Authors Behaving Badly: How Negative Reviews Send Them Off the Rails

iStock_000010017317XLargeIt’s not uncommon to see or hear about movie stars, singers, or politicians responding badly to news broadcasted about themselves. You can’t stand in a grocery store line without noticing all the headlines splashed across the magazines at the end of the aisle, or you’re watching the news or listening to the radio and you hear about how someone went completely off the rails.

This happens to authors too. They read a bad review about their book or see a negative comment on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, etc. They get angry and lash out. Now, most of them regret their actions, at least they make a public apology. However, their actions linger. People remember.

In 2014, when the New York Times published their “100 Notable Books of 2014,” author Ayelet Waldman didn’t make the list. She fired off several Twitter messages, including one that stated “Fuck the fucking NY Times.” She later mentioned that “social media and impulse control issues” aren’t the best combination and expressed her regret, but her Twitter messages still remain.

It’s understandable to be angry and disappointed when you don’t get something you desperately want. It’s not a good idea to express that anger rashly. There’s a reason we all have that spouse, best friend, sibling, or pet to complain to.

Kiera Cass, author of “The Selection” trilogy got slammed when she and her agent called Goodreads reviewer Wendy Darling a “bitch” for writing a one star review and, in public messages, conspired to boost rankings of Cass’ books. You can see the review here and Cass and her agent’s response here.

Yes, negative reviews hurt. Authors spend a lot of time and effort on their novel. They put it out there for the public, all that hard work, and then they get a negative review. It stings. It sucks. They get angry because they’re hurt. However, name calling and conspiring isn’t the way to respond. The best response is no response, especially in an age where nothing is truly deleted from the internet.

Probably one of the most famous cases of authors behaving badly is Cassandra Clare. Before she published “The Mortal Instruments” series she was a fanfiction writer most known for her Draco Trilogy, a fanfic of the Harry Potter series. During that time, Clare (then Claire) was accused of plagiarism and consequently cyberbullying. She even dropped the “I” in her last name to distance herself from these accusations, such as threatening those who discussed her plagiarism and allegedly trying to get a girl expelled from her university. Here’s a great link showing a loose timeline of Cassandra Clare’s history of incidents.

So far, I’ve only shown examples of female authors. That’s partly due to there being more female authors out there, but male authors behave badly too. Two examples are M.R. Mathias, self-published author and owner of a small press and Stephen Leather, author of “The Basement,” and who seems to feel the need to respond to every negative review. Some of his responses aren’t bad, others are, as when he tells one reviewer “And while you might be the sort of person to be corrupted by a work of fiction, I think most readers are made of sterner stuff!” That’s probably not the best thing to say to someone.

Similar to Leather, some other authors believe they should respond to every negative review, not in an angry, rash manner, but to open a dialogue between reviewer and author. Here’s a link showing author Elle Lothlorien as an example. My thought on authors contacting reviewers, who’ve given their novel a negative review, to help them better understand the author’s intention is this: instead of having to explain your message after the fact, make it clear in your writing. That’s what reviewers are reading. If an author needs to go hold each reviewer’s hand and guide them to the intended message, then their novel wasn’t ready to be published.

Authors put their work out there to be read. Not everyone is going to like their work because there are all sorts of people in the world. When you put your work out there, you’ll get both good and bad reviews. Take both types of reviews in stride. Even better? Don’t make it personal. Though bad reviews may seem like an attack on the author, they usually aren’t. A review is an individual’s opinion. Going off the rail about a negative review, especially doing so in the public’s eye, only reflects badly on the author.

Rant and rave in private. Show a professional face to the public. It’ll save you a headache later on.

How do you feel negative reviews should be handled? Do you know of any authors who’ve behaved badly?

(Photo courtesy of Megan Bostic)

6 thoughts on “Authors Behaving Badly: How Negative Reviews Send Them Off the Rails

  1. ajoobacats

    I had a strong reaction from an author, who got a two star review from me, last year. I found it most unsettling and as a result only write reviews for books I award four stars and above. This particular authors response/reaction was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I think i left the comments etc up as he was doing himself no favour and his reaction, I wager, was more off-putting than any review I could have written.

    1. brittanyekrueger Post author

      Ajoobacats, I’m sorry to hear about your experience! I write reviews for the books I read and whenever I give a two star review (which isn’t often, but happens) I’m always a little wary about how that review comes across. Authors are in a difficult situation, but they’re people, and they react as such.

  2. cdtaylorbooks

    Most recently I reviewed a book and the author sent me a threatening email saying if I didn’t remove my review from Amazon, she would make me hurt. She went as far as to post the link to my review on her social media outlets and bash me. Some authors cannot take an honest review. They ask for reviews to be ‘completely honest’ but when you do it, they freak out. So yes this is a trend that is growing. It honestly sucks. I refuse to leave any sort of a review, whether it be a positive or negative one now. If all that happens in the end is me being threatened, its just not worth it.

    1. brittanyekrueger Post author

      That’s horrible that happened to you, cdtaylorbooks! It’s easy for authors to take reviews as personal attacks, when readers are solely commenting on the novel, not the author.


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