Little did I know.
If you haven’t seen it yet, a Goodreads user writing under the handle “Blythe” wrote a review of Hale’s book. Hale thought “Blythe” got it factually wrong, and took issue with the tone. “Blythe” harassed Hale via social media and did everything she could to bring down Hale’s ratings, including commenting on positive reviews of the book to say that reviewer had it wrong.
The We Hate Hale camp’s position is summed up nicely here.
And here’s a post on Bustle with a more nuanced view.
“Book bloggers,” which appears to mean anyone who has a blog and writes about books, or puts comments on other sites that write about books, are shocked—shocked!—that trashing people’s work on the internet as meanly as possible may well be free speech but is not in fact free from consequences.
I can't work out why this article was published. What purpose it could possibly serve, except to frighten and intimidate bloggers.
— Samantha Shannon (@say_shannon) October 18, 2014
The book blogging community is vital & wonderful. I am so sad/sorry about those who may no longer feel they can safely express themselves.The pearl-clutchers now terrified to post their opinions are laboring under the impression they are reviewers.
— courtnival of souls (@courtney_s) October 18, 2014
This is not to say all comments must be positive. Or represent an in-depth engagement with the text leading to a thoughtful assessment of the positives and negatives and where within its particular canon the book should be placed (that would be a “review”). But little gems like
are the moral equivalent of the guy yelling “you suck!” at a comedian. “Fuck this” doesn’t add anything to the dialogue. It’s not even a statement of opinion. It’s a deliberate, nasty jab intended to hurt the author personally and financially. And for those still heady with the power to depress sales and writers, it’s not as retribution-free as it looked.
As writers, we’re counseled not to engage with reviews. At all. Ever. And for thoughtful reviews—or even statements of opinion such as “Bad writing and it was a waste of time to read it”—that’s still the best policy. A genuine review by a qualified reviewer can, after the initial pain subsides, be tremendously helpful (it’s usually the first time we’ve heard from someone not already in our corner).
But for the assholes yelling “Fuck this”? Don’t engage as the writer with a reviewer. Squash them like a comic with a heckler.
STEP ONE: The heckler must be loud enough to be heard by everyone else.
If you can’t hear them clearly, nobody else can either, and putting down that heckler makes you look mean. For writers, this means don’t seek it out. If you can’t “hear” it, chances are most people outside that immediate community can’t either.
But if it’s coming across your social media, and other people have first identified it as mean, so it’s not just your tender sensibilities? Get on that shit.
STEP TWO: Only engage if you can win.
You’re not in this to be reasonable. You don’t want an apology, an acknowledgement, a recognition or to present your own case. You want to crush. Make them look like an idiot spewing meaningless vitriol.
Mom, please stop using the Internet.
Craft your response like poetry. Cynical, funny, poetry. You know full well you’re poking an asshole with a stick, and isn’t that funny, gang, when we’re all in it together? The same jackasses who “Oooooooo” with the heckler will laugh at them—even louder, because you one-upped the guy who thought he was smart. The audience doesn’t actually give a shit about who’s “right,” and they aren’t smart enough to tell the difference anyway. (Individual audience members are plenty smart, but the pack is only as smart as the dumbest and most-easily-offended member.) They will side with whoever is the most entertaining, so be that person.
STEP THREE: Be prepared for even more fallout.
They might have more words in them. They might be smarter, or more obsessive than you. They might look you up online and trash you everywhere else they can.
Then again, you might get an essay out of it.
Yes, some parts of the Internet are elegant, intellectual salons. But most mass-review sites are little more than fanboys squeeing and high-school mean girls using authors as cannon-fodder. Every now and then someone says something worth hearing, if only by accident, but why wade through the pettiness to find it? Get a friend to scan for pull-quotes. Then go buy somebody else’s one-star book.
Allison K Williams is a freelance writer and editor based in Dubai. Her previous work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Brevity and the New York Times. She blogs at www.idowords.net and edits at www.unkindeditor.com