An open letter to my fellow writers.

Please, act like adults.  Act like professionals.  Respect the long and varied literary tradition that includes rigorous criticism and the assumption that readers are autonomous.  Readers have no obligation whatsoever to writers.

No compulsion to read books a certain way, or write only constructive reviews, or agree with other reviewers, or hold their tongues if they do not like something.  And unless a reviewer is paid by a publication or a website or another organization they have no professional obligation at all.  

We do.  We’re the pros.  We need to remember that.  We take the produce of our psyches, be it beautifully or terribly written and place it in front of the general public for their paid delectation.  After that it’s up to them.  To enjoy it.  Or not.  To give it lavish praise or rip it into small shreds as they see fit without fear of censorship or reprisal.

There are outlets for creative expression where the critical norm is gentler than in the paid marketplace, such as fanfic sites or your blog, because the assumption there is that this is an amateur endeavor, done for love rather than profit.   I love what I do, truly, but I am aware that I am also releasing a product for sale into a competitive marketplace.  The consumers of my product can do as they wish with it as long as they respect copyright law.  Incidentally, quoting from a published work in a review is almost always protected under “fair use”.   Readers or prospective readers are under no more obligation to say nice things about a book than the patrons of a fast food restaurant are about their dining experience.

A book’s being a deeply personal creative effort doesn’t exempt it from that.  It’s more removed, but the person who developed that hamburger recipe undoubtedly put a lot of energy into it, and was probably very proud of his or her finished product.

Incidentally, when a reviewer is a paid professional, their overwhelming obligation is to their employer and their audience, not to the author of the reviewed work.  It goes without question that the reviewer should not be employed by the writer of the item under consideration.  The only widely accepted constraint on a professional reviewer is that they should not veer into the realms of the personal.  This has not been considered appropriate in literary criticism since the early 19th century.  The only time a reviewer is substantially accountable to a writer is in certain peer to peer settings, ie. one writer to another furnishing a professional opinion, usually solicited.  Even in that instance, the accountability is usually confined to furnishing the rationale for the opinion.

Please, we’re all adults here, or should be.


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