Sunday, May 23, 2010

Are Reviewer-Bloggers Spoiled Brats?

Ah the blissful autonomy of blogging. It's the best isn't it? I've enjoyed owning my little corner of the blogoshpere and have had very little to complain about. The blog went up on a whim when, as a stay-at-home mom of seven years, I was looking for some way to connect to the outside world. Not being the type to do a slice-of-life or mommy blog, I tried to think of something I enjoyed doing and started writing about that. Three years later, I'm still here. The blog has chugged along. Blossoming a little, though still modest by most standards. A day when I get more than a few comments on a post is a good one. I figure it's a give-and-take kind of thing. The results I get are in direct proportion to the time and effort I'm able to put out. I try to stick to a theme, and mostly succeed. Commentary and reviews are my shtick and though the word "news" is on my header, well, that requires the ability to keep up on current events to an extent that escapes me most of the time. But once the name appeared on the back of a book in a review, my ego wouldn't let me change it. That pesky ego. It gets in the way sometimes doesn't it? Once my blog became somewhat established I found myself in a strange place. I'm not a big blog, but I've been around long enough to get on quite a few mailing lists. I get emails and inquiries on daily basis asking me, me, if I'd like to read a book and give my thoughts on it. Well, don't I feel like a big shot? And after awhile I got used to giving my opinion on books and movies-- and whatever else I decided to comment on. Which is fun. I can't lie. But I guess I wanted something more because I reached out to a local publication that was starting up and looking for reviewers. Well hey, I do that. Why don't I sign up? You see, it was my vanity rearing it's head again. I use my screen name on my blog. But I could use my real name in print. Sweeeet. I haven't seen my name in print in almost fifteen years. I used to write for a local paper doing reviews and features-- fun stuff but kind of rinky-dink. Then I was lucky enough to get a job in television doing interviews and occasionally writing small on-air segments (I even worked in Hollywood!). But the days of feeling like a big-shot had passed and having my name in print again was a minor thrill. Too bad that didn't last long. I've mentioned before that I have been doing reviews for one of those local book reviews that are typically distributed at your local library. Many of you may know the one I'm talking about-- I recognize more than a few of the names that have been appearing next to mine. But I also hear that bloggers are a particularly finicky breed of reviewers. Yesterday was an illuminating day for me. It was the monthly deadline for the publication and I had a few reviews to upload. I'm one of those people who tend to be out-of-site, out-of-mind when it comes to my work-- mostly. I get the in-print publication sent to me and I tend to throw it on the shelf without looking at it. I used to check it out more often. But once I saw my reviews in print without being mucked-up, I took it for granted that once I submitted something, it would retain its integrity. And that was the case for over a year. Then, they switched editors. For some reason I did scan a review of mine a couple of months ago and noticed some strange tweaks had been done to my work. Minor stuff really. In fact, it kind of seemed as if the editor was moving periods around or adding semi-colons just so they could assure themselves that they were doing their job. Once she added the word "besides" to a review for no apparent reason--which stumped me a little. Generally harmless, but it made me uncomfortable. I'm the first to admit, I could benefit from having an editor. Blogging is a solitary thing. I'm lucky enough to have several contributors, many of whom still actually post content for me! I'm so grateful that I take a hands-off approach. Besides, if I'm not signing a paycheck, I don't feel I have the right to have an in-your-face attitude when it comes people who are taking time out of their day to write something for my little blog. I'm also lucky enough to have contributors who write their own content on a regular basis-- so they know how to string a sentence together. But we're just people posting on a blog. We make mistakes, overlook misspelling and typos. I fret over run-on sentences and chop sentences into fragments in an effort to streamline content. But that's the way it is when you're on your own and trying to post on a regular basis (I used to shoot for every day, now I'm happy if I put something up five days a week). I know that every single blogger reading this can relate. It's tough thinking of something to write every day and if you don't have time to re-work your writing, that sometimes means you don't get it quite the way you want. I know when I've nailed a post-- you know the feeling when you're able to transfer your feelings to the page. And I know when I can't put my thoughts into writing. Which is why in-print reviewing was strangely important to me. I had the time, if not the space (200 words) to make sure the words were crafted exactly the way I wanted them to be. It meant something. So having someone cavalierly change my words is