I was brought into mind on this topic by a post made by Petrik Leo, a prolific reviewer for Booknest.EU and Goodreads. It came about in the SPFBO Facebook group, on a discussion about reviewers. Petrik had a sidebar sub-thread on brutal reviews where he stated, “I was called a huge jerk and an asshole by the author himself for giving his book 4/5 stars.”
That got me thinking and that is, of course, always dangerous. I’m no stranger to harsh reviews but it’s never occurred to me to attack someone for stating their opinion about my work. Why not? Well, for one, no book is going to appeal to all the people all the time and I don’t expect mine to be any different.
But more than that, I see no upside in this business of doing so. It just doesn’t feel like a good idea.
There’s that saying out there: you should never meet your heroes, with the idea being that even heroes are flawed, imperfect human animals, and once exposed to those imperfections, it will cast an indelible stain on your perception–your idealized notion–of that person. In short, you’ll come away with a poorer image of them than you started.
While there is a fragment of truth to the notion, I think it’s a bad philosophy to live by. Moreover, it’s incumbent on said “heroes” to not make it self-fulfilling prophecy. Allow me to explain.
(Muse: Would you please? Your circular babble is making my head hurt.)
I think there is nothing better than meeting an author you like in person. You don’t have to get a book signed or praise them up one side and down the other. Just having a few moments to converse with that person gives them a feeling of….tangibility, I guess. You can make a connection, even if just a fleeting one.
I think it goes without saying it helps if they make an effort too.
I’ve met a number authors. By and large, they were mostly positive experiences. For example, I met Brian McClellan (Powder Mage trilogy) last year and had a chance to chat with him for several minutes. Down-to-earth, easy-going guy. He was happy to chat a bit and just put me at ease immediately. I had a very brief interaction earlier this year with Fonda Lee (Jade City). She never stopped smiling, was very, very nice. Over the years I’ve had similar experiences with Terry Brooks, Beth Cato, Gini Koch, and others too numerous to mention.
I attended the San Diego Comic-Con in the mid-90s and met author/artist Frank Miller Frank Miller has a reputation as being prickly but he was polite and open and seemed genuine. I met Mark Silvestri and talked to him a few moments and came away thinking he was absolutely the nicest guy in the comic industry at the time. (I also nearly ran over Stan Lee the same day but that’s another story).
You know what the commonality between all these interactions was? It made me more inclined to support the authors. For those whose work I hadn’t already purchased, I did so. Those I had, I talked up to friends and fellow readers. Something about a positive personal interaction makes you (well, me, at least) want to be more supportive.
Of course, none of these people knew me from Adam, so I wouldn’t expect any of them to remember those meetings. I am certainly not at all famous in the writing community–
(Muse: Based on the reviews for Pilgrimage to Skara, you might be infamous, though.)
–but that didn’t matter. They engaged with an fan of the genre (me), if not of their work specifically, and did so without expectation.
Now there is the other side of the coin.
I have also had a brief interaction with an author who won a Nebula Award in the last decade. They were arrogant, condescending, insulting, and generally full of themselves. I am embarrassed to say but were we in another era, I would have punched them in the face. Suffice to say, I will never buy one of their books. I don’t care how many accolades that person receives.
At that same aforementioned Comic Con, I met a comic writer I greatly admired–and came away disappointed. I loved the person’s writing and storylines but in person, they were sarcastic, short-tempered, and generally unpleasant. I stopped reading books written by that person.
Some authors act like jerks. How’s that work out for them? At least with me, not well at all.
Look, I don’t pretend negative reviews hurt. Of course they do. But acting like an idiot and yelling (verbally or in print) is a lose-lose situation for an author.
Some authors prefer not to interact with the public at all. That’s probably the safest course….and least rewarding. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Besides, how much effort does it take to be polite and pleasant? Very little, IMO, and the rewards from the fandom are well worth it.
I fully think that keeping my chin up and letting negativity sluff to the side has led to more people being willing to take a chance on Pilgrimage and on me, personally, as an author–and indirectly, a few more sales. That kind of goodwill is hard to build and easy to squander, so I look at it as a gift and I intend to nurture it. And honestly, I do appreciate that they took their time to read my book and offer their thoughts.
So to that anonymous person Petrik referenced in the quote above: lighten the fuck up. 4/5 stars? You should be falling-on-your-face thankful. If it was 1/5 stars, politely thank the reviewer for his time, put the review away, and read it a few days later after the sting subsides. See if there is any kernel of truth you can use to improve. Separate criticism of your work from criticism of yourself.
And when interacting with your readers, you’re going to get bored. You’re going to be tired. Some people will be annoying. You’re going to hear, “I have an idea for a book” or some variant at least once every ten minutes. It will get old, I know. Don’t get mad. Smile and nod. Answer questions thoughtfully. Pay attention to what your readers tell you. Readers will appreciate the effort. I always did.
Seriously, keep it on an even keel. Giving attitude directly to your readers is the fastest way to turn them off.
And if you want to be a writer, that’s the last thing you need.