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'Tis the season for authors behaving badly. 2012 is starting out with a bang as the new crop of YA authors learns that just because you aren't writing for grown-ups doesn't mean you shouldn't act like one. Yes, I know that's a cheap shot at YA authors, but Golden Word Syndrome seems to hit this clique particularly hard. Granted, there are some older authors (and historically, some big name ones) who were so convinced that their immortal words were written in ink harvested from the precious tears of angels that they thought it was appropriate to go off on a negative reviewer, but it used to be that this shit would go down in a literary magazine or the New York Times, and then at least it would be well-written and entertaining. Instead, we are seeing the first generation of published authors who grew up with blogs and Facebook and Twitter and are used to shooting off their damn fool mouths the moment they experience an instant of butthurt. Unused to being in the public eye (even if it's a small public), they haven't figured out yet that venting to your circle of friends isn't like venting to everyone in the world who reads your books, and who are likely to send your rant viral on Twitter, Tumblr, and Goodreads.

Leigh Fallon, who wrote a Twilight copy-and-paste called Carrier of the Mark, tried to sic her fans on a negative reviewer. (Details here.) One Internet-storm later, she issued a decidedly insincere apology and will hopefully think better of pulling this kind of thing in the future.

Julie Halpern, a published author with several books under her belt (and therefore with no excuse not to know better), responded very, very badly to a negative but perfectly reasonable review. Her response was to write an angry screed which read like a slam book entry by a thirteen-year-old about what a pathetic loser the (young) reviewer was and how her review was, like, totally mean and unfair and trash. And writing negative reviews is destructive and "DISCOURAGING PEOPLE FROM READING."

You're SO MEAN!

She has since deleted her post, but the Internet never forgets.

I could cite several other recent epic failures by authors, but my favorite blog of unfiltered vitriol already did, and I think you see the pattern here.

Dear Authors: Don't do this



Publishers call this the Author's Big Mistake: do not, under any circumstances, respond to a review. Not a negative review, not a positive review.

Special Snowflake

Even if you respond to a negative review with grace and humility or self-effacing humor, you look like someone rolling over and showing your belly in the hopes that people will stop picking on you. If you respond angrily, well, you become a fandom wank entry. If you respond by temperately addressing the criticisms in a reasonable manner, you appear argumentative even if that's not your intent, and people will argue with you, and you'll look bad no matter how calm and reasonable you are.

Likewise, responding with gushing 'Thank yous' to a positive review makes you look like a suck-up (and nowadays, causes people to suspect you have a relationship with the reviewer). And there's not much you can say other than 'Thank you' that doesn't make you look like a shameless self-promoter interjecting yourself into review threads to pimp your books.

(Note: Before anyone brings it up, this doesn't apply to fan fiction, where the rules are different. Reviews are essentially the "payment" a fan fiction author receives, and most reviewers like getting responses from authors. Though the rule about not responding angrily to negative reviews still applies. But the essential distinction is that fan fiction reviews are for the author; reviews of published books are for other readers.)

Responding to reviews like a professional: don't try this at home



Now, of course, authors break this rule all the time. And it doesn't always backfire on them. Because publishing is becoming much more of an interactive experience, with authors encouraged to have an online presence in which they respond to their fans, it's inevitable that authors will engage with fans and critics. Sometimes they see a horrible, nasty review that is so unfair and inaccurate that they bite all the way through their tongue and then have to respond. Sometimes they just think that they can step into a conversation without bloodshed. And sometimes they're right. Fans like talking to authors! But responding to a review is always fraught with peril.

An (in)famous example of an author responding to a blistering review in a humorous manner is John Ringo, of OH JOHN RINGO NO fame. He managed to make light of it and walked away unscathed, but this isn't a trick you should try at home, kids.

I have, a time or two, had authors respond to one of my reviews, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly on their blogs. I haven't had anyone lose their shit and go off on me, and for the most part, even the responses to some of my negative reviews were pretty mild, so I wouldn't say any of them lost points in my eyes. (At least, no more than they lost for writing the book I was thumping against the wall.) But really, authors, you shouldn't do this. Authors I've seen get pissy over criticism -- Maggie Steifvater, Jim Butcher, N.K. Jemisin, Laurell K. Hamilton, the list goes on -- always make me think that (a) they are way too damn thin-skinned for someone living what most of their critics dream of (being a published author), and (b) why has their agent not taken them aside and told them not to do this?

Consider the endless torrents of abuse heaped on really big-name authors like Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, and so on. I'm sure they're not unaware that people say really mean things about them and their books. I'm sure they have all been annoyed, possibly even hurt, by something someone has said about them at some point. But to my knowledge, none of them has ever lashed out or responded even in a quiet, passive-aggressive manner. They just keep writing.

John Scalzi (one of my favorite authors whose books are not my favorites) is very much out there with a public presence and a willingness to engage with fans, and he also has sage advice and a very grown-up response: own your one-star reviews. In a way, he is responding here to negative reviews, and he's doing it with self-effacing humor and grace, but without looking either groveling or insincere. But again, this isn't a trick you should try at home, kids.

We're all friends on the Internet



And yet, fans want to talk to authors. Fans want to engage with authors. And many authors, especially young authors, former fans who not long ago were the ones eagerly fawning over their favorites, want to engage with their fans. And this is a good thing, isn't it? We can't all be Thomas Pynchon, writing epic literary masterpieces for decades while never allowing so much as a photograph to escape into public. Even the super-big-names like Rowling and King interact with their fans to a degree.

Is this blogging/Twittering/social media world in which readers and writers can talk to each other directly a good thing? Would you like it if an author responded to your reviews? Would you tone down your reviews if you knew the author was reading them? If someone "calls out" an author for some kind of failure, should the author respond, or is that always a no-win proposition?

And if you are a published author, feel free to chime in. :)

But really, no one cares



No 1 curr

For all the drama that author outbursts like this cause, it's worth keeping in mind that it really doesn't have much effect on their careers. You'll see people saying "I will never buy your books because of this!" and for years afterwards, an author's notorious flame-out will be brought up every time their name is mentioned, but the fact is, most book buyers, even today, don't really trawl Goodreads and Twitter threads reading about authors. Only a very small percentage of an author's readers will ever know anything about that author, no matter how Internet-infamous he or she is. Think: Cassandra Clare or Orson Scott Card. Names that will provoke ire and wrath and fandom outrage forever online. Walk into a bookstore, and no one knows or cares. They have big Hollywood movie adaptations coming out. So sorry, fandom, but don't overestimate your own importance in the grand scheme of things. Reviews do not have the power to damage an author's career. Really, they don't. Every person who says they will or will not buy a book based on your review is insignificant, saleswise. Even a scathing review in the New York Times might hurt an author's feelings, but it won't hurt her career, so just remember that your review on your book blog or Goodreads is solely for the benefit of those who read your reviews; don't imagine you are actually shaping public perceptions or holding an author's fate in your hands.

Poll #1809018 Responding to reviews

Should authors respond to reviews?

Sure, if someone trashes their work, they are entitled to respond.
2(2.9%)
Yes, but they'd best tread carefully.
11(15.7%)
Only to say "thank you for taking the time to review."
13(18.6%)
No. It's always a bad idea.
20(28.6%)
No, and it's intrusive. Authors don't belong in conversations between readers.
10(14.3%)
Yes, especially if it will provide fresh material on fandom_wank.
14(20.0%)

If you were/are a published author, would you respond to a review?

Sure. My opinion is as valid as the reviewer's and I have just as much right to express it.
1(1.4%)
Only to thank them.
8(11.3%)
If I think a review is really, really unfair, I might correct an inaccuracy, but I wouldn't argue.
7(9.9%)
If I think I could engage respectfully and it won't be a flamewar.
12(16.9%)
No. It's a bad idea, period.
43(60.6%)

How much do reviews affect you?

I always check reviews before deciding to read a book.
11(15.7%)
I often choose to read or avoid a book because of reviews, but often I don't care.
30(42.9%)
I read reviews, but they rarely reflect my tastes so they don't affect me much.
25(35.7%)
Most reviewers don't know what they're talking about, and I ignore them.
0(0.0%)
Especially Inverarity, you ignorant bastard.
0(0.0%)
I never read book reviews (and I don't know why I am reading bookish...)
4(5.7%)




Previous Saturday Book Discussions.

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Comments

( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
admnaismith
Jan. 7th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)

I read reviews after I read the book, to find out whether I liked it.
inverarity
Jan. 7th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC)
Heh, I've done the same thing.

"I'm not sure how I felt about this book. Oh, yeah, this reviewer makes some good points. Yeah, that was effed up."
alicetheowl
Jan. 7th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
A couple of years ago, there was a Goodreads kerfuffle over a PublishAmerica "author" who gave away a digital copy to a reviewer who initially gave it two stars, then downgraded it to one after writing the review and realized that was what it deserved. The writer lost her shit and harrassed and sock puppeted the reviewer, and it was a huge mess. Meanwhile, across the internet, there was much amusement value to be had.

Last I checked the writer was writing Sims fanfic and blogging, with no reference to her much-maligned book.

I'm being deliberately vague because a close friend of mine was the reviewer, and it's not really important to know who I'm talking about, anyway. My point is that it taught me something: you will never look good if you throw a tantrum over a review you don't agree with, and it won't end well.
rehime
Jan. 7th, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
I lost it when I read "I awoke this morning with my usual google search of myself" on Julie Halpern's blog. That was a nice rich laugh to have so early in the day.

Completely not the point of the original post, but I'm shocked how badly written her blog is. I need to stop thinking "published author" means "competent".
haikujaguar
Jan. 7th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
Everyone's entitled to their opinion of a piece of art. That's the point of art: you react to it, and your reaction is your own, and unique, and not wrong. It may be completely different from what its creator intended, but that doesn't make it invalid.

I think some people do like to understand the aims of the writer, and that creates a different situation, one where dialogue is a good thing. And there are experimental forms of fiction where readers interact with the author as the writing is happening, which is... fun and intriguing and the rules are completely out there for that sort of thing. I've done it several times and I still don't know the rules quite well. :)

I think the only time reviews bother me is when something in them is factually incorrect. ("This book is only available as an e-book!" or "The main character is white!" when the main character is not.) Even so, it seems a better idea most of the time to let other readers correct them than to say anything yourself.
in_excelsis_dea
Jan. 7th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
There are some books I read because of the reviews, be it bad or good. But usually I will read a book and afterwards read the reviews.

As for an author responding to reviews... As a reader, I don't care a thing about the author. I don't want to know where they came from, who their friends are, why they wrote the book the way they did, what events in their life lead to the book. I don't care. I like my books completely separate from the authors. That way I can continue to enjoy my favorite series even though the author is an ass (like apparently Michael Connelly is) and why I fail as a lit major. Reviews, to me, are from the reader to other readers. The author should stay out of them, and any intrusion is sort of like barging your way into a private, personal conversation. As an author (should I actually manage to finish those uncompleted novels of mine), I'd like to think that I'd keep out of reviews and book blogs and everything else unless invited in. I know I'm going to use a pen name and if I blog, it will only be about the work and not my life or anything else. Basically, I like my authors invisible and become, well, fairly resentful when they won't stay that way. Though I love author wank, because it's funny -- and there's no way I'd read their books after that, so it cleans up my reading list.
calico_reaction
Jan. 7th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
Damn it, I had a comment all written out and then lost it. My own fault.

First of all, GREAT POST! There was a situation in 2010 where an AUTHOR-FRIEND of an author being reviewed in a friend's blog came over and decided to pick the reviewer's review apart and utterly misunderstand what she was getting at (and mind you, she rated the book a 6 out of 10). He got into it with other commenters, and I'll admit I fanned some flames, but the guy was a pretentious asshole who thought because he's been writing for 25+ years, then his word was god. Booo!

That said, the last portion of your post brings up a good point: I know you say over and over why authors SHOULDN'T do this, but if in the long run it really doesn't effect sales, then why not? With the exception of small, indy presses and self-published works, what's the harm of making yourself look like an ass? I am curious, because it almost feels like you negate your entire argument with the last section (despite the fact I agree with your argument whole-heartedly).

Also, I'm curious about your thoughts about authors commenting on reviews in their own blogs. Obviously, they shouldn't ask their fans to go out and start a flame war, but if they talked about the review in general (not naming the reviewer and maybe not linking to it so fans DIDN'T start a flame war) and what it was right about and what it wasn't, do you think that's legit, or another "tread carefully" area?

Thanks for such a great post!
inverarity
Jan. 8th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
Well, even if it won't hurt your sales, most people don't like having a bad reputation and being widely mocked, no matter how much they may claim they don't care. So that's one reason not be an asshole online. But there is also the fact that agents and publishers don't like dealing with "difficult" authors, which means if you have a reputation for bringing the drama, some folks in the business might take a pass on working with you, and convention committees may think twice about inviting you as a panelist or GOH, etc.

If you're as big as Orson Scott Card, then maybe not, but most of these authors who act up aren't that big.

As for authors commenting on reviews on their own blogs, I think it's fine to say: "A lot of negative reviews comment on why this characters behaves like this, so I'd like to explain my thoughts behind it..." In a way that doesn't imply that the negative reviewers are WRONG!WRONG!WRONG! But I think a direct response ("This review was completely off the mark and I'm going to explain why") can't possibly do any good.

So yeah, I think "tread carefully" is always appropriate. Unless you really don't care about the haters. (But the people who really don't care about the haters don't respond to them.)
(no subject) - calico_reaction - Jan. 8th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
l_o_lostshadows
Jan. 7th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of Julie Halpern before, and based on that reaction, I'm glad. She certainly doesn't seem to grasp the fact that, even if she based it on a real event, she's responsible for the plot of her story.

I missed Orson Scott Card's claim to internet infamy. Does anyone have links?

I mainly use reviews to get a feel for a book that sounds kind of interesting, but I can't examine in person. Negative reviews tend to be more useful for that.
inverarity
Jan. 8th, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)
Orson Scott Card is a raving homophobe who's written columns claiming that gay marriage will destroy Western civilization, legalization of gay marriage is sufficient cause to take up arms against the government, and that anti-sodomy laws should remain on the books to keep homosexuals in their place.
(no subject) - shinygobonkers - Jan. 8th, 2012 01:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - two_eyes - Jan. 8th, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inverarity - Jan. 8th, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - two_eyes - Jan. 9th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - l_o_lostshadows - Jan. 8th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kerneyhead - Jan. 9th, 2012 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inverarity - Jan. 10th, 2012 12:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
alicetheowl
Jan. 7th, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
As gauche at that is, one does have to treat even private conversations as potentially public. My work emails are supposedly private between me and the person I'm sending it to, but I could be fired over a breach of confidentiality by email, and any correspondence I send to other members of a treatment team needs to be worded in such a way that sharing it with the person I'm talking about won't offend him/her.

I've had a lot of things go out into the public sphere because I couldn't trust the person I was corresponding with. Luckily, it was nothing incriminating or reputation-killing, but it's taught me to be cautious about anything I send, even to trusted friends. Once it's out there, it never goes away.
(no subject) - inverarity - Jan. 8th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - little_e_ - Jan. 8th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inverarity - Jan. 8th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - little_e_ - Jan. 8th, 2012 08:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
darkmanifest
Jan. 7th, 2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
Sigh. On the one hand, I like authors being accessible online, musing on bookish topics or detailing their world-building, but on the other hand, I don't want them too accessible because they're just people, and like most people, probably have sucky aspects of themselves that fans don't need to see in detail. Like, say, maybe if they have a blog, comments should be disabled, and entries should be written with professional care and forethought. You want to be a careless fandom participant, use a pseudonym like every damn body else.
pixie_bones
Jan. 8th, 2012 05:20 am (UTC)
Oops, I submitted that last poll too fast and can't remember how to change my answer.
I tend to skim reviews of books I'm interested in, but I don't let them affect my opinion.
selene_moon
Jan. 8th, 2012 05:30 am (UTC)
I hate it when authors respond to reviews. For one thing, when I write a negative review I *don't* want the author to read it. I'm writing for other readers, specifically ones who like the things I do/think similarly to me, so I can complain about how, for example, the main character of Drought doesn't seem plausible and all the characters are really dumb. I'm writing like I would speak to a friend, but if I thought I would have to interact with the author...I couldn't be nearly as honest and for what? Unless I knew them personally, it's only manners/societal expectations that would be pushing that.

So no, while I understand the temptation and I can understand that an author wouldn't want a negative review, I really think it's best left as no-contact.

...And it's late and I'm tired, so I hope this makes as much sense as I think it does.
little_e_
Jan. 8th, 2012 07:48 am (UTC)
I had an author respond to a review I wrote once; they were nice and polite and everyone was happy. They were a webcomic author, so it's not like they had a big publishing house's promotional budget to rely on, and I tend to review things that I feel would be of some use for others to read.

I always try when writing a review to imagine that the author is reading it; I try to remember that authors are real people with real feelings, and if I were in their shoes, while I wouldn't expect everyone to like my work, I would appreciate if they were polite about the matter. Beyond a certain level of fame, though, I assume that the author's giant pile of cash means that they don't give a crap what I say.

I almost never buy (or borrow) a book without reading the reviews. I don't always agree with the reviewers, but (especially in non-fiction) they help select the best books on a subject, rather than just reading, say, ten at random in the hopes of finding a good one.
hoperomantic
Jan. 8th, 2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
Just a few cents worth of comments:

While of course, authors are entitled to feel hurt by poor reviews, I think that it's just a bad idea to respond to reviews. My advice would be (as if it ever mattered *wry grin*) to just laugh all the way to the bank and use the bad review to line your parrot's cage. Seriously, I can't think of any really good reason to respond to a negative review. You're never going to please everyone; there's no point in getting overly upset by it, and certainly no point in responding in a public forum, especially since we are all so very public now.

*shrug* Just saying...

hoperomantic
Jan. 8th, 2012 12:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I read reviews after I've read a book. Again... just felt like adding that. *wry grin*
ahundredexcuses
Jan. 9th, 2012 11:27 am (UTC)
I can't get over how disgusting that Julie Halpern post is. Her response was so PERSONAL. She attacked the girl's bio, her future plans, and called her a bully with none of her own accomplishments. It's just...mean and something you would expect from some anonymous person in the comments of a youtube video or something, NOT from a published author's personal blog. And the review wasn't even that critical. Actually, it was downright saintly compared to the author's rant. ffs if you can't stomach even that much criticism, you should not be googling yourself EVER let alone every single day.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
LJ won't let me sign in at the moment, so I'll pre-sign: this is Anthony J Fuchs. Or anthonyjfuchs.

I recently read a blog post by an indie writer I like, and whose work I like, in which he eviscerated a handful of one- and two-star reviews that his novel had received at Amazon. And I kind of cringed inwardly as I read. "Unprofessional" is too strong a word, I think, but it encompasses the impression that I get when I see writers tee off on reviewers who wrote negative reviews. I had previously told this author essentially what Scalzi said: nothing you write will ever be loved by every reader.

Any book you write is written for an audience that is a fraction of the reading public. It may be ten readers, or it may be a thousand readers, or it may be fifteen-million readers, but it's not everybody, and it can never be everybody. There will always be people who won't enjoy your book, no matter how beautifully-written or character-driven or expertly-plotted. It's not because your book is bad, and it's not because you are a bad writer, and it's not because the reader was too stupid to get all the brilliant literary techniques you employed.

It's because you wrote a square book, and they were round readers. And there's nothing you can do about that. Those readers were not part of your audience. Maybe it's unfortunate that they wound up being the kinds of readers who also write negative reviews of books they don't like, but there's also nothing you can do about that. You can only write the books you want to write, and get them where the readers who want to read them can find them. That's it.

Of course, I say this from the insular comfort of my private office. We'll see if and how things change when I indie-publishing my own novel later this year.
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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