For example, when I started recapping 50 Shades of Grey on this blog, I knew there would be eventual backlash. When it came, it was kind of overwhelming, because after all, I'm used to getting like, fifty hits a day. But I had to finally just roll with it and accept that my opinions were reaching a wider audience, and people were going to say shit about it, shit that didn't look great on me. I knew that it would turn some readers off, and I would lose them. I knew it would turn some potential readers off. But I weighed that against my desire to say what was on my mind, and found that yeah, I really could handle that.
This post is probably going to turn off more readers, and more potential readers. But again, I weighed my options.
No one likes a bad review. Well, that's a lie. I actually do like some of my bad reviews. My absolute favorite bad review is one on GoodReads that just says, "SUCKS." That's it, just one word. And even though it was being said about my book, it made me laugh, because I imagined this person sitting down and going, "I read it, I didn't like it, I feel like I should warn other people against it, but I don't want to waste anymore energy on this than I have to." I felt like, you know, I could get along with this person. This is a person I would probably like in real life.
Now, in the past, long, long ago, I have made the mistake of responding to negative reviews. I would think almost every author has done this. Luckily for me, Amazon.com has a delete function on review comments. I saw someone had reviewed my book, and some of the things they didn't like about it were things that, to be frank, were not in the book. I don't know if this person had read a few books all at once or what, but they had characters and scenes they were complaining about that weren't anything I had written. So, I, being who I am, wrote this scathing indictment of them, and then chickened out and deleted the comment. Then I wrote a comment apologizing for my behavior, and when I realized that I was just digging my little hole deeper, I deleted that. To this day, I don't know if my weirdo freakout got sent to some poor reader's inbox, but boy am I ashamed to admit all that.
Now, was it my right as a citizen of the United States of America to exercise my freedom of speech and say what I wanted to say? Absolutely. Even though I'm not sure how the internet is governed, really. I mean, there are people from all over the world on here, right? I guess I should say that as a citizen of the great country in which my ISP is located, I had that right. But I realized how it made me look. Even though the review was apparently a review of several books at once, it made me look, to readers, as though I were obsessed with reviews.
Here's a pro-tip: Authors are obsessed with reviews. You can comment on this post and tell me how you're an author and you just really don't care about reviews, and maybe only pathetic, insecure people worry about what other people think of their work. And I will politely read your comment and not believe a word of it, but I won't call you out on it, because I have other shit to do.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Authors read the reviews that are out there. And yes, some of them are mean. I've seen some really personal ones targeted at myself. I've read reviews where I've said to myself, "That's not fair, they're reviewing me, not the work, and they don't even know me. I'm fucking rad. This agression will not stand!" Yes, some people get snarky. They say, "This book is a piece of shit," or maybe the deranged individual recaps all twenty-six chapters of your book on her blog. Whatever. They have a right to express themselves however they see fit. Someone reading that review has the right to form their own opinion of it. A reader might see that review and go, "Huh, I'm not going to read that book." Or, they might go, "That's a really unprofessional review." And they might say, "Wow, that crazy lady has a lot of time on her hands to devote to a book she doesn't even like." All of these opinions are totally fine.
So, say you're an author, looking at a book review that is snarky, that attacks you, personally. No one, in the history of ever, has said that authors are legally bound to not respond to negative reviews. However, it is strongly suggested that authors who do this come off looking less than professional. Names like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton come to mind. Now, I love Ms. Rice with the majestic fury of a unicorn and a zebra making passionate love on a bearskin rug before a roaring fire. I've read and enjoyed Ms. Hamilton's works, especially the first Merry Gentry book, which made me uncomfortably aroused on a business class flight. However, I don't agree with their tactics of calling out negative reviewers. I just can't get on board with that. However, it is their right to respond to these critics as they see fit, and it's my right to roll my eyes and go, "Oh boy, here we go again with this."
There are reviewers who say, "I never want an author to respond to my reviews." To them, I say, STOP REVIEWING. If you're looking for a place to vent your spleen about a person's book in the most biting, sarcastic way possible, there will be fallout. You're going to have to deal with that fallout. That fallout might include authors confronting you. You can either ignore them and move on, or you can respond. But you can't stop them from responding.
