When I taught creative writing, I discovered the majority of the people who took the class were interested in only one thing -- being told they were brilliant. They bristled whenever I pointed out problems in their work because there were no problems with their work. It was perfect. And who was I to say otherwise? They were not writers then, and with that attitude, it's unlikely that they are now.
That same attitude is behind the group Stop the GR Bullies, which is an embarrassment to writers everywhere.
Stop the GR Bullies is made up of people who think the bad book reviews they get on the website Goodreads are some form of persecution. They have done something no writer should ever do -- they have responded to those bad reviews. But their method of responding is rather frightening.
They investigate the authors of reviews they don't like, then post personal information about them online, including where they live, where they work, where their children go to school and where they like to eat out. The result is that some of these reviewers have been harassed and threatened. Stop the GR Bullies has engaged in activities that go well beyond the hurt feelings of writers and enter the realm of psychotic behavior. People who are psychotic are said to be delusional and out of touch with reality. That shoe fits.
Stop the GR Bullies tells us they do not harass or phone the reviewers. Even if that's true -- and personally, I don't believe it is -- they have knowingly, deliberately provided the necessary information to anyone who wants to do so. They've removed or cleaned up the most damning posts on their website that reveal them to be irresponsible stalkers and dangerous to reviewers, but that doesn't change the fact that they posted the information. Given the chance, they no doubt will carry on with their bullying and harassment.
As the horrifying recent events in Colorado have reminded us yet again, not everyone out there is stable or sane. What Stop the GR Bullies has done is the equivalent of giving live explosives to monkeys.
The first review I read of my first novel, Seductions, back in 1984, was a punch to the gut. It was in Kirkus Reviews and described my novel as one you could buy at the airport and not feel bad if you happened to leave it behind on the plane half-read. I was devastated. I was certain that my writing career was over as soon as it had begun. But that only lasted for a few minutes, because then something occurred to me: My novel had been reviewed in Kirkus Reviews. Sure, it was a bad review. But it was there! I went from fearing my writing career was over to suddenly realizing that I had become a real writer. That has been my attitude toward reviews ever since.
Reviews, good or bad, mean your book is not being ignored.
Some reviews, of course, do get personal, especially now when anyone can review a book on the internet in any way they please. Online reviewers have called me sexist, racist, a Christian-hater, a pervert -- all kinds of things that I'm not.
I made the mistake of responding to an online review once. But only once. It accused me of "Christian-bashing" because characters in my book who were Christians had behaved badly. I emailed the reviewer to point out that in my body of work, there are all kinds of characters who have all kinds of beliefs, and sometimes they're good and decent people and sometimes they're not, which is reflected every day in the world around us. My novels Dark Channel and Shackled, for example, feature protagonists who are good, kind and even heroic -- and devoutly Christian. I responded not so much to the review -- which wasn't half bad -- but to what I thought was the author's complete misunderstanding of my intentions.
The reviewer then posted a note telling her readers that I was creepy and possibly a nutjob. It was the last time I ever did such a thing. I found out that this was a teenager who was an avid reader and simply liked to review the books she read. She had every right to her opinion, and no matter how wrong I thought it was, I should not have responded. Maybe to her, my response was creepy! She wrote a review of a novel and then, out of the blue, got an email from the author trying to set her straight about something -- that sort of thing can be startling and intimidating! And like I said, it wasn't a bad review. I don't want to be accused of discouraging someone from speaking her mind. I was wrong to respond.
While you're writing a book, you are the only person in the entire world who has a relationship with that book. During that time, you have the opportunity to make that book whatever you want it to be. But once it's published, the relationship is over. The book is out of your hands and belongs to the world. And I can assure you that not everyone in the world is going to love it. Some of them are going to hate it. And like it or not, for whatever reason, some of them are going to hate you for writing it. They may be wrong. They may be nasty and personal. They may even be obscene. But the book is out of your hands.
Welcome to writing, kids!
If you think someone who writes a bad review of your book is bullying you, then you should quickly develop a thick skin or stop writing immediately and do something else. Because if you keep writing, you are in for a world of hurt. You're not going to get much done if you're determined to respond to all the bad reviews, and you are going to be one very miserable person.
Stop the GR Bullies is made up of very miserable people. Their belief that no one has the right to dislike their work is unrealistic, narcissistic, and extremely unprofessional. Chances are good they are self-published. Traditional publishing puts writers through a screening process that involves a whole lot of hard criticism and rejection. Those in Stop the GR Bullies would never survive that process because they simply cannot handle criticism. Even worse, though, is the fact that these people are willing to put the reviewers in actual physical danger simply because of a bad review.
I have three pieces of advice for Stop the GR Bullies. First, shut down that irresponsible, indefensible and disgusting website -- which reveals far more about you than about you're unfortunate targets (and none of it is good) -- before someone gets hurt or killed. Second, if you don't like what you see on Goodreads, don't go there. Nobody's holding a gun to your head. Third, and most important, stop writing because you obviously can't handle it.
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