Please (Don't) Tag the Author

02/01/2020

Today's tempest in a toilet comes courtesy of the Hellsite. An award-winning author had the effrontery to suggest that fans aren't necessarily doing authors a favor by tagging them when they share a review of their work on social media. Their opinion seems to be that it's safest from a professional standpoint to not engage with reviews at all, whether they praise a work or excoriate it, so they'd rather not hear about them in the first place.

The feuds between authors like Norman Mailer and literary critic Michiko Kakutani comes to mind. Rather than be grateful for Kakutani's attention or simply ignoring her negative reviews, Mailer resorted to hurling racist and sexist insults. It might have been better for Mailer (as well as Franzen, Wallace, etc.) if he had instructed his publicist to refrain from bothering him with reviews.

Naturally, some people are less than pleased with this take. The prevailing opinion based on the response to which I linked and others appears to be one or more of the following:

Admittedly, my interpretation isn't necessarily the most charitable, but that's because my sympathies lie more with authors who would rather not be tagged on social media when a stranger shares a review of their work. This is what I think, which I had posted over there.

The person to whom I replied had this to say. While their opinion is valid, I don't agree with it and there's enough to unpack that I'd rather do it on my website instead of in a Twitter thread.

While "authors are readers, too", authors are also human beings. While we can simply ignore reviews, it's easier to do that when people aren't actively trying to bring them to our attention.

Then there's the notion that if you're on social media you will be exposed to the world, and that having more followers will help your book sales. I don't buy this. I once had 20,000 followers on Google+ and about 2,000 on Twitter (on an old account). On the former, I suspect most of them followed me because an algorithm recommended me, and not because they actually gave a damn about my writing. On the latter, I remember most of them being bots and authors hawking their own books.

For this reason and others, I don't think that having followers leads to book sales. I think that if you're selling books, you'll end up with followers. If you look at who follows whom on social media, you'll notice that the people with the most followers are either:

One might suspect that people with lots of followers have either already made it, or are trying to fake it until they make it. Regardless, I'm not convinced that trying to win popularity contests on social media will do much for book sales.

Finally, we come to the notion that we should not support ungrateful or disrespectful authors. I think this objection can best be answered by paraphrasing Neil Gaiman and saying that Elizabeth Bear is not your bitch.

Readers have the right to grant or withdraw their support at their pleasure, and likewise for reviewers and book bloggers. However, when a book blogger suggests that an author is somehow disrespectful or ungrateful because they don't want to be tagged on Twitter by people posting reviews, I think they're projecting. If all a book blogger cared about was helping an author out, they could have simply written the review, posted it, and shared without tagging the author on Twitter.

However, I suspect the motives of book bloggers who tag authors they don't know. I think such reviewers are being selfish, and hoping to promote themselves and get more exposure for their blogs by getting authors' attention. To be clear, I have no objection to this, or to selfishness in general.

What I find objectionable is the hypocrisy and mendacity of reviewers seeking attention while insisting that they're doing authors a favor. My opinion on the relationship between readers and authors is as follows: if you buy a book, the only thing the author owes you is your money's worth. They don't owe you their time or attention, and whatever gratitude or respect they owe you is due to our common humanity, and not because you bought their books, reviewed them, or followed them on social media.