Being a good literary citizen

future_books5I love reading about the careers of authors; the behind the scenes parts of the stories that aren’t bound in a pretty cover. Something I particularly enjoy learning about is how readers and writers are part of a community, and how they can support each other. I loved this post by Hugh Howey, that clearly navigates the confusing world of ebooks, what authors get out of it (honestly I feel guilt ridden whenever I buy a novel for $9 because how can an artist live on that?), and how to best support them. I really loved this post by Walter Mason about ways to be a good literary citizen. Spoilers: both posts suggest reading, reviewing, recommending novels is a key plank in the community. Who would have thought?

I feel so strongly about this dialogue. It’s why I review books, after all. Partially to share my passion for what I’m reading, but also because I feel how much of the act of writing occurs alone. Years of work, some of it exciting, a lot of it dull, very many “how’s the novel going?” questions that are difficult to answer because, like birthing anything, it isn’t always easy, often it’s painful, sometimes the novel is like a recalcitrant teenager and the less said about it the better.  Then years later it’s out there, in the world. And who knows what the world might think of it. I can imagine how heartbreaking, how anticlimactic, it would be to hear nothing but silence. I write reviews because there are so many beautiful pieces of writing released into the world, even the ones that aren’t lauded in national papers, that are iridescent treasures, or sometimes like taking a can opener to your brain, so rare and almost better because they feel like a secret that only you know about. Someone needs to tell the world about them. Even if it’s just these little whispers in this quiet corner of the internet.

But then. Recently I’ve picked up some novels through Net Galley and review requests that I haven’t especially loved. I even couldn’t finish one of them. So I hesitated to review it. Every time I review a novel with anything less than gushing praise I put myself in the author’s shoes. I think of the reviews I one day may request. I cringe and mince my words and find positives and negatives and consider readers who aren’t me, whose perspective I can never know. Should I bother? Should I just email those authors back and suggest that my review may not be what they want to hear? And then, what do I get out of reviewing? Satisfaction, I suppose. Reviewer and writer Damien Walter recently posted that he will begin to write paid reviews at his site. His post is a evaluation of the ethics of the issue and I trust that he will find a way to make it work both for readers and authors. But it still makes me uncomfortable. And what of the authors who’d pay for reviews? Thorny issues abound.

So many changes in the industry, proliferation of content, of platforms, who knows how artists, writers and reviewers will make the best out of it. I drove by Planet Books today and noticed the empire continues to thrive having rebranded slightly to focus on books, movies, music. Who would have predicted that books would outlive CD sales and movie hire? (Me. I would. But no-one asks me.) I renewed my magazine subscriptions recently, not just to Bitch Media,  long term favourite, but to Kill Your Darlings and Overland. There’s something wonderfully old school about getting fresh writing, hard copy, delivered by snail mail. How can you not love it? And that investment surely means the future is solid for writers, those writers whose novels I devour, and myself.

How do you participate in the literary community? How would you like to see readers, writers and publishers engage with each other? Should I write negative reviews?

About Rachel Watts

I am a writer from Perth, Western Australia. My speculative fiction novella Survival will be released in early 2018. View all posts by Rachel Watts

2 responses to “Being a good literary citizen

  • ambfoxx

    I recently struggled to finish a book I thought was dreadful. For a review, I posted “Sent comments to the author. Decided not to review.” People may conclude whatever they want from that. I did it because I could see a potential public brouhaha with that particular author after I sent the review to her (pre-posting), and she replied with a rebuttal of everything I’d said–and a request to please send her a list of all the typos so she could fix them. I had better things to do than engage with her–or re-read her book looking for all the errors. I don’t usually finish books I dislike that strongly, and every time I do, I regret both the time I put into reading it and the time I spend struggling to write a review that is tactful and yet unfavorable. I think potential readers of a poorly written book need some thoughtful reviews to give them perspective on what they are considering buying, and yet I can’t encourage you to go through the stress of writing these negative reviews.

    As for participating in a literary community, I review books, discuss books with other readers online and in a book club, and I buy books. Sometimes I think that the act of simply buying a book is overlooked as kind of support for writing and creativity.


    • leatherboundpounds

      Wow, I’m really surprised an author responded to you with an argument. That’s one of the fears I have, that and being told I just didn’t understand what the author was trying to do. Ultimately reviews are opinions, they can’t be wrong, right? I have had someone respond to a review saying she was thinking of reading it but now wouldn’t bother. I felt bad for the author but at the same time I don’t want to trick people into buying a book that I myself didn’t pay for and didn’t enjoy by giving it an artificially inflated review.

      And I agree with you on buying books being not the be all and end all. Really it’s the minimum you can do, right?


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