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Seems the authors v critics/reviewers thing just won’t go away. Today I was asked why I think it’s so important that authors not respond to critics. Basically what the question boiled down to was: Why does it matter?
A close friend also demanded that I explain why I am so keen on silencing authors.
I’ll take the second one first cause it’s so laughable. The very idea that I’m trying to silence anyone. I am an author. I am full of opinions. I share them here every single day. There’s nothing I don’t have an opinion on. Seriously. Ask me about anything at all and I will have a large loud opinion.1
I am not saying that authors shouldn’t have a response to bad reviews. I’m saying they shouldn’t share that response with the intramanets. By all means bitch to your friends. I sure do. Scream your anger and woe and hurt feelings. Print the review out and burn it.2 Do whatever it takes.
But do not go after the reviewer.
Because you will look like a thin-skinned, self-obsessed doxhead.
Because most of the time reviews are not about you. All you did was write the book. The reviewer is engaging with the book you wrote, and their relationship with it. They are bringing to bear their entire reading history as they do that. They will see and feel things you did not intend them to see. But you are not your book. If you can’t make that separation you are in for a world of pain.
Because if the reviewer is going after you specifically that’s their problem. Ad hominem attacks disguised as reviews are not hard for readers to spot. The problem is they’re very difficult for most writers to identify because so many of us cannot make that separation between ourselves and our books. Many of us authors feel that any criticism of our books is an attack on us. Rarely is that so.
Because it may well hurt your sales. I can think of several writers whose books I will never ever buy because of the way they attack anyone who disagrees with them. Because of their constant insistence that everything is about them. A blogger uses cover copy from their book jacket to discuss class and how it affects who does and does not get published and down they descend like an avenging angel in order to talk about the injustice done to them. When the blogger was, in fact, opening up a discussion about class and the politics of publishing. That author has revealed that they are a total doxhead.
Because you’re a published author. You have heaps of power. You have a right of response. In your books or on your blog or in an article or essay. I think it’s always wisest to address the criticisms generally rather than respond to a specific review. I’ve had a few people be upset about certain events in books 2 & 3 of my Magic or Madness trilogy. I have responded to their complaints and explained why I wrote them the way I did. I did this because they came to me and asked for an explanation. By all means talk about your motivations, explain the bits people have problems with. But there’s a big difference between doing that and attacking someone specific for giving you a bad review.
See? I’m not saying authors should be silent. I’m saying we shouldn’t behave like lunatics. If you scream at every reviewer (on blogs, goodreads, amazon, the NYT, wherever) who doesn’t worship you, exhort your fans to tear out their entrails, you not only look like a thin-skinned crazy person, you’re wasting your own time and energy. Write another book already.
It matters that you not behave like a lunatic because there’s no percentage in it.
Here’s my newsflash to you:
No matter what a genius you and your fans think you are not all readers are going to agree. There is not a book in existence that isn’t hated by someone. Me, I loathe Moby Dick. I have ex-friends who hate Pride and Prejudice. That is how the world is.
Get over yourself already.
I am now done and dusted with this topic.
Posted by Justine at 13:54, 3 July 2009 under Bloggery/Internetty Stuff, Publishing business | 19 Comments »
Amy @ My Friend Amy Says:
I think your advice on how to address criticisms in a general manner is spot-on! Great post.
July 3rd, 2009 at 2:30 PM
I agree. Rant to the people who don’t care… leave behind no evidence. that’s the way to go.
July 3rd, 2009 at 3:44 PM
Great post. Corks are nutty. Uggs Why would anyone want to look like Sasquatch? Flesh coloured tops ick! Plastic bags really time to ban.
July 3rd, 2009 at 3:51 PM
4. Justine Says:
J: Oh, I like to rant to Scott. He claims to care . . .
caitlin: I’ve been trying to come up with a different word for “flesh coloured” because I look around and we all have very different coloured flesh. Well, actually, our flesh is probably all the same colour, but our skin is very varied. I agree that for many pale skinned people wearing a top that’s very close to the colour of their skin looks awful. Pale pink on me is a total disaster. But darker skinned people look fine in dark browns. So it’s definitely mostly a white person problem.
