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You SUCK, Goodnight, Moon (or, A Moral Dilemma)

I tried to think of a book NO ONE could possibly hate…and here are quotes from 2 of the (57!!!!) 1 star reviews I found on Amazon:

“The story is boring. It just points out various things in a room, then proceeds to say “good night” to all the objects in the room.”

“The bunnies are creepy and there are weird [sic] things going on.”

Listen, you publish a book, someone, somewhere is going to hate it, and they are going to post their reasons on the internet in the most vehement, unkind terms possible. Non-journalists— just readers responding to a book on Amazon or GoodReads— are not as aware of subtext as writers. Often these “product” reviews by “real people” step past the book to draw conclusions about the writer in ways that read innocuous to the general public, but can FEEL extremely personal to the writer.

If you are said writer, you can’t respond publicly. You can’t.

Even if the post-er has used your book to draw conclusions about you as a person, insulted your parents, your past, your personal ethics…you cannot respond, because you are going to come off as churlish and spoiled at best. You put the book out. If people read it, they get to respond, for good or ill. The end.

Also, there is a built in safety. If the reviewer HAS been incredibly awful and personal, savvy readers will see that, and discount the review. The author butt-hurtedly pointing out the obvious is unnecessary, and he comes across as a hypersensitive, defensive bully. And it is far more likely that the review is not that awful. It is far more likely the author is reading SO MUCH into what is a perhaps poorly worded but ultimately simple dislike of the work.

I can of course behave professionally. I’ve learned how to handle “product” reviews of my work by consumers. I’ve been publishing for close to ten years without yet murdering anyone who implied I was a slut on Amazon, so clearly I know how. Here is my secret: I do not read them. I do not google myself, and I do not follow links.

I remember when I stopped. It was VERY early in my career, just after BETWEEN in hardback. There was a throw away sentence in the middle of what was actually a very BOOK positive consumer review on some site or another. The person liked the book. AND YET. In the middle, they said something about my strong women characters, which, yay, but then, in a parenthetical aside, they drew the conclusion that I wrote women this way because my parents had secretly wanted a boy. My parents, this reviewer said, made it CLEAR they wanted a boy by naming me Joshilyn.


I very quickly realized it was not a rational response. But LORD I felt it like a storm in my guts. That someone could just pause and speculate this way and then state it as fact, a casual toss off, Hey! Enjoyed your book, too bad your parents so OBVIOUSLY didn’t want you…

Here’s the truth that I wanted to scream in fury at this perfectly innocuous person whose big crime was EXPRESSING AN OPINION ON THE INTERNET: My parents already had a boy. They very much were HOPING for a girl with me. In fact, family legend is that as they wheeled my mother away, in full blown labor, my father called after her, “Betty? Try to have a little girl this time?” Making her want to murder him because she was VERY busy trying not to be burst in twain. I am, in fact, named after my mother, who disliked how her own name, Betty Joyce, seemed Nickname-y. She gave me longer versions: Joshilyn Elizabeth.

So public speculation that I wrote what I wrote because my parents were these awful stereotype BOY WANTERS who never quite loved me enough…it really made me angry. I felt the review went past my book to take unwarranted pot-shots at my family. But I doubt most readers, skimming the review to decide if the book might be up their alley, even NOTICED the implication.
This is not an untypical author response. It was so HARD not to step in and angrily defend, and the vehemence of my emotional inner lather taught me… walk away. Better to not reviews where there is latitude to speculate about me the person. Never respond or answer or defend. It is NOT personal to anyone but YOU, and HEY! By the way!

The book is itself. It speaks for itself. It defends itself. The end.

But, and here, oh my beloveds, HERE is the moral dilemma. What if the internet person comes to me?

What if a person who has their whole mouth, their Friends and Rabbit-Style relations, and all the vast internet to complain to, if that person decides instead they need to thrust into my in-box a SEVEN PARAGRAPH indictment of me as a human being and a writer?

If you do not like my book, are you allowed to waylay me in my inbox? IN MY OWN HOUSE, to drive in through my monitor and say, Hi! You Suck! while I am trying to have coffee and begin my day? Picture me sitting in my pajamas, petting my cat, feeling good as the little birds came to the feeder, readying to get to work on the new book, and…BOOM, enter a total stranger to say, Good morning! I super hate your book! Why didn’t you write it the way I would have liked? Is it cuz you’re just not very bright, or more because you are a hack who doesn’t care about your work? I REALLY want to know which it is! Catch you later!

Scuse the PG Language...I just LOVE this.

Because I got that letter this week. And OH did I write a response. It is blistering. It is not kind. But then I didn’t send it. I REALLY WANTED TO. But I did not. It’s still in my drafts folder, lurking like a mean, mean tumor.

THEN I thought about posting it HERE, with none or maybe a few or maybe all of the identifying details of the writer changed, to respond to the letter not PERSONALLY, but publicly, the way I believe the person should have responded to my book. That blog entry is moderately blistering.

I didn’t post it.

I wrote this, instead. To open this dialog.

So, I ask you, seriously, do I get to answer?

I answer ALL my fan mail, but this is NOT fan mail. It’s a drive by pee-in-my-Wheaties.

Do readers have this right, the personal, direct, insulting, patronizing letter, and I just have to eat it as if it were a book review? HEY, I put the books out there and every day I am ACTIVELY asking people to read them. I am accessible on Twitter, facebook and via email.

