Any author must accept that there will always be readers who get nothing from their work. There are those who will even actively dislike it. Some critics are harsher than others and a stiff, bitten lip is required to weather this reality. A writers work is a part of them, they will have spent months, years, decades even producing this body of work, and when published, whether it be upon their own blog, for free on Amazon, or in hardback on the bookshelves, the fear as to it’s reception will be sky high.
I write of this because whilst browsing the web from the cloud recently, I came across a blog in which a woman provides a link to a website where books are reviewed by the public and her experience on there, where she had somewhat of an altercation with an author. On this page (which is remaining nameless for reasons that should become clear), you can have a profile set up to give the public at large the option to rate and review the books they have read, share these likes and dislikes freely onto other forums on the web, or simply read the reviews left by others in order to find some literature that is their cup of tea.
The blog I found told of the following situation;
A woman called, let’s say Jane, leaves a rating of one star for a book she has downloaded for free on Amazon, read, and clearly not enjoyed. She’s a bit pushed for time and does not write a review saying why it has received one star, nor is she bound to do so, and feels that the one star on its own denotes enough failures in the eyes of any reader that it will probably speak for itself. She writes nothing unpleasant about the book. She writes nothing at all. And that’s the end of that. Or so she thought.
Shortly afterwards the author of said book, who is named let’s say…Emma, writes a comment under the one star review and makes a big fuss, clearly hurt and angry, saying how out of order it is for anyone to leave one star and not give any reasons for it at all. She then takes a swipe at Jane by perusing Jane’s list of favourite books on her profile and deriding her taste – stating that Jane only seems to read poor quality books about love and sex anyway, implying Jane is not a reviewer worth taking seriously, then finishes off by stating she intends to petition the website to disallow any star ratings that do not include a fair reason for their existence.
Emma has made a huge, huge mistake. Because being rated one star may be upsetting, humiliating even, but a one star rating soon disappears down the feed, and would be seen by only the few who actually click onto that particular book, and Emma mostly had quite reasonable ratings up to this point. But she could not let it lie, the slight she felt. No she could not.
By commenting underneath the low rating and poking Jane with a sharp virtual stick, she starting a thread – she opened the floodgates. Firstly for retaliation from Jane, who, I have to say in her initial response makes some very valid points, most of which I have already covered, however Jane herself is now is clearly very, very annoyed at Emma and the jibe about her taste in tomes. So Jane decides to tell Emma exactly why she gave the book one star. She goes into GREAT DETAIL concerning it’s failings. Great detail. By now, Jane’s friends on that particular website have also read the comments, and begin to in effect pile on Emma, each one leaving reviews and comments about the book and Emma herself, which are at best vaguely humorous, and at worst boiling with cruel intentions. I doubt many, if any of them have actually read the book.
Soon, other people who know neither party join in too, as they clearly find the whole thing most amusing, and will probably have emailed the link to their friends.
As I read the lengthening thread I felt for her. Poor foolish Emma. However being a fool does not warrant such payback. She did not deserve the resulting avalanche of vitriol. I have little doubt she was/is devastated by the onslaught, (which continues still so far as I know). As I said her previous reviews for the book were not that bad, there was the odd person who disliked it, and they said as much, but not in a horrible fashion. Emma has actually written four books all in all and they may well all be truly terrible for all I know, or they may be brilliant, but how necessary is it for an author to truly know the nitty gritty of why someone disliked their work? Asking for creative criticism is one thing…cutting your nose of to spite yourself quite another. To actively hound a reader in order to solicit the details of how poorly your book was received is madness unless you have a very thick skin and consider such feedback useful. Did Emma, in some wildly misguided moment think that perhaps Jane would reply back to her with a complete change of heart re her opinion of the book, and beg forgiveness for the one star, then change it to full marks and off they’d skip into the sunset to drink ginger beer and have a spiffing picnic together?
And on top of that, we have Emma is saying she would petition the book review website to MAKE IT MANDATORY that everyone leave a written explanation to justify the star rating they leave. Personally….I’d rather just get the one star, and accept it did not float that particular persons boat, as we all have differing tastes, rather than hear why they hated it. A cavalcade of authors on said website must have blanched when she suggested that be made into a rule.
Free choice. It’s important. We need to have the choice to leave one star and nothing else simply because a book just wasn’t worth the time and effort of writing a review, yet feel it IS worth letting others (including the author) know that it was not loved by all. Some relish tearing into people whilst hiding behind the gauzy mantle of the internet, it will happen to you, but you need not seek it out. I genuinely see no point in ripping apart some poor sods heart by dissecting their work cruelly, when one star will do instead. I rarely leave one star anyway because I am drawn to leave positive reviews about books I enjoyed. If I were to review all the books I have found to be awful I’d have to make a lifetime commitment to the web. I am not against constructive reviews. Not at all, they can be highly useful to a writer. But tact is something sorely missing these days on the world wide web. If you are not blessed with it, then please, just leave one star and leave it at that. Remember, you never know when you might be on the receiving end of that sharp stick.
The facts are that tales such as the above are true, and if you’re going to publish a book you need to be prepared in more ways than a hundred to take the hard knocks on the chin. Most probably repeatedly. And although there are some who would be able to handle the above situation well, and be able to counter all the ensuing bad reviews with some sparkling wit, many, including Emma, are not so capable. As a writer, knowing when to bow out and keep shtum, cultivating good judgement, it is essential if you wish to retain some humility, and being the catalyst for a debacle that back fires spectacularly, ultimately is well worth avoiding. Emma literally asked for it. She just had no idea how humongous and ugly the fall-out would turn out to be, and to her cost may well now have realised that the old adage, ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ is not always true at all.