Oct 28, 2014

Psychology of a Writer's Mind

First, let me state that I'm not making any claims about writer instability or anything like that. I'm mostly indulging my own curiosity and looking for input into a question that has been eating me up since the Guardian article ran.

One more disclaimer, I am using the phrase 'negative review' to mean anything critical even though that's not really the way I look at them. It's shorthand, though I think we need a better term.

When we hear about author-on-reviewer misconduct of any kind, the first thing you think(after OMG, is the reviewer okay!?) is:

What in the world was that author THINKING?

So down that rabbit hole I went. I want to understand... well,everything, but especially things I could never see myself doing. (I also am fascinated by serial killer and true crime documentaries... But that's another post.)

Everyone tells authors not to read reviews, which I do understand. Baby writers(and probably writers who are all grown up too) have muses that are like turtles: They retreat into their shells when anything startles or scares them. A muse that's in full-on turtle mode makes it harder to write your next book well. Or in a timely manner. Or at all. So as a muse-prophylactic, not reading your reviews makes excellent sense. 

But personally, I do read my reviews. (At least for now, it doesn't take much time to read them, there aren't that many.) And sometimes while eating chocolate.

I don't do it because I want to hear that I'm awesome (When people say that? I never believe them anyway.).

I don't do this because I can't stand not knowing (Though I do have an epic case of InstantGratification-itis, and basically want to know/do/be everything right NOW.).

I do it because I want to improve my craft.

Not so much the way I write. Not structure, or really anything to do with the mechanics of writing. I do it because I want to know what story elements, plots, and characters resonate the most with people who read my genre(category romance, medical series).

I fully accept that my books are a product. And without writing another whole post on why I don't think it's selling out to say this: I want to give the customer what they want. Or at least understand so I can make that coincide with my own desires to give others that happy sigh at the end of a book.

But even though I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of reader expectations, I'm probably more like 80/20 than 100% on the understanding. Reviews, especially negative reviews, offer insight and help me become not just a better writer, but to build the career I want to have.

So that's my goal when I read my own reviews. And it probably matters that I go into reading them with that mindset(Years of art school taught me how to take a critique too, but that is yet another post).

But I'm still stuck on: What was that(or that, or THAT...) author thinking!?

And more specifically: What in that particular review started them down the yellow brick road to Crazytown?

Obviously, in the case of Kathleen Hale, one review stuck with her(that book has loads of 1star reviews, and only one reviewer was terrorized that we know of). So it must have triggered some kind of emotional response. That's not Miss Harris's fault or responsibility, but something about her words earwigged into Hale's brain, and I want to understand. Not to excuse--I'm still horrified by the situation--but just to comprehend the thought processes on that downward spiral.

As I only have myself to compare with(and I've never hunted down a reviewer... that I know of o.O) , the questions I asked myself when pursuing that elusive understanding:
  • What negative review stung the most?
  • What ones didn't bother me? 
  • When I was bothered, how exactly did the review bother?
  • What made the difference between this 2-star review and that 2-star review...
The conclusion I've come to?
Negative reviews that actually stung, were the reviews that 
said something I secretly agreed with/feared...

So that's my Q to other authors out there. With negative reviews you've gotten, have there been equally written/snarky negative reviews that didn't bother you, but the one that did said something true about your book/writing/whatever that you just really don't want to think about in order to keep your muse turtle-free?


Other theories are welcome too. This reasoning might just be particular to my own special neuroses.

Oct 25, 2014

Entitlement -- #BloggerBlackout #HaleNo

In the wake of author-stalker antics over a negative review, along with a staggering number of other author-on-reviewer crimes... I'm posting this before my head asplodes with the loud angry words.

For Authors

You’ve written a book and it has now become made available for public consumption through some manner of dissemination. Congratulations!

A Comprehensive List of What You’re Now Entitled to:

  • You May Tell People You’ve Written/Published a Book. Or not, depending on your preference. It's up to you, you can use a pseudonym and conceal your real name, use a pseudonym and freely share your real name, or use your real name. Up. To. You. And whatever your safety requirements are.
  • Claim the Occupation of Writer or Author. Although publication is not a necessary pre-req to claim those titles. 