not something I can live with. It only took one word, one for me to realize that maybe blogging has spoiled me for other things. But then again, the editor who felt the need to insert random punctuation into my reviews might just be an idiot. I'll let you be the judge. So I'm uploading one review and notice another that I had posted last month-- "Storm Prey" by John Sandford. You may know the title, I have a giveaway up for it right now. It's not the genre I usually feature here, but I have a weakness for detective novels. Anyway, I scan the review and notice that the editor decided to add two little words to the second paragraph. Nothing really, but when you're dealing with something that's 200 words or less, every word counts. Apparently, the editor didn't like the way I suggested that Sandford will have readers coming back "time and again" and decided to say that the book would have readers "engaged and enchanted." Uh. What? Did I read that right? "Enchanted?" Wait, wait, wait. Rewind. Let me read that again. Yep, she really added the word "enchanted." Did she not read the review? Did she not notice that it was a book that included murder as part of the plot? "Enchanted?" Who the heck describes a detective novel as "enchanting?" You'll be completely enchanted by this book featuring kidnapping and murder! Blech. Okay, okay. Maybe I'm over reacting. But I still fume. "Enchanted." I can't stand it. My name is now inexorably linked to that darned review and it bugs me. My feelings are totally out of proportion, but I would never use that word in this context. I'm embarrassed to have my name on that review. So I decide in that moment I need to go back to just being a blogger. I am the master of my online domain and no one can put words in my mouth. Yeah. I like it that way. So I email the owner of the review and let them know why I'm leaving. No big deal, though I feel like I'm being a bit of a spoiled artiste with a petty objection. But it's my name. It might not mean much to them. But it means something to me. I get an email back asking to see the text of the original review-- which is responsible of them. And, surprisingly, I get some vindication in that they agree the word substitution was inappropriate and changed the tone of the review. But they still didn't take my decision to leave the relationship with good grace. After telling me that I was right they went on to tell me that they had a particularly hard time hanging on to blogger-reviewers. That we are particularly resistant to being edited. Come again? I'm right....but I'm a pain in the neck for pointing that out? Apparently we're just too in-de-pen-dent for our own good and if we want to write for print publications, we need to suck it up a little. I wrote them back--politely of course-- saying that I'm familiar with the process, having working in print before. But also accepted that my temperament as a blogger might make it a poor fit for me going forward; and I left it at that. I suppose I should thank them for making it so easy to leave. Then again... I'm not dwelling on this as much as it seems. It's a minor thing. But, given that this blog is mostly frequented by other bloggers, I thought it would be an interesting anecdote to pass on. I have no doubt that most people reading this are going to be able to relate to my feelings. Many of us want to do more than we're currently doing-- unless you're John Scalzi maybe (I couldn't resist throwing that in). A lot of us want to be read beyond the blog and I doubt most of us would mind reasonable editing--especially if it enhances our work. But no one wants to feel like some second-rate hack is being given carte blanche to make you look like a fool. These are my words dammit. They matter to me. I don't think I'm being spoiled for hanging on to that. Do you? Post Script: From the comments on this post, it seems I may have given the impression that it only took one minor incident for me to throw up my hands and say "I quit!" Well, it wasn't quite that bad. I have been doing the reviews for about a year and a half, without pay and I supply most of the books I review (which I personally get from the publisher). I thought that was a pretty good deal for publication. I was very low-maintenance. Never turned in my reviews late, always kept them within the word limit and generally tried to do a good job. I never had any communication from the publisher/editor about my reviews that indicated my work was sloppy. The original editing that had been done felt very unobtrusive and I didn't mind it at all. It's only been in the last three or four months that I've become concerned because I felt the editing took away from the quality of the work I was turning in. It also seemed that, overall, the quality of the publication was sliding. The reviews have become a lot more casual in tone (with the authors now being allowed to use the "I feel" format--something I never did for this job). Long story short-- there wasn't an upside to me anymore. No pay, no books that I couldn't get on my own, and editing that made me uncomfortable with the quality of work my name was being attached to. I feel good about ending the relationship. I can now spend more quality time developing this blog and looking for other side-projects that will do more for me in the long run. ~SQT


