Wednesday 18 September 2013

Fifteen things to consider when tempted to respond to a bad review of your book

Fifteen things to consider when tempted to respond to a bad review of your book:

1. Hundreds of thousands of books are published every year, and this person chose to read yours. Millions didn’t. Your gratitude for that should really outweigh your irritation at them “getting it wrong”.

2. If you respond, this will be for many, many people the only thing they ever know about you.

3. The book isn’t an exam you have set for readers. You don’t need to mark the answers at the end.

4. Before you get mad at someone for not paying attention, consider whose job it was to make them pay attention.

5. If a review is egregiously wrong, someone else will point it out. If no one ever does, it’s probably because no one is reading the review anyway. You know how people are about correcting other people on the internet.

6. Banish the phrase “set things straight” from your thoughts. That path leads only to the dark side. Be insouciant. Look at the picture of Jughead that illustrates this listicle: that’s you, that is.

7. Like a punch-up with a kitten, this is a fight you lose as soon as it begins, whatever the outcome. There is no way to win, nothing to gain. Let it lie and, if you must, comment on it indirectly later.

8. Unless it’s on Amazon, the review that bothers you so much will be forgotten before long, if anyone even notices it in the first place. The best way to make sure a bad review is never forgotten is to make a big fuss about it.

9. If you really can’t resist, at least spellcheck and punctuate your comments before posting them, or you’ll look like you’ve lost your temper.

10. Write your reply offline, on your PC, and take your time over it. Make it as short as you can. Aim for zero words.

11. Not many people, in the scheme of things, will buy your book at all. A variable percentage of those will read it. A very small number of those will be inspired to write about it. Not many of those will write about it when it is still in bookshops. Even fewer of those will have a significant platform for their writing. Don’t make yourself a writer that those people want to avoid writing about. And don’t make them give up writing reviews altogether because they’re sick of being hassled.

12. Remember that you haven’t read the book yet, not like they have. You’ve seen the words and read the sentences, but you brought to your reading all your notes and ideas, the unwritten backstory, the plans for the sequel and the roads not taken, and they didn’t. They’ve just read the actual book.

13. If your author chums are cheering you on, ask yourself if they’ve ever done it themselves. Are they supportive on Facebook, where the wider internet can’t see, but curiously absent from the blog comments? Sure, they’re glad that someone is doing it, but they know how daft it is, how bad it is for the reputation. They’ll let you take one for the team, but the team doesn’t have your back, not on this, not unless you can find a way to make it not about the review.

14. Still determined to set things straight? Read this blog post summarising author meltdowns from 2012 and see how it tends to go.

15. Oh sod it, man, go for it. Get stuck in. It’s never good for you, and it may be upsetting for the reviewers you’re about to browbeat, especially if your fans join in and start sending death threats, but it’s entertaining for everyone else,  and it gives us something to write hit-bait blog posts about. Like this one.

Wednesday was supposed to be list day. This is list #6.


  1. I think authors should have the freedom to respond to bad, indifferent and good reviews if they feel so inclined. I think any fashion or trend adumbrated above - if it exists at all - is just a passing one in the dynamic field of literature and literary criticism.

  2. They do have that freedom; this list offers some points to consider before exercising it.

  3. Further thoughts from D.F. Lewis (Weirdmonger) on this issue.

    For anyone unaware of the context to his comments, he's been complaining about this review for over two years now, in dozens of blog posts, comments, 'caveats', 'statements', 'audits' etc, hence his sensitivity to the post above.

    And that's also why, after two years of nonsense (over a review I didn't even write!), I'm so set against authors bothering reviewers. For me the experience has been fairly amusing, and at worst irritating, but it's easy for me to imagine how other reviewers and bloggers might be made uncomfortable by such attention from an author.

  4. Ah that's laughable, Stephen. I feel I have had that 'nonsense' delivered to me from you, the publisher of that review, who decided to up the stakes with all manner of attacks on me over the last two years.
    Including very recently, as I reported here:

  5. I’m not sure how quoting a line from one of your stories to make fun of myself is supposed to constitute an attack on you!

