Authors Behaving Badly (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

First Wednesday in April, and that means another installment of Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)
Criticism, whether good or bad, is something that takes place in our personal and professional lives. But let’s face it, we can’t please everyone. Whether you perform music or write novels or paints murals or make films, an artist/musician/writer/director knows not everyone will appreciate your work. When you put your work out there, for public consumption, it’s inevitable that an artist’s work will draw some negative reviews. Getting a bad review sucks. Whether it’s a bad performance review at work, or a bad review for a novel you’ve written, you take it personally. Other people like it, why does this other person dislike my novel?

We want to please everyone. The fact that the books we write or are going to write aren’t universally adored fuels our anxieties and insecurities. I say balls to that. Forget pleasing everyone. The only person you’re supposed to please is yourself, bad reviews be damned. Of course they’ll sting, but the good reviews make up for those stings. They’re the salve that soothe those stings.

There’s always a silver lining to a bad review, if one reads a bad review closely. For example, if my manager tells me I dropped the ball on a certain project I was working on, I’ll take that as my cue to look back and understand where it was I failed, and how I can improve my performance the next time around. I’ve had my work torn apart many times during writers’ groups, and I’ve resist the urge to yell and scream at those who critiqued my work. I’ve also been on the other side, giving my honest feedback. It’s going to hurt, but I look at it this way: as much as I don’t like you blowing smoke up my ass, I won’t blow smoke up yours.

The point is, there’s a right way to accept criticism, and one should never accept criticism personally. Take the high road, you know, and use criticism as a learning tool.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of writers that do take criticism personally. These writers are known as the Authors Behaving Badly, reacting poorly and unprofessionally to negative criticism and reviews, and sometimes resorting to stalking and bullying against the reader who dared post a negative review against them online. Here’s a few examples:

– Author Phil Torcivia strongly believes that negative criticism has no place on the Internet, and should be direct to the author discreetly. Okay, fine. I don’t agree, but fine, that’s his opinion. But he takes this belief over the line by insisting that he cannot find a way to forgive the person who posted a negative review of novel, because forgiving such a sin only allows her to do the same to other writers. What the fuck? Wait, it gets better…he concludes his rant by declaring that revenge is the only alternative, and he will post a negative review of her novel, just so she can get a taste of her own medicine! TAKE THAT, YOU SHREW!

He gets his shit jumped for displaying such obnoxious behavior, though. Kudos to the readers of this blog for calling out his bullshit.

Melissa Douthit reacts to a negative review of another author’s novel (again: not hers) by launching a personal attack against the reviewer, who maintains a pseudonym and avatar that isn’t her. Douthit reveals the reviewer’s identity, posting her real photo, her home address, and her e-mail address. A classic example of cyberbullying. How disgusting.

This was a fight Melissa Douthit lost, and lost badly.

– This one is just plain silly: not only did Emily Giffin’s husband react badly to a negative review posted on Amazon by slamming the reviewer online, but then Emily Giffin’s assistant joins the fray and blast anyone who dares give Emily Giffin’s new novel a bad review, and, to make matters even worse, Emily Giffin herself passive-aggressively posts update after update both admonishing her husband for reacting badly to negative reviews, and then post more updates whining about getting bad reviews. To make matters worse, some of Giffin’s fans decide to take matters into their own hands and start harrassing the woman who posted the first negative review that started this frascas in the first place.

What a dumb shit Emily Giffin comes across as, especially for a well-known author such as her. A little fucking restraint would have helped her a great deal here.

– Finally, a negative review of “The Greek Seaman” prompts an EPIC meltdown from Jacqueline Howett, the novel’s author. An example of an Author Behaving Badly so unbelievably badly, this ended up making the rounds all over the Internet. If you haven’t read this, enjoy. If you haven’t read this one in a while, take a read and remember Howett’s epic fail.

I can’t help but shake my head when I read these examples of Authors Behaving Badly. Reading these meltdowns closely, you can see how deeply the insecurities run through them. I mean, if you’re spending hours concocting fantasties about exacting revenge against readers who’ve dared to post bad reviews, or clashing with readers on GoodReads or Amazon or any other forum, then why are you really writing?

Bad reviews are inevitable. Remember that. So stop being so insecure about bad reviews.


40 thoughts on “Authors Behaving Badly (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

  1. Oh, my, I clicked through those links and felt like a fly on the wall around some juicy gossip. Bad reviews no doubt elicit a visceral response, and an author’s first reaction is defensiveness. I got a bad review on Amazon, and it took strength and patience not to respond to it. But I knew doing so would only make things worse, so I didn’t, and instead I waited a couple days and posted a blog post on how to deal with a bad book review (in a humorous manner). And it’s interesting, because if you just ignore the review, you’ll soon find other Amazon reviewers coming to your defense and leaving a comment on the bad review, so it all balances out in the end. We can’t please everyone, nor should we expect to. Bad reviews only make a book more credible in my opinion.

    Great post! I’m impressed by the amount of time it must have taken to put together.

    • I remember you asking how you should respond to the negative review you received. I’m glad you took the time to step back and see it for what it was: a negative review, and nothing more. We can’t please everyone. Nor can we hunt down and kill those we can’t please.

  2. While in my heart, I can understand the emotions writers experience when they receive a bad review, there is never a good excuse for bad behavior, poor manners or temper tantrums. What happened to self-control?

