How Not To Respond To Negative Reviews, ULTIMATE EDITION

Posted on July 17, 2012

OK, so we’ve all heard of writers getting upset by negative reviews. There is no author in the world so thick of skin that running across a scathing put-down of their work does not lead to a few moments of grumpiness, a strong desire for chocolate, or maybe compulsive whining to significant others and/or house pets. Sometimes, though, it goes further. Some writer might make the mistake of responding to a bad review on Amazon. Another might have the misfortune to run across insulting comments on Twitter late at night, after they have had a vodka martini. So on and so forth.

And then you have THIS INSANITY, which is so far beyond the pale, you can’t even see the pale from here.

I am not blogging about this to say how shocked I am, because I would hope that all but the most pessimistic observers of human behavior would find this shocking. I’m also not blogging to denounce this and say that it’s wrong, because, seriously, this could not be more obviously, incredibly wrong if it came with a huge blinking neon sign that read BAD KARMA HERE.

What I’m saying to any writer who would participate in this, even as a mere satisfied spectator, is that you have got to step back. There is nothing any reviewer could say that would warrant this response unless they posted your home address and a picture of one of your kids with a bullseye on it (which to the best of my knowledge no reviewers have done.) There is no book so precious that its reputation should be defended to the point of threatening people.

Are some reviews hard to read? Yes. Are some negative reviews legitimately shallow or mean spirited? Yes again – being a book reviewer isn’t an automatic ticket to virtue, any more than being an author is. But the answer is definitely not for you to be even more mean-spirited in return. Not only is it hypocritical, not only is it counter-productive, but in this case it may well be criminal.

Personally I have no idea what the general climate is on GoodReads. Know why? I don’t take part in it. Don’t read it, don’t visit it, don’t look up my own books, don’t look up anybody else’s. Why? Because my own personal line for stepping back from this stuff is way, way short of “homicidal rage.” It’s closer to, “I spend enough time on work while I’m actually writing, so in my free time, I would rather look up cute pictures of James McAvoy.” (We all prioritize.)

And the thing is – back before I was writing professionally, I’d have been all over GoodReads. But for now, that’s so mixed up with my work life that it’s not going to be a place where I hang out and have fun. What I’m saying is that, if you’re a writer, and you can’t approach GoodReads as a place where you have fun and find books, then you should not go there. If Amazon reviews fill you with anger, then don’t go to Amazon. (Fanatically checking your sales rank every 20 minutes does not actually improve it. I know. I tried that.) Whatever thing it is online that triggers you, that gets at your temper, that turns you from a professional into a vengeful loony — you must have the self control not to go there and do that. The best way to deal with your crazy is to steer around it altogether.

(This holds true for more than writers dealing with reviews, but I digress.)

Nobody else’s bad behavior vindicates your own. You can’t control what anybody else says on the internet, no matter how many creepy stalkery websites you create. You can only control yourself. I am no master of this art — it’s a lesson I keep trying to learn every day. But if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re calling book reviewers at night and threatening them, it’s a lesson you, too, need to take to heart.

ETA: I should mention that the anonymous site runners insist none of them are authors. I find that hard to believe, simply because, while I get but do not condone the insane overprotectiveness of your own books, I really do NOT get such insanity about other people’s books. If these people think they are defending writers, all I can say is, “Get the hell off my side; you’re making us look bad.”


Thanks so much for ALL the wonderful comments to my last post about there being no wrong way to be a girl. I haven’t been able to approve them because — this is embarrassing — I’ve sort of lost the password. Ahem. BUT I WILL FIGURE THIS OUT. When I do, I’ll have a follow-up post with some of the most interesting comments, so stay tuned!