Wednesday, 10 March 2010

If you'd actually bothered to read my book...

Bad reviews are every author's lot, but what is one to do upon receiving them? I mean - someone hates you! And they hate your whole family and your cute kitten whom you saved from drowning, and they hate all the charities you support, and they hope you die very soon of some horrible flesh-eating disease. Either that, or they didn't much enjoy what you wrote.

Upon receiving a bad review, there are three options:

1. Maintain a dignified silence
2. Say 'Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review my book.'
3. Make an absolute arse of yourself.

Responding to a bad review with anything other than points 1 or 2 is – in vulgar parlance – filled with fail. I cringe when I see an author going off on one at someone who happened not to fall at their feet.

So why shouldn't authors be allowed the right of reply? Why shouldn't we unleash the full force of our wit against a rude reviewer, or even politely correct someone who has made a genuine mistake?

No reason at all. You're allowed to do what you like. You have every right to launch a ballistic rant, to manifest in a negative forum discussion like a spectre at the feast, or to email the reviewer and point out why they are wrong. Having rights and exercising them are, however, different things, and there's huge potential to earn the disdain of readers who might otherwise be intrigued by your book.

Here are some sentiments I've noticed, either in author responses to reviews, or in forum threads sympathising with them:
  • That jealous hater probably had their own crappy novel rejected a million times and takes it out on anyone with a modicum of talent.
  • They're probably too stupid even to try to write a book, so they don't know the mortal anguish you went through to bleed every word onto that unforgiving page!
  • There's a typo in line 4 of the review, so they're a 'retard' (or any other offensive terminology) who doesn't deserve an opinion.
  • The idiot hasn't read your 500,000 pages of research that prove you're right to have your Roman British characters tucking in to a meal of rabbit and spuds.
  • The last book they enjoyed was SF, so they obviously just don't 'get' your crime novel. How dare they read a different genre from the one they were assigned at birth?
  • They shouldn't have read it in the first place if they weren't going to like it!
Then there's the passive aggressive stuff – 'If only you had had the courtesy to contact me, I could have explained this in terms simple enough for a young girl like you to understand...' Believe me, this will impress no one. Even a private communication can end up all over the web faster than you can say 'If you'd actually bothered to read page 700 of the appendix...'

The reviewer criticised your book. That's all. That's tough, and it hurts – and there's no law that says you have to be happy about it. You can sob into your pillow, or make a little doll and stick pins in it, or type up a stinging response that you never send, but if you really want someone to lick your boots, give up being an author and buy a puppy.

Keeping your dignity in the face of a bad review is not about sparing the feelings of some rude person – it's for your own good. The reviewer might genuinely be evil, they might have got completely the wrong end of the stick, they might be stupid beyond measure, they might be someone from your past who bears you a grudge - or they might be a normal, intelligent person who happens not to like your book. It's not about them. You're the one presenting your writing to the world, and if you have a go at a reviewer, you're the one guaranteed to look an utter tit.

25 comments:

SarahSiddons said...

A funny and engaging way of getting your 'anti-negative-review' POV over. Oh, btw, I really think the post is ...

great! Thanks ;-)

Jane Smith said...

Arguing with a bad review is often called The Author's Big Mistake. I've watched a few meltdowns now, and the authors concerned have never come out of it well. It is fun to watch, though--in a rather horrible way.

(I do like your third point, by the way--you made me laugh out loud. Thank you!)

Caroline said...

Thank you both - yes, meltdowns can be rather fun to watch, in a peering-through-the-fingers kind of way.

Nicola Morgan said...

Quite right - very important. I blogged about this v recently, in complete agreement. (http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/02/good-author-behaviour-responding-to.html if you're interested)

Fionnuala Kearney said...

As always Caro, you have a fab way of putting across what should be an obvious point.
There was one such tirade recently on a well known book selling website (with reviews?) It was all over the web in minutes, twitter, facebook etc etc.

Gillian McDade said...

An excellent post, Caroline. Made me smile. I would be shocked though if you'd received a bad review and this blog had been written from experience!! I love the tag by the way - 'rude people' - lol

Luisa Plaja said...

Wise words. Thank you for this great post!

Anna-Marie said...

That's funny! And also very sensible advice. I'm glad I read this...

Emily said...

