When Being Nice Becomes Mean

This year has opened up to some major drama and fallout which is mostly linked to the YA blogging world. It’s no secret this week’s huge blowout, concerning The Story Siren’s issue of plagiarism, has been a real doozy in epic proportions. The Smart Bitches, The Book Lantern, and The Book Binge offer a great summary about the whole affair. What I found astounding is the message that’s being sent around blogosphere, most specifically the YA blogging community.

This year has also been pretty vicious with reviewers facing negative responses to their reviews by detractors that paint them to be mean, and unprofessional. Apparently, reviewers live to bash authors and live to hate.

We have and will continue to come across books that do not live up to its promise because it subjectively didn’t work for us. And there will be books which have flaws and issues that will bring out strong emotions. Authors who publish books do so knowing it’s out in the public sphere. It is a business, not a romantic idealised notion where an author has to be dealt with cotton wool and gloves. And I don’t understand why this issue has cropped up again and again because some authors aren’t able to handle a negative review.

Yesterday, there was a blowup over Jennifer Armintrout’s recaps of 50 Shades of Grey, where commentators felt she had no right to review or comment on another author’s book. Jamie Mcguire (who had own recent issues with negative reviews) used this as an opportunity to highlight and confuse the issue of an author’s right to review, to reviewers who apparently live to bash authors, and love to be haters. What I found troubling is that commentators were complaining and blasting Jennifer Armintrout because she was an author, and had no right to review a book especially since it was snarkily written.

I just want to share a few examples of authors and critics from the literary field who have slated books. Please take note that I’m citing and QUOTING these quotes below, taken from The Huffington Post, and Flavorwire.

“Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone.”
- Mark Twain on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice *

“Never have I read such tosh. As for the first two chapters, we will let them pass, but the third, the fourth the fifth the sixth – merely the scratchings of pimples on the body of the boot-boy at Claridges.”

- Virginia Woolf on James Joyce’s Ulysses *

“I HATED [Catcher in the Rye]. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it?”
-  Elizabeth Bishop on J.D. Salinger  **

“Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like ‘Moby Dick’….One wearies of the grand serieux. There’s something false about it. And that’s Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!”
- D.H. Lawrence on Herman Melville **

Well, they seem influential, and authors who wrote classical literature should be deemed to be unprofessional and haters because they were just as harsh and bitchy towards their peers.

Critical discourse can be brutal and unrelenting, and book reviews is part of that territory. Some people feel comfortable in not writing critical reviews — and that’s ok, but there are those who feel strongly and have written critical pieces. Some use snark and sarcasm, and others use gifs and humorous pictures to describe what they feel about the text. It seems to be the case recently that anyone who writes a snarky book review are attacked for being mean and too harsh. It’s one thing to disagree with a book reviewer about a book, but another to call them out for being mean and an author basher. I have disagreed with my fellow pushers about books, but we’ve never called ourselves bashers.

Using emotive language such as cockroaches, sheeple bitches and bashers are ways to raise the emotional ante. This was used in the thread where Jennifer Armintrout was attacked for her snarky recaps over 50 Shades. And because of this, Jennifer L Armentrout, who has a similar name, was caught up in the fray and got backlash too.

Books like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, even The Hunger Games, have reached a certain point of success which will garner a much harsher critical response. That thread I linked to with Jennifer Armintrout’s recap was… interesting. People were confusing the issue of reviewing, to an author bashing another author unprofessionally. Authors have blurbed fellow author’s books, and that’s an opinion about the book because they liked it. If authors can’t have a professional opinion, then the positive aspect to blurbing on a book shouldn’t be allowed. There have been those who refuse to blurb for books or authors because they disagreed with them.

For me this week has shown a common factor that keeps cropping up all the time: the issue of BE NICE. The comments that stood out to me regarding The Story Siren were comments about her being too nice to steal content. Then there was the victim blaming the bloggers who were innocent. That wasn’t nice, and because of her fan following they didn’t see the hypocrisy and double standards of what The Story Siren did by stealing other people’s work. Kristi had a vocal stance against plagiarism which makes everything so incredibly ironic. She failed in her apology, and even more so by not asking her followers to stop attacking the bloggers and to stop sending hatemail to the victims. That would be the responsible thing to do.

