An article over at Book Riot (a great site, by the by) has posited the notion that tagging authors in negative reviews of their books is not, or should not be, a big deal.
The question becomes: is it a big deal? Should you do it? Why shouldn’t you do it?
a) it’s probably not a big deal, because a “big deal” is like, plagiarism or climate change
b) you still shouldn’t do it
c) why you shouldn’t do it is why I’m writing this post, sooooo —
Social media is, what’s the phrase I’m looking for? A hell realm. It’s a realm of hell. We may all actually be in hell already — or, at least, a simulation spiraling daily toward madness, with social media being the core of that unraveling. (But honestly smart money is on HELL REALM.) Now, as much as social media is a hell realm, it’s also one of my favorite places — meaning, I’ve met so many of my Actually Really Real Friends there, and I also get a great deal of professional and emotional and intellectual connection there. Think of it like finding friends in the middle of a burning building? Or something.
Speaking as a writer, or fancy-pants author, I can say with full confidence that as your star grows brighter, your social media following grows bigger, and as that happens, you end up being the recipient of more … well, communication. And if you assume that some percentage — even an optimistically small portion — of that communication is negative, it means that as the communication grows, so does the general bulk of that negativity. If you get one shitty comment and nine nice ones, it means you get one hundred comments out of every thousand. And from what I can tell, that percentage of negativity significantly increases if you’re, say, a woman, or a member of the LGBT community, or disabled, or a person of color. Just ask them. They’ll confirm.
Ultimately, it just ends up being a whole lot of noise. Bad noise. Poop noise.
And a negative review is like that. And here you might say, “But I have a right to write a negative review.” You do! And you should! Mildly dislike a book! Totally despise it! I just don’t want to hear about it. If I want to hear about it, I’ll seek it out. I do think there’s real value in leaving authors with a sense of agency in this — obviously, we’re in the public eye, so what we “consent” to receive via this massive online mode of communication is regrettably pretty wide open, or we’d simply bail on it entirely. But do realize that our work pretty much requires us to be here. We can shore up as much of our Online Defenses as we can (blocks, mutes, tightened restrictions on whose communication reaches us, various trebuchets and pits, a possum army), but we’re still teeth without enamel hanging loose in a slack-jawed mouth.
You might note also that negative reviews are one of the ways we communicate with creators of products and arbiters of service in order to improve the quality of that product or that service — which is true! If someone at American Airlines shits in my bag, I’m gonna say something on Twitter, and I’m going to say it to American Airlines. If the dishwasher I bought was full of ants, you bet I’m going to tag GE in that biz when I go to Twitter. But books are not dishwashers or airlines. You can’t improve what happened. It’s out there. The book exists. You can’t fix it now. And art isn’t a busted on-switch, or a broken door, or a poopy carryon bag, or an ant-filled dishwasher. Those things are objectively broken. A book can be subjectively broken, but that’s it. It’s a wide swath of varying mileage. Further, the author of a book is just one person. Again, we’re an enamel-free tooth, a squirming nerve — when you tweet at American Airlines, you’re not tweeting at Dave Americanairlines, son of Walter and Karen Americanairlines. Dave’s feelings aren’t hurt.
But you tweet directly at me — it’s just me. It’s just my feelings.
Of course, is it your job to protect our feelings?
No, definitely not.
It’s also not your job to go out of your way to hurt them. Which is kinda the point. Write the negative review. Hate the book. You just don’t need to staplegun it to our faces — HEY YOU KNOW THAT BOOK YOU WORKED FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS AND MAYBE YEARS ON AND YOUR PUBLISHER WORKED ON FOR A YEAR AND IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS JUST WAITING TO COME OUT WELP NOW THAT IT’S OUT ON THE SHELF I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW ALL OF YOUR HARD WORK AND PATIENCE HASN’T PAID OFF, YOU ASSHOLE HA HA HA HA. Assume that if it’s not a thing you’d be comfortable saying to our faces, it not a thing you should just say to us, unbidden, online. It’s a good, if imperfect, rule.
You might say, “Well, can’t you hack it?” I mean, after all, we silly writer-types have to run a gauntlet of rejection just to get a book published. Shouldn’t we be made of tougher stuff? I guess, sure. But there’s no guarantee the person you’re talking to is made of tougher stuff — and why do you want to stick them with the knife anyway, on the off-chance their skin isn’t hard enough to take the blade? Maybe most days we’re good, but today is rough. Maybe the author you’re @-ing in that negative review just found out their cat died, or their mom is sick, or they’re just having a fuck-ass day. And even if the book is garnering rave reviews, one bad review can really pucker our buttholes, okay? Which on the one hand sounds silly, but think about how even the most wonderful of meals would be ruined with a single little mouse turd.
Resist the impulse to include us in your negative reviews.
You can, of course, tag us in positive ones — but it’s also totally fine if you don’t. (Personally, I don’t think I’d ever tag a person in anything other than an unqualified gush. Like, an A+ review only. YMMV.) It’s on us to find the reviews. If we wanna roll around in the bad ones or pickle ourselves in the good ones, we can consent to that and seek the reviews out. Half of us will, anyway.
Certainly there’s some nuance when it comes down to a book that’s problematic, but even there I don’t know what the value is of tagging the author in that discussion — the book is the book, it’s out, can’t be fixed now. Unless a public shaming is what’s on the menu, I suppose. (Though once again, the value of that is perhaps dubious.)
Is it the end of the world if you tag us in a negative review? No. Will I mute or block you or make a frowny face at you if you do? Almost certainly. In the same way I don’t tweet at you to tell you that your shoes are ugly or your child’s haircut is shitty. I think we can shore up this social contract a little and realize that some things just don’t need to be told directly to a person.
Anyway! See you in the Hell Realm!
* * *
WANDERERS: A Novel, out July 2nd, 2019.
A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. An astonishing tapestry of humanity that Harlan Coben calls “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.”
A sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America. The real danger may not be the epidemic, but the fear of it. With society collapsing—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers and the shepherds who guide them depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.