July 3rd, 2009 at 4:06 PM
You got me to finally look up “tosser.” I have learned something!
July 3rd, 2009 at 4:40 PM
6. Justine Says:
I am here for purely educational reasons.
July 3rd, 2009 at 4:58 PM
Sarah Rees Brennan Says:
Most, most excellent post. Another thing, and this may not be the same for all authors: currently, I am aware that I am insane. My first book is just out, I read all my reviews obsessively, I have many opinions on them.
They are crazy opinions. I am way, way more attached to and invested in my book than any reviewer could be, and in a state of feverish anxiety at times besides.
Authors are not all crazed in the same way I currently am, but they’re all pretty invested, which is why their response to reviews might be disproportionate.
So – don’t respond! Such a good rule. Means that later I am not embarrassed by realising I have blazoned my crazy to the world. Much better for us all to keep our crazy private, for our own sakes.
July 3rd, 2009 at 5:13 PM
Lauren McLaughlin Says:
Well said, Justine. A review is the public expression of one person’s private experience of a book. As an author, you’ve already made your public expression–it’s called the book. Let it rot, fester, and flourish in other people’s brains. But never believe you can control their experience of it. That’s not your job.
July 3rd, 2009 at 5:55 PM
Yikes! Thanks for catching me. My problem with the pale pink peach people wearing pale pink peach is that it makes them look naked.
July 3rd, 2009 at 6:12 PM
On the subject of Pride and Prejudice, although I’m sure you know this already, a man called Seth Grahame-Smith has added zombies to Jane Austen’s classic. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” and it’s so so much better than the original… (and I really liked the clsasic).
July 4th, 2009 at 2:49 AM
I agree revenge never ends well. Whenever I’m really angry or upset I usually pace around and form an entire speach in my head outlining my feelings until I feel better and never actually give the speach to anyone.
July 4th, 2009 at 8:08 AM
I’ve decided that when my next book comes out, I’m not only going to go after reviewers who respond negatively to the book, but I’m going after the real enemy as well: kids and their book reports. Do you realize that a negative book report can sully an author’s reputation to 15 – 32 classmates? Not to mention the word of mouth damage that can spread from that kid’s teacher, “you should hear what a stinker that new book by AMV is — little Kevin wrote ALL about it. I gave him an A+++ for warning us all.”
And don’t even get me started on Book Groups. Let’s just say some of them will win a surprise guest appearance, so that I can eat their cookies and defend my work point by point.
July 4th, 2009 at 10:02 AM
Also, I’m joking! Please don’t get me out of book group!
July 4th, 2009 at 10:11 AM
14. Justine Says:
AMV: I think that you and Alain de Botton need to get married!
July 4th, 2009 at 10:25 AM
holly black Says:
Am eating mangosteen RIGHT NOW.
July 4th, 2009 at 9:14 PM
Keith R.A. DeCandido Says:
Brava, Justine! Well said and spot on! *applause*
July 5th, 2009 at 12:40 PM
Steve Buchheit Says:
There’s a saying that ends with the phrase, “.. and it annoys the pig,” that comes to mind when authors get all spittle faced on the internets about a bad review. It makes me wonder if those are the mythical writers who never suffered through a hundred rejection letter before making their sales.
And these thoughts came to me as someone in my village wanted to throw a “tea-party” on the Fourth of July and was wondering about police coverage in case things got out of hand. I had to sit there at the council table and try not to shout, “You’re having a demonstration about wasteful government spending and you want me to have extra officers on duty on the day I have to pay them double-wages, on the very day we have to talk about lay-offs?” But I doubted they would see the irony. So I kept quiet and told them they needed to discuss it with the chief.
July 6th, 2009 at 1:41 PM
18. Justine Says:
Steve: You’re kidding me. My mouth has dropped open. That’s just astonishing.
And I just said the same thing three times. (Worst writing ever!)
July 6th, 2009 at 8:45 PM
Justine: Hand to God, as they say.
They ended up having four people wave placards at the traffic (one more step closer to the center of the road, please) and barely filled one pavilion (maybe 30 people including children).
July 7th, 2009 at 12:14 PM
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