Yes, yes, there’s that whole “nice” version that says, “Do unto others” and blah blah. Mine’s shorter: Don’t be a douche. Don’t be a douche to strangers. Don’t be a douche to puppies. Don’t be a douche to co-workers, people standing in line in front of you, or the police. Don’t be a douche to children or the elderly or people of different cultural backgrounds. Don’t be a douche to porcupines. Just . . . don’t be a douche.
This philosophy is simple and to the point. It’s served me well. If we all embraced it? There would be a remarkable lack of douchedom in our world. Can’t we all get behind that? Can’t we get behind a non-douchey existence?
So, what has me spouting about douchedom today? The long and short of it is an author attempted to engage a reviewer on the reviewer’s blog about a negative review and it came across as a little. Erm. Well, whatever. By all appearances, the author’s intentions were good, but as we all know good intentions mean diddly and squat.
The reaction to this has been visceral, both sides of the fence. There are folks saying you cannot as an author talk to people critiquing your work as it violates some unspoken . . . something something. I’m not sure what the rule is, as frankly, I don’t agree with it, but more on that later. The other side says people jumped on the author and need to take a chill pill the size of Cincinatti. Some bloggers even proclaimed, “HEY, AUTHORS, COME TALK TO US.”
Whatever side of the debate you fall on, I think we can all agree the whole thing became quite the kerfuffle. Kerfuffle is often entertaining, but also maddening-making.
Let me get this out of the way right now: in general, an author talking to a reviewer who panned their work is a bad idea. It’s not awful all the time, but the likelihood of the interaction going tits up is quite high. Why? Because even if the author is a straight shooter, respectful, asking legitimate questions and trying to learn from their “mistakes” with readers, their interference is often going to be construed as them being some loud-mouthed asshole who has nothing better to do but to tell the internet why they’re wrong for internetting. (Sometimes, the author IS a loud-mouthed asshole, which is just pathetic, but I think we can all agree those authors need a swift kick in the teeth.) Assuming the author is a normal individual, though? Sad, but true – authors can’t win this one. Or, as Wendig said, The Juice Ain’t Worth The Squeeze. The one time you actually get constructive criticism from the conversation will not be worth the fifty-four others where someone (maybe not the reviewer themselves, but one of their readers) will call you a ballsy tool for broaching the subject in the first place.
Which is weird, when you think about it. A reviewer talks about an author at length, sometimes unkindly, and yet the author is powerless to contribute to the dialogue about them. It’s like walking into a party where everyone there is talking about you and you have to sit in the corner sipping your Diet Coke while you listen to strangers smear you and your work. But you can’t make eye contact! And you can’t defend yourself or ask questions because that’s wrong! And rude!
The whole paradigm is very strange, but I think what’s at play here is some messed up hybrid of net etiquette and accountability. What’s both wonderful and terrifying about the internet is it allows for the illusion of anonymity. You can say what you want, and if you don’t want to “hear” what people have to say back, you can hit post and run away. You can convince yourself it’s a way to free speech your face off without the rest of the world being able to hurt you for your opinions. Except, that’s not at all the case, really, because how often can you say provocative shit and NOT run back to see what you’ve wrought with your words? Reviews are no exception to this. If you’re going to pan a book in a review, you’re not going to be free from backlash simply because you put on a fancy dress and called yourself a reviewer. People — not necessarily authors, but fans, other readers in general — will digest what you have to say. Sometimes, they will take you to task for it. Some of those people won’t be nice.
That’s not to say people shouldn’t negatively review. In fact, some of the best reviews I’ve read didn’t love the work in question. But the thing I liked about those reviews? They might be critical, but they weren’t mean spirited. The reviewer didn’t relish tearing the work apart. They fairly compared and contrasted what worked for them versus what didn’t. They presented their negative comments in a way that didn’t savor an author’s folly. Any issue I have ever had with a negative review was not because the reviewer disliked the book in question, but because they took such abject pleasure in spewing their loathing all over the place, completely disregarding the time and effort it took the artist to create the work.
In short: the only time I’ve had a problem with a negative review is when the reviewer acted douchey. Now see my douchey philosophy in paragraph one.
And sure, go ahead and tell me that this is the shitty part of being an artist who puts your work out there for public consumption – people aren’t always going to love it. They’re not always going to be nice when they don’t love it. I recognize that. Hell, I’m braced for it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to think someone who delights in calling me a talentless hack isn’t an asshole. The reviewer has the right to say whatever they want, and to a point they can hide behind the internet and pretend this gives them mystical Kevlar, but the reality is? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. While I might not walk up to you and say, “Hey, that’s hurtful,” I am absolutely allowed to A) think you’re a butthead and B) tell other people I think you’re a butthead. And while the “rules” say I can’t go to that party where everyone’s talking about me and defend myself? I’ll host my own party and my party will have better cocktail weenies and beer that isn’t Budweiser. And no one at my party will be a douchebag because I have flying monkeys and I’m not afraid to use them.
Douchedom. Not the way to go. In life, in reviews, in responding to reviews.