Should anybody mention online that they’re not particularly keen on Twilight, they face the prospect of die-hard fans popping up to say ‘OMG ur soooo stupid how can u hate my edward ur just jelus!!!’
I’ve noticed, however, that assumptions of literary jealousy aren’t confined to the inarticulate. They're a standard way of comforting an author who has received a bad Amazon review.
‘Ignore him,’ the author’s friends say. ‘He's obviously jealous because you're a better writer than he is.’
Whether or not they technically mean 'envious', comforting a distressed author is a nice thing to do, so I’m not going to suggest people tell their writing chums to stop whining. I don’t believe, however, that bad reviews are automatically the result of jealousy or envy. Books are commodities purchased by readers, who have no obligation to see the author as anything other than a name on the cover. It's a bit conceited to imagine they give you a second thought, let alone be so awestruck by your talent that they're seething in resentment about it.
No doubt there are some occasions when a reader has a personal grudge against a writer who once refused to help with their English homework in 1989. But the average book-lover is an intelligent individual choosing a product that they hope to enjoy, not a supervillain on a mission to destroy the mental state of the person who produced it.
The reading relationship surely isn't between the reader and the writer but between the reader and the book. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and the reader is disappointed. Maybe they feel misled by the cover or bewildered that the story doesn't live up to a friend's recommendation. Maybe they are amused at how far-fetched they found the plot, or maybe they're downright angry at having wasted their money. Expressing an opinion about this is natural, even if writers wail: 'What sort of miserable little person could put so much time and energy into writing a bad review?' Well, people are free to use their time and energy how they like – after all, you used yours writing an entire book for some reason.
If I had a disappointing meal in a restaurant, I might tell other people not to bother going there. This does not mean I was jealous of the chef and determined to crush his delicate feelings. If a recently fitted tap starts to leak, I might find this annoying - but I'm not therefore responsible for the plumber's depression and alcoholism. (Incidentally, why are plumbers the standard unit of measurement when comparing writing with other occupations?)
The difference with these situations is that one can get some money back or have the problem fixed. It's more difficult to return a book to the shop just because you didn't enjoy it. Negative reviews are perhaps a way of redressing a perceived imbalance of power and enabling the reader to get a refund on their emotional investment. This does not need to have anything to do with envy. Are we writers so awash with talent and all-round amazingness that everyone envies us? Yeah, right!
Feeling mortified and upset (in private) is a valid writerly response to a bad review. But that does not make the reviewer jealous, stupid, evil, lonely, bitter, twisted, untalented, or any of the other adjectives our well-meaning buddies might come up with.
A person just didn't like your book. That's about it, really.