[Or: I’m having a bit of a grumble, as insomnia keeps me awake in the wee hours…]
A courageously anonymous commenter has got me thinking about this whole blogging lark. Specifically, the idea of bloggers being “professional” or, more commonly, “unprofessional” when their opinion doesn’t conform to your own. I’ve also been thinking more about the comment Anne Rice made on Facebook, and which I in turn commented on earlier in the week, about the power of reviewers.
I have been reviewing things I loved (and some things I loathed or felt indifferent about) since before blogs really were a thing. I used to print a monthly music magazine when I was in university – interestingly, its name, MWRI, is a Terry Pratchett reference (“Music With Rocks In”, from the excellent Soul Music). It was a fanzine. It took a lot of work, cajoling, personal expense, and printer cartridges to get noticed by record labels and, eventually, to receive free advance albums, gig tickets, and interview opportunities. Then I discovered Blogger, and eventually blogs became a Thing. They Arrived. Record labels, publishers, and more took notice. Some blogs, the busier and earlier ones, have massive followings relative to their newer peers (I don’t like using the term “competitors”).
But. I think, perhaps self-deprecatingly or -consciously, newer blogs (especially since the explosion in numbers) have impact collectively rather than individually. Largely, this is because much of our readership is comprised of the choir to which we preach. I think this is good. It generates debate, discussion, and it can create change – or, at the very least, disseminate change-making ideas and opinions.
This is how review blogs have value: collectively, they paint a picture of how a novel, album, movie, TV series, or who-knows-what-else is received from a diverse cross-section of the reading/viewing/consuming public. I do not believe a single blog review can have a massive impact on a novel’s or album’s success. Newspapers and magazines, however, can have a great impact on whether or not a novel can be a success or not – or, perhaps, if it can become a mega-seller or phenomenon, etc. (Not exclusively, of course, as there are plenty of examples of word-of-mouth successes.) There is, I believe a good reason for individual blogs not having as much impact as some people seem to think.
That relates, in part, to the idea of “professionalism”. I don’t know of any blogger who considers themselves a professional reviewer, unless they also contribute to syndicated columns, or outfits with money behind them (national newspapers and the like). Above all, bloggers do what they do because they are fans. Fans of a genre, or a particular media, or even a particular author/artist/director/or whatever. We come from all walks of life – academics, government employees, techies, teachers, bricklayers, accountants, even writers and other creative types, to name but a few. I don’t think any (ok, just to be careful, many) would consider ourselves anything other than fans, who want to write about and discuss their passions. This indicates a level of non-professionalism, which may (in my opinion) reduce the level of impact we can have on an individual basis.
The “amateur” status of blogs, therefore, should always be remembered. If a blogger, on their personal blog, writes something about a book, movie, album, or whatever that they didn’t like, or were unable to finish because it was in some way flawed in their opinion, then... Well, it’s their right to do so. To do so is by no means “wrong” or “unprofessional”. It is their opinion. There is probably nothing that irritates reviewers more than anonymous commenters who “concede” that we “have the right to our opinion”, only to then attempt the internet equivalent of a bitch-slap.
It shows a stunning lack of impulse control, arrogance that we need their permission to write what we want on the internet, and a strange belief that we seem to have great power. Which we do not. Nor do we believe we do, on an individual basis. (At least, I hope not...)
Are there “unprofessional” things a blogger can,do? Certainly. Lying, for example. Or misquoting, misattributing, and plagiarising. These are more unethical, though, and are wrong in every walk of life and not just professional environments.
That being said, after you’ve been around long enough, and assuming you’re not a complete asshole or troll (or both), you’ll acquire something of a readership. Whether it’s massive or miniscule, you develop a belief in what your readers want. Mostly, in my experience, they want honesty, regardless of what that honesty is. Don’t like a book? They’d rather you wrote that, instead of lying or dissembling, just to keep in with the cool kids, avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or avoid pissing off publishers just so you can stay on their review lists. People can smell bullshit a mile off. It doesn’t wash.
Now, those hard truths also have to be backed up. If you just spend a post slagging off a writer or their work, but never give a coherent reason, then you’ll probably be written off as a crazy lunatic troll. Rightly so. But, if you state an opinion, explain why you reached that opinion (with some allowance for hyperbole in both negative and positive situations), then you’ve done what your review is supposed to do. No reviewer owes readers, writers, publishers any more than their honest opinion. That’s it. And nobody has any justification to pick up a loudhailer, or hit the CapsLock and scream (anonymously) YOU’RE WRONG MOTHERFUCKER YOU DESERVE TO BURN IN HELL BECAUSE THE VOICES TOLD ME SO! That shit will just make people pity you. Or, if you keep hammering away at it in repeated comments, we might think you’re actually the author, a member of the author’s family, or someone connected to their publisher... Which is most likely not the case. But we’re suspicious bastards, and there are plenty of instances of it actually being true…
Someone said on Twitter that this sort of behaviour would make them boycott an author, if their fans acted this way. I don’t think this is a good idea. I think no book can truly be judged from a review (despite some reviewers’ exceptional writing abilities and talent). And certainly no author should be punished for a single fan’s... exuberance. By definition, every review is suspect: they are opinionated, bias, flawed. Many have stated agendas (some bizarre, most understandable and/or rational). But they are pure opinion.
A reviewer who believes s/he has written the definitive word on a novel, album, or movie displays a towering, misplaced arrogance. Thankfully, I believe the vast majority recognise that we are each just one of a cacophony of voices attempting to be heard (some try much harder than others) over the even greater (perhaps greatest) cacophony that is the internet.
So yeah. Let’s all learn that “disagrees with me” is not the same as “unprofessional”. Because really all you’re doing by throwing that accusation around is proving that you’re illiterate. Or connected to the person who created whatever’s being reviewed. Or off your meds.
So just knock it off, engage the filter, and exercise some self-control. You’re giving Anonymous people a bad name everywhere.