James Wood was somewhat less pleased with the “vituperation” he associates with the blogosphere (though Wood himself, it must be said, has been no shrinking violet when it comes to dispatching the pretensions of what he has dubbed the “hysterical realist” school of fiction). He said he finds looking through readers’ comments on blogs to be akin to a descent into Hades. He added that his friend Andrew Sullivan is buckling under the strain of writing three hundred blog posts per week, which has interfered with his ability to concentrate on anything longer than a few paragraphs. According to Wood, one of the Internet’s longest-serving and most prolific bloggers could even be about to call it a day as a result. (Contacted by The Daily Beast after the debate, Sullivan replied that “I have felt that way for five years and I’m still blogging!” He confirmed, however, that he had indeed considered calling it quits recently but would persevere if he could get an extra staffer.)
The poor darlings. It must be terribly difficult for writers of Literature to finally have to answer to readers now, in addition to critics who may or may not go to the same dinner parties.
I guess this is where the SFF community has been for several years, if not decades. The history of fandom is one where authors have engaged in a dialogue with readers, to some extent. And it’s one reason I think the blogosphere is a good thing: it has devolved power of opinion from a few gatekeepers, to the many. There certainly doesn’t seem to be as much rigour of analysis in reviews as there used to be with the early blogs, whose competition then was the established quality e-zines. Now, anything passes for a review, even a rough synopsis. Things are often reduced these days merely to “I did / did not like this book”, which is a loss to the genre). And the author experience differs – there is so much more discussion of their works, but more of it is emotional gut responses, rather than a full-on engagement, for better or worse. Now, a year’s work can be reduced to “ZOMG you suck”. These reactions existed previously, but now they’re digital, and for the world and the author to see.
With great power comes great responsibility – little do online commentators realise how fragile creative egos can be. You might chuckle, but to some, a damaging comment can prevent a writer from doing his or her job properly. Some might crumble for a week, who’s to say? I’ve been pretty lucky, but I cringe at reading scathing reviews of other authors’ work. So whilst I was full of snark at the start of this post, I do actually understand how such things can harm writers. And yes, some writers really do care about what people think of their work. Yes, they receive Google Alerts about the fruit of their labours. Surely that’s a good thing, that they give a shit? I suppose if you’re the kind of person who enjoys attacking creative works for kicks, then you need a little more help than this blog post can offer.
My opinion to new writers: all you can do is develop a thick skin very quickly, and deal with it. (And, ironically, be concerned about the amount of coverage, rather than its quality.)
We are now entering, what, phase three or four of the blogosphere (so many blogs have come and gone), and it’s interesting to see so clearly that tribes and cliques are forming, people linking only to few others, talking only to few others, and so on. Is this bad? Not inherently, of course, it’s natural; but cliques were always one of the reasons that new fans do not fully immerse themselves in the convention world – does the same apply digitally, I wonder? Just a thought.
Also, authors online are given platforms to reply to reviewers and comments. Personally, I think writers should respond – not necessarily to their own reviews, but certainly to address specific problems they feel exists in online coverage. Why not? There are few rules for current online etiquette. There’s nothing to stop an author reviewing why a blog does or does not work, right?
I guess this post doesn’t contain all that much flow; it’s more of a bunch of thoughts to be honest. I think it’s interesting to watch some genres still playing catch-up on this subject of the blogosphere, whilst SFF is developing into newer modes of connectivity.