Professionalism

Jeroen Steenbeeke  
Posted
I've been told I handle criticism really well. I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with admitting your mistakes and learning from them. Of course, this can not be said of everyone, as was pointed out on Twitter this morning by Rebecca J. Fleming. Rebecca stumbled upon a review by a guy called BigAl of an independently e-published novel called "The Greek Seaman" written by Jacqueline Howett. The review is quite fair and to the point, and can be summarized as the novel being a compelling read that was severely hindered by grammar and spelling errors. Not exactly the kind of review you want for your novel, but not the end of the world.

What's special about this review is the response by the novel's author, that can be seen in the comments. Rather than maintain her decorum and admit her mistakes (or simply ignoring the review altogether), the author instead denies the existence of any grammatical and spelling errors, even when spelled out by several people commenting on the blog post. With everyone siding with the reviewer, the author seems to get more and more frustrated, rehashing the same arguments over and over until she finally snaps and simply starts responding by telling people to "fuck off" repeatedly.

Now suppose you considered buying this novel, but were looking for reviews to help make your decision, what kind of effect would this review have? In my case, spelling and grammar errors might just make me hesitate, but if the story hook is compelling enough I'd still give it a shot. I might give up halfway in if the story is unreadable, but at least Ms. Howett would have earned her money. But after reading Ms. Howett's temper tantrum? There's no way I'm paying anything to stroke someone's inflated ego. A lot of responses to BigAl's post were along the same lines.

Now, being an author myself, and 99% certain of going the self-publishing route, I might find myself in a similar position one day. Not everyone's tastes are the same, so getting negative reviews is part of the job. And if despite my rigorous editing process (I may not have an actual editor, but my platoon of beta readers is proving to be an adequate substitute) there are still grammatical or spelling errors in my novels, I'd probably feel embarrassed, but there is no way I'd deny them or attack the person who found them. Hell, I'd thank him or her! It's a simple fact of life that you can't please everyone.

Lashing out at critics will only hurt yourself in the long run. As one commenter over at BigAl's blog correctly stated: the internet has infinite memory. Another commenter pointed out that her tantrums only increased the coverage of the article, and BigAl has stated in another post that he will not remove any reviews (and even if he did, the Streisand effect still applies). I would never have learned about BigAl, Ms. Howett or her novel if not for her tantrum. If Ms. Howett intend to publish further novels, I would recommend a pseudonym.

So, what have we learned? Either do not respond to negative reviews, or respond politely thanking them for their time in reading your work.

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In other news, I have abandoned my writing resolutions. I'm not having much trouble maintaining the 5000 words a week writing goal, but I'm starting to notice that the quality of my writing is beginning to suffer. The work in progress sequel to Revenant Rising has a number of flaws caused by the high speed at which I'm progressing through the storyline, and I'd rather slow down to get those issues fixed. In addition, I'll be spending more time editing Revenant Rising. I intend to release it this summer, and I want the book to be as good as it can be.