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View Full Version : The epidemic of niceness in online book culture.



leahzero
08-03-2012, 06:50 PM
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2012/08/writers_and_readers_on_twitter_and_tumblr_we_need_ more_criticism_less_liking_.single.html


[C]loying niceness and blind enthusiasm are the dominant sentiments. As if mirroring the surrounding culture, biting criticism has become synonymous with offense; everything is personalóoneís affection for a book is interchangeable with oneís feelings about its author as a person. Critics gush in anticipation for books they havenít yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the authorís Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of all-caps praise, because thatís how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary web. And, of course, critics, most of them freelance and hungry for work, want to appeal to fans and readers as well; so to connect with them, they must become them.

What do you folks think?

As I said in a comment on the article:

Goodreads, the most popular book reviewing site on the web, is built on a social media framework. The very design of the site encourages and rewards praise. There is no Dislike or Thumbs Down button. You can either agree with the positivity or be silent.

It's a brave, scary new world of Pollyannaism.

James D. Macdonald
08-03-2012, 07:04 PM
We should introduce these guys to the Authors Behaving Badly threads.

TherapistWriter
08-03-2012, 07:09 PM
Great article, Leah. I agree that there are tons of cheerleaders and fan girl/boys, but there are also those who take a "snarky" look at reviews, kind of as an entertainment angle, or maybe it's just a personality style. A huge problem rears up when these two "sides" meet. Goodreads is in uproar over "bully reviewers and bully readers" and it's hideous to watch. I believe honest reviews, whether they're honestly fan-girl or honestly snarky, need to be allowed and embraced, and LEFT ALONE. That way we get the balance, and readers can make up their own minds.

Soccer Mom
08-03-2012, 07:10 PM
Um, no. An epidemic of niceness? Just, no. My first thought was the same as Jim's. Someone is missing the regular Saturday Night Rumble, Authors vs. Reviewers and the undercard of Fan vs. Fan.

There wasn't actually anything new in the article. "Oh my gosh, that author is just out there being all funny and charming so people can see her and maybe pick up her book!" Yeah. Yeah, that's how publicity works.

chickenrising
08-03-2012, 07:10 PM
Yeah I mean, I think it's too much. I don't take goodreads seriously if I'm looking for a book to read. Goodreads is the most popular reviewing site on the web, i guess, but not because potential readers are using it as a tool. It's writer's writing for each other or pretending to write for each other but actually just like reading the first page and I guess that's where books are in 2012, but it gives me a headache. It would be much more appealing if it wasn't just a social marking tool (which, by the way, goodreads basically proves why the social media push is a lieeee, a myth), but could you imagine an actual honest book reviewing community? That'd be cool. T

Bukarella
08-03-2012, 07:12 PM
I don't think being too nice is a problem. One doesn't have to look far to find pages of on-line bashing of this author or that book.

James D. Macdonald
08-03-2012, 07:17 PM
There wasn't actually anything new in the article. "Oh my gosh, that author is just out there being all funny and charming so people can see her and maybe pick up her book!" Yeah. Yeah, that's how publicity works.

I'm dreading the idea, if that's really the way book sales will go from now forward, that I'll have to enter that snakepit.

What's the matter with my being all charming and helpful here? (Aside from Not doing anything measurable as far as selling my books that is.)

Soccer Mom
08-03-2012, 07:17 PM
Yeah I mean, I think it's too much. I don't take goodreads seriously if I'm looking for a book to read. Goodreads is the most popular reviewing site on the web, i guess, but not because potential readers are using it as a tool. It's writer's writing for each other or pretending to write for each other but actually just like reading the first page and I guess that's where books are in 2012, but it gives me a headache. It would be much more appealing if it wasn't just a social marking tool (which, by the way, goodreads basically proves why the social media push is a lieeee, a myth), but could you imagine an actual honest book reviewing community? That'd be cool. T

I actually have to disagree with that. There are over 5 million members of Goodreads. That's not just authors writing for other authors. There are plenty of critical reviews on GR. In fact, the internet has been buzzing these last few months with author vs. reviewer conflicts on GR.

