Saturday, June 6, 2015

WARNING: Do Not Engage {Writing Advice}

 Hello friends. Life is smashing right now. I've finished up shows (a post on that soon) and my writing is coming along. But today's post isn't about my writing, or about my life. Today's post is on a topic that every writer should know about, and understand the proper response to.

 I try to avoid confrontation online. Sometimes I post on something that I disagree with, but I try to do so in a manner that is not rude or thoughtless. People are more likely to respect what you have to say if you respect them too. I am also not likely to post about anything like such on this blog, but today I am making an exception. What I am about to write about has nothing to do with me, really. The only reason it means anything to me is because I am a writer and I see something to learn from it. So today I am going to talk a little about what I like to think of as a writer's rule. DO NOT ENGAGE.

 Whether you are writing stories on a fanfiction website, publishing your poem in a local newspaper, or writing a blog post like this one, you are opening yourself up to criticism. Some criticism can be kind, something that will encourage you and is relevant to your writing. Some criticism can be painful, but every type will help turn you into the writer you are meant to be.

There is only one way to avoid criticism, and that is to not write at all. So you have the choice of not doing the thing you love, or experiencing some criticizing words. 

 The DO NOT ENGAGE rule is the best protection you have as a writer. An author who accepts criticism graciously is one to be admired. They are willing to grow. In reviews and life, the best course of action is usually to not say anything, or if you do, to be kind with your words. Your actions will show who you are better than any words you can think up to defend yourself. 

 I'm acquainted with many writers, and many have said that they don't even read reviews of their works anymore. This is actually a wise act of letting go, but one I imagine is incredibly hard to do. To let go does not mean you don't care about your readers. You just want to stay your best self and not be upset about bad reviews, etc. 

 Why am I discussing this of all topics? Today I saw a post in a couple of my writing groups about how not to respond to reviewers. The link attached led to a goodreads review by a girl who happened to rate a book one star. You can read the review and following conversation here.

 In case you aren't aware, goodreads is a social media site for readers (and authors to an extent.) It is a fun site that I truly enjoy. It gives you the opportunity to have lists of books that you want to read, are currently reading, or have read. You can also rate and give short reviews on those books. Authors can connect with readers who fan or friend them, and you can have your own friends on there as well. It gives you the opportunity to see what your friends are reading and what they think. I love it.

 The reader has the chance to express their true feelings about something in as few or many words as they desire. The above mentioned reviewer wrote this review:

 "This was unnecessarily wordy and pretentious. I just did not enjoy it at all. Which makes me sad because the summary says it's for fans of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and World of Warcraft. Aka three of my favorite things. So how did I loathe this so entirely from page one? I don't know."

  I mean... OUCH. That was probably pretty painful to the author. One star reviews are no fun, but I'm sure we've all given them or thought of giving them. As a writer I try to avoid them simply because I know how much work can go into a book. I think the lowest I've given is two stars. But that doesn't mean a person doesn't have the right to give a one star, and really this review wasn't as scathing as it could have been. I think it was just the reviewer's own opinions, which goodreads gives her the safety to show.

 Until... The author decided to break the rule of engagement. I mean, sure, it's not an official rule written down in the ultimate handbook for writers or something, but it is a mostly unspoken rule that most authors live by. 

 Now, my first advice for you, if you are going to break this rule and refuse to back down... Be civil in your response. The author did okay at this, if some of his phrases were a bit... passive aggressive. 

His reply: 
"Sorry that my book evoked such a horrible response. May I ask how you discovered it? I'm an indie author. I work over 100 hours a week to get my books to succeed so that I don't have to be a slave anymore. This review is not good for my business, so unless your desire is to ruin my dreams, it would mean a great deal if you could remove this review from my work and forget about it. But if it's your desire to hurt me financially and ruin my business, then it's understandable why you would post such a harmful review. I'm just curious as to how you discovered the book, as most of my sales are made through people I meet on social media."

 Okay, so maybe a bit more than passive aggressive. While a few of his sentences are calm enough, some are outright whacky sounding, but just defensive. The reviewer responded again, offering to edit her review to give her reasons for disliking it, but refusing to remove it as she would feel that dishonest. She also suggested the author get used to not always getting great reviews as it is a part of life. And that is when insanity broke loose. 

 Before you could spit the author was posting an essay long comment in which he attacked the reviewer. I won't write out the entire post because of it's length, but here are a few golden bits: 

 "I'm just always amazed that someone would go out of their way to slander someone's work like this."

"I would've rather you got your money back than curse my book with your toxic opinion of it because it's "in your rights to do so."

 He went on to say many, many interesting things. In fact, here is a screen shot of most of his response to her. 

This is when definite alarm bells went off in my head. I won't post or discuss the rest of the thread in great length, but it continued like this. The reviewer continued attempting civility, while others rose up in support of her. The author continued to attack her AND the other commenters, accusing them all of being under the intelligence necessary to read the book and below him, etc, etc, etc. And it continued. For about six pages.

 This, my friends, is how you can irreparably injure your writing career. I did not write this blog post to attack the author, I wrote this to give example of what not to do as a professional author.

1) Do Not Engage - It isn't worth it. This author will suffer far more for replying than he would if he had just accepted this review and moved on.

2) If you do talk to readers, ask for advice on improvement, etc.

3) Never insult potential readers, or anyone for that matter. It isn't professional, and for a writer it is career suicide.

 I could probably write an even lengthier post detailing every do, do not, etc. But I don't know everything. I'm growing too. But I believe every experience is for learning and this one shows me the negative effect of thinking too highly of your own work... and of engaging with a negative reviewer.

 It isn't worth it, people. The author's book went from an average of four stars, to an average of little over one, and he made many people never want to read one of his books. These people will spread the story. The author still believes himself to be a victim, accusing the reviewer and all her supporters of bullying.

 This shows us the danger of what we could become. You are a writer. You aren't a god. Your work can always improve. If you think you are infallible, you will find yourself falling the hardest in the end. 

 This, my friends, is my own little warning. A humble spirit will get you farther in life than anything such as this author's response. 

 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. ~ Psalm 51:17 

 Your story is worth it. You are worth it. Take any critiques and use them to grow stronger. You are a writer. You are a strong creation because you were made to take the worst criticism and weave them into the greatest stories. Prove your worth. 

~ a rambling author 

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