My article on reviewing sparked a lot of interesting discussion from bloggers, authors and readers alike. One of the more interesting ideas thrown around was from Robert Walker.

Thus, maybe it *would* be a good time for the blog-reviewers themselves to set some standards. And no, there really isn’t anything wrong with that, because what that allows is progress based on common vocabulary. That’s a hallmark of any important issue/discussion.

By setting this kind of standard, I think that you can free yourself from feeling any guilt, or worry, about writing whatever you want. Just call it what it is. It’s actually kind of a simple solution. A lot simpler than trying to re-define what a review is, which is a pretty slippery slope. One I don’t think needs to be taken.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert’s argument, the ideas he suggest and the repercussions it could/would have on the blogosphere. I’ll admit that the argument is well founded; our entire civilization is founded on the idea of having a sustainable set of standards by which humans should live. It’s called a government; but as we all know, a government (no matter what country you live in), while generally a good thing, is hardly perfect.

What Robert’s suggesting could bring some order to the blogosphere, of course, but I can’t help but feel that it would also leech out much of the life and vivaciousness, two of the major factors that make blogs such an organic and exciting medium as compared to other forms of mass media. There’s been much todo about bloggers developing or ‘finding’ their voice, something that sets them apart from others and makes their blog worth picking out from the mass and subscribing to. Any set of standards, no matter how positive they may be in another light, would stilt the bloggers ability to add their own flavour to the blog.

I know that Robert is suggesting something less drastic than this ­- something akin to defining what constitutes a review vs. a reflection on the novel – but I feel that it’s a rather slippery slope, one that could lead to very dangerous things for the blogosphere.

Robert also showed up at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, to further expound on the idea, and that’s where I think things start to get a little hairy and, frankly, somewhat offensive to those of us who blog.

While the notion that since this is the internet you can do whatever you want and call anything you want to a review might be true on a certain level, that doesn’t mean it will bring the kind of respect some reviewers might desire. Rather, that attitude sets up a glass ceiling of professionalism beyond which you won’t be able to climb.

Standards would allow readers to know what they’re getting into, what to expect from reviews, interviews, articles, et al.. I suppose some people would consider this a good thing, a safe standard by which we could all play. I’d call it communism at best, despotism at worst. I have to wonder, who would set the standards? Only the prolific blogs like Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, OF Blog of the Fallen, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Mysterious Outposts, etc…? Where does that leave some of the smaller, less popular blogs? What about new bloggers, do they need to subscribe to these new standards which they had absolutely nothing to do with creating?

As I mentioned earlier, what ensures that the blogosphere thrives is that, yes, ‘this is the internet you can do whatever you want ‘. I think what’s missing from this argument is that it completely disregards the idea of quality and pushing boundaries. When has anything ever moved forward without those who are willing to break new ground, to step outside of the conventions and explore new territory? Why force a ‘Definition by Committee’ upon a blogger? And all of a sudden I lose any claim of professionalism because of a tag attached to an article I write regardless of the quality of the piece?

Robert is approaching the subject as an author, which is fair, and I expect that other authors may share similar concerns and ideas with him. To them, then, I ask how they would feel if a group of publishers and authors gathered together and decided what could/should be considered a novel, what requisites were required to be labeled as such. I recently read an article about several high profile authors (Neil Gaiman, being one of them) raising a huff because publishers wanted to start labelling novels with band to denote the correct age to be reading the novel.

Hell, one of my favourite reviews anyone’s ever written is Gabe Chouinard’s review of Savage Messiah by Robert Newcomb… and he didn’t even read the bloody thing. Read it HERE and tell me it isn’t a damn worthwhile review, and miles better in quality than many reviews by people who have finished the novel properly. Quality certainly can’t be branded.

Perhaps what I most subscribe to is that the blogosphere functions best as an anarchy, a dog eat dog world where only the best, the fittest survive. I like to think that A Dribble of Ink thrives and continues to grow because of the quality of the content I provide, not because I subscribe to some pre-determined definition of professionalism. Many people, for instance, agreed that my review was completely valid; an equal amount seemed to feel like it was slightly out of line. Who then, is right? Whose definition of professionalism do we agree upon? Should a blog not succeed based upon its content and not how the blogger chooses to define that content?

