Upon Careful Review

It has been nearly a month since my last original blog post, thanks in part to a Netbook that finally said its last, sad farewell to  me after being my faithful companion for more than three years.  A moment of silence . . .

I tried to keep up with writing by scribbling in notebooks and then typing things up at the library computer, but I finally decided that this was nature’s way of telling me to take a break.  Oh, I could still play on my tablet and smartphone; I probably would have required all sorts of mood-modifying medications if totally deprived of the internet during that time.

I’ve had time to think.  To read.  To not be a writer for a few weeks.

I didn’t like it.

All of that reading and “surfing the net” has made me uncomfortably aware of the fact that there are some real crazies out there.  I mean, I knew there were some quirky and unique individuals in the world, and I intend no disrespect toward those among us who suffer from mental illness.

No, I’m talking about some of the internet nutburgers who don’t seem to understand the words they toss about so easily.  Words like “troll.”  “Bully.”  “Cyberbully.”  “Stalker.”

By now, most of us have heard about the Kathleen Hale debacle.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Kathleen Hale is an author who recently wrote an article for The Guardian, in which she told the tale of her actions toward a reviewer who didn’t like her debut novel.  According to Hale, the reviewer was a “bully” who “attacked” and “harassed” her, so Hale became obsessed with the reviewer to the point of actually calling her at work and going to her home.

I’ve also seen articles suggesting that Hale actually made up the whole story as a way of boosting attention to get sales for her own novel, but I don’t have enough information to offer an opinion on that.

What I am going to offer an opinion on, however, is the response that Hale’s article received.  The comments below the article are truly, bloodcurdlingly frightening.

Writers are actually coming forward in support of Hale.  They agree that the reviewer was wrong in saying anything bad about Hale’s book, and they applaud Hale’s efforts in tracking her down.  They refer to the reviewer as a cyberbully, casting her as a villain who deserved everything she got from Hale.

Seriously?  Come on, people; get a grip.

I’ve seen the review.  No, it’s not very nice. I’m not entirely sure that it was fair or truthful.  Have I read the book?  No.  To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read it anyway, with or without the review, because the description just doesn’t make it sound very appealing.  But aren’t reviews supposed to be opinions?  Who is to say whether an opinion is right or wrong?  It’s an opinion.  Subjective.

If Hale really did do all of the things she admitted to in her article, then I would have to opine that she is the villain here.  She lied, stalked, and pursued another human being through the internet.  She showed up on the person’s doorstep, ostensibly just to talk, but how can any of us know what was really going on in her head?  What if the reviewer had opened her door that day and had things to say to Hale that Hale didn’t like?

Robert John Bardo just wanted to talk when he showed up at Rebecca Schaffer’s door.  What about Mark David Chapman?  Was he just hoping for a chat with John Lennon?

With all this time on my hands, I’ve done a lot of reading about authors who have pursued their reviewers.  One man tracked a book blogger down at her place of work and hit her over the head with a bottle, sending her to the hospital for stitches.   Others have joined “anti-bullying” groups whose sole purpose seems to be the act of stalking, pursuing and bullying reviewers, all in the name of fighting the very acts that they themselves are carrying out.

It makes me ashamed to be a writer.  It makes me want to stand on the rooftops and shout out a public apology on behalf of all writers:  “Hey, we’re not all batshit crazy!”

Look, I know that a lot of these reviewers/book bloggers go too far.  Some of them trash a book for personal reasons without ever reading it; some of them seem to take a sadistic glee in tearing apart a book solely for the purpose of destroying a writer’s career.  I’m not saying that these reviewers are angels, or that their actions are excusable.

I am saying that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Sometimes, a bad review is just a bad review.  Deserved or not.  Every writer in this world is going to be  hit with at least one bad review eventually, probably more.  That’s part of being a writer.  When we put our work out there for the world to read, we are asking for opinions, and not all of those opinions are going to make us happy.

I can’t speak for all writers, but for me, putting my books out there is harder than actually writing them.

I’ve been lucky so far.  I’ve had a few bad reviews, but every single one of them pointed out something that I should have been aware of, something that I could learn from.  The bad reviews have made me a better author.  At least, I hope they have.  I’ve never gotten the kind of reviews that attack me personally or totally trash my book, but I know it’ll happen some day.   When it does, I’ll probably cry, eat too much Toblerone, and feel sorry for myself.

I’ve just completed my first Goodreads giveaway, and sent off copies of Have a Goode One to five complete strangers.  I’ve heard all of the warnings about Goodreads, been told I shouldn’t participate in giveaways because they invite bad reviews and abuse.  Of course, I’m nervous about the response I’m going to get.  I’m nervous about the negativity I may attract for posting this on my blog, for crying out loud.  Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

I may regret this.

But I can guarantee I’m  not going to rent a car and drive to the reviewer’s doorstep.  I’m not going to “give a taste of their own medicine.”  I’m not going to get revenge.

Because that’s a whole new flavor of crazy that I have no desire to taste.

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6 thoughts on “Upon Careful Review

  1. Well, Amy, you might find it awfully wet trying to drive to my doorstep! I had never heard of this so I am going to look her up and see what’s what; sounds like the sort of headcase who really should be tucked up in the funny farm.

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    • I find it interesting that one of the people leaving most of the comments on the article is our old friend with the “Me-Me-ME” problem. Not only does she see Hale as the victim, she also uses her comments to talk about her own problems and make herself an even BIGGER victim.

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  2. I read about this for the first time yesterday and was immediately pulled in to the drama. I agree with you that even though it’s hard and awful to get bad reviews, being open and using it as an opportunity to improve can help you become a better author — way better than becoming a deranged stalker. Good luck with your Goodreads reviews. The idea of standing naked in the town square sometimes seems easier than sharing our writing.

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  3. I hadn’t heard about her, but I went to: … http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic … to read what she said. I found it interesting that she said Goodreads had the following at the bottom of the page:

    ***”At the bottom of the page, Goodreads had issued the following directive (if you are signed in as an author, it appears after every bad review of a book you’ve written): “We really, really (really!) don’t think you should comment on this review, even to thank the reviewer. If you think this review is against our Review Guidelines, please flag it to bring it to our attention. Keep in mind that if this is a review of the book, even one including factual errors, we generally will not remove it.

    “If you still feel you must leave a comment, click ‘Accept and Continue’ below to proceed (but again, we don’t recommend it).”***

    I’ve read that some author’s don’t even read their reviews because they don’t want to be influenced by them. I’ve thought about not reading mine, but it is difficult to not take a peek 🙂

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    • I only have two reviews on Goodreads so far, and both are good, constructive reviews. I have a few more on Amazon, and I have to admit that I always read them because there might be something I can learn. I may change that if I start getting nasty, ugly reviews, but I’ve always been told to never, ever reply to a review. Never.

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