Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Meeting Other People’s Expectations… [A Response]

Over on his website, Abhinav (a great fellow who I have got to know as a reviewer and friend these past couple of years) has written another good post about reviewing and being a part of the online book community. I agree with most of the piece. There was, however, one comment he made that I have long had issue with – he is by no means the only person to have articulated it, but he was the latest to use it. It is also something I think needs to be addressed (and, hopefully, purged from reviewers’ and prospective reviewers’ minds…)

The comment in question:

“You often have to meet people’s expectations of what you should and should not be reading, reviewing, discussing, and so on. I’ve gone through this several times, and is something I’ve blogged on about as well. Because we put ourselves on a pedestal, it gives people the license to call us out. I’ve seen plenty of cases, personally and second-hand, where these instances have gotten out of hand. Not a fun thing to deal with.” [Emphasis mine.]

The text in bold I disagree with. Not because bloggers and reviewers don’t think this, but because they really shouldn’t think this, or approach their blog through other people’s expectations.


See, Shakespeare knew what he was about.
[Image shamelessly pinched from Abhinav’s post…]

A blogger should not review/cover books they think they SHOULD cover. It should only ever be what they WANT to cover. It happens, certainly, that bloggers will take the road that they think is expected of them, and this can manifest itself in a number of ways (one example: praising popular books and authors, regardless of whether or not the reviewer likes their work).

The apparent belief among reviewers (perhaps especially newbies?) that they have to feature certain books and authors is probably why it is so easy to find reviews of certain novels and writers. Sure, it’s nice to be able to engage in discussions about the books a lot of people are talking about, but when you feel you have to keep up with the Joneses? Fuck that.

Read and feature what you WANT to read and discuss. Following the herd, by only reviewing all the hot-topic books, or writing about the latest hot-button issue (whether or not you are able to articulate an interesting and intelligent position or not) is a terrible strategy. It’s also boring: Why become a clone of all the other blogs? Sure, no blog can really hope to be 100% unique (except in voice, perhaps), but there’s no need to follow everyone else in everything.

In the comment thread, some people are also talking about the rate of hits they get, and being one of many shouting into the void to be heard. [Something I discussed in this post, three weeks back. Much of this response is an outgrowth of stuff in that post, actually...]

Cardinal Rule of Blogging/Reviewing: don’t blog/review for attention. It won’t work. Do what you want, how you want. If you’re good at it, then people will come to your site organically and through word of mouth. Honesty – in your opinions and also taste – are the only expectation of others’ that you should keep in mind.

As for “we put ourselves on a pedestal”... I’m not sure if I’m getting Abhinav’s meaning right, but I don’t believe (most) bloggers do this. Others may put their favourite, or prominent bloggers on a pedestal, or hold them in high regard but, as I mentioned in the above-linked post, we should always be considered, first and foremost, as fans who have taken the time to write about what we love. We’re a vocal lot, basically, and the internet allows us a platform to publish what we want to say. If people like what they find on our various blogs and platforms, then great. But I don’t believe we hold ourselves in any great position of esteem or influence. [At least, I don’t, and I think it would be very unhealthy for others to do so...]

But yeah. Otherwise, a great post, and I think a lot more people should be reading Abhinav’s stuff – he produces a hell of a lot of quality content, from reviews (fiction and comics) to editorials/opinion pieces. Some of his comic reviews have appeared on Civilian Reader, too.


Most recently, Abhinav has also had his first piece of fiction published, in the Manifesto UF anthology.


The collection features stories by Lucy A. Snyder, Jeff Salyards [review], William Meikle, Teresa Frohock [review], Zachary Jernigan, Betsy Dornbusch, Kirk Dougal, Karina Fabian, Adam Millard, Timothy Baker, Ryan Lawler, Andrew Moczulski, R.L. Treadway, Abhinav Jain, TSP Sweeney, Nickolas Sharps, Jonathan Pine, Kenny Soward, Joshua S. Hill, Jake Elliot, Lincoln Crisler, J.M. Martin, & Wilson Geiger

Go check out his site, you'll probably find something you like.


  1. Dude, this post is so awesome, I don't have enough words :-) I also think this is like the first time that someone has written a blogpost as a direct response to something I wrote. Gives me the warm fuzzies!

    Moving on, I see your point. And I'll add that that bit is a slight mistake and that I didn't exactly clarify what I meant in that bit that you quoted.

    As someone who has been heavily invested in BL fiction for a number of years, more than 10 years now, and as a review for the last (almost) 2 years, I've done some negative reviews for BL but on the whole my comments have been largely positive. Ball-park figure, something like 90% of my reviews, if not more, have been favourable to them. Not counting anthologies of course, because those are tricky.

    Consequently, I have fallen in against a very vocal minority on various BL/GW fan-forums where I've faced a LOT of opposition to my views. You see, the thing is, I genuinely believe that BL is putting out some really great fiction right now. More so last year than this year since I haven't read all that much of their work this year (for reasons too laborious to go into here). And I champion some of the less popular authors like Ben Counter, Nick Kyme, Andy Smillie, Sarah Cawkwell and a number of others. I also champion a lot of novels that many in this vocal minority absolutely hate.

    So, I've faced my fair share of... verbal incidents where my "authority" as a reviewer has been called into question. And I've often been described as a schiller because I used to get free books so my supposed natural disposition was to talk positive to keep those books etc flowing. Its more of a... timing thing.

