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.