JSSchley
08-03-2012, 07:22 PM
I think there are plenty of people out there who aren't nice about books on the internet.

At the same time, I think the article does have a point, although it didn't actually make this point, in that sickeningly sweet niceness has become the norm to the point that many people who aren't being in any way mean or rude, but just saying "I didn't care for this" makes them the meanest person ever.

And then (unreasonable) authors go apeshit because no one has ever dared say, "I didn't care for this" about their precious gem.

Stacia Kane
08-03-2012, 07:26 PM
What's the matter with my being all charming and helpful here? (Aside from Not doing anything measurable as far as selling my books that is.)


I point out that for all the blog hits and/or positive comments some of my posts and statements on this situation have garnered--which is nice, of course, but not why I do it--my Bookscan numbers show a jump of three to five copies from their previous levels. And that's a pretty standard level of change from week to week anyway. There's really no rhyme nor reason, and no way to point at any specific thing and say "Oh, yeah, that blog post netted me a lot of sales."

So it's a good thing I don't do it hoping it will expose me to new readers or convince them to buy my books.

Yes, it could be shooting me up those ebook charts, which aren't measured by Bookscan (though I doubt it), but it's hardly the key to selling big numbers.

Stacia Kane
08-03-2012, 07:31 PM
I think there are plenty of people out there who aren't nice about books on the internet.

At the same time, I think the article does have a point, although it didn't actually make this point, in that sickeningly sweet niceness has become the norm to the point that many people who aren't being in any way mean or rude, but just saying "I didn't care for this" makes them the meanest person ever.

And then (unreasonable) authors go apeshit because no one has ever dared say, "I didn't care for this" about their precious gem.

True.

But authors who step out of line get grief too; not more than the readers who've been attacked lately--I've never seen a reader behave so abominably--but it's been clear for a long time that authors who dare to express an unpopular opinion or make a comment people don't like are in for a world of unhappiness.

I think that's one reason why "sickeningly sweet" has become more prevalent, at least for women, and why most of us stay far away from any sort of controversial topic. Men can get away with it. But a female author who is sarcastic, or too direct and "abrupt," or whatever...forget it. Nobody thinks she's being charmingly forthright. They just think she's a bitch, and they tell everyone.

chickenrising
08-03-2012, 07:35 PM
I actually have to disagree with that. There are over 5 million members of Goodreads. That's not just authors writing for other authors. There are plenty of critical reviews on GR. In fact, the internet has been buzzing these last few months with author vs. reviewer conflicts on GR.

Definitely right. I am just turned off by the Incestuous back-scratching. I'm not against writer relationships, a positive community (as we have here) and so on. And yeah, I've read some writer vs reviewer conflicts--which might be a result of incestuous back-scratching, it becomes a situation like, how dare someone actually review my book!

Soccer Mom
08-03-2012, 08:08 PM
Definitely right. I am just turned off by the Incestuous back-scratching. I'm not against writer relationships, a positive community (as we have here) and so on. And yeah, I've read some writer vs reviewer conflicts--which might be a result of incestuous back-scratching, it becomes a situation like, how dare someone actually review my book!

There is some truth there. I try to stay out of GR drama. Mostly I just make sure my books are listed and then stay out of the way.

Amadan
08-03-2012, 08:14 PM
I think the article has a point. If your natural personality is sweet and charming and you like posting pictures of cats, there is no reason not to be that way as an author online. But there seems to be a trend toward a sort of mutual coziness that discourages disagreement or criticism. Instead of authors getting into vigorous (sometimes vitriolic) debates, we see them admonishing each other to "be nice" and talking about why it's unprofessional, mean, etc. to say anything negative about anyone else's writing.



But authors who step out of line get grief too; not more than the readers who've been attacked lately--I've never seen a reader behave so abominably--but it's been clear for a long time that authors who dare to express an unpopular opinion or make a comment people don't like are in for a world of unhappiness.

