A promise to my readers

I’m sure everyone has heard about the disturbing events of this last October, so we definitely don’t need to rehash that. Those cases were extreme and rare, probably once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. But the unfortunate reality is that—even if it’s not to the same extent—reviewers being confronted by angry authors is a common problem that does not seem to be going away. For every group of authors that stands in solidarity with reviewers, there is another group (often comprised of uninformed or inexperienced authors who are not aware of proper industry customs) who feel it is their place to “correct” anyone who disparages their precious work of art.

Even before I became an author, I was really a “book reviewer.” I wasn’t involved in the book blogger community or even have a review blog to speak of. However, a few years back, I did participate in an online book club. This was run through a LiveJournal community, and there were only six of us total: a small group friends who lived too far apart to meet in person, and so were using an online venue to do our book discussions. It was very informal, and all our opinions were very much intended just for the six of us. It was supposed to be a private place to honestly air our thoughts about what we were reading.

However, thanks to the magic of Google Alerts—something I’d been previously unaware of—two different authors on two separate occasions discovered our comm and felt the need to confront me about my relatively mild criticisms (I think I’d given both books a final rating of 4 stars, if that’s any indication).

The first author replied passive-aggressively, flaming me on her blog without naming names. I only became aware of her post because a friend shared it on Tumblr—awkward! The author revealed in her post that she’d gotten a notification about my comment through a Google Alert set up to ping her every time her name was used on the internet. That seemed kind of extreme and somewhat creepy; but in the long run, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I was completely embarrassed that she’d tracked me down and was angry enough about it to rip me apart to her readers, but she hadn’t personally contacted me, and there was no major damage done.

The second author was much, much worse. This one was so angry about my—again, minor—criticism of her work that she tracked me down IRL and blackmailed me by threatening a member of my family in order to force me to retract my review and apologize to her. (Reminder: 4-star review.)

There was a small part of me that felt angry about this. I had every right to my opinion, and even if I had been rude—which I had not—this author had no right to come after me like this. But any righteous indignation was far outweighed by complete terror. She had made a threat to my family, and even though it was most likely hot air and would never have amounted to anything, the fear of what she might do (and the stress of thinking about how many legal hoops I’d have to jump through to protect myself) was all-consuming. The hours and days after her threat were filled with anxiety, praying that deleting my review would be good enough to satisfy her, that she would accept my apology and go away and never bother us again.

Once it was resolved, I vowed that I would never post another book review again. Not on Amazon, not on Goodreads, not on Tumblr or LiveJournal or anywhere that another human being could see it. Not one more word about books. Because it seemed that even liking a book wasn’t good enough; if you didn’t praise it unconditionally, using the proper adulating language, you could be putting yourself at risk.

Book bloggers are damn heroes, honestly.

There’s a rule of thumb in the publishing industry: don’t look at reviews; and if you do look, don’t respond. Unfortunately, many authors do not adhere to this rule.

But I want to make a promise to my readers, current and future: I promise you I will not come into your private spheres. I will not respond to reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else. Whether your review is positive or negative, it’s not my business. Reviews are for readers, not for authors. I’m not comfortable invading your territory and making it about myself. You have a right to your opinion.

As a writer, my job is to give you the best story I can. I promise I will do exactly that. But not every reader has the same experience, and I totally respect that. For those readers who enjoy my writing, I’m glad. If you find it’s not your cup of tea, I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t begrudge it.

Reviewers, thank you for going through all the drama to support those of us who write. Even though there are some bad eggs out there, I hope you know that most of us truly love and appreciate you!

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