BE NICE is used by people who attack bloggers and reviewers for having negative opinions, especially if it’s a favourite author of theirs. There have been cases of some authors rallying followers to stifle criticism over 3 star reviews. Being nice, for me, is not to personally attack the author, their appearance, or be personal about their lives. Actually, that’s just what a decent person does. Being nice is not to paint the negative reviewer and their supporters into cackling harpies who love to bash the poor downtrodden author. As an author there will always be people who will dislike their books, and it is a fact of life in publishing that you won’t change their minds.

What worries me the most is the message that any kind of critical response is wrong. This BE NICE message offers a safe and sanitised way to not offer any real opinions, especially if it’s a critical one. We need critical responses because if you don’t learn how to be analytical and to raise issues that concern us in a text, how can we transfer that in other aspects of life such as politics and religion? YA reviewing seems to be facing a lot of these backlashes because the message to young readers is not to state your negative feelings about a book — even if you feel strongly. YA literature deals with serious issues and why should teenagers shy away voicing a critical response? If an author can’t handle a negative response then she shouldn’t be publishing books.

We hope this post will garner a good discussion because this issue won’t go away. There won’t be any deletion of posts or blocking of people if they want to talk about these issues.

(Addition from Lou: We won’t tolerate sock puppets and trolling like what I saw on Goodreads the other night. Any of that, and I’ll call you out publicly in the comments for it.)

Quotes taken from articles posted by  *The Huffington Post and **Favorwire about authors and critical reviews.

Comments

  1. says

    The thing that I found most disturbing in the Story Siren saga was the victim blaming. Coming after those who rightfully stood up and said, “Hey, that’s our shit!” is ridiculous. And it would be nice to say, “Oh it’s just YA readers, they’re younger and don’t know how to appropriately handle conflict”. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t children. It was grown adults attacking those who were the victims, those who exposed the story, those who expressed dismay, and those who offered condemnation. For me, when she issued that second apology, I was kind of like, “OK, let’s move on.” Until I found that comments that were critical of Kristi in her 2nd apology were being deleted. And then she edited the apology, offering equivocation. I said it on Twitter, and I’ll say it here, she should write a blog post on how NOT to handle being outed as a plagiarist.

    But on to the “be nice” thing. My mother certainly always preached the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Me? My motto has always been, “Don’t say anything about anyone that you wouldn’t say to their face.” And when I’ve spent good money on a book, and it disappoints me, or fails for me, I say so. And I don’t apologize for it. I try to offer cogent reasons why the book didn’t work. And while my words might be painful for the author who toiled at writing the book, they are never, ever meant as a personal attack. I don’t say, “I hated this book because the author is a bitch.” Truth is, I don’t spend money on authors who I think are bitches. That’s just facts.

    But despite my mother’s motto, I will say things that are not strictly “nice”. It happens. When I spend money on a book and I don’t like it, I say so. But I also try to say why. I think I’d lack integrity if I didn’t.

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  2. says

    I will never be harsh, (it’s just not in me) but I hate when people say not to do a negative review or to review a certain way. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and we should be able to say if we liked or didn’t like a book-even authors should be allowed to do this.

    The whole Story Siren mess bothered me with all the people defending her & left mean comments on blogs that said what she did was wrong. Again-everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it’s a scary day when we aren’t allowed to say what we think.

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  3. Danielle W says

    I can’t respect authors that do not take criticism with grace. I don’t blog, but I do post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and I am honest in my opinions. I have had authors comment on a couple and the bad responses (one was on a 3 star!) guaranteed that I stay away from that author’s work from now on.

    And I get recommendations from authors reviewing other books all the time. Even the bad ones. When a book gets a lot of publicity, good and bad, I just need to read it. I really appreciate that the blogs I follow are honest. All publicity is good publicity, right?

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  4. says

    @Kati:

    I feel the same way and if you don’t have nothing good to say – then don’t say anything at all, doesn’t really reflect well on critical discussions. And reviewers who stick to criticising the book even if it is negative have the right to review in whatever style. I found the fallout over reviews like this got personal about reviewers and the discussion over the book was derailed.

    I love discussions where there is opposing views, but when you have posters accusing the reviewer or the defenders being mean girls and worse, their message about being nice or professional is pretty ironic. I don’t like writing bad reviews but I also back up why the book doesn’t work for me. I just don’t get the idea why some people feel they have to control how people review.

