Friday, January 08, 2010

A Little Class, Please

Warning, this is going to be a bit of a rant. I actually wrote this yesterday, posted it, then thought it was a bit more negative than I like to be on the blog and I pulled it after a half hour or so. This afternoon, I got an email from a fellow blogger, writer and reader who had seen it and was sorry I yanked it, because it was a good thing for people to think about. So here it is again.

I am so tired of writers trashing other writers in public. It makes me nuts every time I see a post on the forums where someone is singling out someone and saying how bad the book is and how it's an example of the failure of publishing. A few typos in a book means the editors "let stuff slip through" because they're lazy or didn't care. As long as the book has a plot that can sell, it doesn't matter how badly the book is written.

Hogwash, folks. Utter hogwash.

There is no cookie cutter template for good. Every book that someone paid someone else to publish is good by somebody's standards. Those standards vary wildly. And they're all right, because everyone has their own taste.

Just because you don't like a book doesn't mean it's bad. It just means you didn't like it. I have books I haven't liked that have hit the best seller list. Authors whose work I can't get three pages into. That doesn't mean they're bad books, just not my kind of book. In fact, I read a book recently that I thought was so-so, but I have two friends I recommended it to because I know they will love it. It's their kind of book.

Those in the publishing world work hard to bring us great books, and they want the best product they can make. They take pride in their books. They love books or they wouldn't be doing it. To say that they "let" stuff slip by is just petty. Look at your own manuscript. How perfect is it? Can you honestly say there isn't a single typo, a single awkward phrase or misused word in it? I sincerely doubt it. People make mistakes. People miss things. No matter how carefully you proof something, things slip by. And it's called "slipping by" because they sneak by unnoticed. No one is out there reading a galley and thinking, "Wow, look at all those errors. We'll let it go and maybe no one will notice."

And then there's just the tackiness of it all. Think about how much you want to get published. How would you feel if folks said nasty things about your work and called your writing horrible adjectives on a public forum? It's hard enough seeing reviews where someone didn't like our books, but random people just being mean?

Come on, folks, show a little compassion. Put yourself in the shoes of those authors. Is that how you want to be treated when you finally sell your book?

Let's think about that, too, for a moment. Once your words are out there. they're OUT there. Those post is a great example since I deleted it after a brief time, and yet someone still found and read it. One day you might be looking for blurbs for you own book, and the author you (or your publisher) asks might Google you for some background info. How ghastly would it be for them to find something horrible you said about them once on a forum? Kiss that potential boost to your career goodbye. Not a reputation you want to have.

Say what you want in private to your friends, but don't be mean just to be mean, or to vent frustration because someone you don't like has published when you haven't yet. It's not helpful to anyone, and you end up looking foolish to boot. It sounds more like sour grapes than a thoughtful critique of another's work. If you really need to speak out, then do it diplomatically. Make it clear it's how you felt about it for XYZ reasons. Find something positive to say in addition to the negative. Because for every book you hate, someone thinks it's the best book they ever read. Don't snipe at it and act like your word is the final say on the matter. Cause it isn't.

It's mean, it's tacky, and it's hurtful. And shouldn't we strive to be better than that?


  1. Good post - I'm glad you re-posted it!

  2. On the one hand, I applaud you for making several good points.
    On the other hand, some books are just bad. Some books are better than others. Some books were perhaps published too early, and many authors have lamented the fact that certain of their books were published when, looking back, there were flaws and mistakes and plain bad sections of writing in them.
    I have read several published books that I felt had no redeeming features whatsoever. And I have said so. There are books that I have enjoyed, even knowing that by objective standards, they were not great, or even good. Many if not most books have flaws, some of them deep, and it serves no one to sweep them under the rug for fear of offending someone.
    I think opinions are great. People should be allowed to express them. Now, I completely agree that they should be backed up. You think a book is bad and say so? Fine, but say why as well. But just because an author doesn’t agree with the reasons, that doesn’t mean the person who gave them is “trashing” the book, or “venting”.
    Not everything is jealousy, and not everything is sour grapes. Should people publicly trash books? No. But should they have the right to say they think a book is bad? Absolutely. Writers have thick skins. You need one to keep going in this business. Books are not their authors. The authors can handle a little criticism, and if something crosses the line into an attack, an author is capable of seeing that and moving on.

  3. I wondered what happened to that post! The premise was so intriguing and when I went to read it, it was gone. Thank you for putting it back up.

    I agree with what you say. I think anything created sincerely by another has some value and that should be recognized. For example, I, for the most part, despise rap music and believe that much of it has no socially redeeming value, but I will certainly acknowledge the certain amount of skill and talent that goes into creating it--I personally just wish the artists would use it to promote a better message.

    This past Tuesday on my blog I posted a negative review of John Grisham's THE ASSOCIATE. I konw I'm not the only one who feels this way about the novel as I went back and looked at other review sites. I did not trash the work, but I feel that I was truthful and respectful. I gave Grisham credit for his skill as a writer and my admiration for his talent and achievements. But I did not think the book was that good. I did read it from cover to cover and gave it what I felt was a fair assessment.

    I admire anyone who has gotten their work published and especially when they get good sales figures-- congratulations to them. However if the work is bad, the public deserves to be warned just as if it is good the work should be lauded. Criticism is good, trashing is not appropriate.

  4. Super agree!

  5. i so agree. this is why i don't review. i couldn't bear to be negative about something that someone sweated blood over. thanks for your rant.

