Friday, March 4, 2011

readers' rights: my pledge

I've been stewing over this for about a week, trying not to get all ranty. Then I read Janni Lee Simner's call to action, and had (yay!) permission to rant.
(A good link roundup on YA Highway here , including a link to Zoe Marriott's fine post on the insecurity that makes writers vulnerable)

As I've said, repeatedly and recently, I was a reader before I was a writer. I'm still a reader. If some wicked fate forced me to choose, I'd weep and wail and hammer the walls... then choose reading.
Something you learn, hanging out with readers, whether in person or online, is that tastes differ. The book one person thrusts into your hands promising that it will Change Your Life is the book someone else gets three pages into and gives up on. The protagonist who is one reader's ideal lover is another's pretentious git who needs smacking hard.
The internet has made it a lot easier to have entertaining, spirited (yet usually civil) discussions about books with people whose perspectives are quite different from mine, and to read reviews of books I might never have known about, reviewed by people who are insightful, funny, and sometimes snarky.
Which means I am not thrilled by the chilling effect of recent tweets and posts suggesting that Negative Reviews Will Be Held Against You (Caps of Portentiousness, found in all the best fantasy novels). At present I find it doubtful that I'll be asked to blurb someone else's books, but I sincerely hope that any blurbing I do would be based on what I thought of the actual book, not whether the author reviewed mine.

Anyway, presently I have no influence, to raise or to crush. I hope I would never want to crush someone for being passionately engaged with books, or for bringing the snark. So here's the little that I can do against the chill:

My Pledge of Readers' Rights
If my books are sold and published, and people I've never met read them, I hereby admit the following rights to any and all such readers:

1) The right to not like my book, and to think it is crap.
2) The right to stop reading and to judge my whole book on howeverlittle you read.
3) The right to completely miss my point.
4) The right to dislike any of my characters, even based on a partial or inaccurate reading.
5) The right to dislike my prose style and to quibble with my word choices.
6) The right to find fault with my plotting, worldbuilding, or other big-picture aspects.
7) The right to share these opinions in person, twitter, blog post or other social media as they appear.
8) Other rights that seem good and reasonable and occur to me later.

I do not grant to the reader the right to make me change something already published.

I have the responsibility to act like an adult.
That is, the responsibility to listen to criticism with attention, using my own critical faculties to find what's useful and what's not (just as I would with a workshop critique).
That is, the responsibility to not hold grudges or look for ways to do down someone who doesn't like my writing however they express it.
I was tempted to weasel here, to say something about tone, about even-handedness, but given that writers generically want nothing but praise, in bucketloads, even-handedness is way too difficult to quantify. As a reader, you have a perfect right to think that anything I've written is a load of crap and to say so, in those words or similar.

I retain the right to bitch in private to my friends about how you completely missed my point, dear god do these people have no reading skills at all?

To which I set my hand and seal, this fourth day of March 2011, when I should be finishing my revisions and not blathering online.


Terri-Lynne said...

As always, brilliant, funny, and completely RIGHT!

I love this. Thanks, B. I too sign and affix my seal to this pledge!

Danielle said...

Heartening post! As I have noted elsewhere, books by their very nature invite dialogue. Reviews, evaluations, opinion posts, critiques, grades, etc. are simply one half of that dialogue. Like other forms of art, books thrive on discussion and wither without it. Criticism may sting, but what is undiscriminating flattery except artificial life support?

I do think the dialogue should extend both ways, however. If a writer wishes to comment on a review of his or her book, s/she should be allowed the courtesy to do so without being excoriated simply for expressing a counter-opinion or offering a rebuttal. This does not seem to be a popular view among book bloggers, though.

Sharon Needles said...

*sustained applause* Well said, as usual, madame!

I hope I can remember this if and when the time comes, and so perhaps I should print it off and hang it over my computer desk.

Yesterday, I finally submitted The Sleepy Teepee to the publisher. Now begins the waiting.

batgirl said...

Yay! We shall join a groundswell of sane authors (well, sane in some ways).

batgirl said...

You submitted? Yahoo! Sparkles!
Which one?

Sharon Needles said...

The Sleepy Teepee went to Broadview Books(?) which I understand is a subsidiary or somehow connected to NeWest.

Now I thihnk I'll explore the ever-popular vampire genre, which will require me to research the resurrection men of the early 1800s.

batgirl said...

I did some research on them - you know, I guess, that children's corpses were so much per foot, and that teeth were sold separately?

I've got a book called The Italian Boy about a famous case of murder for body snatching, if you want to borrow that sometime.

Sharon Needles said...

I knew about the teeth, but not the "body by the foot" business. That's ultra creepy.

Incidentally, I was quite incorrect with the name of the publisher to whom I have submitted The Sleepy Teepee. It is Freehand Press.

I have no idea where the hell "Broadview" came from.

batgirl said...

Because Freehand Books is owned by Broadview Press?

batgirl said...

Hi Danielle - I just found your comment in my spambox (no idea how it got there).
That's a good point you raise, and one I've been mulling over (maybe needs another blogpost?). The old wisdom was that responding to a review is so unwise that it was named ABM, Author's Big Mistake. But the advent of book-blogging, which is essentially (as you say) a dialogue rather than a Diktat, changes the situation _somewhat_.
It's still unclear what the author's place is in the dialogue between readers.
(stopping now before I turn this comment into my blog post...)