blog summarises the whole sordid affair). It’s not a single platform problem either: both major review sites, Amazon and Goodreads, have had it happening in both directions.

Certainly, there is an element of this that is part of the element of online communities that are out to bully and harass individuals. There is nothing constructive in it. Whether we should be looking to censor this behaviour, which would lead to a whole other set of problems, or finding another way to encourage respectful behaviour is unclear.

Overwhelmingly, what I am reading from online communities of writers and readers is this:

  • Treat others with respect, even if you didn’t like their work or their review. You are entitled to have an opinion.
  • Writers: Reviewers are good for authors, in terms of meaning that your book is getting read. Thank them for reviewing and reading and leave it at that, unless you have a real error to correct (accusations of plagiarism where you can show that it is not for example) and if you do need to do it, disconnect and keep respectful and factual. Abusing reviewers will only earn you bad press and lose you readers. Expect bad reviews.
  • Reviewers: If you invite writers in by attracting their attention on line, do not be surprised if they drop by. Abusing authors does not help you or anyone else. You are entitled to your genuine opinion. If you are wrong, own it and clarify it to people who read your reviews.
  • If you are going to respond, be funny (see author’s comment, no. 23) and be genuine. At least then, you’re memorable.


Have you ever written a review that was harsh? Ever had any authors get involved?

Authors, have you ever had scathing interactions online? What did you do?


There’s also some great comments and discussion over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.


Spoken history fantasy: review of Anansi Boys

I admit it; I am a fan of Neil Gaiman. At the beginning of the month, I reviewed The Ocean at the End of the Lane for my work with SQ Mag.

At Neil’s talk for the Vancouver Writer’s Fest, I noticed a number of fans with this book under their arm. It was his last adult novel, before this latest release. So I thought I would give it a go, honestly not knowing what to expect.

Anansi Boys draws on the storytelling element of oral traditions, particularly of the people of the Carribbean and their roots in the rich mythology of African culture. It follows Fat Charlie, a rather unassuming young man with major problems with his father and a life devoid of any real spark. When his father dies, Fat Charlie returns home and learns a startling fact: he has a brother. A chain of events, kicked off my Fat Charlie’s errant brother Spider, leads to the destruction of the dull life that Fat Charlie holds dear.

What follows is a story about coincidences spiralling out of control, aided by a touch of old world magic. It is a story about growing up, about making your way in the world when you’re in the shadow of big characters about you. It’s about family, and especially how you cannot choose them. But there’s also a quest element, which really keeps the story in tone with the oral traditions and links in to cultural manhood ceremonies of older traditions.

My favourite parts are the snippets of folklore. I was a big fan of Brer Rabbit stories as a small child, with their skewed morality of tricking the greedy or lazy. These were based in African tales, told often of Anansi in African mythology, well researched by Neil Gaiman I am sure. There are several small stories within the novel and I enjoyed these fable breaks. The perception of the shadowy realms of magic and ancient power of the mystical run strongly through this book, and are described well.

It is not the strongest of Neil Gaiman’s novels that I’ve read. Some of the characters weren’t as real to me as some in his other novels, even if they had some endearing traits. For this novel, there’s a lot of interplay of mysticism and the supernatural, and the nicely packaged ending created a few moments that felt a bit forced for me.

If a new reader of Neil, I wouldn’t suggest starting with this one, as I would prefer you fell in love with his work. For those with a love of oral traditions, it’s a great book for weaving in tidbits of the stories, and I think you might enjoy the main arch as well.

Have you read the book? I’d like to know what you thought of it.

The overnight illusion

It is a disservice to writers everywhere to promote the idea that writing success happens overnight. Years of hard work and practice at the skill of concise and interesting stories is what precedes every novel that goes to print, and a good many besides.

Let’s look at a well-known fantasy name, George R.R. Martin. You would have to have been deaf, blind and mute to miss the impact that Game of Thrones has made on all things pop culture. I don’t know about you, but to the uninitiated, it seems as if GRRM came out of nowhere. It may be why the cover below surprised me. I was very wrong. Have a look at the bibliography on his website. He had a few publications in the 70s, was involved in some projects in the 80s, started the Game of Thrones series in the 90s but his major emergence on the world stage was when they turned his series into an HBO series. Even though his work has been nominated for Hugo Awards 4 times (his first nomination was in 1978), he’s never won. He’s been present in the industry, as a writer and editor, since he first began publishing. That’s not overnight success by any stretch of the imagination.

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Jo Rowling (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) is held up as the example of “instant success”, in that her book was picked up on the merits of that initial submission alone. But that ignores her whole history. It ignores her own words: “I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before.” So, she had been doing lots of writing in her spare time. Ms. Rowling had an agent, and it still took two rounds of offering for Bloomsbury to take on Harry Potter.

Even when you have an online fan base, like (I shudder to mention the book that is traditional publishing’s shame, but a point is a point) E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, it took from 2009 (when initially published on for it to be “traditionally” published in 2011. There was even a market made up of all of the original fans of the book. She had to work at keeping people interested in her work of fiction and publish updates regularly.

This post could go on and on about dozens of other authors whose work I respect. Why would anyone expect that success in this industry would happen overnight? Why is this idea of an instant advancement in the field of writing one that persists, and that is promoted? Especially in other types of work, the idea is that your former work is what builds your network, your array of skills, your attractiveness to those in your industry. It seems a disconnect from industry for us to think and feel this way.

If anyone is interested, I have a great blog by Delilah S. Dawson on the steps to becoming a traditionally published author. None of which include get rich quick schemes. I’d be interested to hear what my writer and reader friends have to say about where this misconception comes from.