What you are NOT ENTITLED to

  • Not Entitled to Reviews. There is no right to have your book reviewed by anyone. If you get reviews—good, bad, or ugly—Be Grateful Anyone Made the Effort.
  • Not Entitled to Have People Buy Your Book. Except family. Feel free to whine over holiday dinners and send passive aggressive birthday &/or Christmas cards to people who may share a surname, genetics, or whatever else makes them family... and who haven't bought your darned book(at least your debut. YMMV on later titles).
  • Not Entitled to the Right to Appear on Anyone Else’s Blog for publicity and praise because of your general awesomeness. Further: Bloggers are not your employees, if they have read and reviewed your book, they're doing you a FAVOR. The only acceptable response is: Thank You.
  • Not Entitled to Know the RL Identity of Your Reviewer. If you have more than one 1-star review, the correct and sane conclusion is that more than one person hated your book. This is not a case of ONE person with multiple accounts leaving 1star reviews designed specifically to ruin you.  

Helpful Sidenote: 

Hallmarks of an actual Troll Reviewer: Newly created account, generic name, only has one(or maybe a couple if they're high-achieving trolls) review. If there are many or hundreds or reviews? Not a troll. 

And what does it matter who they are, it's a person who has these specific thoughts. Not a robot. Not a maniacal monkey demon sent from the fiery pits to ruin you, or a rogue AI program who hates the name of your heroine. A person disliked your book for whatever reasons they listed, and it does not matter if they've a real-sounding name or go by GrignrTheManly. A PERSON WROTE THOSE WORDS. That's all you need to know.

The only reason someone would leave a negative review(that actually pertains to your book) under a fake ID is for the freedom to safely say what their current emotion is screaming at them to say in the way they need to say it. It isn't so they can lie about how they feel.

Permissible Reactions to a Bad Review

  • Cry. This is best done alone in your home. But the good news: It's Pants Optional!
  • Vent to your friends in private. Rant. Complain until they're sick of you. But for god's sake, keep it off the internet. No Public Displays of Immature Dickishness
  • Fantasize about your misunderstood genius and take comfort in the fact that one day, probably long after you're dead, you--trail blazer that you are--will be lauded for your mad, avant-garde storytelling skills.
  • Confide in your dog, who may bring you a stick to cheer you up and remind you of the long held doggie wisdom: Sticks and stones may break your bones...but they're also really good for chewing on when life's got you down.
  • Confide in your cat, who will magnanimously allow you to sit in her presence, possibly allow you to pet her, feed her, or run a red laser pointer dot around the room for her amusement.
  • Eat or Drink Your Feelings. Possibly not the healthiest reaction, but have some chocolate and some wine. Just don't use them as a facilitator to Public Displays of Dickiness. Or other dangerous/inappropriate actions.

Side-side Note: Book Bloggers are often the best promo available to 21stCen author. Negative reviews won't ruin your career or your book, but your response to negative reviews could. In summary: don't be a dick. 

Tips for Bloggers & Reviewers

You all know how to conduct yourselves with regard to your reviews, so instead...
  • Be aware that just because someone had the brain power to write and publish a book doesn't mean that they're stable individuals. I don't care who asks you for your address, if you don't feel comfortable giving it or your real name, then don't! Have them send the package to your local post office. In the US, we have an option for General Delivery, and I'm sure that there are comparable setups in other countries. In the US, it works like this:Mail addressed General Delivery is held at the post office and you go there to pick it up. You don't have to have a post office box to protect your home address, mail does not have to be delivered to your home. Addresses look something like this:
United States Post Office
General Delivery:
City, State Zipcode
  • If you feel threatened by someone--anyone--author or schmo on the street--Call The Police. Contact a lawyer. Tell your family and friends. Say something online even. Keeping quiet will not help you. Embarrassment is one of the stalker's biggest weapons, it keeps people quiet and conceals abuse. Quiet helps them, not You.
  • You have rights, and the biggest, most important one is that you should feel safe in your home, at work, when you go to your favorite restaurant, etc. 

Finally: To the authors who are crying out, 'But we're the ones being punished, we're innocent!' 

First, that kind of sentiment implies that those being harassed over reviews deserve it. They don't.

Writers should have some connection to their empathy skills, and now's the time to activate that connection. This isn't about you or your butthurt about not getting your book reviewed for a couple more weeks... It's people using what meager power they have to stand as a community for something important.

Keeping Quiet helps the Abuser, not the abused.