Hilarious and true, Caroline. You put it all so well. And in defence of the Evil One-Star Reviewer / Retard etc, I read something lately about negative reviews being a good thing (I know, my first reaction to that statement was "HOWWWW?" *sob*). Too many 5-star reviews make us mistrustful, perhaps? A touch of the negative adds authenticity. A real stinker can even make people think: wow, I need to read this steaming pile for myself!

Old Kitty said...

Hi

I used to just cry, hide under my duvet and declare "I cannot write - so and so said so and noone loves me"!

LOL!

Nowadays I call how you take a bad critique of one's piece de resistance, character building! Like rejection and not winning a comp!

:-)

Great post!

Take care
x

Helen Black said...

Oh this post made me laugh.

And wise advice to not engage. After all what's the point? It makes you look likea twat and it's not as if the reviewer is going to relent. 'Ah, now you've explained why I don't get your work, I have had a re-think and actuallu it deserves the Booker.'

CarolineG said...

If I ever get published, I'm going to print out this post Caro and put it over my desk.
Brilliant post.

Karen said...

Funny how it's the bad reviews that have some writers questioning their readers' state of mind - they wouldn't dream of arguing with all the people who loved their work!

Xuxana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xuxana said...

Gosh, I hope I remember this if I ever get published, because a bad review would upset me so much. I'm prone to rep ruining outbursts.

Debs Riccio said...

Great post - hilarious - anyone who ends a post with the word "tit" deserves some kind of prize in my book (see what I did there?).
But I'm worried that because of my supremely suspicious nature, *when* I get published, I'll be more worried about fawning, sycophantic comments that tell me how great it was and I'll never log on to Amazon again. Ever.
"Tit". LOL!

Caroline said...

Thanks so much - really glad this post went down well. I was sure someone was going to have a go at it just to test me!

I highly recommend having a look at Nicola Morgan's blog (link in her comment above) and clicking through to the example she gives of author Alex Scarrow being friendly and polite in the face of a bad review - he wins a lot of fans as a result.

I also should have mentioned at the end of the post - Strictly Writing is now on Twitter as @StrictlyWriting, so if you're on there, come and say hello!

The Virtual Victorian said...

Another great blog, Caroline...I say maintain a dignified silence whilst sticking pins into a little wax doll.

And, good to see Strickly on Twitter. I'm sure the site will pick up lots of new followers there.

sophiabennett said...

Yes yes yes! Couldn't agree more. Dignity in the face of adversity, every time.

Elliott said...

Methinks the ladyee doth write a most excellente poste.

Methinks also thinks it was Voltair who spoketh words of wisdom on those whose opinion counts not for much.

"I may not always agree with your opinion but I would fight to the death for your right to keep it"

Keep writing

The Pineapple Tart said...

Book reviews say more about the reviewer than the author. Every book has good points and bad points - it's the reviewer who decides which to focus on.

Derek said...

One of my recent rejections (I lose count now) went along the lines of: 'Unfortunately we don't see any artistic merit or commercial potential in your work but don't be discouraged as another agency might feel differently.' The best revenge is success and the only way to succeed is by writing and rewriting.

Jenn Ashworth said...

I liked this post... and I'm all for a dignified silence, while furiously writing the reviewer into a short story where he is humiliated or maimed horribly.

I used to do a bit of reviewing on my blog and elsewhere but couldn't bring myself to say anything too critical about books without feeling horrible and guilty. There's nothing wrong with writing a negative review - of course not - but I kept thinking of the writer and hated doing it. No-one, after all, sets out to write a bad book. Now I just do book recommendations instead of reviews. Much easier for someone spineless like me.

Poppy said...

Brilliant post. I love all your posts. All so true and very funnily put.

Emma Darwin said...

All so true... great post.

If you're willing to put your work out for public reading, you have to realise that the opinions of whoever reads it may also become public.

That doesn't mean you have to accept their opinions as to how you should write. And it also doesn't mean that you have to pretend that such opinions don't hurt. You're allowed to hurt when people lay into writing which was only achieved by you nailing your soul to the page. Just don't try to cure the hurt by fighting back.

The cosmos has supplied us with friends, forums, chocolate, alcohol and shopping, so surely between all of those you can find calm again, without sniping back on the blogs...