It’s Nothing Personal

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of this, but there’s a war going on. Waged on the battlefields of Goodreads and Amazon, it’s a war between readers and authors. Well, actually, it isn’t quite that simple. Authors seem to be split–some side with the readers, some side with the authors crying ‘bully,’ and others choose to stay out of it altogether.

You see, there’s a group of authors out there (many who happen to be self-published) who have a very difficult time handling unfavorable reviews. That’s putting it mildly. Let’s be honest–there are authors out there who throw full-blown tempter tantrums when they receive a bad review. They’ve commented on the review, hurling insults and obscenities. They’ve even tracked down the reviewer’s email address or blog and pursued them on Facebook. In an extreme case, a few of the authors got together and started a website aimed toward outing the real identities of these ‘bullies.’ (True story)

Now, these authors will claim the reviewers are the real stalkers. They claim other authors one-star their books in order to knock out the competition. There are accusations of sock-puppetry on both sides. To sum it up, it’s a hot mess.

As authors, what can we do to keep from becoming embroiled in such a battle? What can we do to ensure we won’t end up on an Amazon or Goodreads Authors Behaving Badly List? Well, here are a few tips…

  1. Don’t freak out over bad reviews. Every author will receive at least one bad review. It’s inevitable. Don’t argue with the reviewer. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t comment on the review and try to explain where you were coming from. You’ll just sound like a whiny baby. Accept bad reviews with grace.
  2. Don’t argue with readers or reviewers over anything else. A forum post about how badly your book sucks. An accusation that all your five-star reviews came from sock puppets. “But, Tricia, I didn’t do anything. I don’t know why they’re targeting me.” Maybe someone took offence at a review you posted on another book. Maybe someone saw you were a Goodreads-friend with someone they hated and they decided to extend their hatred to you. Maybe someone just hated your profile pic. Whatever. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. I know an author who ended up on a Badly Behaving Authors list because he tagged books in a way some readers didn’t approve of. There was an Amazon forum post…and before he knew it, there was a whole, big, huge issue–all over something he didn’t realize was wrong. Did he argue? No. He stayed out of it and it all blew over pretty quickly.
  3. Don’t treat your writing like a hobby. (Well, unless it is a hobby.) Here’s the deal–the moment you decide to publish your work, you have entered the professional arena and your book will be judged alongside the works of other authors who are writing as a career. “But, I’m just writing because I love it. I don’t care about grammar, and besides, I’m too poor to hire a professional editor. And, I need new glasses. And, I’m tired because I work full-time.” As a poor, tired author who needs new glasses, I can totally sympathize with all those excuses and more. But, guess what? The reader doesn’t care about your excuses. Whether they paid ten dollars or one dollar or uploaded your book for free, it doesn’t matter. You made the choice to place your book in a professional arena and the reader has every right to critique your book accordingly.
  4. Don’t be an author if you want to live a quiet, private life where no one ever criticizes you or talks about you on the internet. Being an author involves an emotional risk. You’re putting your book–and yourself–in front of the world to be judged. Prepare for people to say things about you and your book (good and bad). It’s nothing personal–it’s just comes with the territory of being an author.

19 thoughts on “It’s Nothing Personal

  1. I absolutely agree. I think that many fall victim to thinking the fourth item on the list, which is that being an author is not really a job or anything that involves much effort (hence the endlessly repeated line, “I’ve always wished I was a writer”). If you love writing, but don’t love being rejected, either write just for yourself (and do not publish in any format) or just click out of reading reviews.
    –JW
    P.S. I had absolutely no idea this was going on. I am so out-of-touch with things!

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    • For those writers who don’t want to be judged in a professional arena, there are ways for them to share stories on ‘hobby’ writing sites. They can even print a few copies of their books for family and friends without making their work available for the masses. But, yeah, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” Most non-writers think it’s pretty easy–until they try it.

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      • “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” Most non-writers think it’s pretty easy–until they try it.

        Good ol’ Dunning-Kruger, what *can’t* it explain?

        The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1]

        Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others”.[2]

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  2. I find the best thing to do is just ignore all reviews – good or bad – *publicly* (not to say you shouldn’t learn from them if they’re legit), as well as forum posts, etc. Ask yourself “Would Stephen King comment on ___?” If the answer is “No, he’d be too busy writing!” Then that should be your answer, too.

    However, if it’s a blog post review where you’ve ASKED the reviewer to review your book, I think it;s only polite to either comment on the post or send the reviewer an email saying thank you for the review whether it’s a good one or not.

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    • Great advice, Joleene. And, yes, I’ve sent a reviewer a thank you email even though the review wasn’t good. She’d received a copy in exchange for an honest review (which she gave) so she was doing me a favor. It wasn’t her fault she didn’t like it.