Harry Markov said...

Okay. This is complicated. Whether you did over exaggerate or not, is subjective. Whether you are spoiled as an artiste or have the full right to do as you did, is again subjective.

What I know is that the editor did her changes without considering the content and you had full right to be uneasy about that.

I think that as autonomous as we are we play the roles of the writer, editor and publisher, even if it is on a micro-level. We have done this for three years and we have seen that people do not spam us with e-mails about how we write, although I did have such an episode [that was more personal].

Fact remains that we do not look at editors as god-like and all knowing, because we are editors of our own work and of others, if we are asked. We have an identity and know that when we place the words, they are the right ones. Because we do not have the luxury of asking a real editor.

Hence the headbutting.

Relatable. Not sure what I would habe done.

Kendall said...

"I'll let you be the judge." - Hard to say without before/after example of the punctuation and random word insertions, but I'll take your word for it. ;-) And I understand your frustration with the enchanting change, since it changed your meaning and intent.

I don't believe you're spoiled. It sounds like you were unhappy with your editor. Being a blogger doesn't seem to have much to do with it, IMHO.

But . . . while I understand the straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back thing, it sounds like you didn't try to resolve the editorial issue before quitting. Did it seem impossible at the time (in hindsight, it sounds like you had two types of leverage), or did you omit part of the story, or is my reading comprehension at 4 AM really poor? No offense intended--just kinda surprised/confused.

Disclaimer: I'm not a reviewer or a blogger, but have done very basic proofing/copyediting and believe strongly in not altering meaning/intent. But I also believe strongly in negotiating, when feasible. But I know sometimes it's not worth the energy.

Sullivan McPig said...

I can understand why a newspaper/magazine/etc would want to edit an article and I'm the first to admit I would need editing if only because English isn't my native language. That said: I think that if they change more than interpunction they should check with you if you're ok with it as changing text can really change the point you're trying to make.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I thought reviews weren't supposed to be changed? Perhaps a request that any changes be ran past you first is in order. As you said, it's your name on the review!

Sci-Fi Gene said...

$0.01: I think in the example you gave, you were completely justified - this sounds exactly like you said, someone inexperienced making a totally inappropriate change. I'd have argued it too.

$0.02: In general though, a good editor is priceless, and their work may be anything from keeping an article's meaning intact while reducing the length by 50%, right through to turning an awful manuscript into a readable final novel. As a reviewer I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of reading a self-edited novel. I have and God can you tell!

$0.03 I get how you feel. I've been blogging single handed for a year and a half & enjoying the sense of complete freedom. This week I submitted an article to a group blog for the first time & I'm really nervous about it being edited even by fellow bloggers.

$0.04 I really like your writing & I don't think you should be put off writing for different sources. Maybe it's good (for both of us) to give up a little control. Best, sfg

~Jennifer~ said...

I personally find that upsetting. Had "time and again" been changed to something equivalent - no problem. "Engaging and enchanting" is something else entirely.

furiousBall said...

Editing is normal, but normally, it's done to better a piece not make it grammatically incorrect or incoherent. Hate the player, not the game in this instance

Stewart Sternberg said...

First, that picture looks like a child version of "24"'s Chloe. Second, let's talk about editing and writing.

When I pass off something to an editor, I expect change. I have little ego about my work. I'm fortunate in that most of the editing changes anyone has suggested to me or made has in fact made my work better. I'm grateful for that. As for reading my work and finding changes have been made without having first let me know what the changes were, that is something I've never experienced, and something which would be difficult.

As you know I am taking a shot at being the blog editor of Elder Signs Press' revamped site. I've considered what this might mean to people. Ultimately, I've decided I want to see and hear the different voices, to feel the texture that is the genre community. My goal is merely to provide and suggest some topics and to make changes that would either remove passive voice or improve clarity.

It's a hard relationship at times. One based on trust. It sounds like your trust has taken a slight jarring, but I think you had the right idea in expanding your reach and think you should continue to do so.

SQT said...

I should probably mention that this wasn't a paid position and that I had been chafing at some of the constraints for awhile.

I would often turn in 3-4 reviews a month. Which meant that I was prioritizing their reviews over what I needed to get done on the blog. So that sometimes puts me behind on what I want to do here. That would have been okay, except they would take those reviews and only choose one or two to put in print. So that's frustrating because I just wasted time reading two books I could have put aside until later.

