Authors Behaving…Not So Well

If someone came up to you, face to face, and said Your writing sucks!, wouldn’t you get a tad offended? Maybe even angry? Might you even do or say something in response that you shouldn’t?

We all like to think that, as writers, great masters of words and sentiments, that we are noble, witty, and able to handle any situation with aplomb.

However, unsurprisingly, authors are people, too, with egos, self-esteem, and feelings – that can be hurt.

And so has the famous indie-author Hugh Howey (someone I consider a good friend).

I can’t imagine what the pressure of being under such a  bright spotlight would be like, but I can understand the urge to lash out at what feels like an attack.

Unfortunately, as Mr. Howey has done so in the past (and later apologized for), he has done it again.

Let me give you the run down.

A relatively unknown author posted a video-rant, detailing why he thought the best-selling Wool series sucked and his utter dismay that it was so popular. He didn’t understand why the book(s) had so few detractors. It seemed that everyone on the planet but him loved the story. He didn’t understand the phenomena and stated, under no uncertain terms, that the book(s) sucked.

Mr. Howey responded to the video on Google+ (read it here) and even went so far as to post the video on his Facebook page. So, of course, his legions of fans (me included) watched the video and some responded.

Needless to say, the relatively unknown author got a bit of traffic and attention – most of it unwanted. He has removed the video and made a public apology to Mr. Howey.

In my opinion, after watching the Wool Sucks video-rant and then reading Mr. Howey’s response, I thought Mr. Howey conducted himself rather well under the circumstances. Passive-aggressive? Most definitely.

But I would have done much worse. The video’s tone was mean-spirited. If it had been my work the fellow was talking about, I would have been deeply hurt.

Would I have responded correctly? Would I have responded at all? I don’t know and I hope I am never in the position to find out.

If the issue ended there, I wouldn’t be posting about it. But the author, okay, let’s just name him already, John Lydon, seemed to sincerely regret that he posted the video and seemed genuinely hurt by Mr. Howey’s big-author tactics of getting his fans to mob his video-rant. He alerted all his new viewers (and me) to something called ‘punch down’.

Now, is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

It seems so to me, but Mr. Tobias Buckell‘s post on the topic here does illuminate why we should always follow one of the few ‘true’ rules in life and writing:

Sometimes, it is just better to walk away.

Lesson learned.

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27 thoughts on “Authors Behaving…Not So Well

  1. Probably embarrassing for both parties.

    After reading enough book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and every where else, it’s a rare book that doesn’t have someone ranting about it. Maybe the video was a bit too in-the-face, but it would be wise to suck it up and move on.

    Maybe as an antidote, pick your favorite couple of books and read the one-star reviews for it. That might help put things in perspective.

    1. That’s a good antidote. Also, just stepping back. As you said, it is eventually embarrassing for everyone involved. I guess it goes back to: if we all just treat each other nicely…

      1. The internet is a wonderful thing but it lets people decouple their screeds from the reaction of the receiver. It is a lot easier to hurl insults when you can’t immediately observe the pain they cause.

        This case is a perfect example:
        In conversation we may say something bad, the other person reacts, we reconsider, maybe apologize.

        Same thing happened here but it took a lot longer since the feedback loop was longer. It’s a case where the nature of the internet media slows things down.

      2. Another antidote is to spend a lot of time on an anonymous critique service, like critters.org. While critters does try to enforce some diplomacy, any given story is likely to get something on or over the borderline. It’s good practice to force yourself to write “thank you for taking the time to read my story and for your comments” for those less than diplomatic responses.

  2. From limited information, I think everybody needs to act with decorum – writers and reviewers. I always do my best to take positives, even from books that I have hated. I emailed you last week about one (the author didn’t respond by the way).

    I had sent a similar email to another writer a few months ago and though he wasn’t unpleasant, he did complain bitterly that he couldn’t understand my problems with the book because “everyone enjoyed it” before asking me not to post the review. When I sent it to him for approval he apologised and admitted that in view of my review and issues, a 2-star rating was fair.

    We need to develop thick skins as writers, and reviewers need to realise that if they deliberately set out knock a certain author down a peg or two, then there will be consequences. There is a fine line between critique and libel. When it becomes personal, that’s when flame wars start.

    1. You definitely see a lot of that response if you critique strangers, like on critters.org. I had one this week that I selected because it only had one other critique. The author has an interesting vision but the story was very hard to follow. I believe I was pretty polite and the author thanked me for the feedback but also commented “my other readers don’t have these problems.” I left it at that, partly because I’ve been there myself :)

      1. I’ve gotten some scathing crits when I was on Critters. You are right to suggest that Critters will thicken the skin and show you how it is possible to offer a negative crit without coming across like an ass.