I think that's one reason why "sickeningly sweet" has become more prevalent, at least for women, and why most of us stay far away from any sort of controversial topic. Men can get away with it. But a female author who is sarcastic, or too direct and "abrupt," or whatever...forget it. Nobody thinks she's being charmingly forthright. They just think she's a bitch, and they tell everyone.

This is definitely a problem, though I think a lot of it is also a function of participation in online culture. That is, there are male authors who get a lot of censure (Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, etc.) but those authors don't care because they aren't blogging and tweeting with their fans and they don't really care if the Internet hates them. The more you engage, the more vulnerable you are to being wounded by a pile-on.

Jamesaritchie
08-03-2012, 08:18 PM
The best publicity is still a book people love enough to tell all their friends about. twitter, my ass. I'm too busy writing to screw around with twitter.

shadowwalker
08-03-2012, 08:20 PM
This is why I pay no attention to reviews. At all. Who do you trust to give a fair review? I'd rather listen to my friends or read the back cover.

ladybritches
08-03-2012, 08:31 PM
I'm really starting to question my ability to comprehend what I read, because what I thought the article was saying was that if you're a popular author, as in, people like you as a person, not that they like your books, and your book comes out and it sucks, your "friends" are not going to want to say that it sucks. They're going to continue to promote the book for you, and maybe even give your 2 star book 5 stars, because they don't want to hurt your feelings.

Maybe I'm way off, but I can believe this happens. Of course it happens in reverse too, where the author is pretty much hated online and so their book gets a bunch of 1 star ratings from people who haven't even read the book. But either way it becomes more about the author than the book.

Lissibith
08-03-2012, 08:50 PM
I'm really starting to question my ability to comprehend what I read, because what I thought the article was saying was that if you're a popular author, as in, people like you as a person, not that they like your books, and your book comes out and it sucks, your "friends" are not going to want to say that it sucks. They're going to continue to promote the book for you, and maybe even give your 2 star book 5 stars, because they don't want to hurt your feelings.


Honestly, that's what I got out of it too. But moreover, I think it's also talking about how the prevalence of social media is making that sort of thing more common because we feel sort of like the author is our friend if we subscribe to their LJ or other blog or follow their FB/twitter posts. That means there's even more people falling into this trap, giving birth to the "epidemic" (A word I think overinflates the issue a little personally)

Phaeal
08-03-2012, 10:12 PM
I don't care how positive or negative a reviewer is as long as she can back up her opinion with reasoned argument and examples from the text.

It's the yowls of SQUEEEE and howls of SUUUUUCKS, without pertinent details, that wear me out. I'm particularly averse to all the five-star reviews that crop up before a book's been released -- often when it's simply been announced! Not talking here about ARC readers, obviously.

But, yeah, I agree with the article writer. It's got to be hard to write a negative review for someone who's become your friend, even if your friendship is limited to the exchange of bytes. Even harder if you're hoping that friend will reciprocate the positivity when your book comes out.

Miss Plum
08-03-2012, 10:16 PM
Definitely right. I am just turned off by the Incestuous back-scratching. I'm not against writer relationships, a positive community (as we have here) and so on. And yeah, I've read some writer vs reviewer conflicts--which might be a result of incestuous back-scratching, it becomes a situation like, how dare someone actually review my book!
I don't have a ton of experience with Goodreads or Amazon reviews, but I've formed an impression that this critique is valid mostly for a couple of genres, for books that are average sellers at best. (There is no epidemic of niceness affecting novels that sell millions, non-fiction doorstops, a dozen other categories I could name.) These books nevertheless make their readers happy.

In this super-nice subset of the literary world, writers and readers seem to have established the rules they want to live by and created the community they want to inhabit. So, let 'em. I don't see the utility of dragging them before the Michiko Kakatanis and Harold Blooms and Booker Prize judges. As shadowwalker says, you can penetrate the fog of niceness by simply browsing the bookstore.