Is that permission? And if you take me up on the permission, have you given me permission to respond? In simplest terms: If you come to my house and to explain to me directly in insulting terms how I have personally failed you with my book, do you give me the right to explain that you are stupid? *angelic smile*

So. You tell me. Yoda says there is no TRY. Respond? Or respond not? And in what venue? Public? Private? What are my rights here. And what IS RIGHT here?

75 comments to You SUCK, Goodnight, Moon (or, A Moral Dilemma)

  • Ouch. It probably isn’t wise to respond publicly because that just gives them attention. Responding privately is satisfying, but it might come back to bite you in the butt. “Famous author’s snarky email to fan” isn’t a headline you want to read. Doing nothing is best. Ooh – you could write them an innocuous form letter response! That would tick them off and you’d have the secret satisfaction while not writing anything that could make you look bad. “Dear Sir, Thank you for your email. It is always nice to hear from fans. Sincerely,…”

  • Jo

    Everyone is welcome to their opinion, but I don’t understand the hatin’. I have read books I didn’t like, but I didn’t feel the need to attack the author. I just didn’t read anymore of their books. I think the internet is making people meaner. It is too easy to hate on people.

  • By the way, LOVE the flying bitchslap.

  • Of course you can respond. You’re not the president. It’s nice to think there might be a headline about your email, but honestly, where would this headline be? Literary Writer News? Anyway if this person is stupid enough to post it on the Internet she/he’d also have to post the original email, so come on. Everyone would side with you.

    That said, meeting hostility with hostility is just going to give this person a weird little thrill. My usual reply is this: “I think I see what’s going on here. And look, I’m flattered, but I’m not going to sleep with you.” Drives them CRAZY, and never fails to crack me up. (Subsequent replies to me just get deleted without reading.)

  • Margaret

    Taking the high road will never muddy the hem of your dress, Joss. Like you, I don’t go looking for reviews, and if friends or agent stumble across bad ones, they don’t forward them to me and I never have to know. But gratuitously hateful things sent to my mailbox? I don’t always smile sweetly, but I do keep in mind that my reply may be reposted all over the internet. It’s the price we pay for getting to do the work we glory in.

  • I like the form email idea.

  • Anna from Brooklyn

    Hello! I’ve been following your blog for a while – don’t know how I found it actually, eep! – but this is the first time I’ve written.

    First of all, I know the feeling. The want-to-write-back, tear-your-hair-out feeling. For me, it was like something itching all over my body – MUST RESPOND! And I think it’s perfectly well within your rights to respond. As to whether it’s “right” or not, I think it’s neutral. You could either respond or not-respond; either is fine, I say.

    The closest experience I’ve had to this letter you’ve received is when a man, who I have never dated, kissed, or “led on”, writes me a long Feelings!Letter about either how 1. he wants me and therefore I should want him, 2. I am a bad person for not wanting him, 3. he is a bad person for wanting to date me, 4. is he creepy? No, really, is he creepy? 5. But it’s not like he did anything WRONG, he’s just trying to be a good PERSON, why isn’t that ENOUGH.

    Amazingly enough, I’ve received more than one of these in my life. College, man. Bleh.

    And the similarity I draw between these two – it’s that in both cases, the letter-writer doesn’t know the recipient that well (or at all), is projecting things onto them, wants attention from them, and has absolutely no compunctions about being rude or self-awareness about what is appropriate. It’s a selfish, rude letter.

    Anyway. But back then, I would sometimes respond point-for-point. And the only thing that ever happened was that they would send a LONGER email, EVEN MORE emotionally wrought, and we would get sucked into an exhausting back-and-forth. (“BUT WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME? RESPOND WITH LOGIC, PLEASE.”)

    If someone has the complete and utter tactlessness and presumption to send you that email, and you write them back (blisteringly or non-), what makes you think that they’ll stop? That you’ll get through at all? It might be like scratching poison ivy – satisfying at first, but then even more irritating.

    …And now you have EVEN MORE unsolicited advice from strangers on the internet! 🙂


  • Corey

    How do you usually respond to conflict? When someone cuts you off in traffic, steals your parking space, overtalks you in a meeting, bumps into you with their cart in the grocery store…do you silently cuss them in your head while smiling? Yell obscenities as long as your windows are rolled up? Flip ’em the bird? Throw down in the produce aisle?

    You’ve already responded, it’s just a matter of how confrontational you are comfortable with being on the delivery. The other guy started it, but you’re weighing the pros and cons of jumping into/side-stepping/body blocking the fray.

    Personally, I always hope that I’ll have the poise to take a breath, level a stare, and ask: “Do you feel like a big kid now? I can’t really see you down there.” Yeah, I don’t really pull off snark very well, especially when my blood is boiling under my thin skin.

  • Jenn

    Seriously?!?! That is just beyond all rational thought. Which, I suspect, is the point. And I’ve only lived in the South for 4 years but doesn’t “Bless your heart” cover this? Anyway, as tempting as the blandly clueless form letter is, it’s wise not to respond to this letter beyond what you’ve done here. This is a troll. An oddly ambitious troll who has ventured out from under it’s bridge, but still a troll. And one of the firmest rules of the internet, and life in general, is you don’t feed the trolls. Doing so inevitably ends up with you getting your hand bitten off.

