It’s been in the news that some writers have been experiencing extreme butt-hurt over mean reviews. A few have taken to
hunting down contacting reviewers directly – and these are REAL traditionally published authors with the biggest sense of entitlement best reputations doing that. Respected authors are demanding that reader-reviewers must not hide behind pseudonyms – even if authors might come after them, and even though authors are free to use pen names. Margo Howard, aka Dear Prudence the Queen of advice columnists (and by “queen” I mean the title was inherited) has taken to sarcasm and snark in referring to her detractors, who must be jealous because who the hell wouldn’t want to be Margo Howard?
There have been incidents of tweeting while drunk.
First of all can everyone take a breath please? Perhaps we all need to do a bit of internal cleansing? If there is a “war” going on between writers and reviewers, it is a very small scale one that does not effect the vast majority of readers, writers or reviewers.
What Frank Rich’s future daughter-in-law did was terrible. Was it as terrible as attacking someone with an axe? No. Was it as bad as ebola? No. But it was bad. And the thing is once you acknowledge that, you can’t in the same conversation even talk about the behavior of the stalkee. It’s like saying “she was asking for it.”
Also the Guardian blog is the worst. They run things just to piss people off. Seriously. High end trolling is their business model. Did you know they accused all self-published writers of “going John Galt” in a post that extolled the virtues of corporate publishing? They are not the representative of a power elite who are out to get uppity bloggers. They are people in a dying business (newspapers) who are desperately trying to get your attention.
In my irrelevant opinion, blogger blackouts only give more publicity to people who shouldn’t be mentioned.
So I will speak no more of this.
I am writing this post because negative reviews happen all the time. Here are a couple of random examples off of Goodreads and Amazon:
“I think the main reason I found it so boring was because of the way the author chose to write it. Sentences such as “”Yo’ Ole Father doan ‘ know yit what hes a-gwyne to do” made it very difficult for me to understand what was happening. If I read a book I want to be able to understand a sentence the first time I read it, not the tenth time. Another reason it was boring was because of the very long descriptive scenes, like all the times where Jim and Huck would talk. There really was no point to that at all.”
“Boring, boring, boring. If a book doesn’t capture my attention in the first five chapters, it isn’t worth my time. The great Gatsby was much too wordy and lost my attention many times. Did not understand what it was about and it made no effort to enlighten me. Wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”
like Anne Rice might say that this is what happens when everyone is a critic on Goodreads and Amazon. We could argue about that: Is the crowdsourcing of books good or bad for literature? But here’s the thing, neither Margo Howard, Anne Rice or Kathleen Hale are writing “literature”. They are writing in one form or another entertainment – the memoirs of an advice columnist, a vampire saga, a YA comic-thriller.
If they don’t want their books going out in advance to readers, let them take it up with their publishers and publicists. But the internet exists. Blogs exist. Customer reviews exist as does twitter, and that’s only one of many sites where readers may get together and talk about books in snarky terms or however they want.
Yes, it is weird that people have all these very public conversations that writers aren’t supposed to be listening in on. Welcome to 2014.
(Think of it this way: You write a play. You are in the audience on opening night or maybe for a preview. You overhear people making snide comments at intermission. You want to explain. You want to punch them. You want to cry. But you don’t because none of that is going to help fill the house.)
Here’s the good news for writers: While some Goodreads and Amazons reviewers do have clout – enough of it for publishers to be sending them freebies – they don’t have unlimited clout. Chances are if you don’t go out of your way to antagonize people by acting like a lunatic, then there will be enough good reviews to cancel out the bad ones. Besides, it has been scientifically proven that bad reviews might actually boost your sales.
Also if you are Anne Rice with a million followers – it really won’t matter. If you are Margo Howard, who’s been in the business a hundred years and your
rolodex Outlook is filled with very self-important people – it won’t matter. If your fiance writes for SNL and his father is famous and your future mother-in-law is a big shot at Harper Collins, it definitely won’t matter.
For the rest of us, I have studied this matter of negative reviews. I have found patterns. I think I’ve cracked it, and can now explain how you can avoid ever getting another negative review:
1. Don’t be boring! I have seen lots of negative reviews pointing out how bored readers were. These include reviews of every book ever written.
2. Don’t use any curse words. Doesn’t matter if this is hard-boiled noir or transgressive fiction. Doesn’t matter if your blurb makes clear that the book is “dark” or if you already have lots of reviews calling the work “gritty” or mentioning the “salty” or “colorful” language. Without doubt, sooner or later someone will give it a one or two star rating for “f-bombs.”
3. Don’t use big words some readers might not know, and under no circumstances should you throw in foreign phrases or any “literary references.” Some readers will get the feeling you are trying to be better than they are and say your stuff is “pretentious” or you are “trying too hard.” Yes, I know that’s the type of thing you like to read and you really are a pretentious twit with a couple of masters degrees and that’s your target audience, but if someone who gave five stars to the latest Sophie Kinsella novel and thought Lolita was both “boring” and “porn” happens to get hold of your book, they won’t like it.
4. Avoid explicit sexytimes. Yes, I know your latest opus is sci-fi erotica taking place in a post- apocalyptic world where your heroine is married to a still libidinous zombie, while carrying on affairs with her mutant super-intelligent doberman and a gigantic radioactive rat – who is part of the ruling rodent elite (omigod I have some writing to do). Nevertheless, there will be reviews that begin with the phrase – “I’m no prude but….” and go on to trash your book for being exactly what it is.
5. Avoid “triggers.” Some people are sensitive due to traumas they have suffered in life, so you must avoid anything that may cause them to have PTSD or the sadz. And no it is not their responsibility to be careful about what they read. That is victim-blaming! It is yours to paste labels all over your book. What might be a trigger? Rape or anything rapey or rapish. . Don’t write a novel where anyone gets raped. Better yet, avoid any “dubious” consent, Also explicit violence. Depending on a reader’s personal history anything can be traumatic. Does an animal die? A child? Somebody’s grandmother? Does a customer service rep hang up on someone? Yes, I know you can think of a dozen books off the top of your head that you had to read in high school, plus what about television? But you don’t want negative reviews do you?
6. Avoid endings that either tie things up neatly or appear to be open ended as though you might ever consider revisiting those characters. Some readers prefer one over the other. If they liked the book and it ends in a closed off way they will be mad that there can’t be a sequel. Also if you left room for a sequel and didn’t warn them it was a series (because it isn’t) they will be pissed about that too.
7. Make sure the book is actually what the readers expect it to be. You wouldn’t want anyone complaining it wasn’t! No surprises! (I hope you are writing this down.)
8. Never have any character use any racist or derogatory terms for anyone or even think in those terms. It doesn’t matter if you are doing this to show that character is flawed or evil. It doesn’t matter if he or she “changes” and that was your whole point, or if you were trying to be historically accurate. Some reader somewhere will believe that you — the author — is being racist, homophobic, sexist — etc or that “the book” is these things.
9. Stick to one narrator, preferably a twenty-something white girl who’s in love with a man or creature of mystery. Make sure she’s hot but doesn’t know it. (We will know she is beautiful because other people will keep telling her how she is beautiful but doesn’t realize it.) Use first person, present tense, and explain any multisyllabic words. This actually won’t help you avoid bad reviews, but it won’t matter since so many readers really love that kind of thing.
10. Do not make your book available to the public. That’s the 100% best way to avoid ever getting a negative review.
(New to this site? It’s the web home of Blood Diva — a novel that’s gotten mostly positive reviews. It’s the only thing I’m selling here, so please take a look.)