Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Just Stay Classy: Book Reviews and Baseball Umpires

 Some days it seems like you can't open a book-related webpage without seeing some brouhaha between an author (or their agent) and a reviewer.  Simply searching for "authors behaving badly" brings up some amazingly cringe-inducing stories - agents attacking book bloggers, authors deciding to "defeat the bullies" by revealing pen-named reviewers' personal information.  It's a mad, mad world out there.

Then there's baseball.  While not quite as gentlemanly as golf (minus Happy Gilmore) or something like polo, there is a a decidedly dignified mien to the game.  When someone scores a run, they don't jump into the stands to have fans hug them.  When someone makes a great defensive play, they don't taunt the offense.  There is no "home run" dance.  You don't get put into a penalty box for being unnecessarily rough and a fan doesn't go to a game expecting to see a brawl. 

Of course, there are moments where the dignity of the sport goes straight out the window.  There are brawls between teams (usually just a small handful of times per season), and there is always the chance that a tough play can lead to a far more common occurrence: Umpire-Manager Arguments.  It's usually a grown man in a baseball hat screaming into the face of another grown man in umpire padding.  Sometimes the uniformed man (the manager) just goes back to his dugout, red faced and cursing, and sometimes they have to take the long walk back to the clubhouse.

What make a difference in these situations? 


It's a small thing, really, but generally speaking the manager can scream and curse and make an absolute idiot of himself - so long as he leaves the umpire himself out of his tirade.  "That call is [bleep]!  This game is going [bleepity bleep]!  He's clearly [out/safe]!  What the [bleep] is [bleeping bleep bleep] out there?"

If that little word, "you," enters the tirade, the manager can expect to spend the rest of the game off-field and, fans can expect to see this:
This is usually the point where the opposing team's fan freak out in delight.

What does this have to do with book reviews?  

For reviewers:
1. When reviewing a book - or anything, really - keep in mind that you are reviewing the book and not the author.   If the phrase "the author is" enters your review, take a step back and ask "Do I really need to say what I'm about to say?"  (If the phrase "The author is" is followed by something along the lines of "keenly aware of the complex politics of the region" then you're probably okay.)
2. Remember that no matter how bad you think a book is, there is a very real person who put a lot of his/her time into the work, and who might read the review.  You can find fault, but try not to be a jerk.
3. At the same time:  Be honest.  Did you not like the characters?  Then say so - but say why.  Was the setting unbelievable?  If you can, say how to improve it.  Was the plot unconvincing?  Point out the flaws - using your spoiler tags liberally.

For authors:
1. Toughen up.  I know this is a hard one.  Consider this a bad performance review - one that won't go into your permanent file.  No one likes hearing that they're flawed, but if you internet-punch the reviewer, that will definitely live forever. Remember:  Nobody who wants to read your book is going to be put off by one bad review.  Trust me; I have never shelved a book just because it had one - or many - bad reviews. 
2. Think of it as free amateur critiquing.  The reviewer said the book had "head jumping"?   Reread your book looking for examples, or ask a friend to help. People want to read a good book as much as you want to write one.  Take the opportunity to improve yourself.
3. NEVER initiate contact.  The person might be saying how your romance novel set during the Thirty Years' War is actually a communist propaganda work sent from the alien overlords to make us all become vegetarians.  Unless this is true - in which case please send me a link because that sounds awesome - don't get involved.  There's nothing the internet loves more than a meltdown, and once you've proved that you will respond, however minimally, unfortunately there are people who will goad you into a full Amy's Baking Company-style freak-out.

Just stay classy, people. 

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