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.
29 responses to “Hi, Definitely Don’t Tag Authors In Your Negative Reviews Of Their Books”
But… what if your negative review is constructive in its criticism? Even then?
Definitely even then. Constructive criticism is useful *when it is asked for* only. Otherwise, it is purely destructive (when the author is @-ed). Constructive assumes the author is meant to take it as a way to build — but again, that’s something we consent to receive, something you get from a crit group or from a genuine ask of how best to improve the work. If we don’t ask for it? It ain’t constructive.
Also…whether or not criticism is constructive is totally subjective. I’ve seen plenty of people offer opinions that they seem to think are very intelligent and correct…and they’re just really not.
With all due respect, an opinion (intelligent or not) is never incorrect. That is the essence of an opinion – it belongs to the person who holds them. Your opinion may differ, but that doesn’t mean that either person is wrong.
If you have some constructive criticism to offer, just send the author a private email or message. For authors with ebooks, there might be a way to revise something that is incorrect – or to take a comment at its word when writing the next book.
& are they going to go rewrite it? No! Keep it to yourself.
I read that BR article yesterday, and really didn’t understand the logic that tagging authors in tweets or insta posts or whatever was somehow a service to the reader. I don’t need to look at an author’s Twitter TL to know whether or not I want to read their book. (Sometimes the reader is better off NOT looking at an author’s social media pages.) I don’t think I’m in the minority on this.
My biggest note about that part was… you’re linking to a longer review. On a non-twitter website. Just put the bloody link to their twitter account in that, if it’s so all-fired important. There is no earthly reason to include a “link” in the tweet (that is just a straight up HEY! LISTEN! to the author, because that’s how @’s work!). It really read like scrambling for a justification after the fact, rather than an actual reason.
I agree! I don’t need to see an author’s social media to decide if I want to buy the book. I certainly didn’t need to research an author prior to the hell realm (love this!) to buy books. I see no reason to @ an author with a review.
I have gushed @ an author (maybe two) on Twitter. That was straight up gushing and not even close to a review. Sometimes it feels good to share the joy they brought into my life.
So, mathematically what you’re saying is, if I like the book I should leave 10 positive reviews to compound the good and diminish the bad. Therefore 1,000 good reviews becomes 10,000 good reviews and the 100 bad review ratio goes down from 10 percent of the whole to 1 percent. ::wink wink:: I gotcha, better get to work!
I don’t generally post reviews on-line. I’ll make recommendations (or issue warnings) to friends if we’re discussing an author or a specific title, but generally I keep my opinions to myself. The only time I’ll @ an author in a book-related tweet is if I enjoyed the book and I want to say thank you to the author for giving it to us. I’m certainly not going to log on just to slam someone’s work. I write too. I know what kind of effort goes into creating something. Even if I don’t like the result I respect the work that went into it.
Book Riot can be so great, but then they go and publish something like this…
I don’t blame BR for that — their job is not necessarily to create constantly safe, happy content, and if this generates discussion, it’s doing its job. The author of the article wasn’t even super religious about it — just, “I don’t see the problem.”
That’s true, and while I did mean for my comment to be more cheeky than straightforward, I still feel like BR could have done a better job with the topic. This article is so meandering (particularly the last few paragraphs) that if it wasn’t for final questions, I would have forgotten what the writer set out to discuss. Did she actually want a space to talk about how to write a quality review? Who are reviews really for? Author accessibility? I just don’t think she made strong enough connections to her opinion on tagging authors in negative reviews.
One of the companies I worked for was big on both positive and “opportunistic” feedback, but even their requirement was you were to ask the person’s permission first. I think more people need to get on board with this type of mentality. Thank you for sharing this wisdom with us. See you in the hell realm! LOVE THAT!
To me, posting a negative review should be like painting graffiti on a wall. It’s out there. People know about it. And there’s a possibility the author may come across it on their own. They can also choose to ignore it or refuse to look at it. Tagging an author on social media about said review is more like painting the graffiti on their side of their garage, and then daring them to do something about it. Since doing anything other than ignoring said graffiti is a no-win situation for the author, tagging forces the author to live with some gawd-awful crap on their wall they have no choice but to look at while drinking coffee in their living room.
I always liked the line “Your opinion of me is none of my business.” It goes doubly so for negative opinions.
It does seem rather pretentious and arrogant of a reviewer to assume that the author needs to hear their opinion of the book. “As who should say, ‘I am Sir Oracle, and when I ope my lips, let no dog bark.’”
“You spent six months writing and editing this book, and it all came from your brain? Cool, cool. I spent six hours reading it, and thirty minutes writing up my typo-filled review, so we are basically the same.”
