Wrath Of The Critic


Women with whipBy Elizabeth Shore

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?

P.S. I’m pleased to announce that Hot Bayou Nights has recently been named a finalist in the New Jersey RWA Golden Leaf contest. Now that’s what I call a good review. 🙂

The South's never been hotter. Click it and see.

The South’s never been hotter. Click it and see.

Golden Leaf Finalist

 

 

 

 

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17 Comments

  • Liz Everly
    September 3, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Congrats on that nomination! About reviews. I’ve gotten several not-so-good ones that I can see have not really read my books. Ain’t that a kick in the pants? Also, some of these reviewers on “questionable” blogs are reading 10 to 15 books a week and “reviewing” them? WTF? Also, I DO think there are a lot of shenanigans that go on, wherein competition plays into some of these reviews. I totally get that my books are not for everyone–but at the same time, a sense of some kind of professionalism should apply.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      September 3, 2014 at 9:36 am

      I got a review once on a historical book of mine where the reviewer dinged me for mentioning chocolate when chocolate hadn’t yet been discovered. Only thing is, I had no reference whatsoever to chocolate anywhere in the book. Doh!

      • Liz Everly
        September 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

        I am not surprised. Unfortunately. But I am sorry that happened to you.

  • Madeline Iva
    September 3, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Yeah, congrats! I was actually shocked to see your good news buried way under the topic of hateful criticism. (???) What made you want to write about this topic THIS WEEK of all weeks?

    You have to be sensitive to be a writer–or any kind of an artist–yet it’s not a career for the soft shelled. I have more affinity with tortoises every day. ;>

    • Elizabeth Shore
      September 3, 2014 at 9:33 am

      Thanks for the accolades. I’m happy about it, of course, but it also got me thinking about reviews in general, and then bad ones, and so…

      Yeah, I’m with you. Being a tortoise seems OK. Plus, you get to live for a long time.

    • Kelly Janicello
      September 3, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      I agree Madeline. I think many times bad reviews come from other writers who are just trying to make their own work look good. Either that they just have to come up with something critical to say even though there is nothing wrong with the book. And if its not a writer well then they should try to string a boat load of words together.

      I am crossing my fingers for you in NJ.

      • Elizabeth Shore
        September 3, 2014 at 7:15 pm

        Yeah, sometimes I wonder if people just feel they have to say something critical to make themselves feel good.

        On the positive side, thanks for the crossed fingers!

  • C. Margery Kempe
    September 3, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Then the anti-bully groups start bullying people and it never ends. I’m using a quote from a bad review for promo of one of my books because it summed up the book perfectly.

    Congrats on the nom.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      September 3, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Haha! I love it. Use the bad review in a positive way.

      Thanks, CM!

  • Megan Morgan
    September 3, 2014 at 10:37 am

    I try to feel sorry for people who viciously and cruelly attack things with unfair, unconstructive negativity–they’re usually the same people who in every day life never have a good thing to say and it’s usually because they’re so angry/dissatisfied/upset with something in their own life that lashing out is the only way they can deal with their issues. That being said! It’s very hard to remember the zen motto ‘all anger is fear’ when someone chooses you as their target. I think it’s important not to react publicly, because they’re just getting what they want: the satisfaction of seeing they wounded you. However, maybe it helps a little to remember this person’s life is so full of anger and hatred it spills out into everything they do and hurts innocent people–and then be grateful your own life is much more blessed.

    Someone once told me “a negative review is just one person’s opinion…but remember, so is a positive one.” At the end of the day you have to shake off the bad AND the good, and just get back to writing.

  • Megan Morgan
    September 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Oh, and congrats on making finalist! That’s awesome!

    • Elizabeth Shore
      September 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Thanks, Megan! I’m flattered to get the nod. We can all use pats on the back from time to time

      I also try to keep in mind the “all anger is fear” motto. And you’re so right … if we’re *not* living with the kind of toxic anger that some critics must have churning away inside of them, we can consider ourselves blessed indeed.

  • Barbara Mikula
    September 3, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Elizabeth, congratulations on your nomination. I actually read the book and left a 5- star review on Amazon (Bambi in Davie). I’ve recently had an issue with a reviewer on Bookstrand.com (my publisher’s website). She claims to hate my books, but continues to buy and review them. Really. I wish she would go away. I don’t need the two bucks I earn from her purchase and she totally upsets my wah (LOL) – but don’t tell her that! One of her complaints was that she didn’t get the acronyms (APB-All Points Bulletin, or BOLO-Be On the Lookout) even though I defined them in the text for the people from Mars (or Australia) who might not know what they mean. Critics are something we all have to live with, but a bad review does bring us down. And the good ones do lift us up. One recent reviewer said that my book was “so much more than erotic romance.” I was thrilled. – Skye Michaels

    • Elizabeth Shore
      September 4, 2014 at 9:42 am

      I saw that review and really appreciate it! Thanks so much, Skye.

      About that reviewer, definitely sounds to me like someone who’s jealous of your talent. If she truly didn’t like them she’d waste neither time nor money.

  • elfahearn
    September 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Hurt people hurt people, they say, but I think in John Simon’s case readers derived such titillation from his nastiness, he was urged to new heights of horribleness. There are probably a million reasons why people write vicious reviews, but none of those reasons are justifiable.
    BTW, Hot Bayou Nights is an awesome read and I gave it five fat, well-deserved stars. Good luck with the Golden Leaf. I’ll be rootin’ for you.

  • Kat Attalla
    September 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I once got a scathing review just because the reader did not think that my hero look like the man on the cover of the book. It’s all subjective. And I know it doesn’t make you feel better when somebody writes something bad.

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