Thursday, 23 October 2014

Authors Behaving Badly

Hi Guys,

OK this one tickled my funny bone a little. The story of an author so incensed by a bad review that she started stalking the reviewer! And the article is well written and suitably funny in places (by said author), which makes it a good read and lends sympathy to the author's point of view even when she agrees she's done wrong. But she has most definitely done wrong.

However my post here is not about this case specifically. It's more about the nature of reviews and how as authors we should deal with them.

Now first I wholeheartedly agree with the phrase that as an author "your book is your baby". It is. Speaking personally you as an author put everything you have into your work. You love it, agonise over it, hate it at times. And what you come out with at the end is absolutely your creation. It is impossible for most of us I would guess, not to feel a little emotional when you finally have that book in your hand. Not to feel a little like a parent who has just suffered through a difficult birth.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's natural and completely understandable. And as any new mother would tell you, you insult her baby you can expect a reaction. But in the case of authors and their books, that reaction is a problem. Here's why.
1 It's Not Your Review:
First, and this cannot be repeated often enough, reviews are not done for you the author. I know. It's your book, you feel possessive, but the reviewer was not writing to you. He was not writing to tell you how good or bad your book was. He's writing to other readers. Offering them his opinion. Whether his opinion is good or bad, it's not for you.
2 Publishing Is Not Writing:
In this sense a book is not at all like a baby. When a mother has a baby she does it for any number of reasons - but they are her own personal reasons. The same as when an author writes a book. He loves the story, he wants to enjoy the creation of it etc. But when you publish a book, you do it for an entirely different reason. You put it out there for others - readers - to read. Mothers do not publish their babies. (Of course I could say something here about those mothers who put their babies into pageants at such a young age - but that would be another story entirely.)

The point is that you - you sad sad fool - published it! You put it out there to be read. You might have wanted everyone who read it to love it, but that's not possible. Every book no matter how good, will be hated by some. And every author assuming they sell their book, must expect some bad reviews. And you put it out there. You said please read this. And then when someone comes back having read it and deciding that they don't like it says as much, you think you can truly get upset?
Bottom line. If you didn't want to face the danger / hurt of bad reviews, you wouldn't have published it. If you published it well you just have to suck it up.
3 It's Opinion:
Yes I know it's hurtful. But the reality is that everyone has their own opinions and some are not flattering. I personally hate peanut butter. I consider it once step removed from sewage. So if someone produces a new peanut butter and asks for my opinion of it, my opinion will be that it's awful. I don't even need to taste it to know that. Does that make my opinion right? Only for me. But the important thing is that it's an honest opinion. You can't get upset with me for honestly hating something can you? The sad fact is that I'm entitled to my opinion and so is everyone else.
4 You Aren't Going To Win:
This is the often overlooked in anger and pain rule of life. Very few authors are ever going to win by responding to their reviewers. A reviewer loves or hates your book. It doesn't matter whether the review was unfair or not. You aren't going to change his mind. What you are going to do if you respond to a negative review, is create hostility. And there are very few cases where hostility will help. What you may well do is give other readers reason to dislike you as an author, and colour their view of your work.
5 It's Not The End Of The World:
A bad review may hurt your sales or not. It may make you feel miserable. But if you believe in your work then you have to believe the good reviews that will come in, will more than make up for the few bad ones. And strangely, sometimes a bad review can help your sales.
Decried as one of the world's worst authors, Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860 - 1939) was lampooned by critics and other authors alike. The Oxford Literary group the Inklings, used to hold contests to see who could read her work the longest without cracking up. One described her work as literary diarrhoea. And her work did not sell in huge volumes.
Yet here we are, over a hundred years after some of her books were published, discussing them and even holding retrospectives of them, while her works are held in the Belfast Public Library and one of her books is still in print. Why? Because of the negative reviews.
So bottom line when someone gives your precious baby a bad review - Do Not Engage!
Cheers, Greg