Monday, January 16, 2012

Never Diss Your Readers

There was another epic author meltdown on the Internet a few weeks ago.  Apparently on Goodreads someone posted a review about a book that wasn't quite to the liking of one of the author's friends (also a writer).  As these things tend to do, it epically blew up and resulted in a bunch of bizarre Twitter comments against Goodreads reviewers.

When Goodreads was compared to 4Chan, I was stunned.  Either the person writing the comment has no idea what 4Chan is, or they are really, really sensitive to any sort of criticism. Or maybe both.

You can read about the mess here.

This, of course, did not go unnoticed by the blogsphere and lots of bloggers immediately covered it.  It spread like wildfire and I stumbled across the blowup while reading the comments on an article about the YA books coming out this year.

Writers behaving badly is not a new phenomena.  It seems every year there is an epic author meltdown over a review and things get nasty fast.  And like kids running to see a fight on the school playground, the Internet swarms around the event logging it for prosperity.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever read on an author's blog was from bestselling author Alison Winn Scotch.  In a post last year she wrote about developing a thick skin.  It's a subject she has discussed a few times on her blog and I felt she summed it up beautifully.

Part of this gig is putting yourself out there, and then, you simply have to dodge the tomatoes that are thrown your way. Hopefully, you can dodge artfully and not get smacked in the face.
Writers often complain that when readers attack their books, it's personal.  That their books are like their children and they have a right to defend them.  I have heard this argument over and over again from writers, and each time I shake my head.

Readers are a writer's best friend.  They will let you know when you screw up. Tell you when you did it right.  Tell all their friends and family about you.  Blog about you. Buy your books (which pays your bills and puts food on your table).  And generally support the writing career every writer dreams of.

And yeah, they can sometimes kick you pretty hard in the teeth.

But lashing out at a reader in any forum is just not a good idea. It's bad form and it makes the writer look like a jerk.  Pure and simple.  Readers don't want to see their favorite author melting down over a bad review or calling another reader an asshole for not understanding all the pain, agony, tears, and long hours they put into their book.  What they see is someone being overly-sensitive to criticism and throwing a temper tantrum.

I admit I have had a few really brutal reviews. PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES got a one star review a while back that was like someone taking a jackhammer to it.  The reviewer hated Amaliya for sleeping with three different men during the course of the book, she didn't like that Amaliya's family turned her away, she didn't like all the swear words, she didn' it.

My favorite quote:
 Why is this book named "Pretty when she dies" it should be "Slut when she dies" or "Bitch when she dies"
Seriously, she took my book down.  BAM!

I sat in my chair in giggled.

Seriously, c'mon.  I had to.  It was such epic hatred.  Apparently she thought the book was a YA book and it was entirely not what she expected.  She had a right to hate the things she did in that context and I understood that.

The review sat prominently on the page for PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES at this particular site for weeks and my sales went UP.  I even stumbled across a conversation about the review where one person told another that obviously the reviewer of the 1 star review judged the book harshly because it was not a YA like she expected.  Then they both agreed they were going to read PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES.

Later, the reviewer tried to remove the review, so its now lined out, but honestly, I hope it stays up there.


As a writer you want people to have some sort of reaction to your book.  You want them to feel something.  Even if they loathe it, that's a reaction.  At least you're not being dismissed outright.  At least you captured their attention for a little while.  And for all the reasons they cite why they did NOT like your book, someone else may LOVE your book.

Reviews are subjective.  Some may absolutely love you, others loathe you, and some may be somewhere in between.  But when they take the time to write a review, at least it means you enticed a reaction from them.

I will admit that sometimes reviews annoy me.  Usually when they state erroneous information about the book or characters.  This happens a lot in the bad reviews and I read them carefully to make sure that I am not failing in accurately describing a plot point or a character.  A review for THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE cited bone-breaking sex scenes or something like that and I was completely confused.  I was pretty sure I had never written such a scene and double-checked to make sure. I have to assume that the reader misread something or skipped over sections of the book. Which is my other peeve: if you don't finish a book, how can you review it?  I have had a few of those as well.  In fact one woman skipped through so much of the book, the things she said she didn't like were completely out of context.

But what can I do?

I let it go. I don't respond. I move on.

Bad reviews with a legitimate complaints (editing errors, plot holes, character underdevelopment) are ones I take very seriously.  I will open up one of my books and see if I screwed up a plot point or check on the character development.  I'll fix errors on my self-published stuff and upload a new version of the book.

Otherwise, if its just a "this book sucks cause this girl was like a lesbian and there was crying" or "the girl is this book has sex with three guys..she's a slut" or something of that ilk, I just blow it off.

A writer who attacks a reader is biting the hand that feeds him/her.  It's that simple.  A reader may not like one of your books all that much, but one of your other books may be their favorite.  You never know.  And attacking them may lose your more than their support.

After the fiasco on Goodreads and Twitter a lot of people said point blank they would not be buying the books of the authors involved.  And that is completely within their right and I can totally understand that sentiment.  By acting out, those authors lost potential sales.

It is never worth going to war with the very people who buy your books.  You will never win.

Update:  The big mess ended up being covered by the The Guardian in the UK.  I just saw this posted on author Rhiannon Miller's facebook page.


  1. Great post and so true. Also if you put something out there to be reviewed the reality is that some people will plain not like it. It's bound to happen people have different tastes what one likes another will hate it's just reality. I mean bacon is meat candy and some don't like it I think these people are insane but whatever. I just compared books to meat candy odd but you know what I mean lol. As long as the majority are good reviews and most love it the rest can say, think, feel what they like. Plus you're never going to change someones mind, for sure not with retaliation for a review. Maybe hey try another of my books then would work better.

  2. Jessica,

    I totally agree with your assessment of meat candy. (LOL) There are books I have read and just loved that someone else may loathe. And vice versa. I get that. Usually when I read a review that just doesn't like the content of my book or characters, I just shrug. Obviously my books aren't to their taste. But someone else may love them.

    A writer going batshit crazy over a bad review and slamming a reader just doesn't sit well with me at all.



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