Over the past year or so, I've had the privilege of speaking with some published authors and seasoned publicists and agents and editors about what to expect. I've cornered them and asked them for sage advice on how to handle the publication process, how to do it right, how to survive it gracefully. And I know there is no right here and there might be no graceful either, but still I ask. Because I am awash in fear and ignorance and rookie bliss and there seems to be some agency in asking.
And all of them, all of them, have warned me about one thing: The-Terribly-Mean-and-often-Anonymous Review. All of them have said that for whatever reason, people from our past come out of the existential woodwork with their pointed fingers and rants and biting words. Apparently, getting this review (or a bevy of them) is something of a rite of passage.
Here's the thing. I know I will read less-than-stellar reviews of my work. This makes sense. What makes life interesting is that we do not all have the same tastes. And I know myself. It will be hard to read critical words because, frankly, I am a bit of a baby when it comes to these things. But. That's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about personal attacks. Apparently, and this is all rumor friends, authors are often disparaged as people once they come out with a book.
(Me no likey this concept.)
So. I've added this to the list of things to fear as I head into my publication week. And I've been thinking about this. Last week, friend and bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch (whose third book debuts on June 1!) wrote a fascinating blog post on this topic entitled In Defense of the Writer. Allison writes about how she, thanks to a Google Alert, recently happened upon a particularly eviscerating review, a review that attacked not just her work, but her personally. Allison writes about the dilemma of whether the author should be able to defend herself in such situations,
But this got me thinking: in the day and age in which anyone can post anything about you or your books, at what point are writers allowed to speak up? In general, the rule has always been - under no circumstance. Keep your mouth shut. You'll end up on Gawker, looking like a fool. But I'm starting to rethink that. Not that the correct tactic is hysterically calling out a New York Times (or whatever media outlet) reporter because he or she didn't like your book, but yes, aren't we entitled to a little bit of defense of ourselves? When something crosses the line? Or is the price we pay for being published authors (and I'm asking this seriously) that we have to sit back and accept whatever comes our way?
... It's interesting how much this is bothering me, this concept that there's a wall between writers and readers, and yet it's a one-sided wall at that. Again, it's not the lousy review that I have a problem with, it's public disparagement. At what point is the writer allowed to speak up? Always? Never? Sometimes but with the risk that you'll look petty and/or foolish? Is it really petty to be able to want to defend yourself in the public arena? As I said, I'm starting to think that the answer can be no.
I read this blog post and started nodding. I felt my academic blood boil (in a good buzzy way) like it did during college seminars. There is an ethical question here! I pronounced to myself. And I sat there not knowing what to think. When, if ever, is it okay for us to speak up and defend ourselves? The truth is that Allison's question here is not just relevant to authors. It is relevant to all of us. Particularly in this modern age.
Like it or not (and I do like it more than I don't but let's wait and see if I feel the same way next week), we live in a bizarre world where snarkiness and anonymity have come to reign, where people can pop online and say anything. And we all know that these mean worlds are almost always about the insecurities and unhappiness of those who utter them. But. The words are there nonetheless. They are permanently there. For all to read. What do we do about this? Throw up our arms? Deem this just an unfortunate aspect of our digital evolution?
I don't know.
I can't remember too many mean things that have been said about me during my life. I do remember a boy in my fifth grade class who said, "You'd be really hot if you weren't so pale." That wasn't awesome. And there have been a smattering of anonymous blog comments that have stung. But really not too many. So, ultimately, I am ill-prepared for the meanies who might emerge in the next few months.
Or maybe they won't emerge? A little optimism never hurts, right?
- How have you handled mean people and mean words in your life?
- Do you think that the possibility of anonymity brings out the worst in people?
- Why do you think people say such disparaging things about people? Do you think this behavior is rooted in insecurity?
- Do you think that authors, by choosing to publish, are tacitly agreeing to public scrutiny in whatever form it takes?
- Have you gotten personally disparaging comments on your blog? Have you published them? Have you responded to them?
- How do you handle it when people say mean things about your kids or family?
ILI DAILY CHARM: TIME IS SCOTCH-TAPE FOR THE SOUL
My friend Anisha Lakhani (author of Schooled) wrote a post yesterday on her fabulous new blog Back to A. Anisha's words are incredibly generous and meaningful to me. Click to read them now. Thanks so much, Anisha! Can't wait to see you at Borders next Thursday!
I am not going to stop begging now. We are five days out! Please pre-order my book. (Currently #9,708 on Amazon thanks to your clicky efforts!) And while you are at it, pre-order Allison Winn Scotch's latest The One That I Want. And if you feel like emailing everyone you have ever met in your entire life about my debut novel, I will be your best friend. (Seriously, bcc me and I will add you to my Best Friends List. And then I will figure out what to do with that list. Just know it will be good.) One more thing and then I will end this self-promotional madness... If you would like to help me get the word out about LAY on your own site by doing a Q & A, contact me! Enough, Aidan. Bye bye. (For now!)