I’ve posted my thoughts about reviews before. And my thoughts about authors writing reviews for other authors. But this time I’m going to talk about how hurtful mean-spirited reviews can be, and then go off on a tangent about other things that are also hurtful to me as a writer, because I have a disorganized mind and it’s my blog.
In a facebook post yesterday, I tried to remember a quote I read once about how an author has no place interfering in the reader’s relationship with a book. I think it may have been from Wimsatt & Beardsley’s “Intentional Fallacy”, which claimed a poem does not belong to its author, but rather “it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The poem belongs to the public,” Most likely, the quote I was remembering was derivative of the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ essay, or at least was a part of the “New Criticism” movement.
The ‘Intentional Fallacy’ was intended as a way to closely read poetic work, and judge it purely on its content. That one quote, though, when applied to fiction reviews, has a slightly different meaning for me. What I take from it is: Every reader is going to have a very personal relationship with the books/stories they read. They will bring their own history, knowledge, and prejudices into that relationship, and they will make their own, individual, and sometimes very personal, judgments about the work. It has little or nothing to do with the author.
Still, a negative review can hurt. Mostly, when this happens it’s because either the author feels misunderstood, or the review is just mean. The misunderstood review is bad, because it messes up your ratings for no good reason. I’m talking about the “I thought this was a romance, but there’s no sex!” or “Why is this about dragons? When it said shifters I expected werewolves!” or other similar “I didn’t read the blurb or really even look at at the cover” type review.
The intentionally hurtful review is worse. Opening Amazon to find a mean spirited review is a bit like realizing someone stole your bike. It’s always a shock to be reminded that there are genuine assholes running amuck in the world.
I’ve heard people ask why anyone would put so much effort into a snarky-mean review. I think there is a community of people who are into those type of reviews, and at a certain point they are not really about the books, but function as a comedic vehicle for the reviewer. I only have one such review, and it’s not entirely negative. I was actually kind of honored that someone put the time and effort in for one of my little stories. It made me feel like a “real” author.
What happens is people who write these reviews don’t think about the fact that they are hurting a real person (or they just don’t care). There is a disconnect inherent in online interactions. The famous “Anonymity+Audience=Asshole” effect. You forget that behind every keyboard there is another human, and you say things (both about others and about yourself) that you’d never say in real life. I’ve even seen authors do it to each other, in goodreads group discussions with titles like “worst books I’ve ever read”.
And so here is my tangent… it’s not just readers who hurt us. It’s other writers as well.
Beyond the goodreads threads, or mean reviews, there are other ways authors hurt each other. I have joined a few critique sites, and more recently a crit group (which is going well 🙂 ), and of course I interact with other writers on facebook and through blogs. The one thing that I have noticed is many authors think rather highly of themselves. I won’t say most writers, because that’s hardly true, but as in so many things, the people who behave badly tend to be loud about it.
So I’ll be chatting (in the stilted, awkward way you chat on these social-media sites), and an author will drop some comment about how great they are as a writer. Either something like, “critiques from people who don’t write on my level just aren’t very helpful”, or “I get asked for writing advice all the time, but I can’t help everyone”, or some similar “I’m such a great writer I don’t realize I sound like a conceited dick” comment.
A long time ago, I was an art student. I understand that to create art, to keep going through criticism, you have to have a higher-than-average level of self confidence. You have to. Because you will get criticized regularly. If you’ve never gone to art school, I’ll tell you how it goes down (I assume it’s similar for writers and musicians in school): In most every studio class you have a regular (often weekly) crit session. It may be twenty minutes at the end of class for works in progress, or it may be a two hour full critique on the day projects are due. During this crit, every piece is hung up and discussed, by everyone. It can be harsh. You have to learn to accept it, and to keep on going. More than that, you have to go back to class, with the people who critiqued your work, and work alongside them, and keep making art. You have to do this for years. If you aren’t thick-skinned when you start art school, you will be when you leave (or you’ll learn to act tough and then cry in private).
The trouble is, sometimes that self-confident armor you wear to protect yourself against criticism makes you look like a jerk. When someone goes around saying how great they are, what they’re really saying is how much better they are than everyone else, and that’s no way to make friends. I like to think I have a “peer” relationship with the other authors on my facebook friend list. So when they are dismissive or rude, it’s difficult to ignore. I don’t expect everyone I chat with on social media to be my bff, but not talking down to me (or other newbie writers) would be nice.
In my “writing life”, I have been lucky. The majority of reviews I’ve received have been positive. Also most of the people I “know” on facebook and other sites are super nice and friendly. But insults and even offhand comments can be devastating to someone (like me) who really only pretends toughness.
For now, I can laugh off the negative. And I’ll keep working on my own self-confidence-armor, in case of attack.
**EDIT: I found the blog that I was looking for with the quote I was trying to remember!!! It’s on KJ Charles (Who has a very nice blog, you should visit)