I write a lot about professionalism in regards to author behavior. I’ve always thought that any person putting themselves into the spotlight needed a thick skin. It was their duty to rise above, to hold their tongues, to maintain an air of unflappability. Too many authors are much too quick to upbraid a reader, or castigate a reviewer, over issues like “not appreciating the story,” or “nitpicking.” Although I’m not going to tell you how obnoxious those criticisms are (again), nor will I encourage bad behavior among authors, I wanted to share a recent experience of mine that opened my eyes, and finally made me understand why so many of you have a hard time keeping silent.
I follow the blogs of over a dozen authors I love. For the most part, they have little to say in regards to their work. Their posts cover everything else: food, travel, humor, celebrities, movies, etc. One of them, however, wrote last week about negative reviews. (I’d link to her blog here, but she has since removed the post.) Basically, she said that she never had a problem with critical feedback, unless it was inaccurate – and that was almost impossible to ignore.
Honestly, I thought she was being too sensitive. What does it matter, what one person says? It’s ONE opinion. Let it go! Then I did a little digging, and began to understand. This author – let’s call her Mathilda – published a stand alone romance two years ago. I read it about six months ago, which is why I could testify to the fact that it was professionally edited and formatted with a solid plot, and engaging characters. I’m a picky reader, but found no fault with her product. Someone else did, though, and I was curious to know what stylistic issue they’d had – because they couldn’t possibly have had technical criticism…
But they did.
Mathilda’s reviewer cited concerns with language, a nonexistent problem from a reader who clearly didn’t grasp the differences between European and American English. He vaguely mentioned punctuation issues I’m still convinced aren’t there, then finished with a critique of “cringe-worthy eroticism” in a novel that didn’t contain even one sex scene. Reading this review, I found myself scratching my head, frowning, and muttering WTF? at my computer screen.
Had he somehow gotten a really crappy version of a book I adored? Mathilda assured me that he hadn’t. In the years since she’s published, she has never updated her files. Could he have simply reviewed the wrong book? No, he had too many character’s names right, and a passage he quoted for incorrect spelling was taken right from the book. I was left to assume that this person was perhaps on drugs. Or drunk. Or both. In my typically ambivalent fashion, I told Mathilda to let it go. One idiot’s opinion didn’t matter.
Except, of course, that his review generated nine comments along the lines of, “Thanks for the warning,” and “You just saved me five bucks.” Those comments kind of, um, pissed me off. So much so that I was replying to them myself before I even realized that I was potentially worsening the situation. What do I always tell authors? “DO NOT respond to a negative review. DO NOT encourage your readers to attack a reviewer. Readers will ALWAYS assume YOU are behind it.” I was trapped by my own logic.
Mathilda, validated by my outrage, thanked me for wanting to defend her but asked that I leave the situation alone. This was far more difficult than I’d anticipated. Someone was LYING! They were scaring readers away based on inaccurate information! They were, I’m beginning to suspect, a person with an axe to grin. Even so, my attack would help no one. The whole situation was, of course, bullshit…but there’s no way I could criticize the reviewer without causing further damage. Settling for a simple comment that has since been ignored about Britishisms, I walked away…and started drafting this post.
Writers can be the most arrogant, ignorant people on Earth – but so can readers. For every crappy, unreadable book on Amazon, there’s a review utterly devoid of facts. I wish I had the solution, that I could come up with the answers to both problems. Unfortunately, I don’t. All I can do is sympathize with your plight, and offer my own honest reviews to encourage the consumption of the good, and provide a warning for the bad. It’s all any of us can do. If the masses are honest, perhaps our truths will lead the way.