Thanks to Angie Thomas, a much-needed and celebrated voice in contemporary YA fiction, the subject of tagging authors in readers’ reviews has exploded over the last few days.
Why is it such a big deal? Well, there’s a lot of back and forth between those for and those against tagging authors in reviews, especially when it comes to sharing negative ones.
Those for argue that they want to help an author they enjoyed, and expect the author to show gratitude that they’re spreading the word about their work. Consensus also seems to be that even negative reviews have a place in being brought to the author’s attention.
Those against argue that as soon as the book’s published, it’s no longer the author’s, really – it’s the reader’s. And any review the reader wants to share should stay amongst those it’s actually meant for.
As for my side of the fence, I am AGAINST tagging authors in negative reviews. With positive reviews I can see both sides, I understand why someone might want to show the author how much they squealed over that person’s work and how much it meant to them.
But in my eyes, nobody needs to be going about their day, only to get the “ding!” notification and see that they’ve been dragged about something in a novel they spent years working on.
I’ll try and explain why tagging an author in a bad review is not only in bad taste on the reviewer’s half but also unproductive.
Number one is that there’s only so many people’s feedback an author can listen to and implement in their work. For example, here I took “Planet of the Apes”:
Reviewer #1: Loved the romance but wish there were less monkeys.
Author: Right…. romance but less monkeys… got it.
Reviewer #2: LOVED THE MONKEYS. All the monkeys. Maybe include lemurs next time? Less of the romance, though.
Author: Oh….. so more… monkeys?
Reviewer #3: EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT AND I ADORED IT. WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING!
Author: …….. so don’t change the monkeys?
Reviewer #4: This was a garbage fire, DNF’d at 20%.
Author: *grabs bottle of wine*
Authors cannot possibly please every single reader. While one reader might have an issue with the writing, another won’t even notice it and simply enjoy the story. While one might love the protagonist, another might hate them with a passion.
It’s understandable, then, that authors primarily write for themselves (or they should, because it’s damn hard to write for people whose reaction you can’t predict), and hope it resonates with their audience. Since the book is published, there’s a good chance it already resonated with an agent, an editor, their aquisitions team, and more editors who then worked to get it to the best possible version of itself before it hits shelves.
Authors write with the understanding nobody reads the same book. That’s why readers have different favourite characters, or favourite scenes in novels, it’s why some didn’t gel with the plot, or writing, or concept, where others might not be able to get enough of it all. It’s totally fine to have a different opinion, and to discuss it or post it on platforms other readers can see and make judgement calls for themselves.
With all this in mind — why would a singular reader believe tagging an author in their 1* or 2* negatively aspected review, think it is justifed? That the author must read it, and understand that their opinion should be included amongst the editors, agents, and publishers who helped get the book out?
I’ve seen it reasoned that the tagging-reviewer wants to help the author – that in some way their review might assist the author in understanding where they could do better in future. That they only want to help, and so they want the author to read the criticisms they had personally with the novel.
In some cases criticism is justified – harmful represenation, problematic plot, glorification of things which shouldn’t be glorified – this is 100% necessary to voice because it could have a bigger impact than the readership. Books influence society, because they’re a form of art. Society consumes art. And I believe all art forms should not only be accessible and enjoyed, but critiqued so that we can learn from it.
Though… let’s say there’s nothing serious to point out about a book, such as a harmful racial stereotype or glorifying an abusive relationship, and that the tagging-reviewer simply disagrees with a plot point or character arc. Again, it’s not really clear why the reviewer would find it necessary to inform the author of their opinion where there is **nothing the author can do about it**. The book is out. In the world. In people’s hands. And if the author enjoys writing dystopias about primates taking over the planet, as long as there’s an audience who wants it, they will continue to write it.
It’s likely the publishers, agents, editors, will pick up on anything consistently pointed out in reviews and feed it back to the author to improve on in future. We all make mistakes, it’s how we learn. Authors want to get better at their craft.
But believing a singular opinion needs to be given directly to the author – who at the point of seeing the tag might be having a bad day, may be struggling, wondering if this is the career for them, even if they’ve had 15 books already published because **anxiety and imposter syndrome is a thing** – is not considerate. It’s entitled.
Do you want the author to notice your (negative) opinion? Ask yourself why. If it isn’t to engage in a discussion about something harmful, why do you want to tell the author you didn’t like their book? Chances are if you didn’t like it, you’re simply not the audience for it. I’m personally not a fan of Justin Bieber’s back catalogue but I wouldn’t tag him in my 1* review of how “Baby” got stuck in my head too many times.
Plus, the whole thing is just plain tacky, I mean… come on. You wouldn’t like it if you posted some artwork online, or simply did your day job, and someone came along with a huge red ‘F’ and stuck it on your forehead, declaring to the world that they, a person, did not like The Thing You Created.
So before there’s any more debate about why it’s justified, I would like people to think why they feel the author should be grateful they took the time to include them in their distribution of a bad review.
They should be grateful the author wrote the book at all. Art is necessary, now more than ever. And we should be showing our support and kindness for creating in a world of destruction.
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