Up until recently if someone wanted to tell you your writing sucked, it took them effort. They had to either go to all the effort of writing a letter, finding out your address, buying a stamp and posting their scathing missive on your finely crafted magnum opus, or manage to get published themselves somewhere that did book reviews.
It was, frankly, so much effort that most people didn’t bother to go to town on bad reads, instead consigning the book to the smallest room of the house where it could supplement for toilet paper in emergencies.
Now all readers have to do is hop online and they can get to carving up the writer’s darling in a few keystrokes and clicks. And if the proud but curious author has a google alert set up to notify them, the bad review could be making the way to the author’s home – into their room and right on to the very screen they used to write the book – in a matter of moments. It can less time to shred an author’s ego than it does to make a cup of tea. For aspiring e-book authors there is a particularly cruel rub in knowing that – should the review get to right blog and be funny enough to be shared – the unkind review may in fact get more readers than your e-book.
So, how should you react to criticism? Probably not like self-published author of The Greek Seaman, Jacqueline Howett, who – on receiving what was a reasonably kind review from someone who had struggled with her book’s grammar – completely lost the plot. She started by accusing the blogger, BigAl of BigAl’s Books and Pals, of being unfair and slandering her writing ability (“Maybe its just my style and being English is what you don’t get”). She then posted positive reviews she had received elsewhere in his comments and insisted he read another version of her e-book.
When this didn’t get the desired effect of having the review removed and a full-scale apology from the blogger for having the temerity to mention her bad grammar and phrasing (for example, he said, he found the sentence “Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.” a little difficult to read, presumably because it’s not actually in English), she moved into insults that didn’t really do her any favours on the whole “I write English good” front.
“Also in the new copy you did not have to click at all to get to the next page on Kindle, so thats how I now he never downloaded the clean copy. Well what should I expect of anyone associated to Big ALs snake pit and rat hole. You are a big rat and a snake with poisenous venom. Lots of luck to authors who come here and slip in that!”
You’ll need to read the comments to get the full sense of the discussion (and, having seen read the writer’s blog and comments, I’m think the AL’s comments on her bad grammar and phrasing are, if anything, put nicely) but there’s little doubt that Jacqueline Howett has successfully alienated every single reader of that blog – and all those who read it after the link went viral – with her horrendous behaviour.
And it’s not just epublished authors. Laurell K. Hamilton, of Anita Blake, Vampire
Snogger Hunter fame, made it a family affair when she started copping criticism for a series that seemed to be going off-track into the realms of constant pornography and alienating many former fans. When people left negative reviews of her book, Incubus Dreams, on her website’s guestbook, she and her husband leapt online to defend Lauren’s writing with an ardeur* that was too strong to obey the laws of mere grammar (Laurell showed up herself to demonstrate that she did not know the difference between “loose” and “lose”) and then deleted the guestbook.
While deleting the guestbook and disconnecting the internet is an option, the simple fact is that writers can now read dissections of their work with more ease than ever before. A fairly conventional piece of advice given to authors is that they should never respond to reviews and in some cases, don’t even bother to read them at all. As William Faulkner sniffily explains, “The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.”
Should they be lacking the ego and resolve to avoid reading, writers are going to have to either become used to criticism or treat it with the break-taking lack of concern that composer Max Reger mastered over a hundred years ago when he wrote to back a critic, “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!”
* Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.