Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Criticizing the critic

Novelist Alice Hoffman created a dust-up recently when she used Twitter to fire back at a less than glowing review of her latest novel, THE STORY SISTERS.

Reviewer Roberta Silman wrote in The Boston Globe: “This new novel lacks the spark of the earlier work. Its vision, characters, and even the prose seem tired.” Hoffman posted a number of tweets calling Silman a moron. She asked, “How do some people get to review books?” Hoffman also posted Silman’s phone number and email, inviting fans to contact the reviewer and “Tell her what u think of snarky critics.”

By Monday, Hoffman had issued a statement of apology through her publisher.

OK, as authors, we’ve all received negative reviews somewhere along the line. As far as I know, no one has ever written a book that was accepted and loved by 100% of its readers. And even the most famous or best-selling books of all time have been lambasted with negative reviews. Just ask Dan Brown.

So what would cause any author to lose it and publically shoot back at a reviewer? Don’t we all know that when we take that giant, risky step into the public arena by having our words published, that we are aware the results might be positive AND negative? What could possibly be accomplished by criticizing a critic? Would it encourage the reviewer to be gentler next time? Doubtful. It might even narrow the number of future reviews by other critics.

There’s an old saying that if you do the crime, be ready to do the time. If you write a book and have it published so anyone can read it, be ready for the good and the bad, because that’s what you’re going to get.

How about you? Have you ever wanted to shoot back at a reviewer who gave you a less than favorable review? Did you? Should you?


  1. I think the reviewers have their job to do and we have ours. The important thing is just to move on from a lukewarm review and put it out of our heads as we write.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. I've never had a truly bad review, except on Amazon. I always figure it's someone with an ax to grind or another author they think is threatened somehow by my work. I just shrug my shoulders and go on. I have offered people their money back if they'll send me the book that offended them, and they never send the book back. Reviewers have their preferences in books, and sometimes you just aren't it. Some reviewers. like authors, are just better at their craft than others.

  3. I think as writers we should respect everyone's right to say what they think. I've seen lots of huffs and flame wars on various list servs and the author always looks bad if they take issue with a negative review. I think we just have to suck it up. I've only had one experience where someone on a list serv said that they couldn't get into one of my books - I just sat back and said nothing and nothing further came of it all. Another author took issue with a review someone posted and it got ugly...and for what purpose? Not everyone's going to love your books. We just have to deal with that fact:)

  4. Elizabeth, my thoughts exactly. If a writer has a thin skin, this may not be the right occupation.

    John, like you, I’ve been fortunate not to have received any really bad reviews. And like you, the exception has been on Amazon. But I think that’s a good thing. My Amazon reviews weigh heavily in the 4-5-star area. So getting a few 1-star reviews means I’m striking a nerve out there.

    Jim, the Meltzer video is a scream. Brilliant!

  5. I like Brad Meltzer's response a lot better. ;-)

    We never know what someone else is going through. Perhaps this woman was having other issues at the same time, and she just cracked. I'm willing to give her that.

    My last book (non-fiction) had a rotten review, one based on nothing more than a cursory reading of the blurb on the back, it seemed. But the publisher had submitted the book to Amazon with my name misspelled, so it didn't matter anyway. Yeah.

  6. As the old saying goes, I just want critics to spell my name right. (Love that Brad Meltzer video, Jim. That's the spirit, Brad!)
    The unfortunate thing about Twitter and other social networking sites is that they give people instant gratification for emotional outbursts. Shooting back at someone on Twitter is like drunk blogging--just don't do it! Or if you do, shoot back using a pseudonym ID. Not that I've ever done that. (grin)

  7. My approach has been that I serve the reader. They plunked down their hard earned money for my book and I should give them their moneys worth. If I don't, I've failed. So unless the review is ad hominem, then there is something to be learned from it. That is, if you can shut out your ego. Easier said than done, granted, but once you get your heart rate back under control, and you are honest with yourself, you might find that critic might have a point. Sure, some just won't get it and you can't expect everyone that reads your work to like it. Heck, even my mom hates my writing - "What's with all the bad words? I never taught you to speak like that." But reviews can be like your Beta readers - use them to improve your game.

    Oh, and don't be shooting your mouth off about reviewers in a public forum. Nothing good can come of that.

  8. I've made a few "review resolutions":

    I shall not be nasty to any reviewers, no matter how ill-informed, idiotic, or full of crap they might be.

    I shall not make any public derogatory comments about any reviewers, or their mothers.

    I shall not threaten any reviewers with bodily harm, Internet flaming, or voodoo curse.

    I shall not tell any reviewers to stuff any object, large or otherwise, into any orifice where the sun don't shine.

    And lastly: I shall thank any reviewers who take the time and energy to read and comment on my book. After all, there are lots of books to be reviewd, and I'll be grateful if they choose mine.

  9. Alan, I agree with all your resolutions except one. I would always keep the voodoo option open.

  10. The Brad Meltzer response. Now that's the way to go, especially if your book has been doused in bad reviews and burned at the stake as his apparently was.

    Who knows, that movie clip may even sell more copies than the good reviews he didn't get would have.

  11. Get em Brad. Now that was funny and a perfect response. If the critics were right on that book (I'm a big fan of his work), then wouldn't it be more the publisher's and editor's fault than his? When my editor tells me there's a problem, I work to fix it. If they say it's perfect, I leave it be. I think this is true for most of us.