Natural Selection: Writers Edition

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”
-Oscar Wilde

Oscar, I love you, but for once … I don’t agree with you. Not after reading about an author’s book review meltdown on Best Damn Creative Writing Blog. I took a good, lengthy read, and couldn’t get over how simple a discussion this could have been had Ms. Howett kept her cool. If you go and look at Amazon, that book has gotten (as of 9pm my time) nine 1 star reviews TODAY. Ouch. {Update: 4:20am. There are now 20 1 star reviews} {{second update 4/28 9:55pm 46 1 star reviews}} {{Third update 4/29 7:23pm 64 1 star reviews}}

And what’s worse, is that the review wasn’t particularly scathing. In fact, there were places in the review where the reviewer pointed out what he liked about the novel (I think it’s a he).

At this point I don’t read reviews. I try my damnedest not to go over to Amazon or Goodreads at all. I am aware of a handful of not-so-awesome reviews for Son of Ereubus, and that’s totally normal and to be expected. It isn’t my place to whine or complain. In fact, if you don’t have any negative ratings or reviews, I would wonder if you’re getting enough exposure. Meaning, is your novel getting reviews beyond friends/family members and FB friends?

I shouldn’t have to remind you that every author who makes it will have readers who will loathe them. Period. Almost every major author who has become vastly successful has been sued—for something or other—so go ahead and get used to the dark side of this industry. None of this is changing anytime soon. If you can’t handle a couple negative reviews with dignity, then there’s no way in hell you’ll make it in the long haul. Natural Selection will throw you out of the game before you’ve had a chance to score a single point.

Don’t ever do what Ms. Howett did. REALLY. It isn’t worth it. Not even a little bit. Controversy sells, but not nearly as well as a well-written novel will sell. In my not-so-humble opinion, this was a career-killing move. If I were an agent or publisher, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. And yes, I know she is an indie author. But, considering how she responded to anyone who commented, I’d gather she’s this fiery with readers. Who wants to deal with that?

Further, who wants to support that kind of nastiness? Reviews are important to writers. Even though I don’t read most of them, that doesn’t mean that I don’t deeply appreciate each and every one of them. I will occasionally comment—if a friend or my publisher sends me the individual link. I did so just a few days ago when a reader who’d downloaded the book from our free ebook event gave it a fantastic five star review. But, I will ONLY say something, if that something is positive.

SO, writing tip #327: Don’t tank your writing career by biting the hand that feeds you. Say unto others, as you would have them say unto you.

18 responses

  1. That reply will keep her really “indie”. Almost makes you cringe for your fellow authors sometimes, eh? I appreciated all my reviews, read every one and learned from the few that weren’t quite so positive. Like rejections, reviews — all of them — are a cause to rejoice. Someone read you; whether they liked you or not is up to them.

  2. I think what you’re saying here is that, good or bad or heavenly or downright rotten, the reviewer took the time out of his/her busy life (and who doesn’t have one of those nowadays?) to peruse, skim, and even read a work in order to review it. That in itself is an honor, even when it ruins your day.

  3. One of my novels was titled Ringer. The Chicago Tribune called it “the best thriller of the year.” The New York Times called it “fast food hamburger writing.” I wonder if they were reading the same novel. I don’t trust book reviews because they seem to contingent on the peculiarities of the reviewer’s personality, or her mood that day. The merits of a book cannot be quantified, and so the reviewers can make wild conclusions without fear of meaningful contradiction.
    Many writers are contemptuous of reviewers. John Steinbeck said of the critics of The Grapes of Wrath: “Another thing has not been said about critics — they are professionals interested in their own successes or failures and it is of secondary importance to them. I know of critics who, thinking up a wise crack–wait happily for a book to come along to apply to it. This is creativeness — not criticism.” John Grisham is more blunt: “There’s a lot of jealousy, because [reviewers] think they can write a good novel or a best-seller and get frustrated when they can’t. As a group, I’ve learned to despise them.”

    • Such a good reply James, worthy of a post in and of itself. It gets right to the heart of why I don’t read reviews anymore.

  4. Here is the most devastating review I’ve ever found. In his famous preface to his Shakespeare edition, Samuel Johnson said of an annotation from an edition of Shakespeare’s works by his contemporary William Warburton, the bishop of Gloucester: “It explains what no reader has found difficult, and, I think, explains it wrong.” And here is the most powerful comment on a novel I’ve ever found: Albert Einstein’s remark about the western writer Karl May. Then in his seventies, Einstein said, “Did you know that my whole adolescence was lived under his spell. Yes, actually, he is still very important to me, and I am not the least bit ashamed of it.”

  5. Wow, just went on both the blog site and Amazon. What an idiot. I am a self-published author and am thankful to have gotten great reviews so far but it would be absurd of me to think there are people that won’t like my story, my style, etc and some that may downright hate it. Even a best selling novel, dvd, or cd is going to be snapped up by less than 5% of the public. Everyone has different tastes even when it comes to well-crafted art in any form. Looking at the sentence examples in the reviews I am not sure how anyone could have made it through the whole book. Unbelievable.

  6. Great blog but wouldn’t people with a little bit of common sense know you can’t rant back and expect to get very far. What if everytime you went into your favorite store and a new hire ignored you or ranted at you if you asked a question. Wouldn’t you think about not going back? I know I would be out of there in a flash. I think it is the same with reacting to reviews. Dealing with the public you need a smile on your face, even if the frown is behind it. What is that line, “the buyer is always right?”

    • You’d think so—about common sense. I certainly wouldn’t have freaked out. I guess with my psych background, I always have the mindset of not wanting to invalidate someone else’s feelings, and they have a right to how they feel about my book. So, I leave the temptation to get angry over negative reviews alone by not going near the reviews in the first place.

      I like your analogy, and I agree. I spent three years as a teenager at American Eagle and then, as an adult, five years in high-end property management. Residents would come in and yell or complain about someone on property, and you just had to smile and say, “I understand. I’ll take care of it.”

      *head desk*

  7. Insightful thoughts. I think the distinction you’re drawing here is between a professional demeanor and an immature one. Professional writers take their lumps and learn from them. As a freelance writer, I’ve had to swallow a lot of negative comments with gratitude, which has taught me a lot about humility, I can tell you.

    I think every one should have to spend a stint in a customer-service oriented retail job to learn how to smile graciously at criticism and then fix whatever went wrong without complaint. Nothing helps you form a hard skin faster, IMO. Great post!

  8. I agree with everything that’s been said here, and do not condone in any way the author’s reaction. Boy – does she need help! But what saddened and sickened me more than her ill-considered and immature response to the reviewer, ad the coments that followed, was the way all the other posters on that blog immediately jumped on her. It reminded me of a film I saw once of sharks at a feeding frenzy. To me, that kind of hyena mentality – everyone beat up on the weakest – just shows weakness in oneself. Those posters did not do themselves any favors. Yes, she made a huge mistake and showed what kind of person she is, but so did everyone else who retaliated in such a similar way.
    A very sad and shameful episode all round. 😦

  9. Wow. Just. Wow. I…but…she…how…why…WTF????????????????????? I only got about halfway down the page of responses before I had to quit out of disgust. What. A. Twit. What irritates me the most about that whole mess is that she’s not only shooting herself in the foot, but also those of us indie authors who do take the time to have our books edited vigorously before putting them out into the world, not to mention behave professionally and maturely. I agree with the comments saying that she must be a teenager, because that is exactly how she is acting, like a petulant little child.

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