  • When people send me a friend request, then post sales links on my Facebook page within two minutes, I get completely, irrationally, overwhelmingly stabbity. (!) So while I understand what it’s like to have a hot-button issue (though obviously not at your level), and the desire to frame it within the context of “rights”, here’s the truth: People are going to do this to you whether it’s fair or not. They’ll probably do it more as time goes by, because the world is increasingly set up for the consumer to have a vote on *everything.* (Or they delusionally believe they are helping you, or they are mentally ill, or they were deliberately trying to draw blood.)

    What helps me, and maybe you, is to develop a policy.

    What I’d suggest is you forward these kind of notes to Scott, who can keep them in a special Evidence folder in case this person turns into a cyber-bully. Then make an email rule to block their address and delete the document itself from your own computer. Do as much ranting as you need with loved ones, but don’t betray a hint of anger or hurt online. Then go on with your pajama-filled, bad-ass day.

    Also? Don’t take it personally. People do this everywhere. Perhaps the fact you haven’t had it done before means you are unusually liked and respected.

  • Cristy

    For the past four years I’ve been an advocate/activist for a certain phenomenon that is widely misunderstood. This has lead to the occasional (sometimes more than occasional) person/people posting comments on my blog, professional Facebook page, or sending me an email insisting just how very wrong I am in my endeavor.

    Since a big chunk of what I do is educating the public about this particular cause, my approach is to respond to the first attack with something like “I’d be glad to discuss this with you, but let’s refrain from the name-calling and insults regarding my parentage, shall we?” Then I proceed to show them (dispassionately) with references, how their perceptions, opinions and ‘facts’ are – well – wrong.

    If this were a big-budget film (or children’s book), the offending person would experience an epiphany of sorts, apologize profusely and clean my house as penance. In reality, this response usually enrages them further, because they are all now ‘confused by the facts’*, which results in an even more venomous reply in which I AM A GIANT POOPYHEAD.

    At that point, I say, “Since you are unable to conduct yourself civilly, this conversation is over”. If the exchange occurs on the blog or some other public place, I inform them future remarks will not be approved or published, and/or they will be banned.

    Only once so far have I published a private email, and that was because the sender was representing an organization that *claimed* to be on the same side of the same issue. In that egregious instance, I believed I was doing a public service by making the correspondence public. Of course, another member of the same organization tried to scare me with the “Perhaps you should consult your attorney before posting a private communication” to which I replied something akin to “Perhaps your people shouldn’t act like buttheads”, although I’m sure it was far more eloquent. Because seriously, who behaves like that and thinks the receiver of such malevolence will just quietly take the abuse?

    Of course, your situation is different, and I don’t envy you for it, but if nothing else, all of these comments let you know that you’re not alone. And that’s some consolation.

    *Yes, I had someone say this to me once.

  • Joshilyn

    I am going to tell you what I tell those I best love when they are ‘attacked’ by others: it is NOT about YOU. it is about THEM. They attack in you what they fear they possess. Let it run like water off a duckling’s back. Didn’t your mom ever tell you that when you point a finger at someone, there are 4 of them pointing back at you??

    Does that make what he/she said okay? No. Should he/she have emailed it to you. Hell NO. But sadly that person is clearly not at a point in his/her maturity to realize that what ever triggers that kind of response is about something he/she needs to take care of in life.

    That being said, I LOVE your writing. You write in a vernacular that veritably sings (even when I am reading off the paper copy, although I prefer to listen to audiobooks, especially since you have started recording them yourself). I come from a part of the world with its own ‘language’ and someday I hope I can capture it in my writing. Girl . . . you’ve got the GIFT.

    HUGS and if that person is mean to you again I will find a posse of your fans to go have a little talk with him/her and escort him/her to a nearby therapist to deal with his/her issues . . .


  • Shelley

    I liked getting the story behind your name. Reading it, I had no idea the H was silent. Of course it never occurred to me that even if you were named after a boy that it meant that they didn’t want a girl. I read that typically when a person ascribes character attributes it’s when they don’t understand the other person’s behavior. Or think they wouldn’t do it themselves.

    From a technical perspective, you absolutely have the right to respond personally. They wrote to you in a personal way, after all. But there are of course potential consequences as outlined above.

    I kind of like the more neutral response idea. Like “I’m sorry you didn’t like my novel. Unfortunately no book is loved by all. I, however, was hurt by your diatribe and respectfully hope that you refrain from sharing your vitriol with me in the future. Thank you for trying my book.”

  • Panhandle Jane

    I can’t add much to the advice that has already been given. I do review books on my Goodreads page, and your comments here have reminded me to be careful about the undertones of what I write. Thank you.

    As for your books, may I add that I really like all of them, but perhaps Between is my absolute favorite. It was the first one that I listened to, and I love your reading. (I usually avoid author-read audio books.) Scenes from that book are with me still because they resonated with me in a particularly memorable way.

  • Elizabeth is on the money. Obviously, this hater has some personal issues, and I feel confident that karma will find him or her. If you feel you have to respond, I’m thinking a form letter would be the best response–that way your conscience has been assuaged and you can rub your hands together in evil glee knowing the person in question will be doubly angry that you weren’t even fazed by such vitriol.