    @Colette @ A Buckeye Girl Reads:

    That is what I am afraid of- people told how to review and not to say anything because of upsetting anyone. That is not reviewing or discussing books. And I feel tired over this issue because it comes up and up again. But it wont stop negative reviews from happening but starts off flamewars instead.

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  5. Evaine says

    Kati, your last 2 paragraphs are bang on, IMO!

    I’m certainly not as knowledgeable or educated in these subjects as many of you are, but I’m being perfectly serious when I say that I blame the “everyone gets a trophy because they played” “nobody fails” mentality of the past 20+ years. People no longer know how to accept criticism (or compliments in many cases), they don’t know how to deal with either winning or losing in a positive way.

    I would like to plead with authors to give books realistic reviews. PLEASE! I use them often to plan my next purchases and I would love to have faith that the 4 or 5 stars given a book is a real 4 or 5 stars, not just mutual author hand-jobs or a defense against other authors reviewing.

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  6. says

    So if I ever write a book I am not allowed to ever say anything bad about a book ever again?! I would still be a reader. I truly dislike those Be Nice people.

    Be nice..no thank you. How would I ever find books to read if every book got a 5? Then i would buy them and be so angry cos they suck and I would have to burn them and then silently sit in a corner and be upset cos I was tricked into buying garbage. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This is not a dictatorship we live in where we censure certain opinions. Of course I would never really trash a book, but I would still try to say why it did not work.

    As for those who went after the peeps Story Siren stole from, shame on you! And shame on story siren for not telling them to cool down.

    Oh and those who go after 3 rate reviews, wtf? On goodreads for example that means I liked the book..I LIKED it. I did not think it was ok, I did not find too many faults with it..I LIKED IT. Honestly sometimes I actually find more faults in 4 star books (even if I still really like them). And I give 3s all around. Authors most hate me

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  7. says

    @KB/KT Grant:

    Got to admit, I am a Jane Austen fan but that quote made me laugh.

    @Evaine:

    I agree – when I look at reviews – I look at the good and the negative reviews to suss out if I would enjoy the book. I have bought books on bad reviews even snarky ones.

    @Danielle W:

    Ahhh the attack of the 3 star hatin’ reviews LOL – I’ve seen one author attack a reviewer on why they changed their review from a 4 star review to a 3 star review – I think 3 stars is the main average for a lot of books and it is a good rating and the review was mostly positive. S

    @blodeuedd:
    This is what I don’t get with The Story Siren and the fallout that happened, her vague apologies and lack of response in not stating firmly that going after the bloggers was really disappointing.

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  8. says

    Several authors have commented on negative or snarky reviews. I like them but author posts like the one Becca Fitzpatrick wrote on being nice made me question myself. Was I being a bitch for loving the snarky reviews on -what I thought were- bad books (hush hush happened to be one of them).
    And Maggie Stiefvater, an author I like, said a review wasn’t a review until it was an academic paper…
    I’d really wish authors would just leave the reviewers review and don’t let bad one (or 3-star ones) turn them into a person I don’t like.

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  9. says

    I agree with everything that is written here. I have always tried to be honest in my reviews and still I have had people call ne hater and basher. It’s disheartening. Because of all the drama recently I’ve actually been questioning the point of carrying on.

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  10. says

    @Roos:

    And sadly this is the kind of response which being nice brings. It tries to guilt you into not writing a critical review and most of the time those reviews aren’t even that harsh – it is controlling the critical response and that affects the discourse. I wasn’t keen on Maggie Stiefvater’s blog post because reviewers and authors have always been critical about books. But this is even more disappointing because it is from a YA author and that doesn’t send a good message about critical thinking and expressing that and it gets petty because people are saying if you don’t have nothing good to say don’t say it or even 3 star reviews. It is a world of bland world where it is all positive squeeing.

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  11. says

    I hope you don’t give up! *HUGS* Although this whole bashing thing is tiring but I am seeing lots of responses that a lot of people feel the same way and this needed to be said.

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  12. Janet W says

    Probably it would be more sensible for me to say nothing but I actually looked at Jennifer Armintrout’s #goodreads profile to see who she was — an author? Who decided to blog about her feelings on Fifty Shades of Grey? Why is that surprising, really — authors from Jennifer Weiner to others too numerous to mention, publishers etc. etc. have all weighed in on how much they dislike the books. When I think about how receptive Fifty Shades readers might be to the marvelous books in the romance canon, it never ceases to amaze me but oh well.