I do have to agree with the word "chilling," however, to read that the LA Times, NPR, and "some publications" are actively discouraging negative reviews.

EMaree
08-03-2012, 10:20 PM
I don't care how positive or negative a reviewer is as long as she can back up her opinion with reasoned argument and examples from the text.

I agree with this. A well-written critical review can be very educational, both as a reader and a writer.

Jericho McKraven
08-03-2012, 10:22 PM
I'm at work and didn't have time to read the article, but going off of the name of the thread:

I like when people are nice, I don't think it's an epidemic, I think it shows that a person is mature enough not to act childish and throw words at you as if you need to be punished for existing. It's easy to be mean, but having tact and salting your words with kindness can take self control and requires putting real thought behind what you choose to say.

I had only joined absolute write for about an hour before someone was rude to me. I mention that as proof that no matter how awesome a community is, kindness is still appreciated from those who offer it because there are still those who's first resort is to speak their mind however they see fit despite the way it may effect others...

Timmy V.
08-03-2012, 10:23 PM
a

Filigree
08-03-2012, 10:58 PM
How much of this stems from the politically-correct emphasis on (possibly unearned) self-confidence in the public schools - in the UK and the US especially?

For the last decade or so, I've seen a lot of students basically get rewarded for showing up. Some of the younger BA students I've mentored in commercial art have *no* idea how to separate themselves from their art, and they either wilt or bristle during marketing critique meetings.

The 'niceness' isn't as prevalent as the article claims, but I do think it's a trend.

Jericho McKraven
08-03-2012, 11:38 PM
I am definitely attached to my work. It is a part of me, I have been pouring my heart and soul into it for so long, if someone read it and told me it was awful and needed desperately to be revised, I would be hurt. I would feel like the person was attacking me and telling me I was awful and needed to change.

I think this is the difference though between a real writer, and a novice writer (which I obviously am.) I will eventually have to grow, not just as a writer, but as a person. I will have to accept that my work needs improvement just as much as I need to improve myself.

But in all honesty, I am more willing to change for a person who gently shows me the way, as opposed to someone telling me I'm a piece of crap and need to scrap who I am and start over.

Not everyone is like me though, some people react better to tough love.

Amadan
08-04-2012, 12:14 AM
I am definitely attached to my work. It is a part of me, I have been pouring my heart and soul into it for so long, if someone read it and told me it was awful and needed desperately to be revised, I would be hurt. I would feel like the person was attacking me and telling me I was awful and needed to change.

I think this is the difference though between a real writer, and a novice writer (which I obviously am.) I will eventually have to grow, not just as a writer, but as a person. I will have to accept that my work needs improvement just as much as I need to improve myself.

But in all honesty, I am more willing to change for a person who gently shows me the way, as opposed to someone telling me I'm a piece of crap and need to scrap who I am and start over.

Not everyone is like me though, some people react better to tough love.


There's a big difference between feedback from beta readers/writing groups and feedback from reviews. It's fine for you to ask for critiques on your WIP calibrated to the thickness of your skin. Once you're published, though, it's out there and reviews aren't meant to help you.

James D. Macdonald
08-04-2012, 12:21 AM
I have children, and I have books.

I have no difficulty whatever in telling the difference.

My books are articles of commerce. My kids ... not so much.

Filigree
08-04-2012, 12:46 AM
I like my art. I like my books. I'm well aware I've lots of room for improvement in both. Critical reviews help me refine areas where I need the most help. I don't enjoy them, but they're ultimately better for me than a party of squees and gladhanding.

It took a lot of time in commercial art to gain my emotional distance. I'm still learning how to do that with my writing.

Jericho, you're correct to snarl a bit. What you describe isn't tough love, it's catty laziness from the reviewer. Being told your work is 'crap' without any specific solutions to improve it is not a valid critique. I *never* take critiques that vague seriously. If critics cannot frame logical arguments and solutions, I don't think they're qualified to direct my efforts. Likewise, if a critique reveals a lack of reading ability and comprehension upon the reader's part, that isn't my problem.

