On January 30, author Elizabeth Bear tweeted what she apparently thought was uncontroversial general knowledge: that it’s unforgivably rude behavior for a reviewer to tag an author in a review:
To be very clear, Bear does mean ANY review. While it’s common knowledge among book reviewers that, of course, it’s obnoxious to tag someone in a negative review, Bear elaborated that she (and supposedly “most” authors) do not want to be tagged in explicitly positive reviews. She even stated she disliked being tagged in completely neutral tweets that say things like, “I just bought TITLE by AUTHOR!” or “I just started reading TITLE by AUTHOR!”
This has confused and upset a number of reviewers who are now worried that they have inadvertently offended or hurt authors while they were trying to be nice to them and indicate they enjoyed their book. It has also confused a number of authors, particularly indie, debut, or smaller authors who may be more reliant on good reviews and word of mouth marketing than bestselling authors.
Ultimately, however, I think at least part of this discussion is coming down to a disconnect over why authors think reviewers are tagging them and why reviewers think they are tagging the authors.
Acknowledgement and Engagement? Or Sharing Bookish Love and Publicity?
One of Bear’s key objections is that she feels obligated to engage with people when they tag her on Twitter, no matter what it is they’re saying to her, and that makes her uncomfortable. While this is reasonable in the sense that authors are frequently instructed not to read reviews of their books (and avoiding all reviews, whether positive or negative can be a useful approach), she–and again apparently other authors–do not want to feel pressured to engage at all with any comment about their books whatsoever. They don’t want to look as if they either agree or disagree with the bookish opinion or debate whether they should like, retweet, reply or do none of the above.
Other authors, most notably Neil Gaiman, make the argument that it’s easy enough for them to search for reviews if they decide they care for reviewers’ opinions, so there’s no point in tagging them (again in either a positive or negative review).
Both these arguments–that authors are pressured to engage and that authors are pressured to read the reviews that they tagged in tweets about–seem to me to NOT be the reason most reviewers are actually tagging authors, however.
Personally, I rarely tag authors in reviews at all, partially because I want to be sure that review is 100% positive if I do and partially because it just…doesn’t really occur to me. However, when I do tag authors, I know that I am 1) not respecting any sort of response from the author and 2) not expecting them to actually click the link to the review and read the review.
When I tag an author, I’m doing a combination of two things: 1) giving the author a general heads-up that I liked the book enough to write a positive review and share my love of the book with others and 2) telling MY readers where they can check out the author’s online presence and maybe learn more about them and their work or even follow their Twitter account. That is, I’m not actually pointing the author to the review or expecting them to read it; I’m trying to make a more generic statement that I liked that book. And I’m trying to give the author some free marketing and publicity.
Assuming that many bloggers are thinking the way I do, it’s easy to see why this conversation has blown up on Twitter. Bloggers (as well as Booktubers, Bookstagrammers, and other reviewers) are putting out content, doing free marketing, and trying to tell authors they like their books…and apparently some authors are offended by this. It’s clear why that would be demoralizing.
So, while the dialogue has mostly been centered on whether authors do or do not like being tagged in even positive reviews or generally neutral mentions of their books, I think it’s worth talking about the different reasons reviewers are tagging authors in the first place–and whether this aligns with why authors think reviewers are tagging them. If not, getting everyone on the same page could be useful.