Monday Musings | Reader-Author Relationships in the Time of Social Media

Karen Ma One More Page Photo Starbucks Reading

Hi friends! It’s been a while, eh? I hope you didn’t miss me too much 😉

After two years of musing about bookish things (almost) every week, I sometimes wonder if I’ve run out of things to muse about. But alas! As someone who is kind of addicted to social media, I started to think about the author-reader relationship and how it has changed since social media came along. Before social media, author-reader interactions mostly came from face-to-face contact, published reviews, or fan mail. While I’m sure authors from that time weren’t immune to hate mail, their exposure to unfavourable reviews and thoughts were at a minimum. Now, with the ubiquity of social media users and platforms (like Goodreads), authors can easily seek out what their readers are saying about their books. I’ve never published anything, but I’d imagine it takes a lot of discipline to resist the instant gratification of consumer feedback.

As someone who does post my reviews on my blog and on Goodreads, I’m (rightly or wrongly) conscious of the fact that there is a chance that my thoughts can be read by an author. Of course, sometimes this is great – there’s nothing as life-affirming as swooning over a book you loved with its author – but sometimes it can create an awkward situation. (I’m not even going get into those instances where authors seek out those who’ve penned negative reviews.) In my case, I started wondering (for no particular reason, I promise!) whether it would be strange to publish a negative review of a book when its author follows me on social media. It’s standard practice not to tag an author in a negative review, but what if s/he just happens to be scrolling through their timeline and sees it? I suppose this is the new risk that comes with the social media territory. All this said, I do owe it to myself and all of my friends to be completely honest with my thoughts and feelings. So where do we go from here? I think the bottom line is to make sure that all criticism is backed up by concrete reasons; to comment on the text and not the author themselves; and only write constructively and truthfully.

Have you ever had an awkward author-reader situation due to social media? How did you work around it?

14 thoughts on “Monday Musings | Reader-Author Relationships in the Time of Social Media

  1. BOOK NERD Canada says:

    I do think about these authors seeing my negative reviews. But I don’t necessarily worry about it either. My reviews are always on the content itself. And if there’s something about the author I’ll casually mention it in the very beginning. One example is this book I read that I disliked and then I realized that the author herself was sexually assaulted.. It was pretty sad to read 😦

  2. Adriyanna Zimmermann says:

    Great post! I actually was nervous about sharing a negative review (a while back) because the author and I follow each other on Twitter and I really wanted to like the author’s book! I did end up sharing it but I don’t think I included the my rating in my tweet.

  3. A.M.B. says:

    I try to remember that there’s a person behind every book. As a result, I toned down my reviews quite a bit since I first started blogging in 2012. I’m in an awkward place now because I have two books out there, and I try not to mix the “author” and “book reviewer” roles. On my blog, I tend to write about issues raised in books rather than standard book reviews (my other half, Mr. AMB, writes reviews on my blog, though).

    As for reviews of my own books, I do read them. It’s an opportunity for feedback that can only make my writing stronger.

  4. Naomi says:

    The good thing is that there is always something that I like about a book, or else I won’t finish it. So, I look for it and talk about it in hopes that the book finds the right audience, while at the same time, explain what didn’t work for me. Luckily, this rarely happens. I’m pretty good at picking out my books. Other than that, I will just hope the awkward situation never happens. 🙂

  5. The Paperback Princess says:

    I struggle with this every time I’m in a position to write about something that didn’t land for me. I do try to be thoughtful with those criticisms I may have – after all, who am I? I can’t write books! But I do feel like I owe it to those that read my posts to be honest. I think most of the time I’ve managed to find that balance – I tend to get positive feedback from commenters on those ‘negative’ posts that I’m striking the right tone.
    For sure tricky though.

  6. Candid Cover says:

    I often wonder this myself. While I have gotten really good at only requesting ARCs that I know I will most likely enjoy, there have been a few that weren’t stellar. I have actually not tweeted out a negative review to avoid hurting an author’s (who follows me on Twitter) feelings. I was so surprised that the book didn’t strike a chord with me because the author is so witty on social media. I suppose if they are putting themselves out there, there is bound to be some negativity thrown at them.

  7. Lunch-Time Librarian says:

    As a writer myself, I often struggle with feeling guilty when I write a negative review. There’s so much work that goes into writing, and pitching a book, and sending out to agents etc. I think of all the work they put into it and feel badly for not liking it. But at the same time, you’re entitled to your opinion and people have a right to know. And as an author, you should be prepared for some people to not like your book. To downright hate it even. And just like everything else on social media, if you don’t want to see it, don’t look for it. And if they want to look hopefully they’re getting notes on things to improve next time and not sending hate emails …

  8. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes says:

    Luckily I haven’t had any negative author interactions. I always try to be thoughtful in my reviews, and remember every book has an audience; if I don’t like a book, I try to consider what type of reader WOULD like it.

