I’ve just learned September is National Be Kind to Writers and Editors Month. Who knew? The observance was established in 1984 by Lone Star Publishing of San Antonio, Texas. I certainly understand why. At times this publishing world is a rough one. A day doesn’t go by where someone isn’t taking potshots at someone else in this oft-times intolerant society of ours. The media and social media help that fire burn too. It’s no different for authors and their works of art. Create something and you suddenly find yourself in a mean-spirited version of Field of Dreams.
Many many blog posts ago, I wrote about some book reviews I’d seen that just blew me away. Brand new author at the time, I pressed to the wall with the rest of the wallflowers and observed the publishing world prom. I use the prom analogy here because authors get all decked out like a prom-goer does in the hours before the big dance: Books get shiny new covers. Blurbs have been polished and are meant to entice. The author promotes in every way possible in the hopes they’ll be on the prom court. If they’re lucky, their book takes off and they make prom king or queen. If they’re unlucky, someone comes up and tells them the gown makes them look like the Goodyear blimp and their escort is only taking them to prom because he’s lost a bet.
I recall mean episodes in grade school and high school and some of those memories are sharp-barbed things that stuck to my hide as well as my psyche. Just about every adult remembers things like this. I remember no matter how one tried to fit into the unnatural social strata, there was always someone to tell you you were less somehow. I can look back at comments and actions directed at others or at me (the shy girl) with an adult’s eyes and see them for what they were. They were the manifestation of personal issues had by an antagonist who vented them upon the perceived weaker person. But even if I had known then what I know now, would it have made those comments any less sharp? Would they have stung any less? I don’t think so.
Every author I know, knows their book will be liked by some and disliked by others. We understand that. We expect it. We all hope for more of the first. Check in on the top authors today, even novels 100+ years old, and you’ll see critical assessments of the work. All art gets ridiculed because beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. But when did civility break down? When did simply saying “I found the book dragged after chapter three” cease to be enough? Now it would seem the author has to bleed.
When I got into this business nearly three years ago, I read reviews that threw me for a loop. The worst came from one of the review sites my publisher suggested I submit my book to. I was desperate to know what to do back then but also wary. I checked out all the review sites on my list before I submitted my work. This particular site wasn’t recommended any higher than the next, it was just one of several. Unlike the others on that list, it sure as heck was the most insulting. I never did submit there because I came across comments like “This person has no business writing” or “Complete garbage, total waste of time”. Ouch.
At the time I thought those reviews horrible. How wrong I was. Sure they were harsh, nasty even, but horrible better fits what’s out there today. In the short time I’ve been involved in the publishing prom, the attacks have gone from mean assessments of writing style to vicious personal attacks.
I read a post on a blog yesterday regarding bullying. I’d heard about this incident of course, the publishing world isn’t really all that big when you get right down to it. According to the scuttlebutt, a reader actually said the author should be gang-raped in prison for writing her novel. There was also something about her entire family should die. What?? How could another person’s work of art evoke that kind of response? And here I thought “This person has no business writing” was extreme. I’ve heard some of these attacks are actually author to author and some even come with a posse to help magnify the insult. One author I know says her sales are non-existent because of trashing like this. I heard an author had series of 1-star reviews on a book that hadn’t even been released yet. I don’t even know what to say about that. The other day an author told me she’s been bullied so much, she can’t even use the name her parents gave her. Her books are written under a pen name now and she fears the bullies will figure it out and attack her there as well. She fears.
So many authors have petitioned Amazon and Goodreads to take a stand against such things yet nothing changes. I don’t care for Goodreads, never have. To me it’s the school playground. The “popular kids” are picking teams and the kids at the bottom of the pecking order can’t play. While there are lesser venues with lesser sales traffic, Amazon is close to being the only game in town for authors to sell their books. Amazon is johnny on the spot to remove tags and likes. These were tools authors once used to be discovered by readers. They won’t even allow an author who reads to leave a review for a book they’ve read. How odd they turn a deaf ear to this stuff. For them to do nothing about inappropriate career-shredding reviews is unconscionable. And that is so wrong.
This all makes me so incredibly sad. I’d like to say this doesn’t matter. I’d like to say not everyone uses the internet so shrug it off and write the best story you can. But I can’t. Art is a personal thing. In every brainchild that becomes a book, authors open their souls for the world to see. Stuff like this hurts. Worse than that, it‘s meant to destroy the careers of strangers. It not only steals income, it shreds self-confidence and diminishes pride. In other words, it hurts the soul.
Adult eyes can look at this the same way they look at the bullying they witnessed or experienced in their youth. Adults can say the antagonists obviously have personal issues. An adult might even desire to talk out whatever perceived differences there are that make a person react so negatively. But you can’t look your attacker in the eye and ask why they’re doing this to you when they don’t even know you. Most times all you have is their user name. Most attacks are completely anonymous.
How can a reader or a peer say things like she should be gang-raped or her family should die? Is this meant to be funny? I just don’t get how a romance novel could elicit such a terrible reader reaction that would inspire someone to utter such words. Especially in the Romance Genre! It’s simply a romance novel, that, on some level, just didn’t do it for the reader. That’s all. A novel you didn’t care for is not like witnessing something horrific that turns your stomach. It’s not those incomprehensible images of the Vietnamese man getting his brains blown out or the monk setting himself on fire in protest. It’s not the sad and volatile issues in Syria, nor the horrific Connecticut shootings or Boston marathon bombings. It’s not a terrible jolt to the senses like watching a tank poised to crush a student in Tiananmen Square. It’s a romance novel someone didn’t like. Disproportionate reaction, no?
So for National Be Kind to Writers and Editors Month, give the author in your life a hug. Chances are he or she needs it. It’s a jungle out there and assassins wait in the trees.
100 Things Blogging Challenge
If you enjoy quotes and kisses, read my Quotable Kisses article in the *FREE* issue of Hidden Desires Magazine e-Zine. Subscribe here: http://www.valterramagazines.com/
For author Tina Donahue’s blog day. http://romancebooks4us.blogspot.com
And over on the RB4U website http://romancebooks4us.com , a new September contest just started and there are all sorts of prizes Find those falling leaves!
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