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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Writergate: A Few Words on a Burgeoning Controversy

Hello hello!

Oh, godsdamnit. The other community I belong to, the writing community, is starting to get almost as ugly as the gaming community. This article and this one illustrate the problem. When an author thinks it's acceptable to stalk and assault a reviewer over their hurt feelings, we have a major problem.

The history

It's worth noting that I'm *not* a reviewer. An editor, yes, and definitely an author, but I only review for fun and don't take submissions. It'd be a conflict of interest, as well as being far too much of a workload on top of everything else. So, where do I stand on this?

Well, I should probably preface this with my own experiences. Last year, I had to pull out of GoodReads after a group went after one of my books rather nastily. It was pretty crushing. There were some very homophobic comments in the reviews, some unfair points...you get the idea. Until that point, I'd had a policy of contacting reviewers who had given me low ratings to ask them for more feedback so I could improve my writing. Most reviewers were friendly, kind, and appreciated the politeness of the contact, so we parted on good terms.

This time, I got overwhelmed. The thing is, I made the mistake of making one complaining comment in a thread about the book. One of the reviewers took exception to this and delivered a scathing private lecture to me. The thread was deleted, but that didn't stop the lecture. What did I do? I left the page, did some crying, spoke to friends in private, and cried some more.

Sherlock gif, because I can. Also because a chained Moriarty is a good visualization for the way certain reviews can make one feel.

How could I have fixed it?

Then I tried to figure out how I could have handled it better. For one thing, better use of categorization, making sure that people were aware the story was about a bisexual character, and that it contained strong language would all have helped. And, of course, just not reading some of the negative reviews--in spite of the morbid, painful curiosity--would have been wisest. Mentioning that it has a somewhat unreliable narrator could have helped too. Most of all, though, I wish I'd had the content editor I have now to work with me back then. Just getting the practice of taking criticism would have been so helpful in insulating me from my own reaction and upset feelings.

Ultimately, it would have been nice to be able to talk to some of those reviewers, but in the context of reviewing culture, it wasn't, and still isn't. Is it a bad idea to ask for some more feedback and thoughts from a particularly well-written bad review? Maybe not. Is it a bad idea to thank someone for a really nice review and tell them about your next book? In theory, not at all.

The hidden catch

However, we're not working in a situation where that kind of interchange is possible. Instead, the indie scene has become a minefield. Roving bands of reviewers mock books for laughs--and authors go berserk, harassing, stalking, and now physically assaulting reviewers.

This has to stop. Yes, bullying has gone on from both sides. That does not justify unprofessional behavior or actually threatening people over hurt feelings. This article has a good overview of the Hale vs Harris case and the hurt feelings. The thing is, snark has become enshrined in the reviewing community...but authors seem to respond with disproportionate aggression and ire.

I would love to have professional, calm dialogues be the norm for authors and reviewers, but right now, too many people are reacting violently and abusively to make that tea-sipping discussion possible.

How do we fix it?

First, authors need to exercise discretion in handling bad reviews. Just not reading them can be a really good start.

Second, if you do read them, do it with a critical filter. Look for details about marketing rather than seeing it as your book, your baby, that's getting slapped. It can feel like that, but it won't help you learn anything useful.

Third, it's worth noting that while the customer isn't always right, snarking back at them won't help. Ever. Under any circumstances. It's better not to contact reviewers at all, and certainly not in public. At best, it makes you look whiny; at worst, well, there are websites devoted to the results. Far too many of them.

Fourth, being able to take a joke will make you look good. So if you *can* be cool about things, well, sometimes that turns out okay.

Fifth, it's worth keeping in mind that most reviewers--even the snarkiest--usually aren't trying to stab you in the heart. Making a few snarky jokes for attention, sure, but it's quite rare that they're actually out to burn you.

Sixth, remember that every snarky retort to a reviewer can come at the price of your career.

Seventh, make sure you have a support network of discreet people that you can vent to so that you don't make stupid Facebook posts that insult your readers. NEVER INSULT YOUR READERS.

Eighth, if you see a repeated issue, it may be worth revising the book. Not always, but sometimes it can be a good idea. After all, the advantage of indie publishing is that we *can* do this stuff, right?

Ninth, if you're actually attacked, report that shit to the website itself. It doesn't always work, but it's better than taking things into your own hands.

Tenth, if you have no idea what to do, don't do anything at all.

 I realise it's an overly dramatic gif with a blue filter. I'm not apologizing.

Final words? 

It would be great if we could all talk like adults and be respectful towards each other, no matter how painful the differences of opinion can be. If you read this article and you still don't like the advice, consider reading this and this and also this. If you disagree with someone, hitting them is not the solution. If you absolutely have to hit something, try printing the review out and taping it to a punching bag. If you still feel the urge to commit violence after all that, it might be a good idea to seek help.

How do you handle nasty reviews--or authors? Any good coping strategies? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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