Hmm. It’s been a funny few weeks for disturbing stories in the writing world. And that’s not even mentioning certain other long-running controversies that make me want to crawl under the duvet until nuclear apocalypse occurs. The world really is going mad.
For those who haven’t been keeping up with the news, the Grauniad ran a piece by author Kathleen Hale. She’d read a bad review on Goodreads, and like any unhinged specimen of humanity decided to stalk the reviewer, culminating in turning up at their house to leave a book on their doorstep. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, it’s emerged she once poured peroxide over a girl who accused her mother of abuse. I think this open letter says it all very eloquently.
I’d love to say that’s all the madness that’s popped up, but no. It also turns out that a former Countdown contestant-turned-aspiring author wrote a blog post about his obsession with a contestant that turned into full-blown stalking. But it’s okay, guys, because apparently it’s ‘benevolent stalking’. Even when you also hunt down a one-star reviewer and glass her with a wine bottle. This is so horrifying, it’s making me yearn for the days when authors had public meltdowns because someone didn’t like a book about teddy bears in Venice. Sigh.
Here’s the thing. Having others criticise your writing is so hard. You are basically stripping naked, running around in front of some strangers and yelling ‘HERE IS MY SOUL LAID BARE PLEASE BE GENTLE’. The first few times I sent my words to someone else, no matter how constructive, is like someone kicking over the sandcastle you spent hours building. You get cross. Why didn’t they appreciate the true majesty of that adverb? How very dare they suggest you remove that passive voice? Philistines!
But you get over it. If you don’t get over it, you’ll never sit down, grit your teeth, turn on Track Changes, and work on refining those words until they’re the best they can be. Okay, so maybe it was more telling than showing there, or perhaps that cliché could do with pruning. That’s more like it, soldier! Come join us on #amediting and we shall make merry/sob into our coffee!
I’m not yet in the happy situation of having a book published and out in the world, but I can imagine that the anxiety is a billion times greater than just getting feedback from an editor or friend. But while it’s cool to have a (polite!) conversation with those guys about their feedback, it strikes me as madness to respond to negative reviews out in the wild.
Remember, folks- never read below the line. When was the last time that reading a Daily Mail/Comment is Free reply made you warm and fuzzy inside rather than despairing for humanity? The best you can do, I suspect, is take any constructive comments onboard, have a weep/shoot some goons in Goldeneye/pour a stiff drink and MOVE THE HELL ON. If you’re getting genuine abuse and threats? Report, report, report. The big craggy publishing industry mountain you’ll have to scale needs the slime scraped off the bottom, for sure.
I don’t really want to wake up every day and read that creatives, especially women, are being made to fear for their safety because they had the audacity to express an opinion. This is a truly terrifying prospect, and it belongs in a bad horror novel, not real life. The cynic in me despairs that a comfortably-off white woman like Hale might only be rapped on the knuckles for a PR gaffe, keep her book deal, and be on her way to harass other critics. Perhaps, though, the powers that be are too busy arresting teachers for writing sci-fi novels or complaining about fiction in which an already-dead woman is killed in the past. What on earth is wrong with the universe? And why are newspapers like the Graun legitimising someone who is clearly mentally unstable breaking the law?
(Side rant: while it’s often true that there’s a bit of authors in their characters, that’s not the same as, like, being them. It would be pretty cool to morph into a horse and chow down on my enemies, turn into a seal and take a dip in the Water of Leith or trundle around causing trouble like a juvenile delinquent. But I didn’t write a book about this girl who proofreads by day and refreshes Tumblr by night. Because that would be a bit dull. If it makes you feel better, I’ll just flip this table and swear a bit.)
As an author, you’re entitled to your view. You’re entitled to wield the banhammer on legitimate trolls. You’re not entitled to hound complete randomers because your feelings got a bit trampled. Haters gonna hate. And word of mouth is powerful. Just look at the bloggers now refusing to buy or review Hale’s work.
Goodreads and the numerous book blogs out there can be a phenomenally good source of feedback and reading suggestions. I don’t want them going the way of the ~other~ Gate. I might have to use them in future. I’m totally fine with the fact that some people aren’t going to like my writing, by the way. I have no plans to turn up at your house, write you into a wish fulfillment novel or similar actions that would paint me as anything other than a lovably eccentric bag of squirrels. Let’s not all become Overly Attached Author. This would be bad for all concerned.