    Oh, and I’m so in for the posse. If you need me, Elizabeth, I’m not that hard to find.

  • DebR

    Oh, how I WANT to tell you to post both the rotten email and your response here and let us all rally ’round and pet your hair and tell you that you’re pretty and brilliant and the email troll is ugly and stupid. Which you are and s/he is. But sadly, I have to agree with those who say that while you have every RIGHT to respond, either privately or publicly, and I so, SO understand wanting to (Oooooh, I do, I really, really DO) that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be the smart thing to do. Will you accomplish anything positive (beyond momentary satisfaction) by responding? What is that saying about rolling in the mud with pigs? Something about you both get dirty but the pig likes it? Yeah. So.

    I think Jan’s suggestions above are spot-on – ask Mr. Husband to start a file with ANY nasty or abusive mail or email you receive, then delete the rotten trash and block this person from being able to email you again. If the person finds a way to contact you anyway, despite the block, THEN maybe revisit the idea of responding (?). And meanwhile, you can read your most scathing response aloud at your next get-together of your closest writing friends and let them pet your hair and tell you that you’re brilliant and the troll is SO NOT. That way you get your response off your chest but the Bad-Taste-In-Books Troll gets no satisfaction.

  • Leigh

    I understand. And adore you, as do so many others J. Do what you do best my friend, and kill him/her in a book. The pen is mighty and you can make him a villain that everyone hopes will die painfully….and you and your BB will know…and secretly smile…

  • Susan

    I (try) to ignore responding to reviews. I used to think I had to, but then I had this experience: I was judging Golden Heart entries for RWA (this was YEARS ago) and I came across a really, really good one. Engaging characters, interesting conflict well developed, great word choices…this book was ready to print! I gave the writer the highest possible scores. I wrote long comments lavishing her with praise and finished with something like, “this book was so good, the only thing I could come up with were a few misplaced commas.”

    Well. She sought me out at the next RWA conference. She was a finalist. She introduced herself and said, “I asked an English professor about those commas, and you were wrong.”

    Yes, she went on to sell that book and many others. Have I read another of hers? Not on your life. And I also stopped judging RWA.

    So, the point is. No matter what the reader, reviewer, judge says about me is None of My Business. Carry on.

  • Jill W.

    I agree with Jan and those who have said don’t feed the troll. Not responding is not about you just taking it lying down. It is about refusing to take it in at all because it is not worth your time or energy. You will not get anywhere with this person. What good can possibly come from engaging with them?

  • Rompompom

    Dear [name],

    Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about my writing ability.

    While I am always open to constructive feedback, I am not inclined to enter into a dialog on my writing style through the medium of email.

    I hope you can appreciate my desire to keep my private email address for correspondence with friends and family

    Yours sincerely,


    That’s probably waaay too soft, but really do not post the post of anger anywhere. Print it out and burn it with cleansing fire. Then block said person’s email addy.

  • Carrie (in MN)

    I like Alice’s response and I’m dying to know what Christy’s cause is. You are absolutely within your rights to respond, but I think your gut is telling you correctly that you’re better off ignoring it.

  • Chris of the Woodwork

    Respond not. Or maybe just say, “I appreciate your opinion. Tks.”

    Remember, what you write can always be quoted somewhere, no matter if you write nicely or if you tell the toad to suck rocks.

    Take the high road, M’dear. It may be the one less traveled, but it’s always the best.

    And BTW? My adoration of you knows no bounds. You could write dirges and I would read them and love them.

  • Nelle

    One thing I hate about email is how snarky people can be as they hide behind the anonymity of their computer. Just because you put yourself out there does not give anyone the right to be downright cruel. That being said, there are so many that love your work. Let them fill your cup with joy and please continue doing what you are doing. Don’t feed the monster – it may grow into something worse.


  • Tiffany

    Sweetie, use your Southern Woman Powers to send the most passive-aggressive email in the history of mankind. Include the phrase “bless your heart.” Flatter, then annhilate. This is in your blood. You’ve got this! Also, those readers just suck. Love ya.

  • Meg

    I totally understand the urge to reply! But I wouldn’t… Ignoring mean trolls is the best response. If you respond to them they get the attention they want. If you ignore they are left wondering if you got their letter, if you will respond, what you will say. You have all the power. 😀

    Btw, I LOVE your books. I read one and then I read all the rest all in a row. I don’t want to be interrupted by reading a crappy book when I’m in the middle of the books of a good author. Thanks for the hours of enjoyment!

  • I figure, no matter what, you treat people the way you want to be treated, and if they are egregiously mean or rude, you just smile, ignore, and continue onward because they are SO not worth the breath it takes to utter words back at them. If you need to write a furious response and burn it in effigy to purge the anger, you should do that, but I don’t think you should give this person one iota of effort they may construe has having accomplished whatever it is they set out to do in the first place.

  • PEE ESS: You’ve said in the past that you don’t tell all the stories you want to on your blog because they aren’t fully owned by you, and therefore, aren’t yours to tell, but you store them away where they come out in books in places where they are almost unrecognizable to even the parties involved. This seems like just such a thing to let percolate only to have it pulled to the fore and used in a book. Ah, sweet revenge.

  • That person is the one with the problem. Why do they need to share such a negative opinion? In such a situation I ask if there is anything I could say that would make a difference. I like the idea of using it later in a book:)

    I have enjoyed your writing here since I “met” you on Five Plates. Three of your books arrived yesterday ~ can’t wait!

