I Am Not On Board: Let’s Talk About Authorial Intent

Tolkien_1916 (1)
“You’re reading my book wrong!” -J.R.R. Tolkien, probably

I’ve written a little before about my peeve of authors trying to closely control readers’ perceptions of their work.

*cough* Tolkien *cough*

And of course there have been ongoing discussions of Authorial Intent and “Death of the Author” from experts much more highly qualified than I for centuries.

But today, I had a very personal experience relevant to this discussion. An author responded to my one-star review of their book on Goodreads.

I’m not going to say who it was (though I guess you could figure it out from my Goodreads page–but please don’t @ them if you figure it out), mostly so SEO doesn’t pick up their name. I was so stunned I had to take a screenshot:

Goodreads

First and foremost, it’s just not professional for an author to respond to a review at all. But they did.

In the first comment the author points out that the review is based on an ARC–advanced reader’s copy–which is true, but then the implication is that the review doesn’t “count” somehow because the reviewer didn’t read the published book. (I noticed that this author has posted similar comments on other negative reviews.)

Except, here is how ARCs work: they are released FOR PEOPLE TO REVIEW, so readers of the reviews can decide if they want to read the book. What’s more, this author felt the need to control the reader’s perception not only of their book, but also to control the reader’s perception of my review of their book.

I added a comment as an addendum, explaining to any readers of the review that as I’d read the first chapter of the published book and the same issues I’d originally had with the book’s writing style were still present, and as there was no reason to believe the rest of the book would be any different, I still wouldn’t recommend the book.

Then the author responded AGAIN!

There’s an entire story that you’re missing out on, you don’t even know. Is it my fault that you’d rather read books that read like fanfic? I’m so sorry that literature is too difficult for you. Perhaps you should step aside and let readers who appreciate literature step forward in your place and enjoy the story and the meanings that are conveyed within it. Your lack of desire to read content fully diminishes your credibility as a reviewer.

Wow.

Just, wow.

I don’t even know where to start with that. Let’s just leave it alone for now.

Author and BookTuber Alexa Donne has a great video that I feel is really relevant, and that I wish I could send to this author. Donne says:

“The point of a review and the point of criticism is for the potential audience… to evaluate a work for consumption. Do I want to read this book? Will this book interest me? … The reviews are for the readers; they’re not for the authors.”

She also discusses the idea of authorial intent and control, and “breaking the fourth wall” as she describes it. When an author continues to comment and engage and try to control and retcon readers’ perceptions of their work, that is breaking the fourth wall. It shatters any connection or engagement the reader has with the work itself.

Authors, I love you, and I get it. Writing a book is really hard. I’ve never been able to do it. You put your heart and soul into your book. Your book is your baby, and you want to hear people say nice things about it.

But once your book is out in the world, you can’t control people’s perception of it; it has to stand on its own.

And reviews are not for you; they’re for readers. If you as an author are going to read reviews of your book, you need to be prepared for criticism—even if you don’t agree or think the critique is fair, don’t attack the reviewer. It’s a bad look.

In conclusion, books belong to their readers, read critically, and be kind.

Tolkien out.

8 thoughts on “I Am Not On Board: Let’s Talk About Authorial Intent

  1. Wow… that is just terrible. I feel insulted as a Christian from the way that author responded to you and that Goodreads group post. It’s not right for an author to act like that over bad reviews. Sometimes it might not even be that it’s a bad book, it could just not be your cup of tea, you know? Though even if it is a bad book, then well, you said it, you need to be able to take the criticism.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! Thanks for this. I’m a Christian as well, and I was completely stunned by the thought process behind that post, and the comments themselves. I don’t know what’s in store for this author now, but I hope they are able to learn something and grow as a writer.

      Typically if a book is OK, but just not my cup of tea, I would give it 3 stars. I am wondering now if I should have an explanation of my rating system somewhere on the site…

      But that’s beside the point! Thanks again for reaching out. This whole experience was wild so it’s nice to know I’m not alone here 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I searched you out on Goodreads and was absolutely disgusted by the way this author contacted themselves. I hate to say that I’ve seen this happening more and more. Goodreads should be a safe space for readers to express their like or dislike of a book. Everybody isn’t going to enjoy the same books. Sometimes, I have super high hopes for a book and it just doesn’t live up to it. Other times I’m not sure I’ll like something and I end up finding a new favorite author. But under no circumstances is it okay to trash a reviewer because you offered up what this author called a “rough draft”. I’ve never heard an author refer to an ARC as a rough draft before.

    You handled yourself very professionally and I’m so sorry that this happened 😦 I think I remember seeing that this was your first ARC? I certainly hope it doesn’t turn you off to the experience of ARCs. I’ve read some wonderful ones that I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to read otherwise.

    Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reaching out!

      I think having platforms like Goodreads and Twitter is kind of a double-edged sword, because it opens opportunities for readers to engage meaningfully and more closely with authors, and vice versa, but then that also opens up the greater possibility of this happening. 20 or 30 years ago, the only book reviews that were widely read would have been in newspapers, professional publications, and not written by the average reader, so there was more parity between the reviewer and the author. A journalist might get an angry phone call from an author every once in awhile, maybe, lol.

      This was my first ARC, and I reviewed it back in February. I’ve read several more since then that were better written, and the few other authors I’ve engaged with since then have also been wonderful.

      Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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