Then the "new" editing came into play. I don't mind being edited as long as what I'm writing isn't being substantially changed. There was just something about the tweaking to my work that made me uneasy. I didn't trust that the editor knew what they were doing. It didn't feel right, if that makes sense. I could have stayed, but there was no upside to it. I know my work would be continued to be edited in a way that made me uncomfortable and I'm pretty sure the finished product is something I won't want my name attached to.

Neth said...

Naw, you're not spoiled, you just value what you do. First, I think that all bloggers could really benefit from an editor. The few times I've had my reviews edited, it's made them a lot better. However, in both capacity as a blogger and someone who writes technically for my day job, I believe that all edits should be reviewed before something goes final.

Since it wasn't a paid position, I can understand not wanting put up with the crap. If it were paid, I'd have probably given them another chance, but it did seem a bit ungrateful of this organization to treat you the way they did. You are volunteering your valuable time to help them out - they should have been much kind and appreciative rather than sulky/bitter reaction they seem to have given.

SQT said...

For those interested, I added a "post script" to the post with a little more information about why I left. Thought I should mention that I didn't leave over one little thing. It was more of the "final straw" kind of thing.

Lavona said...

Good for you! I have a different experience, that of a book author that had an editor a) insert mistakes into a technical book, major ones, and b) then take about 5% of my work and publish it as a "quick start" kind of book, same publisher without any benefit to me.
Seems that copyright didn't apply because it was "technical how to" ..
Editing is important, and valuable, but can also be totally wrong.

S.M.D. said...

Honestly, I don't think you were overreacting. They were being idiots and treating you with disrespect. The fact that they decided to say you're right and a pain in the ass for it shows that they really don't give a crap about you or your work. If they did, they would have apologized and left it at that.

So, screw them. Find somewhere else to send your reviews to. Sacramento Book Review, perhaps?

SQT said...

Harry-- It's a strange situation. The "job" was a small one and won't make a big difference whether I keep it or not. Maybe I'd consider it a resume filler, but most likely it wouldn't amount to much. So my tolerance level here was low. If I'm going to work for free, I guess I prefer the level of freedom I have as a blogger.

Kendall-- I was already on the fence on whether or not to keep doing the reviews. I felt the overall quality of the publication was going downhill-- no doubt due to the current editing. So I already was uneasy about staying. This was a final-straw thing and it just reinforced what I was already wanting to do.

Sullivan-- I think editing is hugely important. If this blog were bigger and I could pay the contributors, I'd tighten up my content and figure out some way to have all our work edited. At this point, it isn't practical so I keep it casual.

Alex-- it's supposed to be kept to a minimum and that kind of word-change should be approved. I think I have been so quiet all this time that they assumed I'd go along with whatever they chose to do.

SciFi Gene-- I agree, a good editor is worth their weight in gold. But a bad editor can drive you crazy. I have tried to read self-published work and it didn't take long before I had to say no more. I'm getting to the point where I do want to branch out and write for more sites and/or publications and I'm sure I can live with the editing. I just need to know that I'm dealing with someone I trust and respect.

Jennifer-- I tell you, I never thought one little word could rile me up so much. But "enchanting?" It was so inappropriate to the context of the review. I generally don't use that word and if I did, it would be for a frothy, romantic kind of book. Not a murder mystery!

FB-- I agree. Editing is very important. A good editor is really important.

Stewart-- You're right, she does look like Chloe.

I have no qualms about submitting work to you and having it edited. But then, I have had you read my work and give me feedback before, so I trust your judgment. I also doubt you'll be throwing the word "enchanted" around out of context. I'd like to do more with my writing. I just didn't feel like doing the reviews was adding much value to my overall experience level.

Neth-- I definitely think they were getting the better end of the deal. They weren't too rude, I just thought it was interesting that they threw in the comment about reviewer bloggers. Seems they've had some head-butting going on there. But mostly I think they're having a hard time keeping reviewers, some of the emails have hinted at that, and they're short handed right now. I don't mean to add to their problems, but I don't like that I can't trust what kind of content is going to have my name next to it.

Lavona-- Oh man. I don't know how you don't go postal over something like that. Nothing like having someone steal your work to make a profit.

SQT said...

S.M.D.-- It was the Sac Book Review. Lol.

carolsnotebook said...

I think you were reasonable. The example you gave definitely changed the meaning.

On a side note, I'm spoiled and personally I like it that way. But I also don't leave my own little space in the world.

SQT said...