  • I have two options here. One is the passive-aggressive letter that Tiffany suggested. So then even if it IS posted on the Internet, it exposes this person for the asshat they are. The second option is also passive-aggressive, and suggested also by Tenessa…make the person a part of your next book. Make sure THEY know you are talking about them. On come on. It would be fun.

    I thought of a third option. I’ll go break their kneecaps for you.

  • This is a great post. Totally with you on the not responding to negative reviews–ever–for exactly these reasons.

    Regarding the Wheaties-pisser. Delete. From both computer and (if possible) your thoughts.

  • Kathy

    My opinion is don’t respond at all. It will only encourage the person. If you feel you have to, a form letter, but I’d advise against it. A “mean letter” file is a good idea. Nowadays, it seems it’s open season on any person in the public eye. Boundaries are become non-existent. And so are manners!

  • Of COURSE you have to take the high road. You are a woman of great class and refinement, and toad face does not deserve your attention. Send a form letter response and shake the dust off your feet.
    Now. Give ME the email. 🙂

  • Shawna

    Is it bad that all I keep thinking is holy crap I’ve been reading your blog for almost ten years now?

  • Mer

    Asking people to read the books does not, IMO, constitute permission to contact you privately. Plenty of authors are only contactable through their publisher or agent.

    But IMO if you’ve given permission for direct fanmail, then you’ve also given permission for this. You can pick in which forums you will engage with your readers, but you can’t assume that some forums are only for positive comments.

    If you want that policy, you have to state it explicitly, and I doubt it’d be worth it, since the kind of people who send nasty emails are not too likely to respect it anyway.

    You absolutely have permission to respond! But permission is probably not the point. Anything you say to this person is not guaranteed to stay between the two of you. So I would not say anything to them that you are not prepared to have go viral. But that’s not an issue of what you owe them, it’s an issue of what you owe yourself, and only you can answer it.

    Personally I would probably choose silence, as least likely to encourage them to keep contacting you, and less hard on your than crafting a non-cranky reply.

  • Les in az

    I whole heatedly agree with Elizabeth, and not because I am rational but rather because I would want to FLIP OUT our your ass clown e-mail hater. But I am a read head…and this leads me into that territory of sending that scathing response. Oh but don’t, don’t give that Nasty unpleasant excuse for a human any more of your time. Send a response thusly, “I have received and read your mail. I plan to use it as the basis for my next villain.”

    Then block sender!!!

    People these days I swear, keep the hate to yourself peeps!!!

  • Les in az

    Yeah and the flying bitch slap *classic* love!

  • Stephanie

    I read all of the comments about the high road. And it is true, taking the high road is fine and good. But if someone sends you a personal email, you absolutely have the right to respond.

    If it were me, I would respond on the blog for two reasons: 1. It means you have already put it out for the wide wide world, depriving the scathing letter sender of the satisfaction of posting it on his own blog, and 2. If you are writing it on your own blog, you will keep your audience in mind, and it will help you say only what you really mean, and probably in a nicer/ funnier way.

  • jeanette in peculiar

    Many years ago I got a snarky hateful letter in the mail. Oh how I wanted to make a phone call, rant and rave, spew some of my best curse words. I SO wanted to engage the offender because I KNEW I could win an argument against such a moron. What I did instead has turned out to be one of my best “laugh out loud at the past” stories.

    I got out my red pen and corrected all of the jerkface’s bad spelling, poor grammar and sentence structure, and FAILED attempt at punctuation. I sent the letter back to her………..never heard from her again!

    I don’t know how to duplicate such an action with an e-mail???

    FYI: I am sure the ration of JJ fans to JJ haters must be like 1,000,000:1

    Unfortunately those of us who love your books, longingly wait for your newest book to hit the shelves, and read your blog faithfully and think of you as a friend we just haven’t met yet, we can’t send e-mails to your private in-box professing our adoration and respect because that would seem creeper-ish and stalky.

    (Whoever sent the e-mail has probably already read your blog and all these comments and is relishing in the attention. Do not give them any more satisfaction by responding.)

  • Frances in England

    I would approach this by asking yourself what will enrage the troll the most? My vote would be ignoring him/her. Never mind the high road, why waste the energy on such a toxic waste of space?

    Although I do love Alice’s suggestion. But add ‘Bless your heart’ on the end.

  • Yes, you have every right to respond. You have every right to be mean and vicious, as only a person with a sharp wit and broad vocabulary can be. You have every right to post your answer here with the person’s real name and email address and any other identifying information which they, unsolicited, sent to you.

    But don’t. Like the Amazon reviews, it does you more harm than good. This vile little person would probably share what you wrote while luxuriating in the attention of those on both sides. He or she is a wretched little troll, no better than those who leave hateful comments under news articles about the suffering of children, and wants nothing more in this world than to use your name and your words for attention. Don’t offer it up. Take satisfaction in the knowledge that, for attention whores like this one, the deepest pain you can inflict is to ignore them completely and pretend they don’t even exist.

    In fact, if I were you, I might even delete this whole blog post and all the comments.

    Sorry that this illiterate little nothing bothered you.

  • Jan in Norman, OK

    I think I’ve already used this line in a comment earlier this year but it bears repeating.

    Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

  • Terri

    Don’t bother to argue with an idiot – it’s just a waste of your time and energy! Respond if you must with a brief “I have received your email and choose not to waste my energy responding to your inane comments” and then block them with your spam filter. I do like Frances’ suggestion to “bless their heart!” though!

  • Karen in MD

    Agreeing with Quiltin’ Jenny here. Not worth the effort to respond to someone whose opinion of you isn’t likely to change. Better just to save the file and cackle about it every once in a while.

  • People didn’t like “Goodnight, Moon”?!? Really? Maybe they were more “The Runaway Bunny” type of people. The two camps can be quite intractable.

    Mama said, “Never answer your critics”, so I never do. The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to wait calmly for the right moment, months or years later, and when they desperately need something from us, to smile benignly and do nothing.

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t know what you should do. What I do is get all angry, all self-righteous, all roiling, and then finally calm myself enough to ask God to deal with the hater. It’s the whole karma is a b****, but with a loving, just God who actually cares about me more than I care about myself. Not sure what happens if you are an atheist (which you are not, as I recall,) but I think it definitely helps when you believe in God.

    Also, you do need a copy, perhaps held by Scott, in case this escalates and you need evidence.

  • Melissa C

    These folks have already given you great advice, so I won’t try to add anything. But I will say that I’m DYING to know what Cristy’s cause is!!!

  • Aparatchick

    Me, many years ago,talking to my grandmother, after a neighbor kid said mean and personal things to me: “She’s a doody-head, a big stupid doody-head, and I’m gonna tell her so!”

    Grandma: “Never wrestle with a pig; you both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it.

    Don’t wrestle with the pig.

    Besides, this kinda sounds like a crazed, stalker pig.

  • I have not ready ANY OTHER commentors yet, because I must first say, “Drive-by pee in your Wheaties”–srsly BWAH,HA, HA. . .SNORT. . .chuckle. That was stinkin’ hilarious. Okay–off to see what others said. Before I am swayed (and that is not easily done)I say go for it–reply in an “Open Letter to Person with Breakfast Cereal Urinating Upon Fetish” on this blog. Because we love you. And if a mean ‘ole person leaves a comment refuting your beautifully and venomously crafted letter, then Mr. Husband can delete. their. comment. Boo-yah.

  • So. . .I guess I’m immature. Everyone else said take the high road–and I do agree as I recently received a SCATHING e-mail, but my reply was very straight forward and business like. It was a necessity as I attend church with the person who felt the need to malign, insinuate, and read their own insecurities into a five minute conversation I’d had with them. THAT being said. . .I just want to get to read the letter (with major, identifying information changed or deleted) because, you know, I actually AM a stalker. 🙂 Don’t respond to them personally. . .they aren’t even worth the little thrill they’d get from seeing our name in their inbox–just talk badly about them over here with us.

    And, yes, I am being VERY Jr. High-ish, but I TEACH Jr. High all day long and have to act like such an ADULT. HA!!!

  • The question reminds me of a story that writer and humorist Florence King told about herself and her interactions with some “fans” in an essay called “Everybody’s Gotta Right To Be Famous”. Are you familiar with it? It’s in the book Lump It or Leave It, and was reprinted in The Florence King Reader. I highly recommend! Pre-internet days, but people were always so (unfortunately). Best of luck, and bless his/her heart!

  • I totally understand the validity of taking the high road. Of course it is best, when given a choice, not to stoop to the level of someone who is acting like a horse’s ass. And chances are, if you point out the complete and utter horse’s assed-ness of their position, they are not going to see it, or get it, and no edification for them will be found in the experience.

    That being said, I would still post the letter and rip them six ways from Sunday in a very humorous way, for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of my readers. Simply because sometimes, if you want to retain your sanity, you just have to flame the living crap out of someone who is so blatantly asking for it. You can justify your actions under the Schoolyard Code 525.3, Subsection A, ‘They Started It’.

    But, then again, I never claimed to be a nice person. You poke the bear, you’re getting bit in the butt.

    And for the record, I AND my daughter AND my mother AND my birthmother obsessively love every word you’ve ever written. We buy your books, share your books, and read your books over and over. My daughter and I quote to each other from “gods In Alabama” and “Grown Up Kind of Pretty”. The first ‘adult’ book I gave to her was “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the second was “gods In Alabama”. You’ve given the two of us something to bond over, and something to love together. And because of that, we’ve got nothing but love for you.

    You don’t want to flame the letter writer? Give it to me. I’ll do it. 🙂 Schoolyard Code 523.5 Subsection C– ‘YOU DON’T GET TO PICK ON PEOPLE I LIKE OR I’LL SHOVE YOU IN THE MUD!’ And I totally will. 🙂


  • Jessica (the celt)

    I have one question for you: how would you respond to the person if he/she walked up to your lawn, saw you in the front yard, and proceeded to tell you everything that was in that email?

    Because this person came to YOU and put something in your face that was neither here nor there. You can live a perfectly happy life not knowing that they hated whatever they hated. They could have lived a perfectly happy life hating whatever they hated without ever telling you. (I have never once written to an author about a book that I hated. I have never searched out an author whose book I hated. I generally close the book and go about my life without dwelling on it.)

