On Friday the author and blogger, Matt Haig, tweeted
There is too much POSITIVITY in the book world. Esp in book blogs and on YouTube. Books can’t ALL be good, can they?
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) October 31, 2014
There then followed a twitter storm that lasted several days.
Some agreed with the points he subsequently made, some disagreed. There was much vehemence and a fair few hurt feelings on show. From what Matt said he also received some disturbing private messages. We all know that social media can turn nasty.
I followed the debate with interest and felt personally affronted by two strands:
- There was a suggestion that some book bloggers simply wish to receive free books.
- There was a suggestion that bloggers promote books without discernment.
I put a lot of time and effort into reading and then writing honest reviews. I do it because I love books and I want to talk about them, to share my opinions with like minded others. When I enjoy a book I want to support that author in whatever way I can.
From the discussion there was a suggestion of disparagement.
It is obviously true that writing a book takes a great deal more effort than reading it and then writing a review, but that was not the main point of this discussion.
What really grabbed my attention was the original topic, that authors do not value reviews if they are always positive, that they want to see some negative reviews of their work.
We need a critical culture in books. We need for people to be able to say what they want about a book, for a healthy book culture.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) November 1, 2014
This has not been my experience so I weighed in.
I started to follow this twitter storm because personally I provide my honest opinion of a book and sometimes that is negative. Negative reviews are much harder to constructively create than positive and that effort then gets ignored. Publicists and authors are not going to promote an opinion of their book that is less than enthusiastic.
Another author came back to me with this:
I rarely hate a book (such a strong word) but I did empathise with the hurt. I have been there, facing up to criticism of my carefully crafted words. It does not feel good.
It is understandable that authors want the fruits of their extensive labours to be well received. To try to argue that authors want to see negative reviews though? Hmm.
One of the books that I read recently did not impress me. The plot was compelling but a good book requires more: a captivating writing style, comprehensible structure, convincing character development, readability, realism. I gave my opinion and the review sank to the bottom of my blog.
The author subsequently released a sequel and, curious to know how the plot continued, I requested a copy for review. I was refused. Rather than ignore me the author was kind enough to explain that, as I had not appeared to enjoy the first book, she felt that I was unlikely to enjoy the second. She also provided some constructive criticism of my reviewing style which I have since taken on board.
This author saw no point in submitting a book for review if the review was likely to be negative. To me this made sense. Negative reviews are not going to be used by publicists so why provide a free book?
Another thread in the Matt Haig twitter storm discussed the fact that book bloggers only want to read books that they will enjoy.
@SavidgeReads So what then is the point of reviewing, if you know in advance you’ll like a book?
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) October 31, 2014
Before reading a book a reviewer cannot know exactly what it will be like. However, from the blurb there are certain types of book that I will never request (for me these include light romance or erotica). There are plenty who choose to read these genres but I do not. Life is short. Why spend time reading a book that is unlikely to appeal in order to write a review that is likely to be negative and will therefore be ignored?
Another thread bemoaned the book bloggers who endlessly promote books. Guys, this is why we do it! If I love a book then I will shout it from the rooftops, again and again. I only truly love a handful of the dozens of books that I read but as I tend to review a lot of books by less well known authors I want to play whatever small part I can in getting them noticed by a wider audience.
Matt sounded a little down about many of the comments made in response to his tweets. He wrote this blog post to clarify his thoughts: A blog about blogging.
At the end of the day a book review is the opinion of one reader. Writers tend to be sensitive souls who want their creations to be loved. Not all books are good, and no book is going to be considered good by everyone.
Matt, I see what you were trying to say but there was too much in this discussion that I could not agree with. Authors may want to see more negative reviews, but not it would appear of their own books.
A well written review, positive or negative, can be useful and that is why they are read. As Joanne Harris tweeted: