13 May 2009

U + Me = Us (Calculus)

There's a great conversation going on over at The Story Siren. Kristi asked: "I've been thinking a lot about this lately, honestly I've thought about it for a while, but I think my addictions to Twitter and Facebook that have brought it to my attention once again. All the reviewer/author interaction.... makes me wonder."

The main point of concern seems to be if authors and reviewers are getting too close, to the point where the integrity of the review might be compromised. Fifty plus comments in, a ton of people have weighed in with great points and opinions. The entire thread is worth a careful read.

YA book bloggers are a totally new thing to me. I just found out about the whole community maybe six weeks ago, and was astonished at how many blogs out there were anticipating, discussing, reviewing, and promoting books. What didn't strike me as odd was that the authors and fans (if I may call them that) seemed to often know each other on a personal basis, even if it was a "Have fun this weekend doing so-and-so!"

The whole culture of blogging is about tearing down barriers to communication. Being able to read a person's thoughts, their ideas, their processes, their daily lives, it creates an intimate space. It brings you closer and allows you to learn about someone rather quickly. Fans looking at authors' blogs, or authors looking at fans' blogs, it's only natural that friendships would develop, or at least more than "just business" relationships.

When two people are able to respond and interact about something they love, there's definitely a bond developed there. And that's something blogs are so great at, bridging the communication gap to allow people to get to know each other.

Ah, that's all fine and dandy but where does the line get drawn between "I want you to like me because I want a good review" and "I want you to like me because I'm about to review you." In the short time I've been zipping around in this particular corner of the blog world, I've seen nothing but great interactions between authors, fans, reviewers, aspiring authors, and really, anyone else who watches or participates.

That's pretty rare nowadays in a blogosphere full of mean spirited lurkers, spam-a-lots, and general chaos creators. Everyone I've interacted with has been friendly and professional, and it's been easy striking a balance between getting to know each other while still understanding that there's a line somewhere in there separating friendship and business.

Maybe I haven't seen an author get mad at a bad review from someone they've befriended yet, or maybe I've not exposed to some dark underbelly of the author/reviewer relationship but I'd like to think that it doesn't exist. At least not to the degree it matters. And it would be wonderful if it stayed that way.

On top of that, imagine growing up and being able to "talk" to your favorite authors. How cool would it have been to get an email or a comment from Beverly Cleary? Or tell Gary Paulsen that Hatchet was awesome. Or be able to ask S.E. Hinton how she wrote such authentic young males?

And on the flip side, authors get a total thrill having anyone read their books. And a book review, good or bad still means someone took the time out of their life to read your work. Maybe if two people are good friends, there should be a disclaimer somewhere, but either way, an opinion's an opinion. Everyone should try to make their own anyway and a few bad reviews never hurt anybody. It's all constructive criticism right?

To be honest though, I can see the current close friendship between authors and reviewers going in a different directly eventually. I mean, right now, a lot of these book blogs are labors of love and that's what makes it so personal and wonderful. But when, or if, certain blogs start to get much bigger, and have a very large influence base, I can see YA authors being put in some tricky positions. I mean, it could be difficult then to balance the "This review will totally blow my book up huge so I need to befriend them" with the "I shouldn't be a sycophant" dichotomy.

I mean, look at the (short) history of blogging. In the beginning, it was a total free for all. Everyone blogged for their own interest, there was no money to be made, you did it because you had the time and passion for the format. Eventually, bloggers started separating out into the A-List crowd and so on. That cemented blogging as a popularity hierarchy, and other bloggers realized that the quickest way to promote their blog/product/article/whatever was to get an A-Lister to notice them. Then you truly got high school going on.

So far, the YA blogosphere seems really idyllic and new to me, and I hope as it grows it remains personal, charming, and honest. And I think there's a good chance it will, because YA writers and readers seem to have the big picture in mind, which is making sure the genre stays exciting, awesome, and friendly.