“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.
Oh, but I was ANGRY. I wanted to respond so badly. I wanted to say HEY JERKFACE TOAD, THE H IS SILENT. I AM NOT NAMED FOR A JOSH OF ANY KIND, OH TOADY JERKFACE. HEY JERKFACE, YOU UTTER TOAD, ME PUBLISHING A BOOK DOESN’T GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO TAKE SHOTS AT MY MOST DEAR AND BELOVED PARENTS, AND PS SUCK IT, AND PPS YOUR FACE IS JERKY! LIKE A TOAD’S FACE!
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!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?