Writers are not rivals…

…or why I continue to review other people’s books.

I found Jane Friedman’s piece: How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published?   convincing and useful. As you do, I read other articles on Writing on the Ether and came across this one written by journalist and critic Porter Anderson:

Amazon Reviews: Damned If It Does and…

I put up with the annoying adverts and read it. I thought about what he said a lot:

Maybe it’s because many authors are only now beginning to grapple with the realities of a business world.

That struck home. And:

And vendors — in this case, authors — can never be seen as unbiased and fair if they’re evaluating and holding forth on each other’s work.

But then I thought longer.

I thought of the lovely Maeve Binchy . She saw us writers as all putting another stone on the cairn, building up our collective work.

We are not rivals – we’re fellow workers.

I am comfortable reviewing Candy Gourlay’s work because I will never write like her. People looking for work like hers won’t switch to mine no matter what I said.

And it wouldn’t even matter if I comment on someone sort-of similar, Frances Hardinge say. She will probably produce a book a year – and so will I. Fans of either us will read more than one book a year I think – so they might like both. No conflict of interest – real or perceived – in my view.

Another way of looking at this: I want a knee surgeon to comment on the effectiveness of a recent  eye operation. I’m more than happy for the owner of a fish-and-chip shop to give her evaluation of Jamie Oliver’s 15. Especially if they tell me what they do as part of that review.

It’s what Joanne Harris said – we know what we’re talking about. You can chat to Joanne on Twitter – and I do – and there is no agenda. She has no need or wish to hide, dissimulate or do anyone else’s writing down.

Of course, I was shocked and saddened by the sock-puppetry scandal. I wrote about this and Roger Ellory in a previous article. It genuinely made me cry. But it’s like No Cycling signs: the beggars who are going to knock old ladies over will ignore the signs – and the ones that obey would take care anyway.

On a more philosophical note, I have another objection to his stand –

Politicians, the smart ones, learn to do all they can to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, even if they have no such actual conflict.

I hate the concept  ‘seen to be doing the right thing’. Just do the right thing.

Concern about appearances leads to tick box sheets and checking up on them – not the thing itself. It’s how we get nurses so busy filling in forms they haven’t time to care. It’s how we get teachers so busy planning by day, week and term they are too tired to respond and adapt to changing circumstances – and marked down if they do.

That would be why you’d get mealy-mouthed comments – more concerned with appearance than honesty.

So I stand by my reviews.

I will continue to do the right thing.



8 thoughts on “Writers are not rivals…

  1. Well said – I think it’s the same with artists. I am happy to collaborate with and exhibit alongside other watercolour painters, and am probably better qualified to comment on and recommend another’s work than someone who doesn’t paint. And if I can’t say something positive, I’ll say nowt. Creative work is not mutually exclusive. When you buy a loaf of bread from someone, you can’t buy it from someone else. But when you buy a book from an author you like, you immediately want to know who else you can read that’s similar.

  2. Writers are rarely in competition with each other even if they write in the same genre. Readers are always looking the book that’s ‘a bit like’ their favourite and as you say avid readers will be actively hunting for new material to fill the void between the publication of their fave author’s books. As far as reviews go, I don’t really go in for reviewing books because I’d rather write my own stuff and I’ve never read one that swayed my opinion either way.

    • I appreciate you commenting Jon. I review because:
      1. it was to help a friend out
      2. it makes me read out of my comfort zone
      3. it makes me think about the specific readership for a given book

  3. I think the issue behind sock puppetry is that the concept of one person, writer or otherwise, has the right to share their views. However, multiple pseudonyms ( sock puppets) created for the sole purpose of bolstering one’s own status or rubbishing that of another can not be a good thing. As a writer I reserve the right to share/voice my opinion but speaking as a consumer I expect to be treated fairly and honestly. In fact, I believe that if you purchased the book then you reserve the right to pass judgement, regardless if you are a writer or not. If someone wanted to write 20 reviews and was willing to purchase 20 copies, under 20 different names, then let that mad person pass judgement 20 times, if he or she so wishes.

    • Good point Mike – did you get chance to read my earlier post?
      Fairness & honesty – that’s the point as you rightly say.

  4. Oh ditto, ditto, ditto! And when you share your ‘trade secrets’ they will always be taken up in that individuals way and something unique and different will happen and you feel great that you had some small part in that.

    • Yes, indeed Sue – we can have any amount of creativity without diminishing anyone else’s. Dissing someone else’s work gives bad karma as well.

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