Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love, Hate, and Publishing

Being Valentine’s Day, I was going to blog about how Disney’s Tangled is the perfect romance (maybe next week), but this week I have something else on my mind.

I just learned about the debacle on Goodreads last month, where YA authors or friends of YA authors commented on what were perceived as snarky reviews (a detailed overview can be found here).

This whole thing reminded me of the YA Mafia incident a few years ago (countered here by Holly Black and here by Justine Larbalestier) where an author and book blogger clashed, and the whole thing resulted in a misconception that YA authors were threatening the careers of aspiring writers/book bloggers who gave their books scathing reviews. Clearly no good comes from authors responding to reviews.

I love Goodreads. I have an account that I never update. I think I’ve written one review, two at the most. I don’t really use Goodreads the way it was intended. But every time I finish a book the first thing I do is go to Goodreads and read through a page or so of reviews. I like to see how other people felt about the book I just read. It’s kind of a way to gage what other readers feel is important in a book. I think of it as research. :)

For the most part, I’ve always found the reviewers at Goodreads to be fair. People are entitled to their own opinions, and as long as there are no personal attacks, I think it is all good. Some reviewers are a little snarky and ranty, and honestly, I think a little lesser of these reviews than I do of those that are more respectful and well-thought out. And the Tempest review that started one of the fiascos was honest and intelligent, in my opinion. The reviewer had an issue with a character, and she clearly demonstrated her point. And whether someone agrees with her or not, she made her point very clear without demonizing the author.

But I have seen some pretty scathing reviews at other sites and on blogs. Some bloggers and reviewers make personal attacks on the authors with some pretty bold claims about who the author is and what the author believes in, like you can really know who someone is from a brief biography and reading one of their novels. Writer John Scalzi wrote an interesting post on being fictionalized.

This to me is the dark side of being published, and the more successful you are, the more people are going to pick on you. And I know there are some writers looking down from their huge piles of money, but that comes at a price. I have to say, I feel kind of bad for Stephenie Meyers. So many people who don’t know her are so mean to her (not her books, but her, personally).

Sometimes when I dare to dream that I could actually be successful at this writing thing, I think about how I’d feel if those things were written about me. Would I still think those negative reviews on Goodreads are fair? Would I grind my teeth when people try to psychoanalyze me or claim I’m anti-feminist because my MC doesn’t fit their idea of a strong, independent woman (only a true Mary Sue would be that perfect)? Will my skin be thick enough for this plugged-in culture where everyone has an opinion and the means to share it, and some do so without any regards at all to common courtesy?

I do know that I’ll need a good plan to deal with it. So this is a note to me if my dream ever comes true and I actually get published. I know, dare to dream. :)

1. Don’t read reviews. Reviews are for readers not the author.
2. If you do read a review (cause I know you will), do not respond. I repeat, do not ever respond, ever.
3. If you are so dying to respond that you can’t contain yourself, type it up in word, share it with your friends and family, sleep on it, then delete it in the morning.
4. Remember that tastes vary. Not everyone is going to love your stories, hopefully some will.
5. Remember that some people on the internet do not see other people as people only a faceless mass. This gives them permission to be meaner and ruder than they really are.
6. Surround yourself by supportive friends and family who know the real you and will share in your outrage, but will repeatedly remind you not to break rule number two.
7. Always remember what really matters.

That is my plan of attack. I know it is a little of putting the cart before the horse, but I can’t help indulge in the fantasy every once and a while.

So how about you? How would you deal with the negativity once you are published?

Oh yeah, and Happy Valentine’s Day.



  1. Forgive me while I become an avid reader of your blog.

    And for what it is worth, I was thinking about a subject akin to your post today, but was dressing up the word "review" and calling it "literary criticism". The point is that reviews and criticism are perfectly worthless to a writer and I don't mean that like when your mother told you that "sticks and stones could break your bones, but words...." I mean that literally. When you write you are reflecting your consciousness in your story. You may be learning word craft or highly accomplished at it, but by what standard can your consciousness be measured?

    Reviews and literary criticism are works of art unto themselves. They do not reflect a ray of light on a book writer's consciousness. The book has since been digested by a whole other mind and is now being presented as the consciousness of the critic. All we are ever seeing in a review is the quality of the reviewer's mind, not the mind of the author under discussion. As my son says, "haters gonna hate". What of it? To write nastiness publicly merely show off a commentator’s propensity for nastiness generally.
    I will not review a book that I0 do not like. This transcends some juvenile premise of "if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all." I don't review books I don’t like because I did not like them and there is nothing I can add to the public conversation about it. Trashing a book does not do anything beneficial for anyone, not even the reviewer other than expose their petty neuroses that publicly declares that cranky butt needs a nappy nap - or needs to get a life.

    Trashing art, even if you genuinely don't like it, is like killing ugly puppies. You may find it ugly, but for someone else, that is a treasured companion. What there is to do is to elevate that which moves and inspires you and leave the rest. Cutting someone off from the opportunity to see beauty just because you cannot, is absurd.

    So well said, Ms. Pope and thank you for standing up for art and artists.