Miss Plum
08-04-2012, 12:46 AM
I am more willing to change for a person who gently shows me the way, as opposed to someone telling me I'm a piece of crap and need to scrap who I am and start over.

You know, there are alternatives. Areas in between "You're a piece of crap and you need to destroy yourself and start all over from scratch" and "This manuscript is perfect as is."

Also, I'd suggest you read the article.

ETA: Filigree, I get the distinct impression that no one has ever actually told Jericho that he/she or his/her books are "crap." I think this is Jericho's interpretation of honest criticism.

Jericho McKraven
08-04-2012, 12:56 AM
HA HA! I am the one jerk here basing my comments off of nothing. I most definitely will read the article ASAP thanks!

Filigree
08-04-2012, 03:06 AM
Sigh.

Jericho, I was trying to be supportive. I wanted to give your comments the benefit of doubt, from the perspective of having my own ego stomped many times over the years. I had no idea whether you were actually told your work was crap, or if Miss Plum was right and you were reacting to criticism.

I have substantially less doubt now.

In a way, this series of posts points out the OP's original thought, that the niceness epidemic is crippling honest discourse online because too many participants cannot separate themselves from their work.

Stacia Kane
08-04-2012, 04:56 AM
Jericho, everyone has that "Well, you're obviously an idiot," feeling when they get critical feedback. AT FIRST. We do learn to put aside our feelings and see what if anything there is of use in there, and with time we learn the difference.

And honestly? I think it's fair to say that at least most of us have that reaction when we see negative reviews as well. And that's okay. It's okay to think it. It's okay to feel bad. It's just not okay to publicly express those thoughts or feelings, or attempt to "rebut" the review, or whatever else. But you are absolutely entitled to privately whine to your best friend or have a drink or curl up in bed with the remote or whatever else.

I compared reviews to the dating scene once on my blog, and I think that holds here, too. No one says it's not okay to feel hurt or rejected when you meet somebody you find attractive and they don't feel the same, so why is it not okay to feel that way with reviews? Of course you feel hurt and rejected when somebody you like doesn't like you. And of course you *may* feel hurt and rejected when someone doesn't like your book. Again, it's okay to feel whatever you want. It's okay to think, "Well, too bad for you." It's okay to think "Obviously you don't like good books," just like it's okay to think that the guy/girl who doesn't want to go out with you obviously has bad taste in the opposite sex. Feelings are okay.

It's just not okay to publicly express that. It's not okay to attack the reviewer or try to game the votes on their review or get your friends to jump in or whatever else. It's not okay to turn around to a beta reader or critiquer who's taken the time to offer feedback and tell them they're idiots. You can think it, after careful consideration of their comments, sure. I think all of us have at one time another gotten some crit/beta comments that have made us think, "WTF did you read?" or "Yeah, you're right, the hero is obviously not realistic because he likes football and everyone knows all blond men hate football" or whatever. I once saw someone discuss a crit comment where the critter didn't feel the male MC's anger was realistic because he was "a CEO and CEOs are cold and unfeeling." You can't take anything useful from a comment like that except that some people just have weird unshakable prejudices and you have to just ignore them. They're not your audience anyway. So I guess really even the silliest crit comment teaches you something, even if it's just that you can't please everyone. :)

Not everyone feels that way about negative reviews. That's okay too. Personally, some sting a little and some don't. I rarely see them; I don't go looking for them. But hell, I had someone approach me on Twitter directly--go out of their way to do so--to tell me the problems they had with one of my books. It didn't make me cry or anything and s/he had every right to say it and it didn't make me automatically think s/he is a jerk or anything, and I'd forgotten about it an hour later and just remembered now since I'm talking about the subject, but I didn't exactly read that and think, "Oh, good! Thanks for letting me know! Ha ha!" It didn't make me feel good, is the point. But you keep that private. You don't express it publicly.

You lick your wounds in private and you soldier on with a smile on your face. Like I said, in that respect even the most nonsensical crits teach you something.