    But that's a good example of exactly the nonsense I'm talking about. Posts there, here, here and here, plus additional comments on the now password-protected blog post, all over your concern about the authorial intent behind the strapline on a website! Does it not seem like a bit much?

    (And is authorial intent something on which an actual devotee of the intentional fallacy would spend quite so much time speculating?)

    All that is more silly than upsetting in this case, but it’s easy to see why other bloggers decide to pack it in when authors with huge fanbases take a similar tack. If D.F. Lewis acts like a wally when he gets a bad review, that's all there is to it. When a big name author with a huge fanbase acts like a wally things can become very difficult for the object of their attention.

    I would be interested to hear how many of the fifteen points above you would actually disagree with.

  6. There is some good sense in the mishmash of 15 points above that blur together in my mind. But I feel that post is generally alarmist, discouraging freedom of speech rather than encouraging it. I agree, however, that all possible repercussions should be weighed in the balance for any particular author.

    Before making a judgement on the ‘Weirdtongue Palaver’ and the various subliminal and not so subliminal, merely niggly and some not just niggly, items of onslaught upon me by the TQF publisher from ‘the ‘Wacked Out’ article onward, I suggest that any interested parties (including the TQF publisher himself) read all the evidence available, if they can bear it!

    “Theaker said something about getting on with some work and left the room.” – Howard Phillips (in TQF #44)

  7. Yes, they should do that. Though you do make it difficult by having password protected, deleted, hidden, retitled and amended many of the posts concerned.

    When a yappy dog follows someone around nipping at their heels, it isn’t an “attack” when the person turns around once in a while and tells the yappy dog to sod off.

    “Items of onslaught” – classic Des!

    Most people coming to this post will understand it to be inspired mainly by a fairly well known author who waded into a discussion of his work recently and began swinging his authorial intentions around like a mace.

    A relatively small number of those reading will be aware that in making those fifteen points I’m also drawing on my own particular experiences with various irate authors and their friends and families. (As well as my own feelings upon being negatively reviewed.)

    If you weren’t here jumping up and down in the comments drawing attention to your own meltdown, hardly anyone reading this would have related this post to you. But why pass up a good chance for self-publicity, eh? You've got a book to sell!

  8. "When a yappy dog follows someone around nipping at their heels, it isn’t an “attack” when the person turns around once in a while and tells the yappy dog to sod off."

    I agree with that from my own point of view.

    I have password protected certain posts (in Jan 2012) for the reasons long since given. I have not changed any of those passworded sites, just added discrete comments to one of them as things from your end accreted.

  9. A online record of my actions, viewable only by those who have the password? Nothing at all creepy or harassing about that.

    I reckon you must have commented directly or indirectly on John's review over one hundred times by now. Would you say that's correct?

  10. I've only really explained my position once on John's review; the rest of the time my other comments have been upon your own escalating reactions to that original explanation.

    My reasons for passwording the record of *both* our actions from January 2012 have long been made clear and, in my view, honourable, and it is something I expected you to welcome as a sensible course in the circumstances. Any interested parties have been able to get that password by simply asking me. You did not complain about that situation in your recent public tweeting about this issue. In fact, it sounded as if you did rather welcome it.

  11. Would you recommend using a passworded blog post to other writers who want to let off steam about a bad review?

  12. What a good idea! ;)

    My sincerely held hope in January 2012 was to try to 'park' our argument while I got on with publicly reviewing your excellent fiction choices in TQF. And since then I am pleased to have managed a number of such reviews in detailed critique.

  13. Was it frustrating that you received so little public support from your writer friends and colleagues for your campaign against the review? Why do you think that was?

  14. No, not frustrating. I didn't expect any public support.
    I can understand that. It's probably to do with that 'fashion' I spoke about at the outset on this thread.