    Happy Valentine's Day!

    D. M. Kenyon

  2. Awesome post, Maryann. For what it's worth, I've never read a mean review on Goodreads. This is the first time I've even heard of the Tempest review, but I agree that she had a real point and wasn't just bashing the author.

    I often feel sorry for Stephenie Meyer. She's a talented woman who wrote a book that resonated with a lot of people. She doesn't deserve the hate she's been given lately. Luckily it's still balanced out with a lot of love.

    I love you rules for reading reviews. Surrounding yourself by supportive people is so important. That's why I'm grateful to have found all of you!

  3. I think I have previously disclosed how cheap I am, but if I'm going to shell out money for a book, I check out reviews. I hate it when I read a review that gets me excited to read a book, and then when the book comes it... isn't for me. Makes me feel like I've wasted money. When I read a review that is neutral, and honest, I usually buy the book, and like it for what it is.

    I think you can't believe the best reviews, or the worst, because some people are just grumpy.

    It's interesting though, how important reviewing has become, especially for self published books. Wasn't it Owasm/Ken who said he had been doing well selling, and then got one bad review and it shut down sales. I think it's important to review, 1:) to help self published authors, (who you enjoyed) find an audience, and 2:) warn readers when a book isn't ready to be published. That might seem mean, but if we can help self publishers keep their good name, then isn't that the point of a review?

    Great post, MaryAnn.

  4. Looks at the hundreds of negative reviews for Harry Potter!

    I do believe that many self-pubbed and indie writers expect me to give only a glowing review. It's a difficult position to be put in. I received a book for review by a pretty good blogger friend, and the book was awful. It was a technical mess, the dialog wasn't believable at all, and the plot was scattered. So in my review, I focused on the positive.

    I kind of chickened-out (on public), and I did take my concern to this writer in private. And the author took it very well and was glad I didn't air out my criticisms in a public forum.

  5. I've followed several of these sorts of debacles, and there's one thing that seems clear: the author never comes out looking like a better person. And in the situations where the author has handled something like this with grace (and not responded to the review), the author usually gets massive positive feedback, and people swearing to check out their books. I don't know how many sales that actually turns into, of course.

    So be classy on the internet and in public. Rant and whine to your friends at home. :)

  6. If I were to review a book, I think Jay's approach is very mature - don't publicly destroy an author's career before it's started, but do voice your concerns in private. As an author, that's how I'd like to be treated, anyway. Appropriate criticism is useful in bettering ones craft (you can hope it happens in the editing stages, not publishing, though).

    D.M. Kenyon has a good point, too, in that every reader is going to view a work through their own lens. Once a book connects with a reader, it really isn't just 'your' story anymore, it's an amalgam of your words & their thoughts.

    Great food for thought, and great advice to follow (once I'm famous :)

  7. I very rarely write reviews, which is something I want to remedy because I know how much authors rely on them. What used to hold me back was being intimidated by other reviews. People write whole freaking essays about a single book and I just don't have that much to say or want to put that much time in. I generally want to know if the book was well-written and the characters were engaging and the premise was something that interests me, and that's about it. I'm not looking for a whole report...

    But anyway, the other reason I'm hesitant to write reviews now is because I've read a few books lately by people I have met online and I worry that any honesty about flaws might be perceived as hurtful. I would never write a bad review of a friend or acquaintance's work, but can I write a balanced 4-star review or will I hurt feelings? That's hard. If I get to know more authors I will definitely struggle with that.

    As far as reading reviews of MY work, I know I'll end up in tears. That's just something I'll have to learn how to go through if I'm ever lucky enough to write something that people care enough about to trash :) You have to put your thin skin through the paces before it thickens into a callus.

  8. And on self-pubbed books: I'm actually encouraged by a few 3- and 4-star reviews. It means someone who isn't close to the author has read the book, and I take their reviews a lot more seriously. I've run into a few things with all 5-star reviews that were so bad it felt like a practical joke. Now I look to 4-stars for credibility.

  9. Lots of great comments, thanks everyone.

    Along with what D. M Kenyon said, I think a lot of times reviewers forget that the story they read isn't the same as the story that was written. We all have our own unique world view and experiences that taints the stories we read. I think that this is what makes art so awesome, but I think it is important to remember that the author is not necessarily reflected in the work, and that we don't really see exactly what he/she wrote, and we should not project our view of the work onto the author.

    It is only when the author is personally criticized that I think the review is unfair. I'm not against negative reviews. Although I'm not a fan of snark, but even then if the author is not attacked and it is only in regards to the work, I think it is fair.

    I'm not sure about doing reviews for friends. I've never thought about that. I think Jay handled it perfectly because a harsh review can decrease sales. But I also agree with Sheena that the self-published novels that are really well-done need to be promoted and it does a disservice to all the talented, hardworking self-published authors to equally promote those novels that were published prematurely.

    But I'm like Sarah in that I don't review books. It takes a lot of time to put together a thoughtful review, and I'd rather put that energy into critiquing my fellow aspiring writers stuff. Then I feel that I can be helpful to the writer. At least I hope I can. :)


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