Your Opinion Has Value
Posted by Abhinav Jain
I recently blogged over at The Founding Fields about the relationship between reviewers (book bloggers in the main) and authors. It was a rather spur-of-the-moment post about how that relationship is built and how it should be sustained. While it is not an in-depth affair, I’ve had some great responses to it and the post was been welcomed by a lot of people. Which brings me to the point of this post: that my opinion (and yours of course if you interact a fair bit over the social media with industry people) has value to folks out there in the wild.
This is quite a funny thing you know. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have quite a bit of ego. Everybody has one, its no big thing. What matters is how you channel that ego. When people tell you that your opinion is valuable to them, whether it is by asking you for recommendations about movies/books/music, or by asking for your opinion on other things like say the publishing industry, it’s a really good feeling. Its an ego boost.
Anyways, that’s all rambling. The idea for this post was a very spur-of-the-moment thing as well. I was reading Michael J. Sullivan’s recent blogpost about his experiences at Balticon (held a few days ago) this morning and something he said struck me. I’ll quote the relevant bit:
Melissa is a wonderful blogger, (My World in Words and Pages) one the very first who discovered me and helped to spread the word. She didn’t just review my books, she became an advocate for me all over the net-a-verse and really helped launch my career. This was a woman I owed a lot to, and if I was able to recognize anyone at the con, I was so glad it was her.
Note: You can find Melissa on twitter under the handle @melLhay. (Twitter handle corrected)
People who follow my blog, at least in the last five months or so, know that I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of reading this year, whether it is space opera, young adult fantasy, epic fantasy, (near) hard science-fiction, science-fantasy, thriller, crime, or what have you. My reading this year has been extremely varied, both in terms of content, genre, and mediums (novels, novellas, short stories, comics, audio dramas).
This has resulted in some of the people I know, or have come to know as recently as a week ago, to ask me for recommendations because they want to try something new, something different. The usual helpful bloke that I am, I’ve provided those recommendations with the unsaid caveat that it is all really just a sampler of things. I can provide a ton of recommendations but that’d required me to write a 10,000 word blogpost or something. Ego? -check.
What Michael wrote about Melissa really struck a chord for me, precisely because of the reason that I’ve recommended this Riyria Revelations epic fantasy novels to at least three people this year. That I know of, as I can’t really talk about people who’ve become interested in reading my glowing reviews of them. At this point in time, Michael is a highly successful author who has had tremendous success in self-publishing and has also had his novels bought and published by one of the Big Six. And there’s no slowing down in the future for him either.
And all three of these friends have loved the six books. Well, actually two since I don’t know if one of those friends has moved on past like the halfway mark of the first book as yet or not. He is easily distracted, regrettably. However, they all had good things to say about the novel.
I also recommended Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns to a friend a couple months back. This specific example is all the more important because I have, as of this post, still not read the novel myself. My friend was looking for some dark fantasy stuff and going by what I’ve read about Mark’s novel, I thought it fit the bill and passed on the recommendation. She loved it, and is now an ardent Mark Lawrence fan.
It’s really weird how things work out.
A friend also asked me just yesterday (I *think* its yesterday) about some recommendations from what I’ve recently read. So I duly passed on a few titles to him: Paul S. Kemp’s upcoming The Hammer and The Blade being one of them. Interestingly enough, Paul posted an open letter (slash sales pitch!) on his blog yesterday, asking people who’ve enjoyed his Erevis Cale novels and his Star Wars novels to give The Hammer and The Blade a try.
It’s REALLY weird how things work out like that. Talk about confluence!!
Mutual respect, cooperation and trust are the three pillars of the relationship between authors and reviewers that I put forward in my editorial at The Founding Fields. I seem to have been channeling the trust part quite a bit there recently.
This all brings me to one of the key aspects of what I see as being the “job” of a reviewer: to recommend!
Reviewers are people who read books and listen to audio dramas, write about them critically to explain to their readers what they liked and didn’t like. We essentially do secondary word-of-mouth publicity for authors. We have established readerships that extend into various genres and are always willing to try out new things, for the most part. Some reviewers, like me, will tell you whether or not we’d recommend the novel (or audio drama or novella or what have you) and some don’t. Neither is the correct or incorrect approach since the review itself already makes that clear or, at least, it should be making that clear.
Reviews are a rather personal affair. A lot of folks on the internet talk about how reviews should be unbiased and objective. For me, that is an erroneous and unnecessary and craptasticular restriction on my hobby. Should I let my views on the author’s personal interests such as religion, political leanings, etc impact on my review? Hell no, that’s common sense. Neither authors, nor reviewers, not publishers should discriminate based on these ridiculous factors. It goes without saying: hate has no place in a review. So in that sense, we should be unbiased and objective. But, all the same, the review should reflect on how the novel made you feel, what impact it had on you. And a host of other things.
We don’t read novels or listen to audio dramas because we want to be divorced from any kind of sensations. Entertainment media are all forms of escapism. We read novels to spend time in fantastical worlds that we really can’t otherwise, whether it is a fantasy world such as Middle-Earth and Faerun, a far-future setting like Warhammer 40,000 and Dune, or a near-future world such as that in Matt Forbeck’s Amortals or Guy Haley’s Richards and Klein Investigations novels. These works are written for us to experience a wide range of emotions and in our reviews we should write about those emotions: which character we loved or hated, scenes that were emotionally-charged and highly evocative and so on.
Because you know what: these reviews are OUR opinions and these matter to people out there. John Carter is, in my opinion, one of the best films of 2012. But Disney really screwed up the marketing and most so-called critics slammed the movie for being unoriginal in the extreme. You know what though? Edgar Rice Burroughs’ oh-so famous character is one of the world’s first superheroes, barring all the mythological heroes and what not of course. His story is repeated in the stories of a hundred superheroes in a thousand comics. Superman isn’t the first individual to have *unknowingly* left his own world and arrived on a different one where he is hailed as a hero in recognition of his achievements there. John Carter had already done all that. The thing is that we live in the age of Avengers, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and The Amazing Spiderman. We are so wowed by the utter and sheer brilliance (don’t miss the sarcasm there) that we fail to appreciate movies which don’t reach those heights. John Carter is uninspiring and unoriginal only when you compare them to movies like these which are so far at the extreme edge of the spectrum that they should just not even be considered.
John Carter is a fantastic movie that deserves recognition, and I say that as someone who saw it first weekend of release and in 3D. I say as much in my review of it.
We come back to things now. Ego. Opinions matter. Personal opinions. Non-objectivity. It all really is a mess of things. We all have our egos and we all think that our opinions matter. Opinions are personal by nature and you can’t be non-objective about them. Its just not possible. To have a relatively informed opinion is not easy, by far. I’ve been reviewing books for 8 months now; movies for about 10, although I’ve done far more of the former than the latter. My opinion is a constantly evolving thing because it gets more refined with everything I read and watch and listen to. Its not an easy thing, not by far.
The internet, after all, is littered with the opinions of people. 99% of those opinions can be junked out of existence and wiped from memory because they aren’t opinions: they are scathing insults born out of prejudices, biases, hate, jealousy and so on.
To be a part of that 1% is a really difficult thing. Its all to easy to say that “your opinion doesn’t agree with my opinion because of so and so and therefore your opinion is shit”. You have to be, well, objective about things like this.
In an age where your opinion has some serious street cred (or the potential thereof), whether you are an author or a reviewer, its important to take a step back now and then to think about how to express your opinion. You can either talk a whole bunch of crap with as much of a craptasticular attitude as you can, or you can play nice with everyone.
I suggest playing nice. At least that way, your opinion has some real value.