  15. By the way, it was not a 'campaign' against a review as I have already explained. It was a one-off explanation of my attitude to it.

  16. Do you think your behaviour would have been any different had John or I been female? Would it have been as socially acceptable?

  17. No different at all. I don't understand the need to ask that question.

  18. When you brought up this review again earlier this year, a friend of yours suggested that “the reviewer seemed to think he'd been handed a book that could be used to build his own reputation rather than the author’s”. Do you think it is the job of a reviewer to build the author’s reputation?

  19. (This now sounds like an interview!)
    But to answer the latest question - not necessarily.
    I am generally a believer in this: HERE, particularly the last long paragraph.

  20. I suppose it is. I'm very interested in your answers.

    Part of the Updike quote you just linked to says that one should "not accept for review a book you are ... committed by friendship to like", and yet many of your real-time reviews are of books by your friends. Have you ever given one of them a negative review?

  21. As most of my reviews are of books I have *bought* in the normal course of wanting to read them, I am not surprised that I praise more than I criticise. Very books by actual friends are involved. The long lists from 2008 are shown here:

    The real-time reviews are intended to be forensic in a true ‘nemonymous’ spirit – which I think you will find to be the case when you read them all.

    When setting out on a time-sensitive on-going review, I find that that method of reviewing ‘in media res’ leads to a genuine evolution of observations that I wouldn’t have otherwise made. The TQF reviews were particularly satisfying in that regard.

  22. Sorry; "Very books" should read "very few books"

  23. How many comments would someone have to post criticising a piece of your writing before you would consider it harassment?

  24. I can't envisage that happening. I normally judge people by myself. To keep on criticising something after the initial criticism does not seem to serve any purpose.

    As I said before, I've only really explained my position once on John's review; the rest of the time my other comments have been upon your own escalating reactions to that original explanation.

  25. In your initial response to the review, you said that it had “upset my confidence regarding all my creative activities”. Has your confidence recovered?

  26. Yes, thanks. A lot of good things happened after that. That was my real-time reaction at the time. On the day I wrote it.

    As I have said before in the history of this issue, I'm not trying to say I am whiter than white in all my actions. Anyone will see that if they obtain the 'password' or look at some other sites elsewhere. And there are no doubt blurred areas - which if you've got the time - you can no doubt find where you can test evidence to counter some things I feel about this issue from memory.

  27. Feel free to provide the password here should you like!

    When you first heard about the review, you thanked me for it, saying:

    "Thanks for review, Stephen. I value your opinion. However, i think you managed to find the one accidental typo in the book (a missing 'who') and, in my opinion, highlighted it beyond its importance. But fair enough. I'm not complaining."

    You also posted comments online calling it:

    “A refresh [sic] view of the book that contrasts with the previous review.”

    However, your attitude to the review seemed to change considerably after I pointed out, later that day, that I was not the author of the review. Why was that?

  28. That 'refresh' word was used carefully. Like the refresh page on a computer. It did enlighten me as to how the book could be seen.

    It was only later that it fully dawned on me that the obvious accidental typo seemed deliberately being used in the review to question my style by quoting it as if it were intended.

    It never was important who wrote the review. It was under the TQF banner. And John Greenwood was shown at the bottom of the page from day one as having posted it. It was only much later that his name was emblazoned at the top.

  29. Regarding your comments above, by “escalating reactions” you seem to mean the single editorial written in response to the questions raised and the ideas put forward in your sequence of blog posts about the review, including “And the Second” (14/4/14), “Weirdtongue Palaver” (23/4/11), “No Blame” (30/4/11), and “The Autonymity of Weirdtongue” (30/4/11), and all the associated comments, Facebook posts and forum posts. My editorial didn’t appear until 4/7/11, by which time - would it be fair to say? - you'd already made over fifty comments about the review online.

    You’re very forthright on the writer’s right of freedom of speech in response to a review, and yet you have been highly critical of the fact that I wrote that one article in response to the dozens of comments you had made to that point. Doesn’t that seem like a double standard?

