Lots of talking and tweeting lately about the stalking-nutso behavior of author Kathleen Hale of reviewer Blythe Harris (not real name). HaleNo. Blogger Blackout.
I look at the online landscape sometimes and ask myself: How do things get this crazy?
I think we all know that the world of publishing (trad or published) has all sorts of folks, from the most noble and generous to the most narcissistic and self-serving to the most mentally unhinged. It runs the gamut. I know I’ve heard horror stories of critique groups imploding because of one person with serious, serious issues and, in some cases, aggressive stalking of those who did not properly adore their handiwork (inept or incoherent though it may be).
And I think all of us (authors or readers) have run across reviewers who seem to be on these weird power trips where snarky, vicious, cruel, insensitive reviews end up being their way of imposing themselves on others–see, I can ruin your day; see, I can affect your book sales; see, I am cleverer than you– or providing click-bait and driving traffic. I’ve read reviews that felt more like “author abuse” than a service for readers or a genuine self-expression.
I am quite sick of authors who think they are providers of Sacred Text and are not to be given anything lower than 5 stars and heaped with praise.
I am equally sick of reviewers who don’t stop to consider that when they rip up some book with acidic, hypercritical, snarky words and phrases, they are doing it to the “baby” of some human being who may have spents months or years creating that possibly quite flawed creation.
Authors need to chill. No one book is going to please everyone. Even the greatest writers on the planet get their 1-star reviews on Amazon.
Reviewers need to remember that this is a public sphere, the net/Amazon/Goodreads/blogs, and when you say, “This is a piece of shit” or “This author has less talent than my fungus-riddled small toe” or “This author should die” or “This novel should be thrown in a septic tank and its author with it” that it might be–might be–a form of not just free speech but abusive speech.
Good rule of thumb: Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
If you are a writer/author, I suspect you don’t want to be hunted down, called out of the blue by strangers, visited at your workplace. You don’t want to have some weirdo on an OCD mission hanging around your porch leaving strange offerings. You don’t want to have your pseudonym blown and real name outed. You don’t want to have your job imperiled. You don’t want to be bugged, period.
So, don’t do that to someone else.
If you are a book reviewer, I doubt you’d want someone to observe you at your job and go post blogs and reviews about how shitty you are as a teacher, how careless you are as an administrative assistant, how stupidly you phrase your conversation as a salesperson, or how often you stutter as a customer service person. You don’t want some stranger to make jokes about how at 100 pounds overweight, you look like a stuffed sausage in your brown work uniform. You don’t want your child to be hollered at and called ugly, retarded, or a waste of space on earth.
All of that is cruel.
If you don’t like having abusive language or stalker behavior aimed at you, don’t do it to someone else, Ms Author and Mr Reviewer.
When you put your book out there, you are putting it out to be seen and evaluated. Expect some pain. Expect some disappointment. The love won’t be unanimous. And just let it go. Let it go.
If you want to be shown a little grace about your job–be you a coder who left a lot of bugs in your software, or a waitress who got the order wrong and added up the bill incorrectly, or a cop who didn’t solve your case, or a bus driver who got into an accident, etc–then show grace when you critique the work of others. Their labors matter as much to them as yours does to you. Their “babies” are as precious to them as your children are to you, even if your kids aren’t straight-A students, graceful dancers, or top athletes. They are yours and you adore them.
There is a big difference in finding fault with someone’s book because you didn’t like the pacing (too slow, too fast) or the prose (too purpley, too stark) or the characters (too stupid, too highbrow, too promiscuous, too uptight). It’s HOW one says it.
There’s a big difference between:
This crap sucks so bad the author should never be published again.
This novel suffers from a lack of motivation so the characters’ actions seem to come out of nowhere. I simply could not finish it.
There’s a difference between:
The author is an idiot, this book is stupid, and I’ll never read any shit they write again.
I don’t think this author’s style suits me, because I simply can’t take the redundancies–characters say the same thing over and over every chapter–and the illogical decisions the main character makes despite supposedly being an intelligent, educated individual.
Snark gets clicks. Acid tongues attract readers. Clever ridicule can up traffic.
But it’s not kind, good, or worthy of reviewers.
Authors: Name-calling reviewers is wrong. Sending fans to harass reviewers is abuse of authorial power. Stalking and outing anonymous reviewers is invasion of privacy. Authors, if you’re doing that, you need to cut that crap out. TODAY. Stop that behavior TODAY. It does not make things better–for anyone. It makes it WORSE. You will be seen as a nutjob or a menace or a horrible person–or all three.
Let reviewers review and stay out of it. Even if they are rude, crude, nasty, and snarky in their desire to get fans and power over you: ignore them. If they personally attack you in unlawful ways and defame you, fine, sue them. Otherwise, leave them the hell alone.
Reviewers: Try to make your reviews useful and informational and stop the personal attacks. Authors are people, too, with feelings. Maybe even more sensitive in their souls than you can imagine. Criticize with some measure of civility.
Everyone: Don’t be a Hale and do things that would scare the crap out of Hale if someone did it to her. It will not fix the issue. Go see a therapist if the urge to do it seems irresistible, but don’t get on the stalking horse.
Bloggers: Don’t be vicious and incite the beasts out in the web: some authors are unstable, some are downright sociopathic. Obviously. They are human and some humans are just whack. You may be endangering your life, no differently than if you hurled abuses at strangers out in the city, personally attacking their attire, looks, jobs, homes, kids. One might be a total loon with a concealed knife. It’s generally good sense NOT to provoke strangers. You never know which one will blow.
You never know.
We all snark at our own risk. We all rip at our own risk.
Bad things happen even to the nicest of folks online, the ones putting up pics of kitties and motivational posters and never call someone names, because there are evil folks among us and criminally insane folks among us.
It’s scary. REALLY scary.
So, that’s my advice. Play nice.
On both sides of the fence. Be considerate.
Authors and reviewers: a little consideration of each other as people, respect of privacy, protection of the sense of safety–just plain being decent folks–could we keep that uppermost in our interactions?
Is that really too much to ask? That we remember there is a person on the end of that author name on a book, behind the reviewer’s pseudonym, behind the blogger’s moniker.
We ought not be wanting to damage each other for kicks or out of hurt pride.
I’ve been snarky sometimes. I’ve likely been rude sometimes. I’ve wanted to “get back” at someone online who got on my case sometimes. But you know, it really doesn’t help. It blows off steam and then leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It doesn’t edify and it doesn’t make a better world.
Golden rule, people. Golden rule. Works wonders to make one’s space so much pleasanter.