  9. Laurie@The Baking Bookworm says:

    I recently struggled about posting a lower review of a book. It just wasn’t for me for a few reasons (which I detailed in my review) but to give it a higher rating because I felt bad wasn’t the way to go. In the end, the authors and publishers who have given me books to read and review know that they will get an honest review from me. I also want my blog readers to trust that I’ll give them my honest opinion on each book I read. I’m not going to trash a book but I will give it some criticism backed up with my thoughts. I realize and respect that these authors put their hearts and souls into their books but as a book blogger I have to give my two cents and sometimes those two pennies aren’t quite as shiny as they’d like. Often I’ll get comments from other readers who agree with my lower rating which helps me feel like I’m not the only person who didn’t fall in love with the book. I have never had an author contact me about a lower rating but I have had a couple rather upset comments from fans of certain books who didn’t agree with my review. To each their own, I say! 🙂

  10. majoringinliterature says:

    This is such an interesting topic! I often wonder about this issue, although I’m glad to say I’ve never had any bad experiences to date (most of the authors I review tend to have died at least fifty years ago, and therefore don’t really get Twitter). It’s a tough issue, because when you’re reviewing a book written by a living author, even if it’s a constructive critique of the text, there’s always the possibility that they’ll stumble upon it by accident, as you pointed out. And I sometimes wonder whether reading a review with reasoned, constructive criticism is worse than reading a review that’s just full of bile, because it suggests that the reviewer has approached your writing intelligently and thoughtfully and still been disappointed. I’m not sure. :-/ In the end (as clichéd as this sounds), I guess it’s just about trying to be as respectful as possible. 🙂

  11. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey) says:

    I have sometimes disliked books by authors with whom I’ve had very enjoyable personal interactions and I do feel awkward about that. I’ve always decided that my blog is meant to serve my readers and been honest, but I’m extra careful to share my criticism constructively and politely. That’s something I generally try to do though and your post highlights for me that part of the reason this is important is because authors can stumble on your reviews at any time.

  12. carolebesharah says:

    I have written a few harsh reviews about about books with glaring plot holes and two-dimensional characters. In one case, an author unfollowed me on Twitter, understandably. And, I was okay with that.

    Then…Last year, I read a good, debut Canadian collection of short stories written in English. A few stories were brilliant gems. I gave it a 4/5. One story included a lot of French words and phrases with several grammar mistakes. Being French-Canadian, I was annoyed and mentioned it in my otherwise glowing my review.

    The author fell across my review and messaged me. She asked me to pinpoint all the errors. So, I did. Politely. With grammatical explanations.

    She was crushed. I felt horrible even though I emphasized that I loved her writing. I haven’t reviewed many books since then. Looking back, I think this exchange had a huge impact on me as a book reviewer.

    Book reviewing use to be fun. I loved reading with Post-its at the ready and posting weekly reviews. I have not had an itch to write one in months. And so, I haven’t. Not certain if I will start up again.

    Read and review for fun, Karen. Take long breaks when need be. Best of luck, from one book nerd to another.

  13. La La in the Library says:

    There was an author whose first book I loved and I joined her “street team”, so to speak, for it and when the pub date for the sequel was pending it became the team for that book. I was given super early access to an eARC, even before it was on Edelweiss, because she had decided to include some “issue related” content and she wanted to know what we thought about it. I had a slight problem with the “issue related” content in that there was too much of it (the first book had been straight up YA Paranormal), and that the symptoms she had the character exhibiting were not ones I had ever heard people suffering with this mental illness having (I still need to look them up for my own curiosity). However, the big problem I had with the book was that she romanticized slavery! I was so appalled that I didn’t even mention the questions I had about the mental illness portrayal, and in my Facebook PM I went straight for that problem. When I saw the salutation on her reply PM was, “Oh honey,” I knew things were not going to be good. She basically told me it is common knowledge that the history text books we grew up with were seriously flawed, so she did her own research for the slavery/slave owner scenes and she found that most slave owners were kind and treated their slaves like family. My eyes were bugging out! Then she said that the Union soldiers were much worse than the Confederate soldiers because they punished slave owners by raping their slaves. She then went on to tell me that she would never blame me for not knowing this! I was so shocked I didn’t even reply! I unfriended and blocked her on FB, unfollowed on Twitter, and unfriended on Goodreads. Within the next few days she started liking everthing I tweeted. She had only liked tweets about her own books before, so it creeped me out and I blocked her. She then followed my Facebook La La in the Library page, and my Tumblr! And the true creep out was she found my personal Twitter account and followed it! I guess she was probably making sure I wasn’t slamming her book on social media, but it still makes me wonder what she would have done if I had been talking about it.

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