The anarchistic nature of blogs in general is what makes them so appealing to me. If someone doesn’t like a blog, they don’t have to visit it. If someone doesn’t like my reviews, but loves my interviews, then they can choose what to read, leaving the rest in the dust. In the end, though I think Robert has a valid argument, I just can’t help but feel that it would hurt the blogosphere more than it would help.

Give me my freedom, and I’ll show you what I can do.

  • aidan August 2, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Just for the record, I’ll be out of the town for the next couple of days. I’ll probably be able to find the time to read everyone’s comments, but not necessarily respond until I get back!

  • Robert Walker August 2, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Aidan. Great post! I appreciate both the fairness with which you handled your interpretations of my statements, as well as your arguments. But, just to clarify a tiny bit, I am in no way suggesting that there should be rules set up by some arbitrary committee which should then be enforced. In fact, I would completely oppose something like that, with every fiber of my being. What I was suggesting was, rather, that there is a certain childish irreverence to the notion that, in the face of Paul’s (in my opinion) valid concern regarding the practice of publicly reviewing novels, the answer should be something along the lines of: “Screw you, old man! I do what I want!” (Please imagine Cartman saying that last line.)

    Let me be clear: I absolutely *do* think that we should be able to do (almost) whatever we want with our own blogs/websites (the “almost” refers to things like child porn, or snuff films–things that should not be tolerated under any notion of “freedom”). What I am suggesting, though, is that following a “convention” like: We call a “review” a piece about a book we read in its entirety, and we call it something else when we didn’t finish the book, can be a good thing for everyone involved. That is the only “standard” I was suggesting. Why? Because I think that there is absolutely no freedom lost (no censoring going on, self- or otherwise), and it also allows for authors to feel that they have been treated fairly. I ask, what’s wrong with that? Again, not down some imaginary slippery slope, but simply on this one concrete issue.

    And, in response to certain intimations ;), I would also like to point out that when it comes to “politics,” I actually have little interest in the current system, as I think it is essentially bogus and disingenuous. The closest political label I could ascribe to myself (though I wouldn’t do so, as I hate labels) would probably be social-anarchist(?) Along the lines of the true anarchists in the Spanish Revolution. But, let me also point out that “anarchism” (at least in the socio-political sense) does not mean kids running amok in the streets, all rhymin’ and stealin’. What it means is that the *people themselves* get together and are their own bosses, decide *for themselves* the rules they will follow. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is a level of progress that simply cannot be attained without some kind of organization. And look, the truth is that there is organization all around you, your life, your blog, your beliefs about “freedom,” everywhere. Organization happens by itself, naturally. The issue is how we want to work with it, or oppose it, etc.

    And, again, let me be perfectly clear here: when it comes to the blog world, I am speaking about one such organizational matter, and that is: fairly defining what constitutes a review. By committee? Of course not! By convention. Just do it. If it makes sense, then it will stick. If not, then it won’t.

    I think that makes sense. And it also happens to be totally in line with (what seem to be) your beliefs.

    (And thanks for the fun, civil discussion, Aidan. It’s a hard thing to find on this wild frontier. And let me also point out that your choice to be fair and civil in this discussion is also a “convention,” one that engenders open communication and progress, much like what I’m suggesting when it comes to this reviews issue. That’s not a dig, but simply a point to consider.)


  • neth August 2, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    I have to say, this continued discussion has only solidified my view that this all pointless semantics. I think any attempt at formalized stnadards would be joke and most likely would go nowhere.

    The review blog is evolving nicely on its own, and I don’t thind regulating that evolution is a good idea or even a likely possibility.

  • Larry August 2, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Ric Flair once said, “If you want to be the Man, you got to beat the Man, whoo!” After reading the posts in question, can’t help but to wonder if part of it is a lack of self-confidence in what you’re doing. “Standards” is nothing like “communism” (and such a comparison is asinine, to be honest). It merely is a level of quality that someone commits to providing.

    One doesn’t have to ape the “professionals” to be good, but one certainly can examine how they approach things and learn techniques that can be altered to suit your needs/styles. I said more elsewhere, but this ought to be enough for now.

  • Highlander August 3, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Surely the standards for your output are set by your own moral code, something that is so ingrained no amount of committee meetings could change it! What I mean is surely honesty and integrity will shine through, regardless of the style, vocabulary, rating system whatever.