Carol-- It was my first attempt to do something other than the blog since I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and I suppose it's been good in a way. It was an easy way to try something that was out of my control and I think it has broken me in a little bit for the next outing. My only concern was that their quality was slipping a bit and I don't know if/when they're going to get it back.

Kendall said...

SQT: Thanks for the additional info. It makes more sense now.

To those dissing the response she got (which wasn't bad anyway): Look at it from their point of view (no prior complaints, etc.). There's more to the story, sure; but if they're unaware of that.... ;-)

SQT said...

Kendall-- Their response wasn't bad at all. I just thought it was interesting that they specifically mentioned reviewer bloggers. I can see where they're coming from though. Reviewer bloggers have an outlet other people don't have to get their opinion across. And we have access to books.

I really wasn't one to complain and I'm sure my decision to leave seemed abrupt. But knowing that my name was on a review that, in my opinion, was cringe-worthy, wasn't an experience I wanted to repeat. I know they ultimately have to side with their editor and there aren't likely to be any personnel changes anytime soon-- so why stay? I have a feeling this is a situation that would repeat itself and I prefer to avoid the frustration.

BStearns said...

I think you handled it masterfully. Having just started my own blog, I know that I need editing help and such, but I to would be upset if they altered my meaning. The fact that you handled it gracefully, didn't demean the editor, and didn't go out of your way to draw the issue out says a lot about your character. I find too many people are willing to draw out these sort of problems, especially when they are handled via email. I find it childish and doubt said people would do the same in person. It says a lot about the type of person you are to just let it be, and not have it drawn out. Kudos and keep up the great work!

Individualist said...


I am not qualified to judge you about writing or your devotion to artistic "truth" except to say that there are probably in history many artists who held true to their talent at all costs that died broke. Then again it wasn't a paying gig so......

The one thing I am curious about is did they make the editorial change and publish it under your name without notifying you and gaining your approval. It was my impression that the editor had to get the journalists sign off on the story if they had the byline. Still sending you the copy before publication as acourtesy would be polite. That is the only thing that seems to be out of line to me.

The rest seems to fall under the category of "free will".

SQT said...

BStearns-- Thanks. There really wasn't a reason for a drawn out discussion. I knew I wasn't going to be comfortable with the current arrangement, so I figured I'd leave before more resentments could set in.

Individualist-- No, they didn't notify me, which was definitely a problem. I suspect they will have more issue with the current editor because I think they're over estimating their skill and judgment. Just my personal opinion, but I've learned to trust my gut. I would have tried to negotiate some kind of better arrangement if it were a paid position. But as it stands I'm basically donating my time and books only to end up kind of embarrassed with the results. Just doesn't seem worth it.

SQT said...

Individualist-- I should also add that if I want to be paid in the future, I need to have good work to submit. If what's being put in print isn't worth showing to anyone, then there isn't much point. I have quite a few clippings from the time of the previous editor that I think represent my work at its best, and that's all I really wanted out of the relationship. I am actually trying to be practical in my approach to this and bear in mind what might lead to a paying job, and what they're allowing in print right now won't get me anywhere.

Harry Markov said...

Yes, I have been thinking about this and yes, they acted inappropriately because you placed them first with no reward than seeing your name in print. It seems weird that they are not trying their best to keep people at their side, given that they are taking labor in turn for almost nothing.

You acted accordingly to the situation.

SQT said...

Harry-- I can see their point of view to an extent, but I think you're right in that they should try a little harder to make the bloggers happy. We save them the cost of books and shipping, have experience and donate our time for a very small reward. It doesn't take long, under those conditions, for someone to decide to move on if there's no further incentive to continue. I think I did pretty good for hanging in there as long as I did.

Jocelyn said...

I'd say the real issue here is communication--a quick message from the editor with a "Here are the changes I'm thinking we should make..." outline would have opened the door for dialogue and turned the final piece into a collaboration more than you putting something out only to feel that it was altered unfairly.

Completely incidentally, I really enjoyed your writing here--so open and honest.

SQT said...

Jocelyn-- I totally agree. Better communication would have made it a non-issue. Thanks for the compliment too!

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing this story SQT! I wonder what they're teaching journalism students now that the industry has changed since the old "print days." Most people my age read the news (and reviews) online. But there is still something magical about seeing your name in print and holding the article in your hand.