Okay, I totally shouldn’t be writing this. But Janni Lee Simner issued a call for authors to say that it’s okay to give us bad reviews. I want to add my voice to those saying, “Go forth and shred our books into tiny pieces.”1
You do not have to be nice about a book you hate.
However, I also want to say that it’s not our place to say so. Reviews are not for authors. They’re not even about authors. You do not need our permission to write about our books. Because once they’re published they cease to be ours.
Reviews are for other readers. A review is about a particular reader’s relationship with a particular book. And if you happen to trust that particular reviewer’s taste they’re a great way to find books you want to read or books you should avoid.
It’s ridiculously pleasing to come across a review shredding a book you loathed. It’s an OMG someone else hated it too moment. Yay! And they’re mocking it in the most hilarious way. Double yay!
I even enjoy bad reviews of books I like. Shaking my fist in outrage at them and rebutting every point is fun. It’s also fascinating to see how differently people read. Dia Reeves’ marvellous Bleeding Violet is a call to arms to take down the state? How did I miss that?
More seriously the effort to critique misogyny, racism, classism, homophobia and so forth in YA—in all art—is essential. We live in a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic world. We can and do unwittingly replicate racist tropes, sexist cliches and homophobic stereotypes in our work. It is a very good thing to be called on it. Our intentions count for nothing if they aren’t visible on the page to people who aren’t us.
Thinking about these issues can be painful and confronting, especiallly for those of us who have had the privilege to not have to think about them, but, trust me, doing so makes us better writers and readers.2
Will we always agree with such critiques? I think the recent Bitch media stoush answers that question. Feminism can, indeed, be in the eye of the beholder. Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels has been critiqued for “validating (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance”. I think that’s—at best—a sloppy reading of TM and that the book is profoundly feminist, but I also think that such a debate is extremely important.
When your work is published and out there people get to critique it however they want. The only way to avoid such critiques is not to publish your work.
It’s very hard for authors to believe that reviews are not about them. To not take them personally. It’s hard for anyone to read or hear people hating on something they worked very hard to produce. But you get over it.3 Or you learn to stop reading your reviews.
I was not so cavalier about all of this when my first book came out. Back then every bad review, hell, every non-ecstatic review, broke my little writer heart. How could people be so mean to me!? But then I’d read a book and hate it and pray that the writer never publish again4 and think well, okay, that’s how.
Sometimes you discover that your bad reviews can be hilarious. Here’s my favourite:
Magic or Madness is like a bad Australian episode of Charmed.
It was one of my very first punter reviews—on Barnes & Noble, I think—is it not a gem of its kind? I treasure it.
So, yeah, as I’ve written here many times, I think it’s inappropriate for an author to go to someone’s blog and argue over a review, especially when the author brings hordes of their friends and fans with them. The best response to bad reviews is to ignore them, not to attack or threaten the reviewer. Get over yourself already. Your book is not your child. You are not the boss of the internets.5
I am not, however, calling for author silence. I mean, seriously, have you read any other posts on this blog? I am so not a silent author.6 I don’t see any problem with an author rebutting claims about their politics or world view on their own blog. It can lead to very interesting conversations. Because of her brilliant and wonderful novel, Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan has been accused of not only sanctioning rape as revenge but also of purveying filth to children, and she has ably combatted those claims on her blog and in interviews and elsewhere. Good on you, Margo.
Mostly though I think authors should be thankful that their books are being discussed at all. Passionate opinions and debates about your work are a truly excellent thing. Plenty of books disappear without a ripple.
The biggest enemy of our careers is not bad reviews, but obscurity.
Let me repeat that: the biggest enemy of an author’s career is not bad reviews—it’s obscurity.
And on that chilling note I’m back to saving my typing hands7 for writing more of them books in the faint hopes of postponing total obscurity just a little bit longer.
- If you hate them that is. Feel free to praise should you want to. Feel free to meh them also. Whatever you want! [↩]
- Not to mention better people. [↩]
- Though not getting cranky about bad reviews of Scott’s books is still a work in progress for me. [↩]
- Yes, I mean you, Henry Miller. Yes, I know you’re dead. This is a warning to any possible reincarnations of you. I will kill you with my mind. [↩]
- That would be me! Or it used to be me—I retired hurt. [↩]
- Except when injured. But seriously offline I’m ranting away same as ever. If you see me ask me about Wikileaks or the minnows being expelled from the World Cup or Australia’s immigration policy or pretty much anything else and prepare to have your ears bleed. I gots opinions, yes, I do. [↩]
- Thanks so much everyone for letting me know you miss the blog. I miss it too and youse lot as well. Heaps! [↩]