Let's talk about negative reviews. And authors' reactions to negative reviews.
I'm sure by now most of you have heard of the Stop The GoodReads Bullies website and how it's been stalking and terrorizing bloggers known for writing snarky reviews, under the misguided belief that bloggers of that stripe are bullies and harass innocent authors.
Now, while the Stop The Good Reads Bully site is run by one woman and her stable of sockpuppets (not unlike an angry, unstable, literary-minded Sherry Lewis), she is not the only author with this sort of opinion about GoodReads.
And they insist over and over again that their anger is not simply about negative reviews. Oh no! We know how things are! Everyone is entitled to their opinion! We respect negative reviews so long as they're professional!
So, what are these authors really complaining about, if it's not simply negative reviews? Well, from what I can gather, their main problems are with:
Now, I can sort of get this argument. It's hurtful enough to get a bad review, but one that reviews your book negatively in a comedic way can pour salt on a wound. But just because a review is funny, doesn't mean the reader wasn't paying attention to your book. Bloggers are writers, too. That's the difference between a blogger and the average reader, because when we're done a book, we're compelled to write about it. And for many of us (myself included), it's not enough to write something that covers all the basic points - it also has to be entertaining and easy to read.
I, myself, prefer blogs with a lively and entertaining writing style - not just ones that mirror my particular taste. I have to want to read what they've written, otherwise I just skim to the rating at the end, taking in the relevant bits along the way. Just like authors, we have to be honest to our writing style because that's what makes us want to write. We don't write like that to be mean, it's not a personal attack on you, we write like that to express ourselves.
I do think that snark can be taken too far - but everyone has their own snark saturation point, so it's unfair to set some sort of arbitrary standard for it. If you find it hurtful, STOP READING IT AND AVOID THEIR BLOG. It's that easy.
2) Freedom of Speech
Well, isn't that interesting! Authors complaining about freedom of speech! Specifically, I'm referencing the arguments made on the Bully site and elsewhere that authors have a right to comment on their reviews. Authors are readers, too, you know, and it's not fair that they should be "silenced" and "treated like second-class citizens" while their precious babies are being dragged to the literary pillory.
And, as a matter of fact, they do have that right. However, the general belief that "authors shouldn't comment on their reviews" doesn't come from the idea that they aren't allowed to do so, but rather from the fact that it won't make a difference. The book is already read. The opinion has already been formed. There's no way to retroactively change a person's opinion. So when we say that authors shouldn't comment on reviews, we say it for their own benefit, because at best it will waste their time and energy and at worst will tarnish their public image and damage their fanbase.
Authors shouldn't comment on their reviews, even if the blogger allegedly gets something wrong in their review. Yes, even then. Why? Because "getting something wrong" is so incredibly subjective that you'll be stepping in a minefield just by bringing it up. To paraphrase Joss Whedon, one of my favourite screenwriters - your writing isn't your pet, it's your kid. It's going to grow up and start talking back to you. Meaning - people are always going to get things out of your story that you didn't expect or intend.
Now, while these two points bring up common author complaints, neither of them constitutes bullying. Bullying constitutes being continually harassed, in such a way that you feel unsafe and cannot escape.
Which is why these first two reasons are bullshit - firstly, the internet is such a vast place, that it's a fairly easy thing to avoid the blogs that don't like your stuff. This blog hated your book? Don't visit it again! This tumblr negatively reviewed your novel? Blacklist it! Block it! Block the users! It's that easy!
Secondly, how in HELL does a bad review or snarky remark on GoodReads make you feel physically unsafe? How in HELL do negative words make you feel "assaulted"? I'd love to see you mosey on down to a battered women's shelter and explain how assaulted and harassed you felt when you voluntarily read a hurtful book review on the internet.
Now comes the third part:
3) Fan Response
Book bloggers, as a whole, are an expressive bunch. Now, as bloggers like Katiebabs have pointed out, when an author misbehaves and the story of this behaviour goes public, bloggers tend to react quickly and furiously and the author often finds herself with an avalanche of negative feedback that may or may not be proportional to the inappropriateness of her behaviour.
This, I think, is where the idea of "blogger bullying" comes from. The author feels like she's being ganged up on. She thinks she's only expressed her own opinion, or tried to correct a misconception about her book, or simply tried to point out with helpful links that other people reacted positively to her novel - and the result is a bunch of harshly-worded comments on GoodReads by complete strangers who then vow never to read her books.
Some authors have interpreted this as harassment and mob mentality, when really, the reason for this reaction is that bloggers are still considered (and even consider themselves) to be lower on the literary foodchain than authors. Authors are high on the literary foodchain - they're the creators, the shapers, those who can fashion sophisticated stories from the raw materials of their imaginations. Without authors, there would be no books to blog about.
So when an author bitches out a blogger, to other bloggers, that's the equivalent of a 200-pound-wrestler picking on a 90-pound weakling. That's a person in a superior position picking on someone in an inferior position, which gives bloggers an urge to defend their own. And that's why we react this way. Now, is this professional? Probably not. And two weeks ago I would have said that an author can't really do anything to a blogger except spew bad words, and bad words are easily blocked, deleted, or ignored, which would be the more mature response (that, and never buying the author's books again).
But the creator of the Stop the GR Bullies website demonstrated a desire to cross the line of professionalism into downright crazy and illegal.
So while I will commiserate with authors that the bottom of a sweaty, martini-drenched book blogger pile-on is probably a shitty place to be, bloggers are in no way restricting their rights, singling them out for punishment because they didn't like their book, or making them feel physically unsafe in their homes.
But despite all the GR Bullybashers' protestations, deep down at the heart of things, it really is all about negative reviews. You don't see authors getting mad at people giving them five-star reviews despite not reading their book (some of them do just that with sockpuppet reviews). You don't see authors bitching out five-star reviews that said their hero was a pirate when he was clearly a privateer. I've yet to see an author question the professionalism, education, upbringing, or literary success of a reviewer who gives her a good review.
Honestly, authors? You will lose more readers through acting like a jackass on the internet than by getting a negative review on the internet.
Danielle Steel's books have been critically pissed on for years and yet
she still sells enough books to afford the ballgowns in which she poses
on their back covers. Why? Because her fans love her. And last time I checked, there were about 150 million blogs on the internet. One negative review is a drop in the fucking ocean.
Are there examples of blogger misbehaviour? Sure. Reviews that insult
the author's personal life are unprofessional. Reviews made without
reading the book (or that aren't transparent about not finishing a book)
are unethical. Ironically, a blogger who was targeted by the GR Bully
Site for inciting "lynch mobs" against authors by publicizing their
misbehaviour also broke the news on blogger misbehaviour - specifically,
the story of the blogger who got in a snit about an author's misinterpreted Tweet and proceeded to give her book a scathing one-star rating without actually reviewing the book or finishing it. That's dishonest, and the worst thing a blogger can do is be dishonest, because our business is all about opinions and the readers who trust ours.
yeah, if you're a blogger who gives five-star reviews because you're
being compensated for it, or you're giving one-star reviews without
reading the book because of a personal grudge against an author, you're
not a blogger I want to know or associate with.
But even so, the very worst a blogger can do is spew bad words. Sticks and stones.What do you think? Are there ways in which bloggers have been unprofessional? Are there ways in which authors can respectfully respond to reviews without criticism? Please discuss in the comments!