If you read my Twitter updates, you probably saw this one: “Never, never argue with a bad review. Chant fifty times. Repeat ad infinitum.”
It’s so tempting to explain exactly why a reviewer who didn’t like your book has the comprehension skills of a mole.
But every writer I know who’s done this regrets it. The following is courtesy of Publishers Marketplace
Go Ask Alice: Author Hoffman Shows Authors Not to Tweet In Anger, Apologizes
With one angry electronic outburst novelist Alice Hoffman may have changed how many readers view her. After novelist and longtime critic Roberta Silman wrote a mildly critical review of Hoffman’s THE STORY SISTERS in the Boston Globe, Hoffman reacted with a series of angry tweets. Not just a grumpy post or two, but 27 in all, according to NY Magazine (they have now been deleted, along with the corresponding Twitter account.)
The series of 140-character-or-less insults also included Silman’s phone number and e-mail address (with a typo) and a rallying cry to “Tell her what u think of snarky critics.” But Silman was out of town, isn’t on Twitter, and first learned about the controversy from a friend, she tells the LAT’s Jacket Copy. “There have been nine emails to me, all in support of my review and/or my right to review and all apologizing for Alice Hoffman’s perplexing behavior.” Silman adds, “I wouldn’t change anything about my review. I have written many reviews for The Globe and say what I believe, and, in this case, I praised her earlier work, which was clearly better. I’m sorry Alice could not take pride in the good things I said, and perhaps mull a little on the criticism.”
Hoffman issued an apology through Goldberg McDuffie, now saying that she was upset because she believes the review gave away the plot: “I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course I was dismayed by Roberta Silman’s review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn’t. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that’s the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone and I’m truly sorry if I did.”
Separately, Page Six notes that Hoffman also criticized blogger and reviewer Bethanne Kelly Patrick on Twitter after a Barnes & Noble panel discussion before “making up.”
The response to Hoffman doesn’t surprise me, but today I’ve been thinking it through and realize that I’m not exactly sure why it sounds so bad when a writer takes a reviewer to task. There’s little question in my mind that writers come out looking like losers when this happens, which is why I usually try to chant the mantra above. (I also try not to read the Amazon.com reviews but always fail.) But why should that be? Why the aroma of whine when we fight back?
Oh dear. Amazon reviews? Yikes. I bet some of those get pretty brutal, not to mention unprofessional.
Isn’t it a bit like responding to someone who criticizes the looks of your child? Months to years of effort, discounted with comments of unlikely plot or illogical reasoning. And frequently by someone who hasn’t slogged through the experience of publishing a book themselves.
It’s one thing to respond to charges of a lack of consideration of historical sources or faulty reasoning. But to argue about style seems too close to insisting that baby’s ears do not stick out and her nose is just fine.
I’m thinking about ‘The Art of the Public Grovel’. What did you think of Hoffman’s apology, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone….” . I think a public apology should assume that a person has already offended many people.
As for responding to critics-I always think a critic is, by nature, negative and makes a positive review, when it comes, that much sweeter. I’m sure you know how that feels!
I’m thinking that there is ample middle ground between not responding at all and issuing forth 27 tweets including battle cries for retribution and contact information. I’m sure one or two tweets expressing her “official” complaint, that the plot was given away, would have sufficed and probably made her look less like a lunatic. There’s something a little too Glen Close/light switch about that many messages. I’m just saying…
Ah, one of my favourite writers has also commited this blunder in the past week with a classic quote on his reviewer’s blog:
“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.”
Coming from a philosopher of quietude and reflection this made me spray coffee at my computer screen.
But this has simply increased my respect for De Botton. Its humanity gives his work more authenticity. And, well, someone once said of him that he was incapable of writing a boring sentence. How very true.
Wow, you are in the middle of an ambitious project! I can’t wait to read your books; I’ll check out the books tab above to see how many are completed.
I just finished writing the first book of a young adult novel series that will go through the entire Bible. It’s a lot of work collecting facts and making sure everything is right.
Congratulations on your progress!