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  13. says

    Mark Twain also said this one:

    “Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

    Love. It.

    I appreciate honest reviews – they have no meaning to me if they’re ALL squee and fangirl – everyone reads a dud now and then. Knowing what a reviewer DOESN’T like is as important as knowing what they do IMO.

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  14. erinf1 says

    Preach it sister.

    It’s amazing how much this all spirals out of control. It’s like common sense, courtesy and decency are excused from the interwebs. I blame the fact that everyone is basically anonymous. Oh, you have your profile, your blog, your whatever, but that doesn’t really connect you to another *person*. If you hate, viciously and indecently, no one is up in your face, daring you to repeat or explain. No one is face to face and that I think is why this all blows up b/c it’s an emotional high to be able to sit at a computer and spew all of these things out w/out any real accountability or consequence. This is why I don’t engage. It’s pointless and the best way to react to these types of interweb drama explosions is to ignore it. I don’t know if that falls in the “be nice” category but all these people are looking for is fuel and every response, whether reasonable or not, is it. In the case of the Story Siren, I think it was good that everyone has spoken out about how her actions were wrong. Now that it’s out there, don’t give her another millisecond of attention and defriend, defollow and ignore! Cuz in this world, that’s the surest way to punish. She bought her rabid fans and once her publisher/author pool of freebies dries up, those fans will disappear too.

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  15. erinf1 says

    I forgot to write in the first comment that I also think that you’re absolutely right about not editing or stifling reviews “to be nice”. Cuz what’s the point? if every book is wonderful and 5 stars, I’m not going to keep reading your blog. But I also think that those who write reviews that aren’t as positive or could be considered negative, should take the advice that we give authors. Publish and let it go. Don’t engage the haters. Advise anyone who supports them or likes them to also not engage. And the haters will go away soon cuz there’s no fire to fan. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and vent personally to friends about people hating your review. Ironic, that a reviewer can be in the same boat as an author.

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  16. says

    “I have two recommendations. First, don’t buy this book. Second, if you buy this book, don’t drop it on your foot.” – The New Yorker on Chesapeake by James Michener

    I want to be that mean someday. I think the worst part is it seems women are the only ones being singled out with this whole BE NICE bullshit. No one seems to care if the guys do it. WTF is that all about?

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  17. says

    The only time I have ever taken offense to a review posted anywhere (this happened to be on GR) is when the review made fun of the author’s book picture (discussing her weight and appearance). That was completely uncalled for.

    Otherwise – who freaking cares how or what you write in a review. You want to snark – go for it. You want to gush – go for it. You want to write 5,000 negative words – do it. If you are reading a review and don’t like it, move on! There are a gazillion reviewers out there.

    People are obviously allowed to disagree..but stop pointing the fingers and whining about being nice. I’m so over it.

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  18. says

    Excellent post! Once on my book review blog I gave an author a 4 (yes a 4!!) and I did state in my review what I didn’t like about the book. I had a fan of the author comment and blast me and my review. There are some passionate people out there let me tell ya. Did I change my style? No. I just commented back thanking her for being a such great fan to the author and moved on.

    I agree with you. If I spent my money on a book and I didn’t care for it, then I have a right to say so. Same difference if I paid to see a movie or a play etc. I love your motto and I’ve been living by it too. Excellent post!

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  19. Elisa @ocdreader says

    Thank you! I saw a lot of the twitter crap slinging and stayed out of it. I was wondering what was going on. :)

    I enjoy reading bad, snarky reviews. That shows me what bothered someone else and I can figure out if it will bug me too. They crack me up and usually make me more interested in the book. There that is. Plus it shows me that the book is in the public arena and not just being planted with author friends who give it 4 & 5 stars. When I see a 5 star on GR that is my first thought, was this an author friend review? I am in shock that 3 stars is a bad review right now.

    I guess once you put yourself out there, author or reviewer, you are open to critique and you have to ignore the crazies…just like walking down a NY street. Don’t look ‘em in the eye or you are going to get sucked in!! But also, everywhere I read about being an author is that you need a tough skin…publishers aren’t the only ones who might not like your work and you really are a fool to think otherwise.

    Anyway, awesome post!

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