If you're a reader or reviewer who thinks that all book reviews should be nice and thoughtful and say one nice thing for every three negative things, that's fine. You have your right to that opinion. You even have the right to set up a website where you declare yourself the bully police, post a person's name and where they work in an attempt to encourage stalking, criticize another review for not being a saintly enough in their physical disabilities for your tastes, or plan your vendetta against another person's waiting-to-be-published book while calling her a drunk and insinuating that she's a bad mother. However, everyone else has the right to call you psychos and assholes, and the offended parties have every right to pursue legal action against you if they so choose.
I love the freedom of speech that my Founding Fathers rallied for, that brave men and women have died for, even if it protects any number of weirdos whose opinions I find distasteful. Case in point, my hatred for people like Kirk Cameron and the Westboro Baptist morons. I love that they can say what they want, and I can get mad about it, and I can rant and rail on my blog against it. I love that people have the freedom to say what they want to say about my books, even if it's shit I don't want to hear. I love that authors and bloggers can say shit about me, personally, even if it means I'm going to throw drinks in faces in public some day.
I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you stop saying shit about me on the internet, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will throw a drink in your face.
But I appear to love it with the caveat that I'm able to accept the consequences of that freedom of speech. Authors, you have the FREEDOM to comment on negative reviews. No one is taking that away. But you have to accept the CONSEQUENCE that it's going to turn off some readers. Reviewers, you have the FREEDOM to be as mean, as snarky, as bitchy as you want in your reviews. No one wants to stop you (she said, cackling maliciously). But you have to accept the CONSEQUENCE that authors have the freedom to respond to you. You also have to accept the CONSEQUENCE that other readers and reviewers are gonna get mad at you, and lash out. And other readers and reviewers? You have that FREEDOM to lash out, but you have to accept the CONSEQUENCE that reviewers, authors, readers, are going to react to that.
It seems like what's happening is that everyone wants to act however they want and never pay the piper. You have to pay the piper. The piper knows Liam Neeson in Taken, and he's going to send him to your house, so you better have all your dead sex slaves hidden and not chained to furniture all willy nilly.
What I'm saying is, if you want to be treated a certain way, then treat other people that way. If you don't mind getting treated the way you treat people, that's fine, too. But these things should be equal. It's certainly your right, but totally creepy, weird and gross to respond to an internet fight by posting information that could cause a real life consequence for someone. If that is truly what is in your heart, that you want these people ruined in real life because you disagreed on the internet? You need to spend time away from the computer. You need to spend time in counseling. And I'm not saying that in a pithy, "Gurl, you cray," kind of way. I'm saying that because those actions are not the actions of sane and rational human being. No reviewer, no matter how mean or snarky, deserves to have their parenting questioned, their livelihood threatened, or to be chastised for not fitting a stereotype. If you think that all sounds very reasonable, and I just sound butthurt, again, back away from the computer. You might have the right to say all these things publicly, but it means you're firebombing another person's life, over an internet argument you probably won't remember a year from now. That doesn't make you tough and cool. It makes you insane.
I'm saying all of this because I love the way the internet has brought authors and readers together. I love that I can tell a reviewer "thanks for reading my book," and that a reader can have a twitter conversation with me. I love it, and I don't want to see walls going up because it turns into all out war. And that's what StopTheGRBullies is. It's a declaration of war. It's a small group of very disturbed individuals saying, "I'm going to scare you, I'm going to make it so you don't have the right to say what you want to say." And I'm not okay with that. No one should be.
This is a line in the sand, to quote my lama. I can't reasonably support this. So, if you're an author and you're coming out in support of that site? I can no longer associate with you. If you run a book blog or review site and you support StopTheGRBullies? I will request that my ARCs no longer end up in your hands. And when the identities of the people who run the site are known? If they're authors, I will exercise my right to no longer purchase their books or associate with them. If they run blogs or review sites, I will request that my ARCs don't go their way, either. This might sound like an ineffective threat; it's not a threat. It's not me stamping my feet and saying, "LOOK AT ALL THIS POWER I HOLD OVER YOU, MUAHAHAHAHA!" It's me stating that I'm going to exercise my right to not have that kind of poison in my life, and to live authentically according to my values.
For everyone else? Keep reading, reviewing, and even indulge in some smack talk. Yes, even if it's about me and my books. Yes, even if it's snarky. I will never dream the dream of a polite, yet dishonest society. To me, that's a nightmare.
Well, you know, that and Liam Neeson's American accent.
I promise the blog post tomorrow won't be about drama.