A self-described reviewer of Kindle (self-published) books, BigAl’s Books and Pals posted a review of The Greek Seaman by Jacqueline Howett on March 16. BigAl rated the book 2 stars, citing the very poor grammar and formatting of the novel as the main causes of his negative reaction. He thought the plot was actually interesting, but it was too much work “unraveling what the author meant.”
Ms. Howett did not appreciate this review; in fact, she went APESHIT. She posted very angry comments on the 18th, 19th, and 23rd, first accusing BigAl of purposefully not reading the correct copy and then of not “getting” what she wrote, as she is British and he is (presumably) not. She also cited the four and five star reviews she received from Amazon members, saying she was going to stick to those. Naturally, BigAl responded to her accusations. But he was very calm and non-inflammatory.
At this point, Ms. Howett entered the zone of internet infamy. Mainly, with quotes like this: “Look AL, I’m not in the mood for playing snake with you, what I read above has no flaws. My writing is fine.” And this: “You never downloaded another copy you liar!” Oh, and: “You are a big rat and a snake with poisenous venom. Lots of luck to authors who come here and slip in that!” (Slip in what, I wonder…) She stops her angry comments with the classic double “Fuck off!”
This was all interspersed with comments from many people, some anonymous, some not. As of now there are 309 comments on the original post, but I stopped reading after Ms. Howett stopped responding because it wasn’t nearly as fun. Twitter was abuzz with the meltdown, and sites like Salon and the Guardian have posted about it. Her quotes are now working their way towards internet meme-dom. I present exhibits A and B (both courtesy of @EvilWylie). And this hilarious LOLcat version of events by April over at Good Books and Good Wine (I stole the picture from her). They highlight the way one could use these quotes in many life situations, which is an important criterion of a successful meme. Look at Charlie Sheen – that asshole spurts off crazy shit too. But it’s so usable. You did something awesome – you have tiger’s blood. Or you’re WINNING.
But here’s the thing – as an author, you DON’T WANT TO BE COMPARED TO CHARLIE SHEEN. Being a crazy, ranting asshole to a reviewer is not okay. Because then no one wants to read your books. Okay, well maybe everyone is going to read this book so they can make fun of it on Amazon. But there is no staying power in this brief burst of notoriety. The internet is a fickle place. When Ms. Howett self-publishes her newest novel, most people aren’t going to bother with it. Most people probably won’t remember this. But you can bet this woman will never get an agent or a publisher to sign her.
You don’t need me or any other person to tell you that Ms. Howett reacted VERY poorly to this whole thing. My biggest issue with her is the review isn’t that harsh. We’ve written meaner things on this site. But as with BigAl’s review, the criticism is merited. Hell, his critique focuses on mechanical errors – things that can easily be improved upon or fixed with proper editing. But Ms. Howett defended her writing like she was the damned Virgin Mary defending her hymen. Instead of simply ignoring the post, she went on a self-righteous tirade in which everyone but her is wrong.
Now, I’m not claiming it is easy to ignore a negative review. As someone who strives to be a published author one day, I can’t imagine how terrifying it will be to send my work out into the big, mean world and just wait for it to be ripped apart by others. But responding to criticism like this is something an adult should never do. Fight the impulse. Or at least don’t do it on a public forum, over the course of several days. Just rant to your friends or your dog or your local librarian who probably hates you. Just don’t be so stupid as to write nonsensical shit on the internet. Remember, it’s forever.
Short anecdote: During college, I took a creative nonfiction workshop. One of my longer essays was a humor piece about library patrons. It also worked in the theme of classification and the struggle to remember people are individuals, blah blah. One girl responded rather snottily, saying “for an essay about organization, your writing is all over the place!” I was SO MAD. But when it was time to workshop her piece, I was extremely professional. I didn’t write “You basically strung together a bunch of quotes about love from famous writers instead of giving us anything original. Go die.” Though I wanted to really, really badly, I didn’t. Because I knew it was stupid and petty. And it would serve no purpose other than to make my ego feel better for a fleeting second.
I like to imagine that reviewers try to remember that real people write the books they critique. That someone put a lot of work, energy, anxiety, joy, and a whole spectrum of stuff into that novel they’re reading. Conversely, writers have to remember that each reader will interact with a text differently. They may not like it, and they have every right to express their opinion on your work. Hopefully, they will do so in a manner that is respectful or at least backs-up their views. Even if they don’t… IGNORE THEM. And as Maureen Johnson says, that’s…. the lesson of the day.
Oh, and use spell check before you claim there’s nothing wrong with your writing.