When I am helping a friend or colleague prepare for a confrontation with a coworker, boss, family member or similar individual, I often ask the same question:
What is your expectation for a reasonable outcome?
For example, if you know that your supervisor has strong, seemingly unwavering feelings about a decision that he has made, but you disagree with that decision, is it reasonable to expect that you will be able to change his mind or alter the way he makes decisions in the future by confronting him?
If the answer is no (and quite often it is), then one must assess the benefit of confronting the supervisor at all. Usually, my advice is to avoid such confrontations, since they tend to yield only negative results.
This is the question that an author must ask himself when deciding if it is worth going on the offensive and challenging a negative reviewer, as so many have done this past year.
In June, Alice Hoffman referred to a critic as a “moron” and an “idiot” on Twitter after The Boston Globe ran a negative review about her novel, THE STORY SISTERS. Three days later Hoffman’s Twitter account had disappeared and she had issued an apology.
That same month, Alaine de Botton posted a comment on the personal blog of reviewer Caleb Crain, who had written unfavorably about his latest book, THE PLEASURES AND SORROWS OF WORK. Among other things, Botton wrote:
“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.”
Not the best way to endear yourself to the public.
In both these cases, I would have advised the writers to refrain from commenting at all, since there was no expectation for a reasonable outcome. In each case, the reviewer was not going to change his mind about the book, and there was no way in hell that any public sympathy would be garnered through the vitriol that these authors used.
But at least they used their names when commenting.
Author Candace Sams went on the offensive against an Amazon reviewer LB Taylor after he gave her novel, ELECTRA GALAXY’S INTERSELLER FELLER, a one-star review on the Amazon.com website. Sams attempted to attribute some of the problems with her book to her editor and then informed the reviewer and his many commenters that she intends to report them to the FBI.
But rather than commenting under her own name, she used the pseudonym Niteflyer One. About half-a-second after she began commenting, savvy Amazon users had identified her as the author.
Shortly thereafter, she deleted all of her comments from the thread.
While I disagree with the actions of all three authors, it’s Sams with whom I find the most fault. If you’re going to criticize anyone in a public forum, at least have the courage and decency to attach your name to the criticism. While I question Hoffman’s and Botton’s judgment, I do not question their integrity. They disagreed with a review and made their voice heard. They stood behind their remarks.
Sams chose to hide behind a blanket of anonymity, but her blanket ended up being as thick as cheap toilet paper, as it often is in the digital world. She acted like a coward. Her actions were underhanded and dishonest. In the end, she looked like a fool.
I despise the anonymous attack and am glad that Sams was exposed by the Amazon user-base. Anonymity is a powerful, deceitful, insidious and gutless means by which a individual can lie, exaggerate, mischaracterize and slander without threat of retribution or rebuttal. It must be rejected and renounced at every turn.
Thankfully, I have never felt the urge to respond to a negative review. Even more thankfully, they have been few and far between. Of the 51 reviews on Amazon, only four of them are one or two-star reviews. But even if more had been negative, I cannot envision myself attacking the authors for their reviews.
It all goes back to reasonable expectations. I never expected everyone to like the book, so I knew that there would probably be some negative reviews. Drawing attention to those negative reviewers by attacking them, both anonymously or publicly, didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, as a handful of authors discovered in 2009.