I know the company line. It’s been drilled into me since my earliest days in the writing community. There is only ONE correct response to any review or critique: Thank you.
As I work more and more seriously on my writing, I contemplate more and more the author’s place in the world of reading and writing. One particular thing–a thing that’s never supposed to happen–has had me thinking quite a bit lately: interaction with reviewers. Because I don’t have any finished novels out there to get reviews, and likely won’t for a while, this isn’t something I have to worry about quite yet.
But I do wonder.
I love criticism. I’ve been in Query Letter Hell over at Absolute Write (it’s called Hell for a reason.) I’ve had my hard work ripped the fuck to shreds. I’ve been on critique sites and gotten everything from “WTF is this? I have NO idea what’s going on here” to “I would never read this” and “I didn’t get past the first line.” And I was better for it–both me and my writing. It was the worst critiques that made me better–me and my writing. A writer needs to have thick skin, and needs to be able to look at their own worst flaws if they want to be the best.
And I’ve seen many writers get defensive, not understanding that asking for a critique means getting one. And these writers did not show improvement.
I wonder. I wonder, is there is always something wrong with dialogue?
The internet has changed the relationship between readers and writers. And part of what it’s done is foster interactivity. Both readers and writers have the ability to interact, to vent, to explain, to question, to critique, and yes, to defend. It’s no longer a purely business relationship. It’s a community relationship. We’re not cashiers and customers. We’re peers. As a reader, interaction with an author can change my perspective on a work or help me to understand it better. As a writer (and one who’s undergone a lot of critique), I have the ability to differentiate between helpful criticism and differences of opinion based on personal taste.
Of course, not everyone who enters into dialogue with reviewers does it right. A few months ago, you may have heard of the indie author Jacqueline Howett who resonded to a review of her novel The Greek Seaman (personally, I didn’t get past the title… oh shut up. I’m young.) Here’s a sample of her reply:
This is not only discusting and unprofessional on your part, but you really don’t fool me AL. [guy that reviewed her book]
Who are you any way? Really who are you?
What do we know about you?
You never downloaded another copy you liar!
You never ever returned to me an e-mail
Besides if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via e-mail. That debate is high among authors.
Your the target not me!
Grammatical errors aside, this is a poorly thought out response with very little content. Basically, a big FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! in response to a review that was actually pretty decent, which shows that she can’t even take the slightest suggestion.
I was surprised to see this disaster compared with Anne Rice’s own rant on Amazon from several years ago. While hers too is vitriolic and defensive, I see it very differently. Here’s a bit of it:
…there is something compelling about Amazon’s willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you’ve said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people’s books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak.
The text tells you exactly what to expect. And it warns you specifically that if you did not enjoy Memnoch the Devil, you may not enjoy this book. This book is by and about a hero whom many of you have already rejected. And he tells you that you are likely to reject him again.
Lestat’s wanting to be a saint is a vision larded through and through with his characteristic vanity. It connects perfectly with his earlier ambitions to be an actor in Paris, a rock star in the modern age.
And it goes on. And on. And on. And, yes, she could use an editor.
But the point is, Ms Rice did provide useful points–yes, in an unprofessional and defensive form, and as another good example of how NOT to respond to reviews. But her response had content. As someone who hadn’t read any of her books (and has since dabbled in them,) I read this and thought “Oh, okay, I’ll keep these things in mind…” While some may gloss over the whole thing as a mad rant, it was actually useful to me. Secondly, in addition to responding to remarks on her story, she was also addressing many terrible personal remarks. And while I agree that trolls are better left unfed, sometimes chucking a few good stones at them is warranted.
The internet has given both readers and writers many tools. Readers can now give swift and direct feedback that can help authors with future projects, and writers can supplement their work with information for the readers to enhance or clarify what they’ve read. And I believe it is possible for there to be dialogue that isn’t defensive and brutal and pointless. I’m not saying I’m going to respond to reviews. To be honest, I’ll probably be too lazy to read them. Or too busy writing. Or going to critique sites. But I think it may be time to reevaluate the company line.
The customer may always be right, but the peer isn’t.