  30. I am describing below only to give the full context to your question.

    I can't remember all the chronology, but our still on-going 'argument' started (in 2009?) on the BFS forum where I said at one stage that I thought you had some sort of ulterior motive of antipathy towards me, based, now in hindsight, on the evidence of your earlier gratuitously flippant reviews of my Weirdmonger book and Zencore: Scriptus Innominatus. I publicly apologised for the ‘ulterior motive’ comment and I still apologise for that.

    To try to smooth over that argument I sent you a free signed copy of Weirdtongue, primarily intended as a gift not a review copy.

    Ostensibly, you then gave it to one of your TQF co-reviewers. I gently remonstrated in public in the 'No Blame' post about the resultant TQF review having crossed a line that made such an authorial reaction on my part unavoidable. You later responded stridently to my reaction in the form of an editorial in an actual TQF book. And you continued to escalate the dispute in various places, culminating in the "66 comments" ‘live’ argument between us on your site where you disallowed my concluding remarks, having first attacked me unjustifiably during those 66 comments.

    If I did make on-line statements about the review before your article, I guess it was all part of conversations that either I started or others did. I really can't remember.

    Yes, of course, you have freedom of speech. And if others think I have been unduly sensitive to the wacked-out bombardment of that article and the "66 comments" and the Homer Simpson jokes and talk on Facebook of Theakering authors and your strident comment posts on my own blog (eg stating that you were not even bothering to read my first TQF review)and the aspersions as to my intentions regarding BFS Awards later on the BFS forum and the subliminal banner headings on your sites etc etc, I promise to review my position.

  31. "Ostensibly"? I see.

    Would you advise a writer, having just received a real stinker of a review, to go on the warpath or to follow the advice in the fifteen points above? Do you regret the choice you made?

  32. If an author feels a line has been crossed, he should say so. Not to go on the warpath. I did not go on some warpath although it did somehow become a war, as explained somewhere above.

    And my comments were specifically on the review and its words, not on who wrote it or where it was published.

    Some have told me privately that, in this case, on the evidence of the review itself, that I was right in doing so.
    Having said that, I repeat that, in some ways, I could have done it better than I did.

    (The 'ostensibly' was my view at the time as I was genuinely confused as I think I first read it on Goodreads where it was on your blog with no mention of John Greenwood.)

  33. I understand – correct me if I’m wrong – that you have just taken all the unsold copies of the book and its follow-up off the publisher’s hands. How do you feel your reaction to the review might have affected sales? Did it put people off, or was it all good publicity?

  34. The publisher is closing down all their authors' books for personal reasons.

    I never thought of any publicity angle in any of these matters: despite you keep mentioning it!

    I don't think this issue has had any effect at all on sales, either way.

  35. Despite all the moaning, you have kept it to a discussion of writing and writing ethics. You haven't talked about running anyone over or speculated on the size of my marital equipment or said "it’s amazing how he has a problem with the rape ... scenes ... maybe he gets off on it" as other angry writers and their friends and families have done!

    Do you feel fortunate that your campaign against this review didn’t go viral in the way that some others of its kind have done, or would you have welcomed the attention of the wider internet? Do you resent being lumped in with the other writers with whom we've had similar run-ins, or do you see them as comrades-in-arms?

  36. Stephen, I am about to have dinner and then go to writer's group.
    I shall reply tomorrow.

  37. Those last two questions are not ones that have occurred to me before. They seem irrelevant to any of my concerns.

    No, what I've been thinking overnight about are the people I imagine lying behind the names 'Stephen Theaker' and 'John Greenwood', having not met either of them in person. In such circumstances we are what we appear to be on-line. I respect the human beings behind those names as I extrapolate best intentions from what I know and I hope to meet both of them one day. I was sad that John and I attended the same book launch recently in London without knowing the other was there (or at least I didn't know at the time he was there and, also at that time, before I reviewed the book in question (and found John's story wonderful, incidentally) I didn't realise he had a story in there, though someone did mention in the bar towards the end of the evening that he did. It would have been so nice to meet.

