I chose not to publish my first novel, so I’ve yet to experience the joys of negative reviews. I’m pretty certain I’ll be publishing the one I’m working on at the moment, so detrimental comments are something I’m going to have to deal with; it’s part of the world we live in today, and if you’re going to get a buzz from a five-star review or a response celebrating your polished prose, then you’d better be able to take the inevitable kick in the tomatoes that comes with it.
With the internet being largely anonymous, there are certain people who enjoy dishing out crap then sitting back and waiting for a reaction. They appear on all kinds of websites, from sports and news sites to music blogs — whatever the content, you’ll find the trolls lurking for some entertainment. These delightful 21st century creatures seem to have a misspelled opinion about most things and are prone to hunting in packs, pods and clusters or whatever the collective noun for a troll is. Now I think about it, it’s probably a drove which puts them in the same category as asses.
Yet most trolls don’t buy books just so they can flame about them, so a writer is usually dealing with feedback from reviewers or genuine punters, both of whom have a valid opinion, albeit one that the writer does not want to hear. This phenomenon has arisen because the internet is instant and customers have a right to respond about the products they buy. In addition, due to the explosion of new content and the erosion of the importance of traditional gatekeepers, professional reviewers being another publishing species to have found themselves marginalised of late, there are now many websites that review books by self-published authors.
Yet the problem of dealing with bad reviews is not a new one. Hemingway wrote The Old Man & the Sea as a response to negative criticism, or so says biographer Jeffrey Meyers. With sharks tearing chunks out of a marlin carcass, it’s not a huge leap of imagination to believe him. So, there you have it, even a man who climbed into a cage to wrestle a bear wasn’t immune to feeling hurt that people didn’t like his writing.
Looking at some of the comments and reviews professional authors have suffered online, I can only imagine their frustration, and it must be tempting to put the tools of your trade to clinical good use, perhaps:
“I understand your disappointment with my book. Learning how to read before you could begin it must’ve been very time-consuming.”
The problem with salvos like that is that the critter was only looking for a fight, and now you’ve given them one. Another approach is to be self-deprecating, so you could modify your response to something like:
“I understand your disappointment with my book, but it’s nothing compared to my frustration with the damn thing.”
That might win you some friends amongst the other posters, but you’re running the risk of being taken literally. Alternatively you could just say nothing. It’s professional for a start, and a decent reviewer will find something good to say about a book. Taste is subjective. Not everyone is going to like it. Actually, I’d rather they didn’t.
By the way, I recently learned that the collective noun for gnus is implausibility. An implausibility of gnus. Crikey.
Next week, Andrew Oberg continues the theme of negativity.