    Also? Make sure that you pretend that this person came up to you in your yard while you were doing an interview with the local paper, because you never know where your words are going to end up. I know you especially can be blisteringly righteous while being eloquent and articulate. (As a side note: here’s a link to my very favorite “f-you” letter of all time: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/11/wretched-woman.html. How he kept his temper well enough to write that out and didn’t simply respond in the aforementioned manner, I’ll never know.)

  • Melissa

    Sounds like a Duckins figured out how to type. I think you should take it as a compliment. You got in someone’s brain and made them think. Not enough books do that without graphic shock value. Congratulations. Hope you can let it go. I can’t wait to read your next book. 🙂

  • Of course the writer of your “fan” post likely wasn’t running on all cylinders, but please, please all you readers out there, dis my book, call me names, insult my parents, question my ethics if it means you’ve bought and read one of my books! I’ll consider the source, and your comments will be like water off a duck, because it’s money in my pocket.

  • Fran

    Actually, I think you should be proud! Seriously, I mean it.

    It means you’ve reached the level of celebrity where the crackpots are finding you personally. It’s annoying (and yes, do start a creepy/crackpots folder, and let Scott maintain it so you don’t have to think about it, except as characters in a future book, but it’s good to have the crazy documented), but it’s a step on the ladder of success. The Crazy has found you.

    Everyone else has given you great advice, and I know that if you really want to send of the blistering email, you can send it to a close friend — preferably one who will show up with a dirty martini in support — and you can take deep literary revenge.

    But yeah, you are through-and-through a Southern lady, and your shoes don’t need to be soiled with the crazy muck. It ain’t personal, Sweetie, it’s just a troll.

    PS: Totally pinned the “Bitchslap” pic. LOVE IT!

  • Idella

    Personally I think the person who wrote that got what he wanted…to get your goat. However, if he never hears from you, he will never know that he “got to you”. In other words, the best way to irk him is to ignore him. By giving him any attention at all is falling into his trap and feeding his little pea-size ego.

    Now for you my sister, I suggest you not hand over another ounce of your powerfulness to him. Do not waste one more iota of your precious self that he is obviously trying to suck out of you. You my dear are better than him. You can’t pick your relatives, but you sure can pick your friends & battles…he’s just not worth it!

    Lastly, I suggest a little exercise/recipe in cleansing to be quite helpful: 1) Take 1 pie pan (or like container), 2) a prinout of the offensive document, 3) a match or lighter and take all on a little stroll outdoors. Place offensive object in said pie pan, light directly…then do a little Gingham dance around the lovely fire while chanting “ashes to ashes, dust to dust, that damn review was a bust”! Pheeeeew, not doesn’t that feel better 🙂

    PS. As for Unwanted Emails…The Delete Button is a wonderful Tool!!!

  • Idella

    oop, had a brain-fart…I meant “gangnam” dance. hee hee hee

  • I think you should post the email, removing identifying details, and let your friends here deal with that person.

    Or . . . just say, “Thank you for the feedback. I really appreciate it.” I think that’s kind of fun to do.

    I do understand on some level, too. I once riled up all the pug-service dog owners in the world with an innocent blog post . . . and heard about it for years. (Thanks, Google!) People are weird.

  • Not Jimmy

    Here’s a scary truth: There are e-groups of vigilante CRAZIES who go around attacking authors and publishers who respond to negative reviews. In any manner!

    Once your responses are discovered, they will verbally attack you. DROVES of them. They will then go on and leave negative reviews on all your other works and vote down any positive review left by another. They will share the URL to your blog, and an army of jerks will trash you in the comments. They will e-mail you hateful things.

    Publishers get it to. I learned this lesson. I tried to stop readers from attacking a reviewer who left a one-star review on a book I published, because it was getting ugly in there. I thought I was doing something good and helpful. As the kids say, FAIL! That’s when the Army of Cwazies showed up and accused me of trying to silence people, telling them to “shut up,” etc.

    My mind was thoroughly boggled.

    You know how I got them to slow their hate? I had to apologize. I had to apologize for being a bad publisher and promise to try to change. Ha!


    Need further encouragement? Check out these two Goodreads groups:

    Badly Behaving Authors (264 members)

    Badly Behaving Reviewers (6 members)

    You cannot win.

  • Martha

    I haven’t any wise comments or sage advice. I believe that has all been covered by previous posters.

    I just wanted to say I have loved Every. One. Of. Your. Books. and could you please write more of them, and faster? Thank you very much in advance.

  • Sarah

    You’ve got lots of advice here, so you probably don’t need mine too. I just wanted to say that I’d feel the same way too. Someone already said that the internet is making people meaner. I agree; it’s like when we’re in our cars, people just see a car not a person – so they honk and yell and throw a gesture or two at you as they speed up so that you can NOT merge in front of them as your lane ends – nothing that would be acceptable if we were two people walking down the sidewalk with one another. It’s too bad. I LOVE your work. I think it’s fabulous! I attending a reading last year, and I so enjoyed it! I CAN NOT wait for your next book. Whenever someone asks for a book recommendation, yours are the first out of my mouth. In fact, I just handed a copy of gods in Alabama to a neighbor two days ago. Just remember that for every hater with no life enough to spend half a day crafting a horrible email or product review, there are many more happy readers who should be writing their happy review or sending you a happy email but don’t. Cheers!

