Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten

So, unless you have been living under a rock this week, you have no doubt heard about author Jacqueline Howett’s rather spectacular internet rant over a review of her book. (The whole thing can be found here in case you are interested, but I warn you, it’ll set your teeth on edge).

Now, I can hear you say, how bad could the review have been? Did it tear her book apart? Criticise her worth as a human being? Her morals? Her beliefs? No. It just mentioned that the bad grammar and frequent typos in the self published The Greek Seaman distracted the reader from the story. In all the review was a reasonably fair one, and quite mild in its tone, even finding several good things to say. But that didn’t stop Ms Howett from launching a scathing attack on reviewer Big Al, the result of which has shown a side of her that she really should have kept out of the public eye.

I can understand the urge to respond to a review, but it never goes down well and usually just ends of making you look like an asshat (official terminology). Not only do you come away looking childish and petty, but you alienate your readers and loose respect from the writing and reading communities, but you can kiss your reputation goodbye. While some writers can recover, or at least continue, for a little known writer with a badly written, self-published book and a worse attitude, the chances of forging a professional writing career are virtually non-existent.

There used to be a rather interesting blog from an aspiring writer named Jenny Edwards called Tales of a Rejection Queen (http://rejectionqueen.blogspot.com). The site was taken down a while ago, but it’s probably still cached if you felt like searching for it. It started out as a place where Ms Edwards shared her rejection letters from agents and publishers and commented on her feelings about them. But, as is the nature of these sites, it eventually descended into spite and vitriol and a rather infamous rant where she named various big name editors in a four-letter word tirade about how stupid they were because they clearly couldn’t see how wonderful her book was. Several of those she named actually commented about the incident on their own blogs later, and, given that editors and agents have a good memory and actually talk to each other, it’s a given that she’s pretty much ended her own career before it started.

These rants all seem to stem from an author’s belief that their work is so amazing that it doesn’t need edited, or, in many cases, even run through a spell checker. I usually hear those rants from new writers who are still finding their way and are usually so buoyed up on the euphoria of having actually finished a book, that they can almost be forgiven for not knowing any better. But every so often an old hand goes nova.

Anne Rice is a case in point. On the release of Blood Canticle there were some fans who felt that it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Instead of accepting it and letting it go, Rice took to Amazon to vent her frustrations at the stupidity of her readers. The full rant is on Amazon still, buried among the other reviews. You can however find it easily here http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Rice_out (where would
I be without you ED?).

What possessed Rice to do such a thing has sparked a lot of debate over the last couple of years, with many willing to put it down to emotional difficulties following the death of her husband at the time the book came out. But others are less kind and put it down to ego, and with comments like “You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective’’ trotted out as defence against negative reviews, who can blame them? This reminded me of the many rants I have heard from new writers when faced with criticism of their work ‘But you’re reading it wrong’ they tend to bleat. It doesn’t matter if you have a Pulitzer or if this is the first time you’ve written more than your own name, if you have to tell me how I should read your work then you aren’t writing it properly. Don’t blame me for your failings.

Of course, having someone else rant for you doesn’t help either. Laurell K Hamilton found that out when her husband rushed to her defence in the face of criticism over her Anita Blake novels, which once were brilliant, and more recently have descended into little more than porn. The resulting alienation of her readership, and response to her fans (it’s all their fault don’t cha know?) was not a pretty sight.

The Hamilton incident kicked off when some fans posted negative reviews and comments on the guestbook of her official website (the guest book is gone now, but you can read the rant here: http://www.journalfen.net/community/fandom_wank/698174.html), and Hamilton responded with a massive 2000 word rant which started out demanding apologies from her readers, and then kicked off on the sympathy grab with a dying relative and how she doesn’t have to share details of her life with her fans, while doing it. What relevance this had to a bad book is still a bit of a mystery.

Needless to say these are extreme examples, and generally didn’t go down well. A good rule of thumb for a writer is to never tell their readers that they are stupid, or make your readers feel that you look down on them, because at the end of the day, it’s those readers who are paying for that house you live in, and that publishing contract you have would be toilet paper if no one read your book.

Think about it for a minute.

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