Recently I discovered what it’s like to speak to a room full of people and have my words reported online. At the New England Crime Bake, I was interviewed by Steve Ulfelder. We spoke for almost an hour, about the craft of writing, and suspense fiction, and what it’s like to be a writer nowadays.
Somewhere in that discussion, I said that I don’t read Amazon reviews. Ever. I used to, but ended up with heartburn. Some Amazon reviews are thoughtful, but plenty aren’t (“This book is so stupid” being the mildest example). After a while I decided that reading customer reviews on retail sites was obsessive, self-involved, and masochistic. I thought I conveyed that to the audience — I don’t read these reviews because it’s both narcissistic and painful. My time is better spent trying to write the best books I can.
A few minutes after the interview ended, I checked Twitter. To my surprise, people in the audience had live-tweeted many of my remarks. I was really pleased — until I saw that “I don’t read Amazon reviews. Period.” had generated pushback.
One person online countered with, “I do. I want to hear from readers. Period.” Another wrote, “When you’re first time authors like we are, we LOVE to hear from our readers!” And they added the hashtag #notjaded.
I didn’t expect that. It never occurred to me that people would take my remark to mean that I am too high and mighty to engage with readers. Or that I am so jaded that I can’t be bothered to care about the people who read my novels. First, I don’t consider reading Amazon reviews to be “engagement.” Customers who post reviews aren’t generally trying to engage with the author. Second, I love to talk to readers. That’s why I have comments on this blog. It’s why I am on Twitter and Facebook, and take part in conversations online. I answer emails from readers. I go to conferences and spend weekends talking to readers. I am a reader. So to say that any author who doesn’t read online customer reviews is ignoring readers… yeah, not exactly.
In one way, I think the Twitter kerfuffle was a case of people looking for an online argument. The woman who originally tweeted my remarks — the estimable Jane Friedman — later added a string of “In Meg Gardiner’s defense…” tweets, suggesting that I hadn’t actually expressed a disregard for readers. And I responded directly to the people who were complaining about my remark. Some replied to me. Others ignored me.
Yes, I love the irony.
In any case: I do love to talk to readers. Earlier today I asked online whether other authors think writers are obligated to read all online customer reviews. I got this response, from Ian Rankin: