When Authors Attack!

It’s not an edifying spectacle when a writer or their fans lay into a reviewer for having the nerve to say they didn’t like a book, so I’m not going to link to any of the recent occurrences of this I’ve seen around. And I’m sad that I can say “recent occurrences”, meaning that these aren’t just isolated incidents, they keep on happening. Are writers more thin-skinned now? Is the idea of being nice and saying nothing if you don’t have anything good to say contributing to that? Are people less able to cope with being told something they wrote is less than perfect?

I don’t think so, personally. I think it’s the Internet to blame. I’m sure writers got just as worked up about negative reviews back in the old days, but if they wanted to complain about one that appeared in a newspaper or magazine they’d have to write a letter (with this thing called a pen, on paper. You can see those in museums, kids) or actually go round to the office (possibly armed with a horsewhip, the traditional weapon for chastising journalists who have offended you.) This gives plenty of time for a cooler head to prevail and the writer time to tear up the letter or to divert into the pub and drown their sorrows instead.

But now the right of reply is a mere click away and many writers use it. It’s not hard to reply to a review on Goodreads or Amazon, or a review site, or even in an online newspaper. A quick rant about how the review is a hatchet job and the reviewer a fool, a click and your spleen is vented.

“Why not?” you might say. Doesn’t an author have the right to defend their work? Sure they do, just as the reviewer has the right to shred it. But there are times it’s best to bite your tongue and move on. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. If an author starts an argument with a reviewer I don’t ever see a win coming out of it for them, for several reasons.

1 – They look like a bully, even more so if their fans pile in to have a go too. Especially if they start berating people on Goodreads and other amateur review sites for not being “professional” in their reviews. They aren’t professionals, they’re readers! If a writer wants a serious skinning alive, professional reviews are the place to find one. The cruellest reviews I’ve seen have all been professional ones. They certainly don’t have any rule that says a reviewer must find something good to say about a book.

2 – The author goes from being a writer with a bad review read by X number of people to being a writer whose defensive reaction to said review is soon linked to and read by XXXXX number of people, many of whom would never have even seen the bad review. Drawing attention to someone explaining at length how much their book sucks doesn’t seem like a good move for an author.

3 – The reviewer on the other hand might well be delighted – the author is driving traffic to their site! Referrals skyrocket! The saying about the foolishness of wrestling a pig comes to mind. You get dirty and the pig enjoys it. (Not that I’m referring to any reviewers as pigs, she added hastily. I’ve been one myself for one thing.)

4 – The writer already had the chance to make the case for why their book doesn’t suck – in the book! If they didn’t make that case well enough for this reviewer at least, then arguing about it later isn’t going to strengthen that case. People will only ask why the arguments they’re putting forth now didn’t come across better in the book.

5 – No argument can change the reviewer’s mind. I think this is the most important point. In fact, it’s so important, I’m going to say it again in italics. No argument can change the reviewer’s mind. The reviewer didn’t enjoy the book. Maybe they are wrong about some factual aspects of the book, maybe there was something they didn’t understand. But they can’t be wrong in how they felt about the book. If they were bored, then they were bored. No argument can make that change. It’s their personal emotional reaction and they have a right to it.

Reviews might well be useful to the writer, but they shouldn’t run away with the idea that therefore the review is for them. In the end reviews are for readers, and readers want to know the truth.

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12 thoughts on “When Authors Attack!

  1. What Writers (especially the aspiring ones) have to remember is that you will never please everyone. My biggest fear is what if someone hates my (unpublished – yet) book? Some will love it, some will be, ‘nah, not my cup of tea.’ I’ll have to accept those comments too.

    Also, I try now to review every book I read on Goodreads, and I post it on my blog. The last book I finished was Good At Games by Jill Mansell. The book had niggles in it for me, but I realised that it might be just me and my taste. It doesn’t mean I think any less of Jill Mansell as a writer. She’s had loads of books published! So she must be doing something right. Same with Stephanie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn. That book was the last straw for me, but I wouldn’t slate her actual style or skill of writing. I just didn’t like the plot direction – it wasn’t my cup of tea.

    As long as a reviewer isn’t taking personal jibes at the writer (I mean that’s just not mature), then they’re welcome to have their opinion.

    It does state in the job description writers must have thick skin. 😀

    1. Thick skin is a must. That’s where having a background in fanfic comes in handy. I’ve been getting feedback for years. (All part of my training!) Maybe for some writers it’s more of a shock.

  2. No argument can change the reviewer’s mind

    How true, so utterly, completely true. In fact having the author and their minions attack the reviewer will not only not change the reader’s mind about a book but may well also stop the reader from giving the author another chance in subsequent books. I have a few authors on my ‘never buying or reading again’ list due to bad behaviour from the author in relation to reviews.

    1. Yes, I’d think that’s another potential long term consequence, Not only the reviewer but some of the people who come along to read the argument will think that author is never getting any of their money again!

  3. Jen just picked out the line I was going to! It’s so true – and it just makes the writer look desperate for trying. Better to take a deep breath and turn the internet off. Go do something else for a while. Sit on your hands if you have to.

    It is never a good idea to post comments when angry/hurt. Heightened emotions do not lead to cogent arguments, and even if you could argue cogently, why bother? They didn’t like your book and that’s fine. Plenty of other people will, assuming you’re writing the kind of thing that is popular and can string a coherent sentence together.

    I can see why so many seasoned authors say they don’t read their reviews. I’m not sure if I’ll bother reading any below three stars, although I admit the temptation will be very hard to resist…

    1. It’s so hard to resist reading them, though it’s probably for the best. So far I haven’t felt moved to reply with anything more than a “thanks for the review” kind of thing. I wouldn’t want to get into a fight anyway, I’m too non-confrontational!

  4. I think you’re quite right about the ability to make an immediate reply being part of the equation.

    There’s another issue which is unique to the internet, and that’s the emotional distance having a computer between yourself and the person you’re replying to. I have a document on good netiquette dating back to the late 1980’s, which talks about the need to remember that the person reading those words you type on the screen is a fellow human being, not a computer, and you should not say anything on the net that you wouldn’t say to them if you met them at a party.

    It was a problem way back then, before the web was even an idea, when the internet was mostly computers passing messages across phone lines, and it hasn’t really changed. It’s not limited to authors and reviewers/readers either. It shows up in all kinds of net communities.

    1. Oh, yes, I agree about the netiquette part. While in some ways it’s good the internet lets people speak their minds when they might otherwise have been intimidated, or too shy or whatever, that’s got its downsides too.

      I try to think when posting something, if I said this to someone in a pub, would I be risking getting punched? If so I at least think hard about whether I’m still justified in posting it.

  5. I have to say I never take the stance of “I won’t ever buy your books again” – as a reviewer, anyway. It would make me as unprofessional as they are behaving–and I am probably just the slightest bit amused that I will be reviewingthem again. I had some author,literally can’t remember who, who said “Kindly never review my books again.” I can’t wait for her to bring something else out.

  6. Publishers will advise you that the only appropriate reply to a bad review (or any personal attack) is to say nothing…

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