Sunday Salon: I Am Not a Professional

 The Sunday

Hey! Who are you calling “unprofessional?”

That was the Question of the Week, directed at a romance novelist who responded to a couple of reviews that didn’t please her with a post on her blog, Authors Helping Authors, advising her fellow writers to steer clear of “unprofessionals” who “set themselves up as reviewers” and probably “never wrote anything themselves other than a grocery list.”

I’m not linking to it myself, because plenty of others already have and I’d rather link to some of them instead.

Pam was quick to fire back:

“It would seem to me that any author who sets their self up to ‘help other authors’ would know that the rule of thumb is especially dealing with us peon bloggers is: you don’t respond to our reviews…All of us do this kind of book promotion in our spare time and for free. For you to throw around the words ‘unprofessional’ and ‘trashy’ and then link to them is unfair and elitist (note: the links were later removed)…Are you saying that bloggers who just willy nilly set themselves up can’t work very hard at their craft? I know how many hours I spend. I also know I can’t write a book, or a poem, or a haiku.”

Karen (a/k/a Sassymonkey) responded with a “Dear Author” letter:

“I realize that you believe I am an “unprofessional reviewer” due to fact that I do not review for the New York Times. I write about books, and my opinion of books I’ve read, here in my personal book blog — a blog that was never intended to be your personal marketing ground…I’m sure that you’ve never uttered anything that was not nice at all on the internet. Oh wait! You just wrote a post calling all book bloggers unprofessional and slammed the entire romance genre by calling it predictable. Good job! Way to take your own advice!…I shall, however, thank you for writing what you did. It allows me to make sure that I never read or purchase your books.”

Amanda primarily reviews books by dead white guys, but she wondered:

“THING ONE- HOW IMPORTANT ARE BOOK BLOGGERS ANYWAY? Important enough that this author solicited a review and pitched a tantrum when the review wasn’t glowing. Important enough that many of us- myself included, though my niche is limited- receive numerous review requests from authors and publishers alike…THING TWO: WHAT DO WE OWE THE AUTHOR? As a classics blogger, I say we owe authors just this: not changing their work, an issue that has been discussed at length since the Huck Finn censorship deal. Aside from that? Jack squat.”

Jeanne proposed a simple solution to the “problem” of unprofessional reviewing:

“It’s nothing new, but let’s go over it again for Sylvia’s benefit. Bloggers, if you don’t want to shill for publishers, go to the library and buy your own books, for the most part. If you find publishers who will continue to send you advance review copies even when you review some of them negatively, stick with them. Authors, if you want honest reviews, look around and find some bloggers whose views you generally agree with and whose taste you trust.”

And Kim had some cautionary words for both sides:

“First, I think the author’s characterization of bloggers is unfair and plays on stereotypes that are just not true. And second, I think she’s actually giving some decent advice, but it’s just getting lost in the noise…In my opinion, anyone who reads is qualified to review a book. Not everyone chooses to write their thoughts in a public place like a blog, but everyone who reads is a book reviewer. They can tell their friends about it, they can pass on opinions to colleagues, they can put a note on Facebook or Twitter. While not formal and often subjective, these are reviews too…While ‘facts and objective criticism’ might be what this author wants from a review, I don’t think objectivity is necessarily what an author should expect when asking for a blogger to review a book. You should expect that your book be treated fairly and that the blogger gives it the same consideration they give other books they read.”

I follow a LOT of book blogs, and I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of us – myself included – are “unprofessional.” I say that because the following apply to many of us:

  • We have no special training in literary criticism or analysis (unless we were English majors, that is)
  • We have not had to take exams or obtain a certification to do what we do
  • We do not (or only occasionally) get paid for what we do

I’m a professional accountant – that’s where these criteria apply. I make no claims to be a professional book reviewer.

Having said that, I’ve encountered very few book bloggers who are anything less than professional in how they do what they do. Most of us take this seriously, and we take the time and effort to write reviews that are informative, enlightening, and fair. We disclose where our books come from – which, for the record, most “professional” reviewers are not required to do – and state our honest opinions about them.

I really don’t know how we can be more professional than that.

Books reviewed since my last report:
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Upcoming reviews:
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson (Indie Lit Awards)
Certain Women: A Novel, by Madeleine L‘Engle (Faith and Fiction Roundtable)
Devotion: A Memoir, by Dani Shapiro (TLC Book Tour)
Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City Novel, by Armistead Maupin

New Additions to TBR Purgatory:
Dreaming in English by Laura Fitzgerald (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel by Cathleen Schine
My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time by Gesine Bullock-Prado
True Grit by Charles Portis
The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer (TLC Book Tour)

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