Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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The terrible intimacy of @.

I love reviews the way that I love snakes. I am glad that the world is full of them; I enjoy the company of a great many of them; I have been a snake keeper and I studied snakes in school; I do not particularly feel like snuggling up to every snake on the planet, thanks. Many of them have sharp fangs, deadly venom, and little fondness for hugs. While a bitey review won't kill me, I don't feel like hugging them, either. But—and this is important—I am genuinely glad that they exist. The only way to have something universally well-reviewed is to make that thing out of calorie-free vegan zero-cruelty Wonka Fudge that magically changes to taste like whatever it is you love best in all the world, and even then, I bet one person would pan it on the basis of "this has no personal integrity."

Negative and critical reviews are essential. They make people think about what they're consuming. They provide necessary information that a glowing review might skip over in favor of going "yay yay yay" a lot. They matter. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to link them, because this is my space, and it doesn't mean I'm going to wander into the terrifying depths of the Amazon rabbit hole, where "this book contained the letter 'c'" is considered a legit reason to pan something. I have a vague sense of self-preservation, and while I may be glad those reviews are out there, I'm not going to go seeking them out.

But here is the thing. Many people @-check me on Twitter. "Just finished the new @seananmcguire," or "Wow candy corn @seananmcguire must be thrilled." And this is great, this lets me talk to people and see who's talking about what. I enjoy the closeness of conversation engendered by use of the @ system. Except...

Except some people seem to forget that the people you @-check can actually see what you're saying about them, because you're saying it to them. I've had to stop clicking review links on Twitter, because there are two conventions colliding when someone @-checks me on a negative review: the Twitter social contract, which says that "Thank you!" and other interaction is appropriate, and the writer/reviewer social contract, which says that I will not engage with a negative review in any space. I don't really want to thank people for negative reviews. It seems disingenuous. I also don't want to get flagged as an "attack author" for saying "Well, I'm sorry you felt that way" whenever someone links me to their one-star take down of my latest work. But at the same time, I feel like I was invited to the conversation; after all, including my Twitter handle guarantees that you'll show up in my feed.

I actually spend a lot of time feeling faintly awkward and unsure, because people will @ me the weirdest things. Someone decided to tell me via Twitter that they felt like one of my books had been phoned-in. Um. I'm sorry you feel that way? But I have no place in this conversation. Everyone's feelings about media are valid, period. Everyone has the right to like or dislike things, even problematic things, and not need to defend themselves. But there's a big difference between a negative review, or a conversation to which I am not invited, and walking up to me and announcing "I hate your work." I am not allowed to respond in any substantive way. It's not my place. I don't get to dictate how you feel about a thing. So it winds up feeling attack-y, in a way that a simple bad review does not.

I think it's important to remember that when you @-check a person, you are inviting them to the conversation, and you may consequentially be inviting them to respond. They have been tagged; they are a part of the discussion now. And it's a little unfair to invite them in if you know they're not allowed to join. It hurts.

I am powerless before the terrible intimacy of @.
Tags: contemplation, technology

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