As a writer, and what’s more one who would like to be published (the subtext of successful kind of goes without saying doesn’t it? Or did I..oh never mind), I tend to check out articles, blog posts and books that can help me improve both my writing and my chances of publication.
I am more inclined to look at the “what not to do” than the “do it this way” because, I suppose, I am contrary by nature and don’t like being told what to do. However tell me what to avoid and I’ll happily figure the rest out.
When a member of a writing group I belong to posted a link labelled “What Not To Do” it was a sure thing I was going to read it. Me and about a million other people around the world (though admittedly not all from Kate’s link…) In fact the blog post in question has gone viral and the author who is the subject of the original post has probably killed her career.
So what’s all the fuss about and more importantly what, if anything, can we learn from it? Well on March 16, BooksandPals.com reviewer Big Al posted a review on his site about a book he had just read. Keep in mind this is his site and his opinion – opinion being what reviews are after all.
Big Al wasn’t rude; he wasn’t even what I would consider scathing. In fact, I thought he was quite tactful – he said he liked the story but that there were – and I quote - ’numerous proofing, typo, and grammar issues’. He gave the book two stars.
This is where it gets interesting.
Ms Howett, the author, went on the attack. She accused Big Al of not having the correct version of the book, she told him the issues were due only to formatting and had been solved, she insisted he didn’t understand her writing because she was English and not American, and even pasted three reviews from Amazon that ‘proved’ her brilliance. Basically she didn’t like getting a less than stellar review. Well who does? Let’s be honest here. Nobody likes to get a bad review – most of us however have had the good sense to take them in our stride and move on.
But Ms Howett did not stop here. When members of the public sided with Big Al (for a variety of reasons) she demanded the review be removed (evidently it was ‘discusting’ - her typo not mine). When her demand was refused she began to respond to comments with the ever charming “Fuck Off!”
So, what is there to learn from this?
For a start, if you don’t want a bad review, don’t be a writer. Or a musician. Or an artist. Or anything else creative. Anything creative is subjective and there is going to be someone, somewhere who doesn’t like your work. They are well within their rights to say so. Especially on their own website. You then have a choice of either being gracious or ungracious - and trust me one of those is going to do your career a lot more damage than the other. If you can’t figure out which one, you really are in the wrong job.
My next point is about self publishing and e-publishing. There is a fear among writers and readers that the ease with which material can be published today will dilute the quality available. I’ve always felt this was perhaps a little unfair. Where poor writing vs good writing is concerned – do we not trust readers to be able to tell the difference? Besides, if you’ll pardon the cliche, at the end of the day reading is subjective – so who is to say what is Good or not Good (and the use of the capital is deliberate). However good grammar, spelling and proofing have nothing to do with good writing.
Even the best writer can make a mistake and that is why editors exist (I may be biased I admit – sue me). Amanda Hocking recently said “Readers complaints about the editing of my books. I have hired editors. Many, many editors. And I know that I can outsource editing, but I’m clearly doing a really shitty job of picking editors. EDIT: The people hired as editors are great people who worked very hard. Which is the most frustrating thing about the continued complaints of errors in my books. I know that my books are better because of the people I hired. And I don’t understand how there can still be errors. So my remark at “shitty” is over my frustration at the situation. Not the actual editors or the work they did.” My point is that if you’ve goofed up and it shows in the final edit, suck it up and use it to ensure it doesn’t happen next time.
Ms Howett has preferred instead to alienate potential readers. They say there is no such thing as bad publicity – as someone who has worked in the media I’m not sure I agree with that, especially in this case. I have in my time read – and loved – more than a few books that have received far worse reviews than the one given by Big Al to Ms Howett. I’ve loathed books that have had stellar reviews – hell I’ll openly admit I think Macbeth is a huge snorefest. Rightly or wrongly however I am not going to read The Greek Seaman – purely because I think she did writers a huge disservice in acting like a spoiled brat.
Among the people she abused on the blog were not only readers and reviewers but editors, agents, and publishers, all of whom are likely going to put her firmly in the ‘way too hard basket’. All the things people assume about self publishing novelists not really being professional enough, she just confirmed. She just made life for those of us who are starting out and who are considering self publishing (for whatever reason) or e-publishing that much harder.
All of that said, should we burn the woman at the literary stake? Well I think she’s pretty much done that herself but I would like to hope she will try again, this time taking on board some of the criticism and trying to improve her work. Surely as writers we should all be trying to see where we can improve and polish our skills and ultimately the story we give our readers.
Criticism stings. It does however come with the territory – and if you aren’t prepared to take the good with the bad, perhaps it’s time to consider a career change.
Image: Anton from Ratatouille – Disney Pictures.