Monday, 9 September 2013

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Book Reviews

Well, a hornet's nest got a right old kicking on the Goodreads site this week, what with the Lauren Howard incident!

It's hard to know exactly what really went on, as even the lady herself has since backtracked on many of her original claims, but the gist seems to be that she felt some bad reviews for her latest book were products of online bullies who were specifically out to get her, rather than being genuine (if extremely negative) opinions about her work.

Regardless of whether she stands by her original statements or not, enough people joined the debate with horror stories of their own to make it clear that this is not an isolated incident; bullying and 'trolling' of authors is a real and ever-growing problem that's not just confined to the Goodreads site.

Of course there are always going to be reviews from the kind of people who secretly fancy themselves as some kind of online stand-up comic, honing their talents tearing into the work of others with the kind of visceral glee that would make Hannibal Lechter say "Whoa, that's a bit harsh..!" Some of those people, even if their approach is cruel and ruthless, do make valid points - albeit hidden beneath the swirling cloak of bitchiness. But for every one of them there's the other kind; the type who treat it as a kind of blood sport, where they are the lion and the hapless recipients of their assessments are the tender, juicy antelope.

In either case, the one thing you can't do is snipe back at them. Or rather, you could - but it won't do you any favours at all. Because, while your potential public can be as nasty and rude about (and in many cases, to) you as they like - because, as the old saying goes "the customer is always right" - if you appear to be even the slightest bit huffy about their damning review of your literary baby you will instantly be perceived as arrogant, pompous and self-deluded. And arrogant, pompous and self-deluded authors tend to sell less books in the long run.

So your best defence against such sharp-clawed attacks seems to be... no defence at all. Smile sweetly and keep your mouth shut. Maybe even thank them for their contribution (but only if it's sincere - any potential brownie points will be thoroughly wiped out if your words are at all sarcasm-flavoured.) Walk away with silent dignity - and wait until the door is firmly shut (and it better be a soundproof one) before you allow yourself to wail/rant/kick stuff/eat ice-cream until you're sick. (Hey, whatever works for you...)

Unfair? Well, maybe... but then a lot of other things in life are like that too. This is the part where I say all that stuff about you being the better person for it - you know the drill...

The other thing you can't do is let them get to you. Even if their attacks are personal and intended to chew your soul into itty-bitty pieces, remember that it's still motivated by something you've created rather than who you are. You have complete permission to ignore anything that attacks your personality/emotional intelligence/morals, because that's something they really can't judge from your book - no matter how much they might believe they can. (Unless, I suppose, you've written a non-fiction how-to book about mass murder or something.. but then you haven't done that, have you? You haven't, right..?)

That doesn't make it hurt any less, granted - but things you've created can be fixed if you decide, on reflection, that the haters might be... sort of right.. about some things.... Anyway, you can still create other stuff; more stuff, new stuff. There's a reason the saying "you can't please all of the people all of the time" got invented - it's because it's true.

Yes, your book is your baby. And saying your book sucks is like being told your baby is ugly. But unlike a real baby, you don't have to love it for what it is. If you end up agreeing with those who've criticised it you can brand it a mistake, analyse its flaws and failings in microscopic detail - even pronounce it the black sheep of the family and disown it - and all without incurring the wrath of Social Services. And if you don't agree with the criticism... well, remember it is just a book - you can write another one without the first one getting upset and saying "You wrote him because I just wasn't good enough for you, didn't you..?!"

When writers write from the heart, they bleed. When they read what others have written about their writing, sometimes they bleed a little more. Yep, there's a lot of bleeding going on when you're a writer.

Best to get to like it then. Or at the very least get used to it.

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