    2. I wish the video was still up. The reviewer did talk about the book, but he also suggested that there was something suspicious about the book’s user high rating, stating that some 4 or 5 star ratings didn’t match the text review that went along with it. I suppose he was suggesting some conspiracy? Not sure. Anyway, he didn’t attack Hugh so much, but rather the glowing reviewers/readers, which is one reason why I think Hugh responded.

      1. Ah I see.

        It is certainly likely that some writers are attempting to skew results by asking reviewers not to put up their poor reviews (as happened to me – he also rated his own book 5 stars on Good Reads) but I doubt it in cases where there are so many.

        If I hadn’t enjoyed a book, I wouldn’t assume a conspiracy unless I had got an email from the writer demanding I remove my poor review.

      2. Nothing says he didn’t “cheat” on the first reviews AND it’s a really good book. There are famous writers on record saying it’s acceptable business practice but I don’t care for it.

        Amazon and others could put a quick stop to this by allowing the consumer to filter on whether the review is from a trusted source. In the case of Amazon, this could be a combination of “real name” reviewers (or whatever they call that) and folks with a high ratio of useful reviews, maybe a minimum number of reviews as well.

        The odds that they haven’t thought of what I just said are 0%. Therefore, their choice not to provide them is a business decision. Myself, I think it’s a foolish decision because wading through reviews usually causes me to throw up my hands and buy nothing.

  3. If a critic is going to be a critic rather than just rant, he should be a critic: writing is no good; plot is improbable or like something else; voices are confused; prolix writing; etc. It doesn’t sound as though the ranter did any of this.
    No opinion comes close to libel.

      1. Lincoln used to write letters he never intended to send. He found it useful for getting things off his chest but understood the importance of being diplomatic at all times.

  4. There are crackpots everywhere. The more people reading your work, the more the chances are that a crackpot will read the book.

    I have read some books (and in some cases TRIED to read some books) that are really very popular. In those cases where I could not finish the book, I just was not able to get what people see in those particular stories. I never begrudge the person the popularity of their book though. That is just bad Reader behavior.

    I do think, though, that the Writer is better off ignoring the crackpot Readers, and not lowering themselves to that level. It is easier said than done though, especially when someone seems to attack you personally.

    One reason I would never say something negative about those very popular books that I do not care for is because who am I to say that they did something wrong when their books are obviously selling very well? I am never disappointed that a Writer does well, even when I do not care for the story myself.

    I do love the Wool series, so go Mr. Howey!

    Oddly enough, I just wrote a somewhat related post myself.

    1. ‘…who am I to say they did something wrong…’

      I don’t think we should not state our opinion of a work, regardless of its popularity or whether the opinion is negative, but it shouldn’t be couched in hurtful words. There are ways to get a point across without resorting to insults. As a reviewer, I need reminds g of this, too.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. :)

  5. Chuck Wendig also did a great post after a dust-up (not involving his own books) about responding to negative criticism here. I’m sure the temptation would be great, but unless the criticism comes from someone whose opinion you respect, it’s probably best to write the ranter off as a Jerry Springer reject.

    And I love to redecorate, too :)

    1. I can imagine that Hugh has gotten other negative reviews and brushed them off, but the guy did make a whole video on it… like for almost 5 minutes… I would have had a hard time ignoring it but, yes, we should.

      New digs are always fun. :)

      1. I honestly don’t know how I’d react in the same situation, but I gotta think that anyone who goes to that much trouble to trash a book is begging for attention for himself, that it’s not even really about the book, yanno? I mean it’s just nuts to put that much effort into something like that. I don’t know either party involved, but it seems like the person who made the awful video wanted his own 15 minutes of fame. I guess he got it.

  6. To be more honest about this, while I don’t think I’d ever go to the trouble of video’ing a rant, I’m not a 20-something, maybe it’s second nature at that age, there are posts going all the way back to rec.games.frp.dnd that I do regret. Sometimes you mess up. Sounds like both parties eventually regretted it.

    Aside from the obvious: think twice and one more, before attacking anyone in public, the other take-away from this whole thing:

    -no body really remembers the author who started this whole thing off, although maybe it will come back to haunt her if she is ever successful.

    -everyone does know Hugh. If it is a one time event, probably no long term harm, but this and a few other slip-ups might give him a bad rep that no one really wants. He is the one who looks bad in all this.

    Again, speaking as someone who has made his own slips of the keyboard. This incident is more a reminder to me that if I ever get in the limelight, never, ever respond to the bad reviews. Maybe I;ll steal a page from Lincoln and just write something that is never meant to be posted. (Although with hackers, even that might be dangerous.)

  7. It’s so important to remember a human being is behind what we read, watch, etc., no matter how popular the material is. Sure, I suspect best-selling authors grow thicker skin, but the words still have to sting.

    Thanks for visiting my site. I appreciate it!

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