    As a new reviewer I certainly look to the likes of this blog for inspiration and ideas but any reviews would have to come from me and show how I felt(in my own style) otherwise it would be pointless. The readers are the ultimate judge of the quality of the review, I am sure if they get bad advice they won’t come back and that is what regulates the output.

    “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” – Bob Dylan

  • thrinidir August 3, 2008 at 3:01 am

    Aidan, I see where you are coming from, but this article turned out a bit too idealistic and self-righteous if you will. You certainly can’t call a set of standards a communism at best and despotism at worst. Even if we haven’t formally agreed to any set of standards we still implicitly act accordingly to some of the most general standards – integrity, a degree of objectiveness, honesty, equanimity, analytical approach, rational argumentation etc.

    There certainly shouldn’t be the one or a group of the most popular and visited blogs (popularity is not unanimous to quality after all!) and yes a certain element of “anarchy” should certainly apply to being a blogger, but a set of loosely set standards (not in any kind of canonical way ofc) should certainly help to sort some things out and make the blogosphere more organized and easier to access by the interested audience.

    But in the end I agree with Neth; we are all being indulgent in pointless semantics – the blogosphere is doing ok without us philosophizing; and besides – I think that the blogs I read (your’s, larry’s, neth’s, graeme’s, james’, john’s, kristen’s, sara’s etc. etc.) are more than qualified to review the books; at least as far as my intellect is concerned :).

  • aidan August 3, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Just wanted to drop a line and say that, reading things back, the communism comparison was obviously overblown and should be taking with a bit of tongue in cheek.

    I sometimes forget that it’s difficult to get tone across through the internet, especially with big statements like that. It may sound rediculous, but I’ve been playing a fair bit of Civilization Revolution these days, and I’ve got government on my mind, and that’s probably the source of me inserting my foot directly in my mouth.

    I appreciate all the comments, folks! I apologize if I offended anyone.

  • robert Walker August 3, 2008 at 9:13 am

    No worries, Aidan. As they say in “Clue” — “Communism was just a red herring.”

  • Gabe August 3, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    This really is a non-issue. While it would be great if bloggers would hold themselves to certain standards, the reality of it is not only moot, but possibly undesirable. Hell, my perception of what constitutes a “review” doesn’t match Pat’s perception, and likely never will. But the fact is, there’s room for all sorts of voices in the blogosphere and there’s room for all sorts of reviews. Arguing over it, or suggesting there are necessary standards one must be held to is ridiculous.

    It’s up to the individual blogger to decide what standards need to be met before a post is made.

  • Robert Walker August 3, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    “It’s up to the individual blogger to decide what standards need to be met before a post is made.”

    No doubt, Gabe. I think the value in discussing the issues involved, like discussing any issue, is that it can help individual bloggers to make wise and informed decisions, taking into account various perspectives and ideas. Blog review sites do not exist in a vacuum, regardless of one’s own sense of individualism.

    If bloggers truly didn’t care how their blogs/opinions/ideas were perceived, then they wouldn’t write in a public forum. The fact that they do indicates that they make decisions as to how they want to present themselves and their thoughts. While I understand your opinion that these issues are not important, I think it’s probable that there are bloggers out there who find the issues of conduct and consequences thought-provoking, as such issues exist for any blogger, whether they realize, and admit, it or not.

  • Mark August 4, 2008 at 7:01 am

    I’d throw in some free market thought here to balance discussions of communism. (Except we’re not dealing in monetary terms.)

    I’m rather in line with Gabe, there’s room for many voices online. And I’d add that bloggers who write terribly written reviews won’t be read that much. They would have a tiny audience; or an appropriate audience. That’s what the internet does: you can find the reviewers you trust. There isn’t really a need to stamp down authority; although guidelines might help drive those who want to improve the quality of their own reviews.

    It’s the same as saying that all authors should have a certain list of plot devices and characters to include in their books. Sure, that might make a core group happy, but what about those who want crazy books, with new ideas, or who want something a little different?

    There’s no “one size fits all”…

  • Trin August 5, 2008 at 1:32 am

    Blindman wrote a reposte to the article, if anyone is interested.