“It does seem rather pretentious and arrogant of a reviewer to assume that the author needs to hear their opinion of the book,” Deborah, you raise an important point here. Let’s be honest. How many genuine, honest-to-god readers go to the bother to slate an author in a twitter review? I offer the suggestion that the majority of people who slate authors in their reviews are mostly other authors. The bitter and twisted ones – the ones still in the rejected pile phase of their careers – do it out of frustration and envy. The humble reader couldn’t care. They just toss it if they don’t like it. To his critics Beethoven would reply, “It’s not for you,” and then get on with his work.
I work in the theatre, where the rule is: thou shalt not mention the reviews. Not good ones, not bad ones. Some people read them, some don’t, but out of respect, if you do, you don’t bring them up at work.
In theatre, of course, things are a bit different. The art is still in progress, so reading a review – good or bad – has the capacity to alter the art in a way the creators did not intend. But you could draw a parallel to a writers’ career as a whole, I suppose, where even good reviews could impact future creative decisions.
So yes, it should be common courtesy not to @ the creator of any art form when it is reviewed. Reviews are for the consumers, not the creators.
Short form: How would you feel if someone said it to you? Not only said it, but went out of their way to shove it in your face? Does that feel good, now? That someone deliberately came up to nasty you?
Don’t do it. Don’t be that guy.
Why is it okay to public shame American Airlines or GE? Why not write to them directly if you have a problem? Just because they don’t have feelings? There’s someone behind that Twitter account.
Is this a joke? Because they’re companies, not people. The representatives aren’t receiving abuse. Complaining about a broken dishwasher to Home Depot doesn’t have anything to do with Anonymous Chad behind the account.
This is all about whether what you are buy is a product or service versus an art form. If you washing machine doesn’t wash clothes then theres a problem feel free to complain. But if a book entitled “Star Wars” doesn’t actually contain Stars (balls of burning hydrogen) fighting each other then have you been ripped of of mis-sold a product? No. Would you complain that a song you heard isn’t catchy enough? Of course not. One is a personal viewpoint on if you enjoyed creative art form, the other is has the item you have bought not done the job it was bought to do.
I agree with Chuck’s general perspective.
However, I do question the logic in the above. I buy a book to be entertained and/or informed. If the books fails in either of those functions for objective reasons (i.e. lots of poor spelling/grammar, huge plot holes, etc.), then complaints about it are in the same class as “my dishwasher doesn’t work” or “someone in your airline pooped in my bag”.
I have dabbled in criticism, and my new plane of existence (as someone who does it for fun and isn’t assigned stuff to review) is that I’ll review something I really like, or something I like that I think needs a wider audience. I only write negative reviews if it is either something so big you can’t avoid it or something where pointing out the flaws is a way to make a bigger point. I really dislike snarky mean reviews, even for art that kinda sucks. There is a lot of mediocre stuff out there, so why not just not write about it and spend your time and energy on stuff you actually like that you want other people to know about? And who am I to say what is or what isn’t good? there is plenty of popular and critically acclaimed art that doesn’t move me. Does the fact that I don’t care for Patrick Rothfuss’s writing mean his books stink, or, since a gajillion people really really love those books, does it just mean that for whatever reason he doesn’t land with me? Who am I to say that the gajillion people who love rothfuss are wrong? That’s why I’ve mostly changed how I describe how I feel about stuff from “this is bad” to “this doesn’t land with me.” Sometimes, things are legit bad, but a lot of times it just isn’t my cup of tea.
[…] (1) DEALING WITH DISSATISFIED CUSTOMERS. Chuck Wendig, who doesn’t want people using social media to shove their negative reviews of his work in his face – point taken – goes on to make an unconvincing distinction between customer complaints about his fiction and everything else: “Hi, Definitely Don’t Tag Authors In Your Negative Reviews Of Their Books”. […]
I feel that it’s incredibly entitled and arrogant for reviewers to believe that they should be able to shape an author’s book and future works. And that is what tagging an author into a negative review is all about. It’s shoving the review in their face and demanding they listen and act upon the words there. That reviewer is one single person, one voice, one view point. And yet, they feel they’re important enough to have a say and sometimes make big sweeping changes, to a piece of art that is produced for a large audience.
I am very strongly for negative reviews being written and posted. They are however there for the reader. They are there to give readers insight into their experience with the book. They’re there so other readers can make an informed decision about whether they wish to spend their hard earned money on that book. Something with only positive reviews renders the entire concept of reviews as useless, they become nothing more than promo.
We’re in this age where people believe everything should be made and fit them perfectly. Screw everyone else. This is about that individual and making sure they have the exact experience they wanted to have in that moment.
As for the derisive, snarky comments about how authors who don’t wish to be tagged into a negative review are weak and inferior because they can’t take criticism – that’s what editors are for. The people who trained for years to understand the nuts and bolts of prose and storytelling. Reviewers are not qualified in that way. They’re just people who happen to like reading books and writing reviews. Authors have already received an entire swath of criticism and feedback from the professionals.
TLDR: Tagging authors into negative reviews is an act of sadism and entitlement. It’s ridiculous and needs to stop.