A few months ago I wrote a piece about the pain and pleasure of Amazon reviews, about the experience of being reviewed, and how we had been attacked by sock puppets, an image which still amuses me a great deal. When you publish a book, whether you are traditionally published or self published, you have to brace yourself. There are people out there, lurking, like muggers waiting around the corner with baseball bats, or with poison pens poised to tell you exactly what they think of your so-called book.
If you are EL James or Dan Brown you can deal with the barrage of criticism you face by rolling about in £50 notes and cackling (well, that’s what I would do) but what about the rest of us? How can you deal with criticism other than repeating the phrase ‘Haters gonna hate’ to yourself while hugging the cat a little too tightly?
A note for non-writers and prospective reviewers. We writers – with a few notable exceptions – are sensitive souls. Most of us write because an English teacher once praised us so excessively that we spend our entire lives trying to recapture that feeling (like Lisa Simpson begging, ‘Grade me!’ when school is closed). We have overactive imaginations – we wouldn’t be writers otherwise – and when we are not dreaming up plots and characters we might, just might, allow ourselves to drift into a pleasant reverie in which we stand on stage accepting an award for Best Book Ever Ever Ever while saying we could never have imagined this. So if you are thinking of penning a vicious review, because, like, you really hated the ending of our novel, imagine us as a defenceless little kitten. Do you really want to stamp on us with your big reviewing boot? You do? Oh well. Here’s how we will deal with you.
1. Remember, dear writer, you are not alone. Every book, film, album, play or poem ever created has been slagged off by at least one person, so you are in good company. Shakespeare, Dickens, JK Rowling, even Jeffrey Archer – they’ve all had their critics, and not just because the Kindle version costs more than the hardback. So when ‘Book luvver’ from Middlebrough (verified purchase) proclaims that your life’s work is not even worth 20p and that they would give it no stars if they could, remind yourself that somebody once said the same thing about your favourite book.
2. It could be worse. It could be personal. When you publish a book, you put yourself in the firing line, yes. But it is unlikely that the reviewer will criticise you personally. ‘This books sucks and the author has bad breath and stupid hair.’ Doesn’t happen often. Compare the moaning about how ‘the descriptions of your characters nipples are highly implausible’ with the barrage of loathing that people who appear on TV or who write link bait for the Daily Mail face. Imagine what it’s like being Christopher Maloney or Sally Bercow or that woman who wrote that article about how hard it is being beautiful. She was the most hated person on the planet earlier this year and now I can’t even remember her name. If you are Joey Barton or the girlfriend of a member of One Direction, you spend your whole life being abused and mocked on Twitter. Cher Lloyd even wrote (or at least sang) a song about it. This song, Swagger Jagger, is a good one to listen to when you’ve had a bad review. Sing along:
You can’t stop clicking at me,
Writing ’bout me, tweeting ’bout me,
I can’t stop, it’s what it gone be,
My swagger’s in check
Swagger jagger, swagger jagger
You should get some of your own
Count that money, get your game up
You’re a hater, just let it go
You tell ‘em, Cher!
3. They’re probably a sock puppet. One of the benefits of the Great Sock Puppet Scandal of 2012 – in which it was revealed that naughty authors were writing bad reviews of their rivals’ work, and glowing reviews of their own (which is a bit like chanting ‘I’m the best, I’m the best’ while having sex) – is that now, whenever you get slated on Amazon you can bet your bottom dollar that the reviewer is not a real person but a sock puppet. It’s someone who is jealous of your all-round fabulousness and talent. Even if they have ‘Verified purchase’ next to their review, they probably only bought it as part of a nefarious and desperate scheme to bring you down. On the other hand, none of your five star reviews were written by people you’ve slept with or who gave birth to you. Those are all genuine.
4. All opinion is subjective. This is what publishers say in their rejection letters, on the rare occasions when they write an actual letter and don’t use a standard slip. And it is, of course, true. One man’s meat is another man’s inhumanely butchered beautiful creature with a soul whose blood was spilled so you could write ‘nom nom’ on Facebook. For every person who thinks your book is the most boring thing since cricket (see, it’s subjective) there will be another who read it with sweating palms and a racing heart (maybe they forgot to take their pills again). Now, if everyone, including your mum, says your book is a steaming pile of dung, you could either take the criticism on board and go back to your day job or you could remind yourself that dung is a highly-important substance that helps fertilise the planet and provide a tasty meal for beetles, while proclaiming that you only write for yourself anyway and if anyone else likes it it’s a bonus. You just haven’t had a bonus yet.
5. Go apeshit. Yes, there is an alternative to being all rational and sensible and reminding yourself that it’s subjective, etc. You could seek revenge. That’s right – you could track down the perp, write mean things about them on your blog (“Janine Hesp smells of old socks”), or even go round their house and have it out with them. I mean, it’s easy enough to track people down using Facebook and Google these days. I’m sure that mean reviewer would appreciate the opportunity to discuss why they are wrong, oh so wrong, because they didn’t understand that it was a metaphor. Or you could do a Sharon Osbourne and post them something brown and stinky. Obviously, I don’t recommend this. It’s clearly meant to be a joke, OK? Please ignore point no 5 on this list and do not seek revenge. If I had a lawyer I’m sure that’s what he would tell me to put.
6. If all else fails, repeat after me: ‘Haters gonna hate’. Don’t you feel better already?