So there is yet another author who got upset over a bad review and blogged about it, and readers who were angered by an author telling them how to review. I’m not going to link to the disaster. But I do have some things to say about this issue.
- I hate the distinction between “readers” and “writers.” It’s a false dichotomy. Every writer is also a reader. Not every reader wants to be a writer, but many do. The distinction is muddy, and this isn’t a conflict it’s possible to take sides on. Unfortunately, it’s still a real conflict, and it’s difficult to talk about it without saying “readers” and “writers” (or “authors”).
- Self-publishing has it’s upsides and its downsides. On the upside, it’s allowing a lot of talented people who can’t get into the hallowed halls of traditional publishing to get their work out to the world. Some of them are brilliant, but they weren’t writing what publishers thought would sell. On the downside, it also allows people with little talent or skill to put their work out there. And this has caused a lot of readers (not all) to think writing doesn’t require any skill or talent, and to view our profession with derision. They no longer think books are worth paying for, and they begin their relationship with a book on a note of hostility, already angered by the fact they had to spend money on “crap.” This makes me very sad.
- Writers have no choice but to suck it up, when it comes to bad reviews. It doesn’t matter if the review was nonsensical, it doesn’t matter if the reviewer hated the book for a stupid reason. It doesn’t even matter if the reviewer didn’t read the book. None of that matters. Do you know why? Because absolutely nothing a writer says in retaliation for a bad review will improve the situation. It will make it worse. Guaranteed. Sure, a few people will rally to your defense, but just as many or more will attack you for it. And it will cost you readers. The worst thing to do with a bad review is draw everybody’s attention to it — people who would never have even glanced at the original review — and spew commentary about it all over the Internet. Do you really want the first thing that pops up on Google when people search for you to be twenty blog posts about how whiny you are? If you don’t care about people buying your books, fine, but if you do… take a breath, and let it go….
- Having said that, I am not on the side of readers who beat their chests and wail about Authors Behaving Badly whenever an author blogs about how hurt they are by a review. There are two arguments I see over and over again: 1) Authors are “oppressing” readers, and 2) Readers have the real power, because they pay the author’s salary, so to speak. The second argument is largely true. Readers pay for our books or don’t pay for them, and that affects our income. There are a number of authors out there who don’t really give a rat’s ass whether people buy their books — they’re in it for the art — but most of us do. But that renders argument one invalid. I cannot have power over someone and claim to be “oppressed” by them. That’s nonsensical.
- Words are not “oppression.” An author ranting about a review does nothing whatsoever to “oppress” the reviewer. It’s just words. The review was words, and the response was words. Nobody’s freedom has been infringed upon — they both got to have their say, even if what they said was childish and inflamatory. If anything, it’s the author who’s at a disadvantage, since an inflamatory blog post or response to a review on Goodreads can ultimately cost him or her income. But I have little sympathy for people who equate hurt feelings with “oppression.” As my friend and fellow author, F.E. Feeley, Jr. said in his much more ranty blog post today, that’s a “first world problem.” There are people out there who are really oppressed. This ain’t it.
- There’s no need to bring ridiculous levels of paranoia into this. Yes, we’ve all heard the story about the author who flipped out and tracked down a reader at her home and then at work. But have you heard the story about the reader who showed up at a book signing to splash ink on an author because her novel was “about her?” Yes, whackjobs abound. But these people don’t represent authors and they don’t represent readers — they represent whackjobs. For the most part, authors don’t show up at reviewer’s houses and try to kick the door down, and readers don’t attack authors. So chill.