  3. Always remarkable to me how personally people take criticism. I’m an editor. It’s my job to tell people when their meaning is unclear, or their language is awkward, or their work just plain sucks. How can you get better if you can’t take criticism? I suppose some people believe that they’re born with perfect writing talent. Pretty exhausting.

    • That’s because some people automatically assume criticism means you suck. If I tell you your story’s got too many POVs, and you’re harboring a love affair with run-on sentences, that’s me giving you my honest feedback, not me telling you you’re a pile of shit who should never write again.

      And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, hey there, Queens Girl!

  4. While I certainly enjoy getting props from people, I don’t think that people having a negative reaction to the story is a bad thing. (Grammar and spelling errors is a whole different can of words, er, worms) I’m not out to shock people, but it someone feels strongly about my story, positively or negatively, then I have done my job to create an emotional connection with the reader. Especially if book addresses social issues, some people will take a stance on the issue and not how it relates to the story. That’s just the way it is.

    If I had one good review and a hundred bad reviews, maybe I’d get worked up about it. But just one negative review wouldn’t be enough for me to lose sleep over.

    And just a small spoiler for my short story collaboration project, I might be doing something in the next section that readers will dislike. So… maybe I’m trying to psych myself up for it too.

    • Exactly. I’m more excited about the notion that someone’s read my work, and that it has elicited some kind of reaction, good or bad. I can handle bad reviews. I can certain handle good ones as well.

      I’m curious about your short story collaboration. Should I prepare an angry mob with pitchforks and torches by their sides?

  5. Alas, Howett seems to have deleted most of her comments. I can infer from the reactions to them, however, what sort of insane meltdown she had.

    I do hope that when I get my first scathing review I can act at least sort of like an adult about it!

  6. Gus, what a great reminder to us all about how fragile our creative egos can be. We, too, find that we too often tend to beat ourselves up over bad reviews and at that moment ignore all the good ones.

    We especially liked your reminder that real joy should be the writing and the passion that goes into the process. You rock for bringing this up

    • Paul McCartney once said in an interview that you never remember 99 good reviews, but one bad review always sticks in your craw, and that’s unfortunate. Even the best ones get lousy reviews.

      People who are too sensitive to handle bad reviews shouldn’t write, then. If you’re going to put your work out there like that, you need a thick skin. Clearly, these authors above don’t possess thick skins.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kym and Mark!

  7. While I think everyone is free of expressing their opinion, I think keeping good manners is not opposed to that freedom. It’s childlike and immature that one responds with the same rudeness and aggressiveness as the one that presumably insulted you with his/her critic, let alone the so called “revenge”. That certainly talks about a person’s quality.

  8. Classic.
    For me, constructive criticism is a high compliment. I hate when I give people a beta-copy of something, and their response to “Any constructive criticism?” is “Nope. It was good!”
    There’s always something that can be improved.
    These authors behaving badly may be reacting to perceived helplessness in that they can’t change their work after release, but I read a post (and I wish I’d saved the link) all about how to edit your ebook based on reviews AFTER its been put out for publication.
    Anyway, as a guy who gives bad reviews regularly, (*ahem* shameless plug for my blog *ahem*) I guess I better watch out!

    • To your point, the Authors Behaving Badly more often than not tend to be indie or self-published writers whose work tends to be singled out for either spelling/grammatical errors or clunky writing that could be fixed with either the use of an editor – which they often can’t afford – or the ability to edit your own work. It’s almost as if they’re lashing out at reviewers because they’re confirming exactly what makes them insecure as writers. Just a thought.

  9. Hey Gus…sorry it took a few days. Lost power on IWSG day due to a storm and didn’t get it back until after midnight. Been at the hospital ever since with my Mom. She’s doing okay now, but I haven’t slept due to discomfort and a pesky little alarm that goes off every…all the time. Finally, I got up and figured I’d try to do some work.

    At first, from the title, I thought, “Okay…Gus is about to tell me to keep my mouth shut about his cover.” (Thanks for the personal email, btw,). I read your post through email, and the links and honestly, was appalled by the nastiness of these ABB. No wonder Phil Torcivia is divorced. Since that was back in July, he must be up to his twentieth cat by now just to say he got some pussy today.

    And Emily…what a clusterfuck of bad choices followed up by lame bullshit excuses and downright lies.

    Loved this watchdog post! I’ve stuck foot in mouth before and have regretted it, but this taught me a big lesson of when NOT to do it.

    • …At first, from the title, I thought, “Okay…Gus is about to tell me to keep my mouth shut about his cover.”

      SERIOUSLY? If I had anything to tell you, I’d tell you privately, and not blast you via a blog! But thanks for the feedback; I didn’t get the chance to thank you earlier.

      • No, no, no. I wasn’t serious. At all. Just a poor attempt at a humorous transition from blog to comment referring to a previous event. You know…bring it all full circle. Writer’s trick.

        Still at the hospital. You’d think I’d be getting a lot done, but not so. Keeping her company is quality time…

        Yeah…save the blasts for private, the kudos and thanks and adoration and admiration and flattery and all the other good things that you think I am for total public display. I’m sure there’s a way to insert that stuff in almost every post you make. I’ll be looking for it. 🙂

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  13. Amen! I am a book reviewer in my spare time and all of the above mentioned authors are on my “Do Not Read” list thanks to their behavior.

    I just don’t understand why they take bad reviews not only so personally but to a whole new level. It’s a personal opinion, it’s not the end of the world. Frankly, when I see a book with only five star, glowing reviews, I’m suspicious. But that’s just me!

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