Ever notice that you can say a bad movie was a bad movie, but you cannot even call a mediocre book mediocre? If you’ve ever posted an opinion online about such things, you certainly have!
It is a weird quirk of the universe I suppose. Talk about how the recent remake of Conan was poor or how John Carter just didn’t do it for you, and you can get a lot of nods of agreement. People might disagree with you, but they don’t get violently angry about it and start calling you names.
But dare to not rate The Hunger Games (the book not the movie) as anything less than five stars or talk about what you found fault with another novel you recently invested time in, not saying you hated it, jus that you didn’t “love” it, and people jump down your throat.
Been there! So many times, in fact, that I can walk that road blindfolded.
There are reasons why this is true which I have learned from encounters giving my opinions on both books and movies.
You can call a bad movie a bad movie because people see movies as a construction of Hollywood. It’s some big, nebulous blob of people that are faceless. When a movie doesn’t do it for you, it can be blamed on the director, the writer, the editor, the studio, the special effects department, and even the key grip. It seems to put people at ease believing that any blame for a bad movie can be spread around.
But, when it comes to books? Books, on the other hand, are seen as one person’s, the author’s, labor of love. Even though there are other people that have often meddled with a book and made decisions about its content, the concept is that of the author, and the author alone, is the source of the novel.
It is true, authors have a great role in their books. But I was amazed at how many other people can be involved in meddling with what gets into print when I started talking to friends of mine who have been published. One sent me a copy of her recent manuscript, marked up by her literary agent and with lots of red ink and pages of suggestions. She then sent me another copy of the updated draft, edited by her publisher’s editors, with more red ink and still more pages of suggestions. She’s still in the process of editing her novel and trying to keep it her own as people are trying to make her rewrite major parts of the story.
The note that accompanied this packet warned ominously, “Are you certain you want to go through this?” She did say, “Thank God they didn’t suggest I add a vampire to the cast! I’d have told the to go F themselves! Seems like everyone wants a vampire in their books these days!”
It seems that more established authors get less of these sorts of “suggestions”, but they do happen and there are more people than just an author who has a say in what a book ultimately looks like. Still, the apparent perception is that the author is the person who takes the blame for a bad book. What about the punisher who didn’t have the courage to say no? What about the editor who didn’t give the prose a thorough enough once over and make suggestions?
Look, I say again, yes, a book’s author takes the blame for a mediocre book more than any one person takes the blame for a flat out bad movie out of Hollywood. But there are others to blame as well.
I’ve known authors who have broken down and cried when the novel they worked so hard on was finally published but didn’t get rave reviews and a plethora of five star praise. But if the reviews were honest and not spiteful then shouldn’t that be a learning experience? I think it should be.
I, for one, wish people would be less worried about offending authors. Give honest reviews rather than remain silent if you have something less than stellar to say and don’t praise something just because you are worried about hurting people’s feelings.