How Many Times Do I Have to Say This? Reviews Are for Readers, Not Authors

A Facebook friend shared this article from The Guardian tonight, and I was absolutely appalled. An author, Kathleen Hale, stalked the author of a one-star review of her book, and The Guardian printed an account of said stalking in her own words. What’s next, will The Guardian start printing fawning accounts of burglar’s exploits without any discussion of the cost to their victims?

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a quote from the article authored by Ms. Hale, “A few nights later I called my friend Sarah, to talk while I got drunk and sort of watched TV. Opening a new internet window, I absent-mindedly returned to stalking Blythe Harris [the blogger who had written a one-star review of her book].”

I have a couple of things to say to Ms. Hale and any other authors who might consider behaving in a similarly execrable manner. It is not okay to visit a blogger’s house uninvited, even if s/he wrote a one-star review of your book. It is not okay to peer into a blogger’s car, even if s/he tweeted mean things at you. It is not okay to call a blogger unasked at work even if s/he blogs under a pseudonym. If I were Ms. Harris (or Donofrio, it really doesn’t matter), I’d be angry and terrified at Ms. Hale’s behavior.

This stuff matters. If we (authors) persist in ridiculous vilification of bloggers, fewer readers will blog. And that will make the whole book ecosystem poorer. Bloggers are doing authors a huge favor–they generally work for absolutely nothing but the love of books. This also means that yes, authors are and should be held to a higher standards than bloggers–we’re getting paid for what we do, and are therefore professionals, whereas bloggers are generally amateurs and private citizens.

Ms. Hale has failed to grasp two critically important facts. First, her work is separate and different from herself. Look, I cry, sweat, and even bleed over my books, but I am more than my work. I will never, no matter how much I toil, capture the totality of my experience in my books, nor even a dim shadow thereof. Neither will Ms. Hale. Yet she obviously misses this point, writing, “My book had not even been published yet and already it felt like everybody hated it, and me.”

Second, Ms. Harris was doing Hale a favor. Every person who gave Ms. Hale’s book a one-star review was also doing her a favor. Why? Bad reviews sell books, at least for authors who haven’t built strong name recognition yet. For more detail about that assertion and the research supporting it, see my two previous posts on this subject.

I have a simple suggestion for authors, like Ms. Hale, who are too thin-skinned to read their own reviews. Don’t. Add Goodreads to the porn blocker on your browser. Then you can’t visit the site even if you’re tempted by something you see elsewhere. If nothing else works, stay off the internet. Sure, your publisher will whinge about how you need a social media presence–just ask to see the data on how many extra books social media sells. They won’t be able to tell you. Why? Because nobody has that data, as best I can tell. And plenty of authors have built fabulously successful careers with virtually no presence on social media (Suzanne Collins, Cormac McCarthy, and Thomas Pynchon spring to mind.) You don’t need to do this stuff. And if you can’t handle it professionally–that is, without stalking bloggers who post negative reviews–then you’re screwing things up for the rest of us. Please quit.


8 thoughts on “How Many Times Do I Have to Say This? Reviews Are for Readers, Not Authors

  1. This is a bit rich, coming from a man who posted a blogger’s negative review of his debut to his blog, made it all about his fee-fees as a good author who wouldn’t respond to this awful review, and did nothing to curb the people decrying said teen blogger in his comments.

    Yes. It was a teenager. It was a minor.

    And I see, looking on your GoodReads page, that you’ve insulted at least two other bloggers or labeled them as homophobes for writing negative books. Please take several seats, dude.

    • I make absolutely no apology for calling out homophobia, racism, sexism, and their ilk wherever I see them rear their ugly heads. If that negatively affects your perception of me, so be it.

  2. You are making me feel better about not giving all books 5-star reviews. I still can’t do a 1 star review. If it’s that bad, I probably didn’t finish it. If I finished it, it gets at least 3 stars. I save 5-stars for those books that are literary masterpieces. Since I don’t read many of those, I don’t give many 5-star reviews. Lots of 4-stars. Anyway, I appreciate your sentiment and your ability to honor honest review. Thanks!

  3. This is an ongoing discussion on Goodreads. Some authors take the reviews as a personal attack on their writing. While others take the constructive criticism and perfect their craft. I feel that some reviewers should try to stick to the book and not to complaining about the author. Just my opinion on the subject.

    • I agree: the best reviewers focus on the books, not the authors. I’m not on Goodreads anymore since Amazon bought them although my blog posts are (I think) automatically reposted there.

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