The Power of the Invisible Trolls...
That sounds like the title of a low budget, bad fantasy movie, doesn’t it? I bet the average author recognizes the reference being made, though. This week I’ve seen a good number of posts referencing reviews of the not so nice kind, and the way authors respond. I’ve reached the point where I wonder if there is any value at all in reviews, and have serious doubts despite the emphasis placed on the need for them.
I was saddened to see a friend talking about quitting because she had once again fallen prey to the nastiness of the invisible faces out there who’ve become collectively known as trolls. We all encounter them on one level or another, but in the cyber world they’ve become synonymous with mean-spirited attacks on anyone who does, says, or creates something that offends their personal sensibilities. Psychologists and others have spent endless hours in study of the behaviours of people while online, and one common truth continually emerges–people hide behind the anonymity that a computer allows, and they behave in a way that would never allow them to function in face to face society. For whatever reasons, and they all vary despite common threads, many people use this anonymous world as a safe way to vent their frustrations. A fight with the spouse, annoyance with the children, pissed off at your best friend, whatever… it all comes out to be aimed at strangers, rather than dealt with in a rational and reality based way.
Artists are entertainers regardless of the field in which they operate, and artists are notoriously sensitive souls, for the most part. Many actors and singers refuse to read a word written about them, it either destroys their peace of mind, or enrages to a point that they in turn commit retaliatory stupidity that is soon regretted. Authors are told to seek reviews to promote their work and show readers their books are worth reading. They are then told not to read reviews or pay too much attention to them. Like most of life, the messages are conflicting.
No one gets consistently good reviews forever. For the first five or more years of my pro writing career, I got glowing reviews. The bubble burst when someone reviewed a novella I’d written and received excellent reviews for–all 4.5 or 5 star reviews. Then came this blogger… Oh my God, what a shocker that was! I’d hit on a hot button for this woman, and she went bonkers. Her review read more like a diatribe, lacked any coherent sense, and a great deal of assumption made about the author. She ranted and raved, and posted this mess anywhere she could think of to post it. The publisher and other authors of the house read it and not one of them could make real sense of it. That led me to ponder a little deeper than her attacking my book.
There is no way to please everyone, and it’s a reality that you are going to be shredded by someone at some point. I’ve never met an author who didn’t want some kind of constructive feedback on their work, so criticism is not the issue here. Presentation is. If you post an inarticulate mess of contradictions and emotional ranting, how seriously are you expecting to be taken out of your own circle of supporters. Once a review of that sort goes onto a public site such as Amazon, several things happen. The author questions just what the hell went wrong, because that’s human nature. But, once the shock wears off, a clearer head prevails. For me, and I only speak for myself, my attitude becomes a great deal more distanced. I wrote a book, most people enjoyed it. A review that is not honest, well-reasoned, and intelligent is a review I pay no attention to on anyone’s book. If you can’t present your thoughts in some kind of rational manner, why do you expect anyone to take your opinion seriously? A good friend once said to me, and I quote: “Opinions are like ass holes, everybody has one.” We, as writers/artists, have to consider that simple truth and give it whatever credence it deserves.
I’ve had people get hung up on endings, and state they’d have given the story a 5 if it hadn’t been for the ending. Well, that’s a bit like a teacher saying, you got the answers right for everything but the last question, so I’m giving you a fail. How much sense does that make? Others complain about character names, or a typo, or a single point that irritated them. No one likes everything, but if you have to resort to displaying a total lack of manners or respect, which happens when you make it personal with an author, do you really think anyone else is going to think what you’ve had to say is valid? Intelligent thought goes a long way if you want to give people an objective viewpoint to consider.
As to quitting because of the uglies who are really just cowards anyway, I truly hope authors will reconsider. The world needs the beautiful voices of creative souls, and if you leave the stage, it validates the bullies who want to feel powerful by pushing around strangers they’d never have the courage to face for real. If you need a different kind of view to give you balance, consider this… Look up great Classics and read the one star reviews placed on them. The ignorance is glorious, the self-satisfied smugness highly amusing… it shines a spotlight on just how shallow and ridiculous many people can be when they think no one who knows them will notice. I recently read reviews for Gone With The Wind–and love it or hate it–it IS considered by many to be a classic novel. Statements about the book being racist are somewhat absurd. By today’s standards the book is flawed in many ways, but what kind of “reviewer” doesn’t take into consideration the era in which the novel was written–the morals and values of 1936 are dramatically different than those of the 21st century. Add to that, you’re speaking of a story set in the 19th century, and you have a highly laughable bit of outrage to read.
Look up any novel considered universally great, then check out what’s been written by today’s audience… I assure you, perspective will return. To the “reviewers” who are reading this, consider yourself before you put nasty words to the page and send them out to represent your thoughts. You may be hidden by the computer screen, but you reveal a great deal more about yourself than anything else when you spew your hate at others. Real readers are a savvy bunch in general, they look at reviews, and reviewers, but ultimately, I doubt either sway their decision to buy a book, or not, most of the time. I know myself, reviews don’t do more than entertain me these days. No two people ever read the same book anyway, no matter what the words say. Read with YOUR eyes, not someone else’s prejudices and ignorance, and treat every author’s words with the respect you want your own to be given if you offer them. Authors-keep writing and giving your readers a reason to come back, always.