Saturday, March 3, 2012

Even Academics Aren't Immune From Making The Author's Big Mistake...

The Author’s Big Mistake, apparently, is to respond to a bad review. All that happens is the writer makes themselves look foolish and unprofessional. Witness this spectacular meltdown from Jacqueline Howett over a bad review of her self-published book, The Greek Seaman. To compound her misery, this went viral enough to hit the major broadsheets. Even if they say bad things about us writers, the reviewer is meant to be aloof and sacrosanct. Otherwise it’s just a big circle jerk that helps no one.

What if the reviewer is less than honest in their intentions?

A link to another spectacular author meltdown appeared in one of my social networking feeds. This one saw Mike Coe attempt to break the world record for most consecutive comments after a blogpost following Jane Smith’s negative review of his book, Flight to Paradise. A fellow writer had posted the link as a good example of a self-published writer overreacting to reasonable criticism. I thought the same, until I read down to the part that revealed the reviewer had only read four pages.

Four pages! How can anyone seriously review a book after reading only four pages? That’s like writing a review of a movie after seeing only the first three minutes. I’m sure there are many movies where the film critic would have liked to have walked out at the halfway mark, but they can’t, because they’d be violating their role as a critic. I know Smith has clear rules and a ‘fifteen typos and you’re out’ policy, but her review is four paragraphs long and talks about ‘poor characterization’…from a book where she’s read only the first four pages. I’ve read plenty of books where the main characters haven’t even showed up by then! Slamming a book because the writing is so bad it’s painful to turn the page is one thing, but I’d be peeved too if a reviewer read only the first couple of pages of one of my stories and started to comment on broader issues of characterisation and plot (although not enough to attempt to break the world record for most consecutive comments after a blogpost).

I might be wrong, and I’m prepared to apologise whole-heartedly to Jane Smith if this is the case, but after reading more of her reviews my gut feeling is her selfpublishingreview is a troll site with the main aim of beating up self-published writers for the temerity of going it alone. She also runs a blog entitled “How Publishing Really Works”, which sets my ‘ulterior motives’ alarm bells ringing. A bad book is a bad book is a bad book, and this is true whether it was shat out by one of the Big 6 or a lone, misguided scribbler, but some people are vehemently against the whole principle of self-epublishing in general.

I’m sure plenty will keep on submitting to her for review. They’ll see the carcasses of past maulings and think, That won’t happen to me; my book is good. We’re daft like that. I think I’ll pass on this one, though. I don’t see the point when the game is so heavily stacked it’s impossible to win. Or rather, if someone has an axe to grind, the last thing you want to do is give them an axe.

Oh, and to prove it’s not just us crazy self-published types that go apeshit below the line, enjoy Eric Anderson making the Author’s Big Mistake over Catherine Hakim’s review of his latest book in The Guardian.

-M.E. Hydra


  1. Thanks for the link. I can't believe writers haven't learned from the past mistakes of others. I had to stop reading the comments because I didn't know whether to laugh or just shake my head.

  2. I never respond to reviews at all - whether they're good or bad. That way I'm playing it safe both ways.