Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More on authors responding to negative reviews

Wow. When I wrote yesterday about writers cleverly flouting negative (or mediocre) reviews, I hadn't seen this news item about Alice Hoffman. So, to be clear: THIS is not what I meant! There's nothing clever about calling a reviewer a moron and an idiot on Twitter and then giving out their phone number! Really poor form from a bestselling novelist. Well, perhaps I shouldn't weigh in so strongly. I haven't read the review or the tweets -- Hoffman has since apologized, and she says the review had spoilers in it, which is bad form on the part of the reviewer, so I suppose it's bad all the way around. But the key, I think, is for authors to have grace, and when possible, to have humor. There are ways to make light of a bad review and come off as a swell person, like Brad Metzer did in the video in my last post. And then there are ways to sound like a prima donna buffoon, like Hoffman.

The above-linked salon.com article also gives other [fun] examples of ungracious authorly rebuttals to reviews. I think: best to just suck it up. It seems to me that it's just bad form to argue with a review. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

Thoughts? Examples?

*Oh, here's the review in question.


Natalie Whipple said...

I think reacting badly just shows the reviewer they got to you. Why give them that kind of satisfaction?

Since I'm not published, I have no idea how I will react to bad reviews. I do imagine they will hurt, but more because they are the things I've always feared deep down people would say. I don't think I'll ever be shocked someone didn't like my book.

Stephanie Perkins said...

My favorite response to criticism is courtesy of H.L. Mencken, who would send this reply to anyone who had mailed him a letter of complaint:

Dear Sir (or Madame),

You may be right.

It's the same one I plan to send out once the inevitable occurs :)

Jim Di Bartolo said...

Stephanie, this is what I plan on sending them:

Dear Sir or Madame,

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just might be a lunatic you're looking for
Turn out the light
Don't try to save me
You may be wrong for all I know
But you may be right.


tanita✿davis said...

(Oh, thankyouverymuch, Jim. Now that song will be my personal earworm the rest of the day.)

Interesting that I had this conversation, kinda, yesterday on Alan Gratz's blog. I didn't even know, until someone did a round-up of Shakespeare-themed YA books, that he'd gotten bad reviews for his Horatio Wilkes duo. I think they're awesome. Clearly, he's responded like a professional, only mildly referencing them on his blog and/or in interviews. You just go on, I guess.

I agree that Hoffman showed poor judgment, though I'm sure it's hard to hear crap from ...sort of anonymous sources. You think, "that person doesn't even know me!!" On the other hand, for me, gushing praise is as nervewracking for me as criticism, but I think I'm better geared to deal with non-rancorous and intelligent critique than the "OMG, it's awesome!" stuff. I think Hoffman severely overreacted -- which is her right on HER Twitter account. But the email/phone number thing? Is... uncouth, and shows that ego briefly overpowered good sense.

Heather said...

Jim: You're hilarious and thanks for the flashback!

Laini: I have daily quotes on my Google homepage and yesterday this one appeared:

"Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it." David Sedaris

I believe that for every one bad review, there are going to be at least 10 people who loved the work. My twin and I can read the same book and one of us will love it and the other will hate it. It's so much about personal taste and enjoying certain styles of writing. I have loved many books, I have found lots to be "meh" and have even hated a few. (One springs to mind in particular. I won't name it here but I hated it with such a passion that I could have gladly burned it. But I kept it because well, maybe my opinion will change down the road.)

Anyway, what you say is true - take the bad along with the good. If nothing more, it's character building!

Emilie said...

Laini, as you're a fellow fan of L.M. Montgomery's Emily books, I plan to follow the advice Emily's cousin Jimmy gives her on the publication of her first book--only read the good reviews. Though I will probably be like Emily and get the bad ones stuck in my head and let the good ones slide by:)

Anonymous said...




Wyman Stewart said...

Having read up on this a bit, I think the two should get together, with the book in hand, to have a good, friendly writing discussion. I think they would learn a lot from each other. Best of all, they would see each other as real flesh and blood human beings.

I am very impressed by the credentials of the Reviewer. I thought she showed respect for Alice Hoffman's overall skills as an author, but maybe she crossed an imaginary line or two, most authors might be offended by. Alice Hoffman, on the other hand, appears to have had a "bad hair" day, to be kind. She became unnerved in a way none of us ever want the world to see. It happens; I doubt it will ever happen again.

I think wonderful insights will be gained, if these two sit down together, over lunch, tea, what-have-you, for a friendly writer discussion. Make peace, not war. To them I say what John Lennon said, "Give Peace A Chance." Great post on a difficult subject.

carolyn said...

Reviews are personal opinions. Informed, or uninformed, as the case may be... I became a happier person when I accepted the practical fact that some people will like what I do, and some people won't. No matter what I do. There is NO WAY to please every single person – people are too different. (Which is a good thing! I like this about people.) Knowing this tells me I should go about my business, trying to learn and grow and improve my craft with every project. So this is what I try to do. Of course I also hope that my work will fall into the hands of well-read and sympathetic reviewers... but I do my best to focus on things I have control over. Of COURSE a slight in public, in front of the people I care about (book people) HURTS. But knowing it's bound to happen now and then helps. A little. sniff sniff.