  • Brigitte

    Gosh, too much input for me to even skim!
    I’m tempted to say not to respond, if you ignore them they’ll go away. Except that strategy did NOT work for me during the 12.5 years of my personal hell known as public education. Oh well.

  • I was deeply caught up in your dilemma until I came across this sentence: “I answer ALL my fan mail” and then I began gleefully composing some (laudatory) fan mail to you in hopes of a personal response. Cuz I’m shallow like that.

  • c

    I’m not up to a moral dilemma, so no advice. However, I still think you’re pretty and love your books and blog, and I’m sorry someone felt it was okay to step into your life and insult you. They clearly suck.

  • BerniG

    I think you should not respond. Chsnces are they won’t understand the response any better than they understood the book.

  • Aimee

    I think Sandi had a great idea: reply with an innocuous, polite and cheerful form letter. And I think Kira, too, had a good idea: send the jerkface’s letter to her, and let her respond for you ;).

    Seriously, what I do in a situation like that is write the blistering response. Then I wait, and try to imagine how I really TRULY would feel if I sent it. If I can’t live with the way I would feel, I delete it. Or I save it so I can read it again if I start feeling stabbity (! love this, Jan O’Hara) about it, because I can then have the satisfaction of knowing I COULD reduce the jerkface to quivering jelly if I chose to.

    All of that said, anybody who would do that — NOT dislike a book, because that is their prerogative although it does display an appalling lack of taste not to like any of YOUR books, but feel the need to send you a personal and insulting note about it — is a giant, smelly turd. So there.

  • Aline

    You are an excellent writer, as even the blog post above proves. You have to take the high road and say “Bless your heart”, unfortunately, in my opinion. The book is out there to comment on, so it will be. Amazing how one bad review can negate a thousand other good reviews in a person’s mind. I think you are doing the best thing possible and telling your “friends” about it and venting. As they say, never argue with a stupid person they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. Kill them with kindness–it is something they are unused to 😉 .

  • SillyMe

    oommgah! All this “High road” stuff is making me gag. I absolutely do not buy into the you’re-famous-and-you-put-yourself-out-there-so-you-have-to-take-anything-people-want-to-throw-your-way BS. ‘Cause that’s what it is, BS. I know this makes me seem like a Bad Christian, but when someone slaps me I don’t present the other cheek for his slapping pleasure. I point out to him and anyone else listening that I don’t accept abuse. Putting up a review on Amazon is OK. Coming straight to you with “you’re a hack” is definitely not. As a reader I would like to see what this person wrote to you (with or without your reply)
    Maybe for your next contest you can ask for potential replies and the one that tickles you the best wins “King of the Internet.” I’m already drafting my reply and I haven’t even read the letter!

  • Loved Sandi’s idea. My letter would say, “Dear Reader, I’m sorry you didn’t like my book. Perhaps you would enjoy a book by another writer more. Sincerely, etc.” But I think in the end Jan is right. Don’t feed the trolls. Feed the readers instead, because we love what you write.

  • Lulu

    It does feel like a violation when a troll get into your email inbox, doesn’t it? They have invaded your space & gotten in your face in a different way than just dropping a troll-turd comment.

    Still, making them wonder if you even got their email is a better response than an actual, direct one. I’d make a folder called “The Dungeon” and file the email there. That way, yes, you have an email trail in case the emailer becomes a bigger problem. And if they make any kind of threat, that’s an acceleration that means it’s time to take it all to your local law enforcement agency.

    Save your energy for responding to the rest of us who love you & your books!! Be blameless and above reproach, and just keep writing novels!

  • edj

    People hate Goodnight Moon? Wow. Just shows that some people are haters. I can’t imagine personally writing an author whose book I disliked. Anyway, so many others have been more eloquent than I feel like being right now, but I agree that you should probably take the high road, even though I personally don’t want you to because I would love to read your response to the troll. 🙂

    Isn’t it funny that we’re all telling you how much we adore your books, and it’s soothing, but hasn’t QUITE made up for that email? Why is the negative so strong? I can still quote a super-offensive email I got sent a couple of years ago, one I only read about twice, and I’ve forgotten all the nice positive ones I get.

  • Melissa

    There are tons of wonderful ideas for responses to your email hater. Use any one of them, but next time you get a nasty email, send it to me. I will respond for you AND I will send you a positive, glowing email about your writing and your brilliant books to take away the sting and bitter taste of the opinion that doesn’t matter.

  • Laura Lippman

    Write back and say: thank you for writing. I am always interested in what readers have to say.

    1) sounds like a form letter.
    2) yet clearly isn’t.
    3) establishes that missive was received
    4) and it didn’t have desired effect.

  • Unless an author writes a book that includes me by name (or my children, I suppose) and is incorrect I can’t imagine emailing them mean things. I mean, it’s not like their book was titled “HEATHER TRUETT READ THIS.” Reading it was my decision. I have read some books that included ideas or images I found disgusting or wrongly conveyed, but meanness is beneath me (I hope). However, when I love a story or idea I am trying to be more intentional about emailing the author and saying so. I figure we writers like knowing we’re read and enjoyed.

    Right now, I am so desperate to see my book on a shelf, I feel no amount of hate mail could ruin the euphoria, but I will feel differently one day, when this waiting game is in the past instead of feeling like a never ending torture.

  • PS Laura is brilliant. Do what she says.