    During the latest such incident, in January this year, I was going through this same crap, and I happened to post a VERY negative review for a very highly awaited by fandom novel by an author who is extremely popular in the fandom. Timing. First, people blame me for not writing enough negative reviews for BL books. Then, when I go ahead and do that, I get eviscerated for my use of spoilers and "bad grammar" and ranting and hating on the author.

    You just can't win.

    So, what I meant by the comment that we have to meet expectations, I was going for an objective meaning there. That this is what the readers are looking for, from us as reviewers. My statement was worded poorly there, and that's why it comes across as a statement in which I appear to say that there's this pressure to do according to what the fandom wants.

    You know me pretty well, and we've had some long discussions about certain things. I don't give a rat's ass about what people think of me, in a negative sense. The vocal minority may sometimes get under my skin, but my preferred tactic of late is to meet them with amusement. Riles them up further!

    As for the comment about putting ourselves up on a pedestal. Its not a conscious choice really, I don't think. Like I said in my post, we do this because we want to, we like doing it, and it brightens up the day when you get that occasional praise from others in the community. But we still are looked on as being in a position of authority.

    Undoubtedly, you've been thanked by several of your readership over the years for recommending books to them. And there was that... incident a while back in which you wrote a negative review and some fan took you to task for not finishing the book or something. We have a certain power in the industry. As a collective, as bloggers. We can influence people's decisions a certain way, warning them off certain books, driving them towards others.

    That's the kind of pedestal we put ourselves on.

    And thanks for the shout-out about Manifesto: UF, man! I'm really excited that this has finally hit the digital space and that people out there are reading it. Still waiting to see what people thought of my story, people who are not people I already know :D

    1. Gotcha. Thank you for clarifying! I've always been glad that I've somehow managed to avoid the wrath of BL fanatics, despite the occasional negative (or, at least, less-than-glowing) review.

      Nevertheless, the sentiments that I got from the paragraph have been (seemingly) widespread of late, which may also explain why that's how I read it. Blogger motivations have always been something I've thought about, so I thought I'd put in my two cents. :)

      Yes, people have told me that my reviews have influenced their buying choices - and certainly, that's a very nice feeling. But even then, it's usually someone who's been on the fence about a novel and needed a nudge, or someone who's been reading CR a long time and come to realise we share tastes in many respects. Sometimes it's a new reader, and that's certainly a nice thing to discover.

      At the same time, I also like it when someone drops me a message saying, "Your review of X is the first time I ever disagreed with you." It can generate some interesting discussion.

    2. When people disagree with me (and this applies only to BL fandom really), I am told that I hate the book and the author, that I have some agenda against both, and that my review doesn't count as a review because its a rant. And on and on and on :D

    3. Yeah. Hell hath no fury than an Internet Reader's Favourite Novel Scorned... ;)

  2. In the comment thread, some people are also talking about the rate of hits they get, and being one of many shouting into the void to be heard. [Something I discussed in this post, three weeks back. Much of this response is an outgrowth of stuff in that post, actually...]

    Cardinal Rule of Blogging/Reviewing: don’t blog/review for attention. It won’t work. Do what you want, how you want. If you’re good at it, then people will come to your site organically and through word of mouth. Honesty – in your opinions and also taste – are the only expectation of others’ that you should keep in mind.

    One of these commenters was me. I've learned to have peace with the fact I won't have huge pageviews, but fact is, that there are publishers that won't even consider sending you a review (e-)copy, unless you have x number of daily pageviews or x number of followers. After three years I'm over that, but when I just started out it was frustrating, especially being an overseas blogger who didn't get to play with everyone else due to geographical restrictions.

    I do completely agree with you that you shouldn't blog for attention, that you should blog for yourself: to share what you love. But I also think that making that shift in perspective is part of growing up as a blogger. I think all of us had that need for validation through pageviews when we started out.

    1. When I first started, Blogger didn't offer stats - had to go elsewhere to find them. Was rather tricky.
      It certainly is easier if you're in the UK or US, that's true.

  3. My thoughts on reviewing have gone through multiple iterations over the years. I started doing it because I was excited about particular books and wanted people to be as excited about those same books as me. My style then drifted towards providing feedback that was more geared towards the author, which lead to me making wild and outlandish statements about things I had never been involved with before ("This book really needs a good edit" - it did get a good edit, I just didn't like the writing style).

    My style has changed and evolved since I started but the one thing I have kept consistent is the essence of my reviews - this book gets me excited for these reasons, or this book didn't quite work for me. My goal is back to my original goal, I get excited about a book and I want to share my excitement with other people.

    What I hope I have established is a clear worldview with regards to what I like and what I dont like. I want people who read my reviews to figure out if they share my worldview or not, so they can decide whether they continue following my reviews or not. I've tried to branch out to as many speculative fiction subgenres as I can so that I can clearly identify the boundaries of what I like and what I dont like, and hopefully the people who share my worldview will come along for the ride.

    1. A very good approach. "Because I was excited about particular books" is, really, why most of us (if not all) start doing this. The only way you'll last as a blogger, and grow your blog and audience is if you pour that enthusiasm back into your reviewing/blogging/writing.

      Although, vis-a-vis "this book needs an edit" comments - I think, the more we read, the more picky we can become with regards to how a novel has been "edited". As you say, sometimes it's just a case of not liking an author's writing style, but I think there are times when it is clear that a novel has not had as much attention as it could have.