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Mean words online

Sep 15,2013
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Being a writer is a lonely job. You spend most of your time (alone) staring at your computer screen, willing the words to appear. Then you wonder how to make those words better. And all the time you are plagued with worries. Is the story interesting enough? Are the characters appealing? Will your readers understand what you’re trying to say? Will anyone even read your book or did you spend all that time (alone) for no reason?

Once the final manuscript has been delivered to the publishers you are left with a strange, mixed feeling. Partly you are relieved that the book is done but there’s also the realisation that from now on the book is largely beyond your control. All you can do is wait to see what people make of all your hard work.

The good thing about being an author in the digital age is that feedback is readily and quickly accessible. Facebook, book blogs and sites like Goodreads keep you up to date on how your book is being received. This is great when the response is positive. One of the nicest things that can happen to an author is opening up your inbox and finding a message from someone saying how much they loved your book. That’s something you never get tired of.

But not everyone is going to like what you write. That’s just the way the world is. For every person who raves about your book and urges their friends to read it there will be someone else who dismisses it with a nose wrinkle and a don’t waste your time on this. And every time you come across one of those remarks it stings a little.

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credit: feverpitch on photodune


Getting a bad review is nothing new. But what is different is that these days it’s possible for an author to respond – quickly and easily – to their online critics. On a site like Goodreads, for instance, you can just hit the ‘comment’ button at the end of a review and tell the reviewer what you think.

But just because it’s easy to respond to online criticism doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact if you ask me it’s a really bad idea. Tempting as it is in a moment of hurt pride to try and defend your work and point our why your critic’s words are unfair it tends to come across as a bit desperate. Personally I think it’s better just to accept that not everyone will love what you do and move on. Authors who get into slanging matches with their critics tend to end up looking – well, a little tragic.

Here’s what I do if I ever come across some words about my work that are particularly painful: I go and search for reviews of my favourite books. There will always be someone who dismisses as ‘boring’ or ‘disappointing’ something that I think is utterly glorious and perfect. Maybe it’s also a little tragic to do this but I find it helpful to be reminded that bad reviews happen to all authors. And this way I don’t end up writing something online that I’ll later regret.


Sep 17,2013

Ah Daydreamer - you made me laugh with your story about reading all the bad answers in the examiner's report. That's exactly what I would've done too. I take a lot of comfort in reminding myself that it's just impossible for everyone to like everything you do. And yes, taste has a lot to do with it. I also think that pre expectations can get in the way too. The more you've heard about a book, the more it's been built up, the more likely it is to fail to measure up.


Sep 16,2013

You know, sometimes I think that certain people don't have any taste. And I know that's a really stupid thing to say because taste it individual and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think there are some things like certain books which should be universally acknowledged as awesome and even if you don't love it, you should be able to appreciate that others do. I've read some really popular books which I haven't necessarily loved, but I can still see why they appeal to others and I can respect that. So sometimes when I find people criticising a certain book really bluntly, it just annoys me because it's like they're determined to hate it and find all the faults in it and I refuse to believe that they see nothing positive in it. Okay. I'm done ranting now.

Last year when I was doing literature, I'd always go on the website to look at the examiner's report of past exams and read all the bad answers. Maybe that was a little desperate, but it really made me feel better. :P

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