My latest release, Hot Bayou Nights, has officially been out for almost two months now. Although it’s gotten some nice reviews on Amazon, the truth is that it’s with a sense of trepidation when I check to see if any new ones have been added. (And yes, I know I shouldn’t be doing it at all). I’d like more good reviews, sure, because all authors want to get the word out on their books. But the emphasis here is on good reviews. What I fear, even more than a shortage of Ben and Jerry’s peanut butter cup or the release of a new song from Miley Cyrus, is the whip-lash sting of an vengeful critic.
Receiving an angry, bitter, or viciously sarcastic review can leave the recipient feeling as if they’ve been kicked in the gut by a crazed mule. The nasty reviews stay with us, too, much more so than the positive ones. Scientists label it the “negativity bias.” It’s been hardwired into our brains since caveman days when living depended upon remembering what could kill you. Thus, the bad stuff sticks.
What stumps me about critics who post scathing reviews is where the breathtaking bitterness comes from. I mean, really, why be so spiteful? What’s even worse is when an ill-natured review gets personal. Former New York magazine theater critic John Simon was famous for the vituperative diatribes he wrote when he disliked a play, but he took things too far when he attacked the actors personally. This, for example, is what he wrote about Barbra Streisand’s nose: “[it] cleaves the giant screen from east to west,” and “zigzags across our horizon like a bolt of fleshy lightning.” What, exactly, would be the point behind that? How does it relate to her performance? Where does the viciousness come from? Some would chalk it up to jealousy, but I’m not buying it. As biting as his criticisms were, Simon could be just as effusive with his praise. So if he’s just a frustrated wanna be actor, as some would have you believe as the reason for his surliness, why laud anyone at all?
Many writers, those in romance particularly, are familiar with last year’s saga of debut author Lauren Howard. For those who happened to have missed it, Howard was about to self publish Learning to Love when, before it even came out, she began receiving poor reviews on goodreads.com. As a newbie to the site Howard questioned how this could happen prior to the book’s release, and the response was what she described as a form of virtual bullying. One reviewer is said to have claimed that she’d rather be sodomized in prison than read Howard’s book. The whole incident so distressed Lauren that she never published Learning to Love. It also launched an anti-bullying site in response, stopthegrbullies.com.
As authors we need to have four-feet-of-rebar thick skin. Not everyone is going to like our books, and they’re not going to be afraid to tell us. We have to deal with it. Get out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat. Free speech is a beautiful thing and those of us in the western world are blessed with the right to use it. Nonetheless, what shouldn’t ever have to be tolerated is the personal attack. Not everything is fair game for the critic. The product we put out, sure. The fact that maybe we could afford to shed a few pounds, or that we come from a poor family? Unless those facts relate to the product, I say no way. And to the bitter critic I would add, have you considered a course on positive affirmation?