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  3. It might be something to do with the rise of self-publishing, inflating the number of books available, and making it look ‘easy’ to get a book out there. There’s probably also some sour grapes from the frustrated writers, and also the attitude that if I gave money for it, or my time to read it I can damn well say whatever I like about it.
    It has to be said that there is also a fair amount of very unprofessional behaviour on the part of some authors who just want to shoot down the competition. It’s easy to hit out at somebody you don’t know, and will never meet, easy and cowardly, but some people are like that. You just have to grin and bear it.

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    • Too many unedited, poorly written books are unleashed on Amazon readers. Once a book enters the public arena, readers have the right to give an honest opinion. A few authors have complained these bad reviews are evidence of bullying, but if they can’t take the heat, they should get out of the kitchen. I think you’re absolutely right about sour grapes. In any industry or profession there are going to be jealous people who seek to tear others down. With people hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, they become very bold and vindictive. It’s just one of the hazards of being an author in these crazy modern times.

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  4. I did know about this and I am firmly convinced that both bunches are from la-la land.

    As a great believer in giving people a sporting chance I was rather shocked when I encountered the badly behaved author thread on the Amazon.com forums. I timidly suggested they use a slightly more moderate approach you know, like asking a few questions before passing judgement and wheeling in the big guns – this certainly works well on the UK Amazon forum. They’re style of debate was to repeat what they’d said before in capitals rather than answering my actual query and when I persisted, politely. They flamed me. I gave up and since they turn up on every thread about books on Amazon.com sooner or later, I stopped going there.

    Sadly the behaviour on the other side of the house also beggars belief,There are loads of crit sites like authonomy where you can upload a half finished book, who in their right mind would unleash one on the world through a commercial store? Writing is not easy but everyone seems to think it is which is kind of annoying.

    I think Amazon is unhelpful too, most forum users will be familiar with certain styles and the usual protocol is a sticky thread titled “new posters read this first” or the like. “Important news from Amazon” sounds like a marketing announcement and is, understandably, ignored by all of them.

    Perhaps I’m naughty but I do tend to contact people who have left me poor reviews if anything is unclear because I think you can learn a lot from disgruntled customers, So if I need clarification on anything they’ve said, I do ask. But I try to be polite. After all not everyone is going to enjoy my book and if they don’t it’s up to them.

    It’s all very negative and silly and it’s another thing that makes it hard for any author who tries to act with integrity to get anywhere.Indeed I find the best approach is not to admit that I’m an author until people get to ‘know’ me.

    Cheers

    MTM

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    • Unfortunately, the Amazon forums have become a place for authors to avoid. While some readers love interacting with authors, there’s a distinct group of readers who resent authors lurking around the forums. I’ve decided it’s best to just stay away. It’s a shame because authors could learn so much from our readers if we felt comfortable asking for clarification on bad reviews, but some readers/reviewers take offence at this and see it as argumentative. I guess it’s a case of a few bad apples spoiling things for the rest of us. A few ‘badly behaving authors’ made the rest of us indie authors look like a bunch of yahoos. And, a few rabid readers have frightened away authors and created a toxic environment on some of the Kindle forum threads.

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  5. I totally agree! There’s someone in my critique group who whines for days over bad reviews and misses the really great ones she’s received. I want to point her to this post, but probably won’t because she won’t get it. Sigh….
    Keep fighting the good fight!

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  6. A wonderful post, Tricia. I must say, I’ve haven’t witnessed any of those shenanigans but as with most of us, I’ve certainly heard enough shocking stories. It is sad when people behave that way. Yes, we’re all human and it sucks if you receive an unfair or bad review, but that’s life. If you’re going to put your work out there, it’s going to be scrutinised and so it should be. Just be graceful under fire, try to behave with professionalism at all times and if you need to vent, do it to your friends not online. It is a great shame though. I’ve had friends utterly roasted on Amazon forums for no reason and despite their encouraging me to join, the nastiness of it all just puts me off so I do stay away I’m afraid and I’m sure I’m missing out, but again, you’ve got to weigh up how best to use your time and getting into arguements is just a waste.

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  7. Well said! You have to develop a thick skin if you are going to put a part of your soul out there for the whole world to dissect.

    At the end of the day I write my stories to please myself, even though I have been persuaded to share them doesn’t mean that I will pander to the masses. If people don’t like my story they have every right to close the book and stop reading. If they chose to share what they didn’t like about it, that is there prerogative. I would only hope that they would at least do it respectfully.

    Blogs and reviews have just become another playground for the bullies to gather in. And like all bullies, if you ignore them they generally go away. Most people are smart enough to see a bitter nasty review for what it is. As long as you continue to be proud of your own work, that is all that matters.

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