Somewhere out in the dangerous land of the intramawebby, an author is being bent out of shape by a less-than-positive review they have accidentally stumbled across using the magic of “google”, or “blogpulse”, or “icerocket”, or some such fell black witchcraft. That author is prolly contemplating their witty riposte, or deciding what to call the vengeful sock puppet they will loose upon the malign and malodorous writer of the less-than-positive review.


Truly. Just let it go. If you publish stuff you have to learn to do the duck’s back thing. Folks are going to read your stuff and hate it. You cannot stop them. And if you try you will only look really really really pathetic and tarnish your reputation amongst readers who really care about what they read. Like I said before your book no belonga you.

And those reviews? Bad or good: they’re not about you or for you. Believe it or not, most are written without giving the real, living, easily wounded author of the book a second thought. A wise friend of mine points out that they are written for readers. Just as most literary prizes are about canon formation, about pointing librarians and booksellers to the books they should be making available, and scholars to the books they should be writing about. Rewarding the author is a mere side effect.

Or to put it more simply: you are not your books. You just writes them.


  1. Ron on #

    Besides, if you are any good at this writing thing, you probably have some overzealous fans who read teh Intarwebs and will be happy to go through the review point-by-point elaborating at length upon its every fault on your behalf. Let them take the heat!

  2. Rachel Brown on #

    i could not agree more.

  3. Dan Goodman on #

    I suggest also: Do not, in autobiographical writing, say that you really don’t mind bad reviews, that you’re not affected by what those bastards say, etc. at great length.

    Or perhaps just: Do not say bitterly that you’re not bitter.

  4. Sherwood Smith on #

    Good advice (I personally do not see the draw in googling on my name as it’s sure to produce nasties I’d really rather not see, but people obviously think differently).

    My only comment is obviously going to the choir, and thus is useless, but: readers, if a writer writes a story you don’t like, please don’t employ google or something else to winnow out their e-mail address just so that you can send them hate mail.

  5. ed on #

    Who has the capacity to do greater damage? The fanboy with too much time on his hands or the oversensitive writer?

  6. Rachel Brown on #

    ed: actually, if it were not for fanboys (and fangirls) with too much time on their hands, many of us would not be writers– either because we were those obsessed fans, or because they are supporting our works even if they’re simultaneously bitching about it. or both.

    i am not, however, seeing the bright side of the oversensitive writer.

  7. Justine on #

    Rachel Brown: I assumed Ed meant the over-the-top fans who defend their favourite writers to the point of craziness. “Blah-blah is a god! How dare you dislike his latest book!” Some are as crazy as oversensitive writers.

    I particularly assumed that because he used the term “fanboy”. I have never come across fangirls behaving that way.

    I, too, was an obsessed fan long before I was a published writer. And I will defend certain writers against all comers! Never say a word against Angela Carter in my presence.

  8. Nicole on #

    response to Justine: I have never come across fangirls behaving that way.

    Oh, it happens in online romance fandom all the time. “Fangirl” in fact for romance fans is partially defined by exactly that sort of over-the-top fan.

    That earlier post is very interesting, and I agree with both of them fully, as a reader: none of us like being told that our interpretation of a book is wrong, wrong, wrong and we’re too stupid to get it etc. and also, everyone should like the book or we’re stupid. there’s being sloppy in a review and getting facts wrong (which as a reader bugs me, but there’s nothing one can do about other people’s sloppy) but simply disliking something? arrrgh.

  9. Charlie Stross on #

    Oh yeah, another rule: if you think a reviewer is stoopid, arguing with the reviewer is going to make the folks in the peanut gallery think you’re arguing with a fool. And what do they say about people who argue with fools …?

    It’s one of those things where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The *only* excuses for sounding off about a reviewer that I can think of are if they explicitly invite you to respond (rarer than hens teeth) or … if you’re sounding off about some other author’s bad review. (*Then* you can come over as all magisterial and wise 🙂

  10. Little Willow on #

    all your basebooks are belong to us.

    happy holidays!

  11. klages on #

    I have never thought of (or used) “fanboy” as a gender-based term.

  12. ed on #

    I must concur with Ms. Klages. “Fanfan” is a silly non-gender specific substitute for “fanboy.”

    The bright side of the oversensitive writer? Elmore Leonard’s “Get Shorty” comes to mind. I’d argue that petty vengeance is best dealt out in fiction. Although for every Leonard who does it well, there’s an assclown like Michael Crichton who messes it up big time.

  13. Justine on #

    Ron: And you can’t control your fans either . . .

    Rachel: Bitching about reviews is best done in private!

    Dan Goodman: I’ll try to remember that one. Though there are certain writers who get asked the same questions over and over again so that they start to look like they’re being bitter when they’re not. The excellent example I’m thinking of escapes me right now. Stupid memory sieve!

    Sherwood Smith: *cough* *cough* yes the googling your own name thing is inexplicable. *cough* *cough*.

    readers, if a writer writes a story you don’t like, please don’t employ google or something else to winnow out their e-mail address just so that you can send them hate mail.

    Do you get a lot of that? Uggh.

    Ed: Who has the capacity to do greater damage? The fanboy with too much time on his hands or the oversensitive writer?

    Dunno. That’s way too hard a question. I don’t know how many angels fit on the head of a pin either.

  14. Janie on #

    I am surprised at the number of authors who will google their name. Ohh! I don’t think so! Good advice and I agree. Once you publish a book and it’s out there, it belongs to the reader.

  15. rachel brown on #

    I google my name. I just don’t write in to people, except to say, “thanks, I’m glad you liked it,” if i don’t think that will freak them out.

  16. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    There’s a fine tradition of writers engaging the public and reviewers in intelligent, often bracing discussion. For example, Nabokov, who did not suffer fools gladly. Granted, this approach isn’t for everyone, but I think that while Justine outlines a good general approach, it, like any so-called rule, is more of a general guideline. I think the world would be a poorer place without Nabokov’s rebuttals, for example.


  17. Justine on #

    Jeff: I agree. No rules are ever absolute. The world would be poorer without Nabokov’s rebuttals. The world would be poorer without his shopping lists. He was a genius (which isn’t to say that he wasn’t a dickhead on occasion).

    But I’d also argue that the context was very different. Part of what makes blogs different from literary journals and newspapers is that they are both public and private spaces.

    When an author goes charging in to defend themselves, they’re trespassing on a community that has certain mores and habits and nine times out of ten the author is going to put their foot in it. They’ll wind up alienating, not only the blog owner, but their readership.

    If they’d just ignored it, odds are one of the blog’s readers would leap to the author’s defence. But instead they’ve created bad will and turned off potential readers of their work.

    Probably the best place for a writer to talk about their writing is on their own blog or in interviews etc. It’s not that the information isn’t valuable or interesting; it’s the way it looks in certain contexts.

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