Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting Defensive: A Cautionary Tale

If you have not yet seen This Astonishing Post you MUST go read it now. No time? Okay, I'll paraphrase it for you. The link takes you to BigAl's blog where he gave 2 stars to a self-published book he'd been asked to review, and then the author comments several times with angry diatribes, and comments that make it clear she has not understood what the reviewer was saying, before finally signing off with a pair of F*** Off!s. I encourage you to read BigAl's review when you have a chance because I think it's a fair and honest review of the book.

He called the story "compelling and interesting."

He also said "the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, it’s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant."

Ouch, right? But a fair warning. He makes it clear that if you can get past these, you will find a compelling story, and he did in fact read the whole book, however, the difficulty he had reading it was one of the factors that lead to his low rating.

The author (who I will not name, nor will I post any of her writing samples for ridicule) took offense to the review and apparently misunderstood, or refused to believe that the reviewer was not talking about mere formatting problems within the ebook.

She made repeated negative references to the reviewers character and integrity, as well as his and many other commenters' intelligence.

In response, many commenters apparently went to amazon and rated her book, which previously had 4 and 5 star ratings, with one star.

It was quite simply, mortifying.

And it made me think. My first reaction was one of how can she be so angry? He said her story was good, just the writing wasn't up to par. But then I tried to put myself in her shoes. This was a book she'd put up for sale, as an example of her talent. And I remembered how the first few times I got a critique from one of my crit partners, I could only see the negatives -- the things that didn't work, the should've-been-obvious mistakes, the seemingly insurmountable amount of revision I was going to have to do even though I'd already worked so hard on it.

And then I felt kind of bad for the author.

She had a fairly natural reaction to a negative review, but rather than taking the time to process it, find the good, find the things she didn't agree with and let them go, she took it straight to the internet and sabotaged her reputation, and potentially her book sales and career by lashing out.

So today, I just want to remind us all (including myself!) to STOP, and BREATHE, and THINK before lashing out at those we have asked to help us. Remember that any crit or review is just one person's opinion, but also that there is almost always something worthwhile in a negative critique or review. You can't please everyone at once, but you can always improve.

And those of you going the self-publishing route, I think this author's experience is proof that you must be extra vigilent since you won't automatically have the eyes of a professional editor or copyeditor before your book goes out into the world.

Don't let defensiveness, pride, or hurt feelings keep you from making your book the best it can be!


  1. Great reminder, Valerie. It can be difficult to accept negative criticism, especially on something you've put all your time and effort into. Something you're proud of.

    It's upsetting when someone else sees fault in it, but Valerie is absolutely right--it's important to remember that this is a)one person's opinion and b)a learning experience. Read the comments, digest them, and figure out if you can find a way to make your work better because of it.

  2. I can't believe this author would shoot herself in the foot like that...and shoot the whole self-publishing industry at the same time...they need the good will of reviewers willing to search out the compelling amidst all the untried and (sometimes) unedited work.

  3. I wrote about this today too.

    The whole thing was very sad. I'm not going to pretend I never made any colossal mistakes in the beginning, lord knows I did, but thank god never anything this huge. I feel terrible for her, because you never really know what's going on with a person.

    It all pissed me off a little too, because people flock to read that kind of thing, when really it deserves less attention than almost any other post.

  4. Wise advise. I know I've had to walk away from comments from Beta readers. In the end time and patience helped me see the veracity of what had been said. Nothing said in anger will ever turn out right. (Hugs)Indigo

  5. I hadn't heard about this until Lacey told me yesterday, but the whole thing saddened me. The author responded inappropriately, but she didn't seem entirely stable and I felt sorry for her.

    I also feel lucky to have amazing crit partners, because when you have people you trust (who point out your strengths as well as what's wrong), you know your story will be the better for it. Not that I don't bang my head a few times before starting revisions. ;)

  6. After being shocked, I have to admit I felt bad for her too. But I do think there are ways of being professional that don't involve swearing and name calling. But we all make mistakes.

    I'm just grateful I've got awesome CPs who support me and tell me the truth about my work. It's much stronger for it.

  7. Yes, it's a sad story. Self-pubbers have to be VERY careful about typos and errors, and make sure they have many, many people reading it over (people who know grammar, punctuation, and good writing skills). Hiring a professional editor may even be wise!

  8. It was hard to look at, honestly. I though Al gave a fair and professional review, and her response was beyond embarrassing. It was horrific. To the point that I think she may have emotional issues. (the good news is Al went from only a few followers to over 600 followers in one day...he deserves it for taking her abuse and handling himself so politely)
    Grace under pressure is crucial. But, if and when we make a public mistake, it's important to quickly apologize.
    As for receiving critique, I love it. I guess that makes me weird. ;) But, I enjoy getting my CPs objective and honest feedback, so I can make it better.

    A poorly crafted sentence that confuses or frustrates a reader is why ALL writers need CPs (especially if the self-publish!).


  9. This added a different element to the whole self-published author debate. The review didn't seem that bad.


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