Chapter 41 – Getting Personal

Reviews can cause a lot of joy and grief to writers. The main thing to remember is that they’re not personal. But what if they are?

Picture by Mitchell Joyce
Picture by Mitchell Joyce

Sometimes writers can take bad reviews as personal insults and get sad, thinking that by critiquing their work the reviewer has critiqued them as a person. Usually that’s not the case. There has just been something about the book they didn’t like and that’s it. Maybe you can learn from the review or maybe it’s a difference in opinion that can’t be fixed, but you shouldn’t lose sleep over it.

But then there are clearly personal remarks. I read an article on BBC about insults authors have hurled at one another, and I have to admit some of them were quite creative. When was the last time you thought about calling someone a great cow full of ink? But as creative as they may be, I don’t understand why they have to be said out loud.

Now, I can’t be sure how serious those people were but let’s assume they meant it. And even if they didn’t, I know for certain there are still people out there who would say things like that. Not to anyone’s face in many cases, but on blogs, reviews, comments… anywhere they’re able to post.

That is not giving critique that might help the author. That is not being supportive. Obviously you don’t have to like every single author, but throwing around personal insults isn’t the answer. It’s okay to say you didn’t like something in a book or that you don’t like the style of an author, or even that you don’t get why someone’s books are so popular. Saying that someone’s work is so bad it makes you want to dig up their bones and beat them is not. To me the fact these kind of comments are coming from fellow authors makes it even less understandable.

Trolls troll. In general I’d say these days personal bashing comes from people who do it to everyone, who do it because they find it funny or because they want to cause chaos. Doesn’t make it justified, but they’re usually easier to ignore than someone who’s also in the field.

Insensitive comments can make you shrug, doubt your abilities or even stop writing. The insults mentioned in the article were mostly from big name authors to other big name authors (some were dead already when the comment was made), but who’s to say they didn’t feel bad? I’ve heard a lot about how new writers will eventually learn to grow thicker skin, but how many people have lost their self-trust because of nasty comments?

I’ve mostly witnessed writers being helpful and gracious towards each other, and I believe that’s how most of us are. I doubt it’s possible to ever root out rude commenters and reviewers, but at least we can all do our part and offer support to those who do get bashed. We’re all in the same boat, right?

But let’s end this before this turns into a rant about online comments and the like.

Do you think the put-downs listed in the article are funny or acceptable? Why, or why not? Does it matter if the sayer or target is a (famous) author? Have you received reviews/comments that have been personal attacks and how have you handled them?

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