From what I can discern, because newspapers and literary review journals have never, ever, taken the romance genre seriously enough to review any of the books, except very grudgingly and with much disdain, the genre, up until the past five to ten years, hasn't been subject to the same kind of critical scrutiny as has, say, literary fiction.
RT magazine (and maybe others?) filled in the gap that this snobbery created, but they're generally known to be gentle in their reviews, never issuing the kind of blistering criticism that so often hits books reviewed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, the NYT and other major newspapers, or even Library Journal. Yes, RT likes some books more than others and a great review there is a big deal, but they rarely tear books to shreds.
Then the internet, and particularly the one-button-publishing of blogs, came along and changed everything. Several new sites emerged to specialize in reviewing romance. Today there are many.
And from what I can tell, the vast majority of these review sites are also pretty soft on the books. Gentle. Perhaps it's because we're 99.9% women. Perhaps it's because the genre already takes such a beating in the public eye, that the reviewers figure criticizing a romance novel is tantamount to criticizing the genre they love. But for whatever reasons, reviewers on many of these sites seem to like virtually everything they read, or at least only review the ones that they like. Or find benign things to say about the ones they don't.
That's fine, if that's what they choose to do. Everyone who has a blog, or magazine, or newsletter or column, or other venue to express their opinions, is free to do so. As an aspiring author, I've chosen to avoid reviewing books, full stop, rarely do it, because I don't want friends to think that because I didn't review their book, I didn't like it. (Okay, I've actually chosen to avoid reviewing books because I'm lazy. And have no aspirations to be a book reviewer. Not my thing. Except maybe while drinking with Molly and Sinead.)
But what I don't understand, or agree with, is the backlash against a few review sites, most notably the ones which are hard on books they don't like, (like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Mrs. Giggles) -- the sites where reviewers speak their opinions clearly and honestly and often with humor.
Why all the hate for these sites, as if they're doing something evil or mean? Why accuse them of attacking authors when they're simply describing why they did not enjoy a some authors' books? (Perhaps it's the humor people object too? Don't know.) And it doesn't take more than a moment on theses sites to know they LOVE the genre and LOVE some books in it. Just not every one.
Writing is very a personal process, but publishing decidedly is not. Nor is reviewing. It's not personal. Reviewers are not attacking you if they don't like your book.
As Smart Bitch Sarah said, when she visited our blog a few weeks ago and we asked her and Candy about the controversy their blog sometimes generates:
“...saying I disagree with you” very rarely means “I don’t like you,” nor does it mean “You’re wrong and I’m right.” “I disagree” are not words upon which to detonate massive bombs and shit. ... “I didn’t enjoy your book” does not mean “I deplore the fact that you’re breathing.”Almost all writers endure tons of rejection and criticism on their way to becoming published authors. I don't get why authors can't take a little criticism after they are published. Sure, it's slightly more public than the criticism they've likely had to that point, but that's because their book is now public -- a good thing.
I've discussed this with a few people before, and was aware that there was a school of thought amongst certain romance authors that some romance review websites were "too mean", but I was appalled this week, to read Michelle Buonfiglio's transcript of an address she gave at an academic conference on romance, held at Princeton. The thesis of her address seemed to be that open honest discussion of the genre was only okay if it was "nice". Not only did she suggest that academics might look to blogs to do research on the genre (ridiculous enough in itself) but that they should only look at HER blog, because everyone posting there was nice (as opposed to her competitors' sites that were mean.
Her arguments fed into so many stereotypes about the romance genre, and the women who write and read it, that it made me embarrassed to be associated with the genre. I'm not even going to link to the transcript of her talk... but will link to the Sarah Wendell's smart response. She linked to the address if you're interested.
And here's what I think.
I don't believe in mean for the sake of being mean. Not at all. But criticism makes us stronger. Criticism makes us better. And even if we're incapable of learning from it, criticism is part of the entertainment business. Anyone who produces work intended to entertain the public -- whether they be writers or musicians or actors or poets or supermodels -- is subject to public scrutiny of their work. Putting your shit out there, means risking some people telling you it doesn't smell as nice as you think it does. Comes with the territory. If you don't want to get a negative review? Don't publish your books.
Will I jump for joy when I get a horrible review some day? No. I'm not that emotionally evolved. I'll probably crumple up into a little ball and cry, and then go get drunk with my friends to talk about how wrong the review was, maybe burn the reviewer in effigy. But then I'll get over it and either thank the reviewer for taking the time to look at my work, and/or I'll try not to think about it ever again. Even if I can't erase it from my mind, I'll know it's part of the business, suck it up, and move on.
And I'll act like a grown up and simply be glad at least someone read and mentioned my book.