The point here is, you're obviously new. New to writing and new to AW. try to relax a little. Get used to it all. We want to help you and get to know you. try to remember that. Try also to remember that lots of us have been here for a long time and AW has kind of its own culture, and it might take you a little bit of time to "read" it. But that doesn't mean you won't. I know you see your comments in the proper light, but we don't know you, so we can't read your tone or know exactly what you're talking about. Try to give us a bit of the benefit of the doubt, okay, and we'll do the same. You're welcome here. You don't need to come out swinging, as it were; take your time. :)

Unimportant
08-04-2012, 05:08 AM
I am definitely attached to my work. It is a part of me, I have been pouring my heart and soul into it for so long, if someone read it and told me it was awful and needed desperately to be revised, I would be hurt. I would feel like the person was attacking me and telling me I was awful and needed to change.
The thing authors need to remember is that when a reviewer criticises a book, the reviewer is not criticising the author as a person. They are criticising a collection of words on a page. That's all.

If my wife tells me "Hon, your latest story is just utter, complete crap and doesn't work from start to finish", it means that those few thousand words simply are not conveying an entertaining experience for the reader. It does not mean she likes or loves me any less, and it has nothing to do with how well I cook or how smart I am or how well I drive a car or how nice of a person I am or whether these pants make my butt look big.

People on Amazon are always saying they hated a toy that didn't look like the picture on the cover, or a toaster that burnt out after three days, or a pair of shoes that gave them blisters. They are not making a personal attack on the shoe designer or the toaster-maker. Same with book reviews.

Libbie
08-04-2012, 09:39 AM
Goodreads, the most popular book reviewing site on the web, is built on a social media framework. The very design of the site encourages and rewards praise. There is no Dislike or Thumbs Down button. You can either agree with the positivity or be silent.

It's a brave, scary new world of Pollyannaism.

Somebody has no doubt already brought this up, but in case they haven't...that's not true. I've seen some heated discussions in the comments section of reviews. True, there is no "dislike" button, but that doesn't stop people from publicly disliking.

Perhaps because I tend to follow the snarky reviewers whose .gif-riddled reviews crack me up and keep me awake at my until-2-a.m. job, but I see Goodreads as one of the most sarcastic places on the internet, and THE place for truly honest reviews. But I suppose that does depend on the reviewers you follow.

I certainly do not hold back my honest opinions on Goodreads, and that includes extreme exasperation, disappointment, disgust, or rage. Along with the good feelings, when warranted.

bearilou
08-04-2012, 04:37 PM
Serious case of deja vu here.

I remember this same sort of discussion being made about fanfiction many years back. Same sort of behavior as well.

JSSchley
08-04-2012, 06:48 PM
Serious case of deja vu here.

I remember this same sort of discussion being made about fanfiction many years back. Same sort of behavior as well.

I don't think that's an invalid comparison at all. In fact, Cyia blogged about this (http://josinlmcquein.blogspot.com/2012/04/novels-vs-fanfiction.html) (publishing becoming more like fandom) some months ago, and it's stuck in my brain ever since. I don't even think I commented on it, but good god have I thought about it.

bearilou
08-04-2012, 07:02 PM
I don't think that's an invalid comparison at all. In fact, Cyia blogged about this (http://josinlmcquein.blogspot.com/2012/04/novels-vs-fanfiction.html) (publishing becoming more like fandom) some months ago, and it's stuck in my brain ever since. I don't even think I commented on it, but good god have I thought about it.

So glad I'm not the only one who is seeing this starting to spill over. Maybe it's just the influx of so many writers, maybe it's due to how easy it is to set up blogs these days (I remember the day when you signed up for angelfire and geocities, slogging uphill both ways in snow with no shoes...*sits in rocker and reminisces*), maybe the ease of self-publishing...could be a combination of anything but the fact remains that more and more I see these authors behaving badly and am hearkened back to the fanfic author flamewars of yore...because they're sure not behaving any differently now.

...in other news, Cyia is really cute! *beeps her nose*