Thursday, March 15, 2018
Should You Be Afraid to Review?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? In the big, wide world of semi-anonymity we call the internet, it seems at times that people are afraid of nothing. Strangers say things online that they'd never say if looking someone in the eye.
It’s tempting to tell people where to get off—especially when they're being obnoxious or unfair. People don't want to debate rationally; they only want to belittle those who don't agree. If you don't believe me, try explaining to a gang of vehement Teachers' Union supporters that all homeschoolers are not, in fact, "inbred, narrow-minded, homophobic hypocrites." Wow. And those were the ones who didn't refer to a variety of body parts and animal acts.
It's not worth my time to argue with strangers who don't want to hear someone else's point of view.
But what if those strangers could affect your real life? Would you still express your honest thoughts?
I’m forever exploring Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and writers’ blogs to keep up on the business of writing and editing. A disturbing number of people mention unwarranted attacks by authors who don't agree with someone's review of their book. Apparently, author/reviewer bullying is a pretty big thing.
Since when did an honest opinion become a bad thing? There are tactful ways to say the negative things that need to be said—like when my husband says, "Well, I know you like it and it's comfortable, but it's not the most flattering outfit you own." I'd rather hear that than overhear someone whispering about how awful I look.
In the case of a book review, an author should be prepared for the occasional negative. No one likes to hear that what they've labored over isn't loved by all, but it should at least be expected once in awhile. I've not always used delicate phrasing in a review, but I am prepared to stand by my words if confronted.
I can think of one instance where I ended up wondering if I'd overstepped my bounds, years and years ago. A book I'd edited got two stars from someone who admitted she didn't finish it, it was not her typical genre, and in fact, she didn’t really like that particular genre. So I asked her why she'd bothered to read or review it, when all those factors would never have led to a favorable review. I was polite, I clearly stated that I was the book's editor (which I didn't have to disclose) and wasn't asking so I could jump to the author's defense. I was genuinely curious. The reviewer didn't reply, but another GR person did, accusing me of being unprofessional by telling someone what a review should be, on a book which I "helped to create."
Well, first of all, I didn't create the book. I didn't help to create it. The novel was the author's hard work, not mine. I edited it. As much as I'd love to take credit for a book's success—and I do celebrate with them!—my work is the frosting, not the cake itself. I don't even have to like the books I work with, I suppose; I only have to correct them. So of course I felt that was a moot point. However, the person who criticized me was polite, I responded in kind, and we went our separate ways. I'd intended no harm, she said her piece, and I realized it was probably not my business to ask the original poster anything at all. But I'm curious like that, and now I know that curiosity is not always appreciated. I'm thankful that my post didn't do any damage to the author, but I didn't feel it was right to remove it, either. After all, I said it, and I needed to stand by it.
My point, if I can still get back around to it, is this: if an honest opinion is wanted, then prepare for it to be honest. "Honest" does not always mean "favorable." And if your loyal fans jump to your defense, please make it clear to them that bullying your naysayers is NOT acceptable. I’m incredulous that people can be so vicious to strangers over a book review, methodically stalking them across the social networks. In some of the cases I read, the author and the reviewer blamed each other for attacks that were actually launched by their friends. Once the true culprits were revealed, apologies ensued . . . but the damage was already done.
Most authors genuinely desire honest reviews. Reviews encourage people to purchase a book, and they let authors to know their work is noticed. The relative obscurity provided by the internet should never be used as an excuse to lash out at anyone who doesn't happen to agree with us.
Have you seen or experienced this? Ever found yourself in the middle of an unintentional knock-down-drag-out internet kerfuffle? Tell me all about it and I’ll be sure to give you a heartfelt “there, there.”