Posts Tagged ‘writers behaving badly’

You might think the title of this blog post goes without saying, but considering some of the wacky things happening in the writing community these days, you’d be mistaken. We’ve had an author confess to stalking and harassing someone who gave her novel a poor review, and we’ve had a blogger apologize for years of harassment and threats against writers whose work she didn’t like.

As a passionate reader, I have always maintained a “review” of books I’ve read. In ye olde pre-internet days, I kept a little notebook in which I recorded the books I’d read with a few lines about the book. When Goodreads emerged, I joined and began to track my reading habits there. I viewed it primarily as a tool for me as a reader. Of course, as I connected with people on GR, I also began to see my notes on books as useful to like-minded readers. All the same, in the age of the internet, where data is perpetually retained and easily accessed, I have always tried to be polite when I write reviews of books. I am neither a professional reviewer nor someone who relishes drama. Just as I would hate to read a review of my books that was nasty or personal, I would never want a writer to read one of my reviews and feel that I was being anything but professional, even if I disliked the book.

Despite my policy of being polite, I’ve still received a few nastygrams, typically from people who loved a book I didn’t, and who wished to inform me that I was a stupid poopypants. I don’t think those were the exact words, but something juvenile and unnecessary.

Not a few people have cautioned me of late that as a published writer I ought to be more careful about reviewing and rating books, so as not to attract haters. I’ve considered it, and someday, maybe I’ll need to make a more anonymous Goodreads account, but in the interim, I’ve made a different choice.

I’ve always had a Did Not Finish shelf on my Goodreads account, to identify books that I did not or could not read through to the ending. Rarely do I remark on those books and never do I rate them. This week, however, I added a new shelf: Not Every Book Is for Everybody. Let’s call it NEBIFE. We know in our hearts that this is true, but it seems to get lost within the book community sometimes. A book isn’t bad, just because we didn’t like it, and a reviewer isn’t stupid or evil or many far worse things, just because they didn’t like our favorite book. I come face-to-face with this when I realize that almost 17,000 people on Goodreads have given Nabokov’s Lolita a 1-star rating. 1 star? One? Are you kidding me? I consider Lolita to be one of the greatest English novels of the 20th Century. I love this book.



Yet Goodreads reveals that two people whose opinions I respect have rated Lolita as 1 star. Huh. I guess we’re gonna have to disagree on that one, but I’m not going to send them emails to tell them they’re stupid poopypants. Primarily, because I don’t think they are. Secondarily, because I accept that even a brilliant book will not be the right book for every reader.

I was looking for an apt comparison, and found it quite by accident. I occasionally pull a recipe off allrecipes.com, and it struck me that even when people dislike a recipe and give it a low rating, I have never seen anybody get nasty or personal in a recipe review. I’ve never seen a recipe submitter called a stupid bitch, or a recipe called corrosive garbage, or seen someone wish the original recipe writer be raped to death, all things I’ve seen in book reviews. Similarly, I’ve never seen a recipe submitter get hostile with someone who didn’t like a recipe. Why? Because on some level, as a society, we’ve done well at accepting that not everyone has the same tastes. After all, my mother hates Indian food. Hates it. We’re still on speaking terms, because why wouldn’t we be? I think it’s silly that she dislikes an entire culinary tradition on the basis of one ill-fated buffet visit, but I’m not going to cut her out of my life over it. Similarly, I’m not going to kill a friendship over Lolita. Or even a potential friendship.

In this week, where madness is swirling all around us, I’d like to ask everybody to embrace the concept of NEBIFE. If you get a negative review on a book you wrote, keep in mind that not everybody loves the same books. You can’t expect everybody to love your book. If you read a book you disliked, try framing your review from the perspective that not every book is for everybody, and that this book wasn’t for you.

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When a good friend of mine was recently sweating the arrival of news on her book review in the New York Times, I had to give her a hard time about it. After all, no matter what the review said, her book would be featured in the NYTimes!!! What more can you ask for? A good review, sure, and she got that.

James Frey

But the truth is, that old PR saw is true: there’s no bad publicity. Having your name in front of the public really does increase fame, fortune, and book sales. Take James Frey. He was roasted over the coals for his faux-memoir, and made to go on Oprah with a tearful apology. Guess what? It hasn’t tanked his writing career. He sold more books after the whole bruhaha. He’s making bank. Because people know his name.

Take the complaints of Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner about gender and genre bias at the NYT.  They’re not complaining about getting bad reviews in the Times. They’re complaining about not getting reviewed in the Times. Good or bad, being in the Times gets your name out there. Even a negative review can sell books, as curious souls want to see just how bad the book in question is. Or perhaps a week later the readers only remember that they saw the book in the NYT, not what was said about it.

Another friend of mine got an amazon.com review that called her book “corrosive garbage.” I’d bet money that phrase helped sell a few books before the reviewer decided to go back and temper her rash condemnation. I was once recruited to write hate mail for a local paper’s opinion columnist. Hate mail, he said, was more effective at attracting readers to his column than praise. And more likely to be published.

Even cases of Writers Behaving Badly™ on Twitter and other internet platforms probably helps them sell books. A temper tantrum can attract as much attention as a series of thoughtful, intelligent blog posts.

Hissy Twit

Step outside the writing world and you’ll find there’s still no bad publicity.

Consider KoolAid. We use it as a short cut to describe indoctrination or brainwashing. Did he drink the KoolAid? Don’t drink the KoolAid. Have you ever imagined a marketing board at KoolAid, cringing every time that phrase gets used in the media, reminding everyone who reads it of the tragedy of the Jonestown massacre. Poor KoolAid, right?

Wrong. Because that’s not what was used at Jonestown. According to several witness accounts of Jonestown survivors, the poison was put in grape flavored Flav-R-Aid. Not KoolAid. But you don’t see KoolAid rushing to correct the record and distance themselves from that notorious tragedy.

Why would they? It’s good publicity. Because the key phrase of each of these media mentions includes the perfect subliminal marketing phrase: Drink the KoolAid.

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