  6. Great post, Janice, thanks.

    As a fairly new blogger, it can be a difficult balance between blogging honestly about your opinions and only producing content that you're happy for a potential future colleague/agent/blurb- provider to read. Dissing people just isn't cool, though. I always remind myself that every writer with a book published finished writing a book, which is a massive achievement in itself. The fact I might rather they hadn't bothered really is neither here nor there :p

    But I'm mostly commenting to let you know I've spotted The Pain Merchants on display (cover out) in two different bookshops in Dublin this week. The two best bookshops in Dublin, actually, IMHO, which would be why I was in them :) Well done :D

  7. This is a good post, and I'll be more careful in the future. On my public blog I don't trash or rant about a book that I didn't like. Just for the reason you stated--authors have feelings too. On my private blog, that I can lock folks out of, well that's a different story. I don't ever say things like 'this is utter crap' or 'this is just the worst thing I've ever read'. Mostly I rant about how stupid a character's action was--not that the author was stupid to write it that way, but the action of the character was just so...grrrr just like I do with TV or movie characters.

  8. I have to agree.
    Take twilight (sorry I have to bring this up) for example.
    A lot of people don't like it because they say the writing is bad and that every page is about Bella gushing about Edward.
    When really I think it's because they're jealous.
    I am happy for Stephenie Meyer that she got published and her book is doing so well. And though I have to disagree that Twilight is the best book ever, still, give a little credit to a fellow writer, eh?

  9. I agree with your post. We can say what we want to our friends, but in public we should try to stay positive. And like you said, opinions are so subjective. Thanks for posting this.

  10. I'm glad you reposted this. I saw the start of it in my followed blogs thing, went to click, and thought 'noooo!' when it wasn't there.
    It's really good advice.

  11. Thanks all, I'm glad I got nudged into putting this back up. I'd like to clarify one little thing. I'm not saying there are no bad books out there, or we shouldn't say we don't like something. I just feel there's a difference between "I hated Writer Bob's new book" and "Writer Bob can't write, I can't believe people read his drivel." Like any other critique, diplomacy is key. Talk about the work, not the person.

  12. @vanille

    Certainly many people are jaous of Ms. Meyer's success. But that doesn't mean everyone who claims to dislike her work does so out of envy.

    In fact, it would sound rather condescending and sarcastic to say “I think your book is really bad, but kudos for getting published.”

    Someone who writes a whole book (or in Ms. Meyer’s case, several) deserves some points for completing such a task, but those points should not overshadow people’s opinions that a book could be better.

    I suppose I’m arguing for diplomacy from the opposite side of the argument.

  13. Well said. A great reminder to be mindful. Writing a book is an amazing accomplishment.

  14. Perhaps I should be more lenient in with my reviews lol. But someone above said something that I agree with - if you don't like a book and you write a review, give reasons. No use saying "it sucks" and end there. That's hating.

  15. Atsiko, I totally agree. I think we all can tell the difference between trashing an author and giving a honest review or critique of their work.

    I do think it's quite telling, however, that I haven't mentioned a single author's name in this discussion, yet a few have come up several times. We've all seen the attacks and the ones that pop instantly to mind when I say "trashing an author."

    In so many other aspects the writing community is such a great group of folks, so it always breaks my heart a little to see them trashing another.

  16. A great post!

    I think everyone has the right to share their opinion about books (or anything else for that matter). But the key words here are respect and constructive criticism.

    When you don't like someone's book, write the review with respect. Try imagining how you'd feel if someone 'trashed' you as an author. It doesn't hurt to try and be polite and respectful even when you have a negative opinion of something. And it's important to state the reasons for why you don't like it - not just so you're covered but because it could potentially help the author to use that information in their next book. That was my experience with an agent - she told me what she didn't like and why and I fixed it. If she'd just said the book sucked, that wouldn't help me much and it would make me feel miserable. (Not that agents ever say a book sucks, I was just trying to point out the difference :)).

    What I don't entirely agree with is that one can be nasty when not in public, trashing someone when they're with a closed group of friends. I don't think there's any need for that, it only spreads negativity. Why can't we all try and be respectful all the time, even when not in public?

  17. There's a difference between something being 'not to your taste' and something being downright bad. A glass of merlot may not be to your taste; an overheated bottle that's fermented into vinegar is downright bad. Note the distinction: someone, somewhere, is enjoying that merlot (can I have some?), whereas the spoiled wine is destined for the trash.

    As a polite example, I bought Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson because I liked the premise. Unfortunately, his writing style makes my skin crawl--BUT, that's because his style is superficially similar to mine, which produces a dissonance. I read his writing and stumble on the word choices and excess commas (eeek!*), so I can't enjoy his storytelling. That's not his fault.

    *I'm speaking tongue-in-cheek about the commas being in "excess". They merely seem so to my comma-challenged muse.

    On the Twilight example, I enjoyed that series. I found it very ironic and hilarious, but I realize I likely didn't read it the way the author intended. I went into it expecting a sappy melodramatic Mary Sue, so I was pleasantly surprised by its quality.

    Stephenie Meyer has never (that I'm aware of) claimed to have written the next Great American Novel. What she did was write the novel she wanted to write, keeping her characters and plots reasonably consistent even when she knew her readership wouldn't like it (e.g. Edward leaving in New Moon, the climax in Breaking Dawn). I respect that.