  38. Irate authors who wish to discredit a review often grasp at one point as if it’s a thread they can pull to make the whole thing disintegrate. In your case you say: “It was only later that it fully dawned on me that the obvious accidental typo seemed deliberately being used in the review to question my style by quoting it as if it were intended.”

    This is where you decided that it crossed a line into “tendentiousness”, misleading our readers, justifying your campaign against the review and its publisher.

    But if that grammatical mistake were fixed, how do you think it would affect the overall points made in the review about the book’s prose style and sentence structure? Would the sentence if corrected become a well-written, elegant sentence, or would it continue to illustrate the overall points made perfectly well?

  39. Possibly a good point. But that was not the only tipping point.

  40. Even now, as you publicise the fact that you have signed copies of your book to sell, you are linking to this review in multiple blog posts and forum posts. Why would you continue to draw attention to a review that you had apparently found so problematic?

  41. I was just about to say you keep using the word 'campaign' (and 'warpath'),. As I explained before, this not my perception of the situation.

    To answer you last question, I'm not sure I have to that degree, but if I have, the reason recently was because of what I saw as your renewed attacks on me. As you now seem to be turning yesterday's relatively equable 'interview' into another such attack.

  42. You've linked to it here and here, for example.

    Isn't it rather odd to say that your reason for linking to a review which you have complained about so much is that you were provoked by subliminal messages in the strapline of our blog! If you don't like the review, why do you keep suggesting to people that they should read it?

    Many of your comments above suggest that you expect me to treat you politely and with respect, despite all of these shenanigans. Why would you expect someone you have persistently accused of dishonesty to be polite to you?

  43. You made all these points yesterday, Stephen, and I answered them. You were polite and relatively constructive yesterday. Was that a trap?

    Have I accused anyone of dishonesty, by the way?

  44. With regard to linking to all the 'Weirdtongue' reviews on the sales page, I thought it would have been wrong to leave out a link to the only 'bad' review, as other people may not agree with my perception of it. But, equally, I thought it also right - in accordance with my literary beliefs already explained - to append an authorial corollary to it.

  45. I suppose someone buying your book after reading that review can't say they weren't warned what to expect.

    Thanks for answering my questions as long as you did. I think you've provided a very useful illustration of the kind of thinking that can lie behind an author's decision to go on the offensive over a review.

  46. "Isn't it rather odd to say that your reason for linking to a review which you have complained about so much is that you were provoked by subliminal messages in the strapline of our blog!"

    It's the cumulative effect over the years, Stephen.
    I know some of these are niggly rather than serious, but just to give another example to add to those I listed above under my answer to 'your freedom of speech' point --
    In April 2012 you had an emblazoned banner heading to your Facebook page quoting me by name and that I had praised the whole of TQF #37, the book that contained the wacked-out article and John's review-under-contention itself.
    No wonder I originally assumed that your recent TQF banner quoting one of my stories about being 'poor in spirit' and 'completely bald' was yet another pop at me. Indeed, I thought your response to my complaint about that was a joke at the time (ie that the quote referred to you).
    I know all this may seem trivial to others reading it, but I am forced again to defend myself after what I considered a pleasingly and open-hearted day yesterday on this thread.

  47. Thanks for answering my questions as long as you did. I think you've provided a very useful illustration of the kind of thinking that can lie behind an author's decision to go on the offensive over a review.----------------

    Yes, I've enjoyed it - in the main!

  48. You guys are in it together!
    Longest ever TQF discussion.

    There's no such thing as bad publicity.

    I'll get me coat, and hat...

  49. Thanks, Howard. When I last looked there was another post on here with 66 comments! :|

  50. He he, I wondered why there were so many comments to this post. I'm not a writer, but thanks Stephen. I'm sharing this one :)