I saw this post over at the Emerald City Blog and got a bit pissed off even though it doesn’t really apply to me. It all begins with this passage from a review over at Strange Horizons:
Just like everyone else, I am rather suspicious of hype. As soon as I hear something is the best new thing ever I start to wonder what's wrong with it. Sometimes, as in the case of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the praise seems warranted. Far more often I want to know how the reviewer was bribed to tell me such lies. Which brings me to The Lies of Locke Lamora, a book awash in buildup. There's a movie deal and already a fair number of foreign rights deals, and the buzz surrounding it seems determined to convince us that it will be a best-selling novel.
Now, on the surface this just seems to be an attempt to be clever in saying that hype is troublesome – not a stance I disagree with. However the bit in the middle about reviewers being bribed and telling lies is the real kicker. First, the implication is that reviewers are unethical and profiting significantly from the reviews they write; then it says that if the opinion of a reviewer differs from their own, it must be a lie (insinuating that there are clear right and wrong opinions about books). Wow, need more be said about how unfortunate and ridiculous this is?
Of course there are probably a few exceptions where these very things are happening. But to be so broad in implicating pretty much every on-line reviewer is disgusting.
I think the temptation to write for your reviewers is a peril that every author faces. Since reviewers are not typical readers, succumbing to this temptation means writing for people with very specialized expectations. I actually think this is a very profound cultural disease, one which has lead to the degradation of spectacle as a literary category, and thus to the effective segregation of thoughtfulness and mass appeal. Here in North America at least, literary culture trains those with the desire to challenge readers to talk amongst themselves - or in other words, to write for people who have the least to gain from being challenged. They pilfer all the talent, then call popular culture dreck. Then, rather than acknowledge their own institutional role, they blame it all on the evil corporations, even though the human fascination for spectacle predates General Electric by the length of recorded history. After all, something must be preventing the masses from coming to them and to their status-preserving preference for the mundane.
There seems to be a bit of this attitude evident in the statments above.
Now, there is this blog talking about all the money being made when reviewers link/promote books they review with links to Amazon. You may have noticed that the books here at this blog have these links. I have a rather small audience around here and I’m certainly not a well-known reviewer or critic that’s receiving ARC’s and the like (though, I’d like it if I did – hint). So, while I’m not exactly the target of these types of statements, it still grazes me enough to be insulting.
For those curious about the rewards I’m bringing in from all those Amazon links, I’ve had a total of 12 books purchased through those links, of which I bought 11. This works out to just about $11, keeping in mind that most of that money was my own anyway. While I’m sure that other, more popular and respected reviewers out there make more money than this, I’m also confident that they are not exactly breaking the bank on this. In fact, I’d bet that the vast majority don’t even come close to breaking even if you consider how much time and effort they put into create the links and such in the first place.
So, if you think that someone like me is profiting with this blog, keep taking those drugs and consider marketing them to others. If you like a book and plan on buying it, consider clicking on link from here – I just might get enough money out of it to afford half a book this year.
So, now I will quietly wait for my bribe money.
EDIT: The author of the review I mention from Strange Horizons has responded to her word choice here.