Let’s talk about criticism, shall we?
I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but Stop The GoodReads Bullies* is a group that runs around harassing people who give “bad” reviews to books. That’s not what they say they’re about, of course – they think they’re on some sort of crusade to stop “trolls” and “bullies” from bringing down authors’ rankings with unwarranted unfavorable reviews. But from what I’ve seen of their behavior – endorsed by Anne Rice, of all people – they’re just assholes who think the world should be unicorn farts and glitter rainbows and nothing bad ever, ever, ever.
I’m sure I’ll be on their shitlist for this, should they find it. I can’t care. I have a history of starting internet fights – and finishing them – so I’m not perturbed. I’m kind of a bitch, and it’s never served me ill to have an opinion someone else disliked.
What does serve me – and, more importantly, potential customers – ill are readers who won’t tell me they hated my book for fear of reprisals from the likes of STGRB. I read reviews on products and books I’m interested in buying. It’s important to me to know what people liked about something – and what they didn’t like. Without criticism, nothing ever gets any better. If all I hear from readers is how great I am, what impetus is there for me to stretch my creative muscles, to make the next books even better? And if no one ever points out what I’ve done wrong, I have no opportunity to fix it. What if I published a book that left out a scene or a chapter, and therefore made no sense? Would I feel “bullied” if someone pointed that out, so I could re-issue the book in a more perfect form?
Of course not. Criticism is a vital part of life. Even non-constructive criticism – “You’re book sux!” – is helpful in learning to sift wheat from chaff when it comes to reviews.
I want to be a better writer. I want to present the most perfect product I can to my readers and consumers. Without criticism, I’m flying blind. I might think I know what I need to fix, but I don’t, because no one’s told me.
The other side to this is that nothing will appeal to everyone. Seeing a book with a bunch of 5-star reviews and nothing else just makes me think that the only reviewers were people who knew the author personally, and therefore were cheerleaders. It’s like watching celebrity spokespeople shilling for something: “Well, you got paid, of course you think it’s great. But what does my neighbor say?”
When negative reviews are punished, there is nowhere else to turn to get an honest opinion. Your neighbor simply isn’t there to balance out the celebrity who’s already cashed the check. Reviews become meaningless, and we’re all worse off for it.
Tell me you hate me. I’m a grown-up; I get to decide for myself what might be harassment and what’s useful criticism. I can take it.
What I can’t take are unicorn farts. They smell like baby prostitutes.
In other news, I got hit in a parking lot on Wednesday. Cosmetic damage only – the dude backed into me. It was annoying, sure, but against all odds, the dude turned out to be a man of his word. We exchanged info and he said he’d call me Thursday to follow up – and he did! Faith in humanity: Restored.
* I refuse to link them. You can Google, and their site will come up. You can swing by Jenny Trout’s blog and read about her run-ins with them. At this point, you can probably Google Anne Rice, and that shit’ll pop up. But I won’t give them any traffic.