If you’re lucky enough to get a large number of reviews on Amazon or other sites, congratulations! Your book is probably selling better than most. However, as you get more reviews, a small percentage of them will inevitably be negative for no good reason.
Anyone can get a critical review, one that dislikes the book, one that fails to notice the reader wasn’t the right audience for the book, or one that is about as helpful as ‘that sucks’ without any further information. That’s no fun, but a sensible person can move on without taking it too personally. If you can’t do that, you might want to rethink your approach. But as we’ve seen over and over, when an author – or any internet personality – gets to a certain level of popularity, there will be reviews and comments that are negative for no apparent reason other than to be negative.
These are the toxic reviews that attack you as a person, rather than offering a response, good or bad, to your writing. Reviews that assume they know more about the story than you do; that assume you have an agenda and it’s one they disagree with; that go after your appearance, make threats, claim you’ve done something wrong or illegal, or insist you do something they want you to do, whether it’s bring out the next book sooner, start charging less, or make your characters do this or that.
Please be aware that I am not to that point yet. My level of internet popularity approaches that of a week-old deceased hamster. So this is not advice from personal experience, but the distillation of advice I’ve seen given out by authors and other folk I admire who have been through this crap. So here are five things not to do when you get this kind of review and comment.
- DO NOT ENGAGE – This is by far the most commonly offered advice. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t give these idiots what they want – your attention. Don’t let them get to you. Don’t pay them the slightest heed. This advice carries a bit of a stigmata of cowardice, these days, along the lines of silence giving consent to these morons to attack other people in the same vein. But consider carefully before deciding whether to engage. It’s all very well to take the heat in an attempt to defend or protect others, but it has consequences that also go beyond you. Is it going to really do any good, or is the heat infinite and you’re not shielding anyone? Is it worth letting these people know that you’re vulnerable to their attacks? Remember that you can’t teach an internet aggravator anything – the problem they’re having is accepting that other people are real and feel real pain, and you can’t teach them about your reality at this distance.
DO NOT IGNORE THREATS – While point number one is still true, when people descend to threats of physical harm, specific and clear, it’s time to call the police. Even if, overwhelmingly, the police still don’t know what to do with internet threats, the more people report this stuff, the closer the system will get to being forced to put something in place. Internet threats that offer damage, rape, murder or bombings in the real world should be taken seriously, and you don’t have to see your physical address in a threatening tweet to believe it’s a real threat. The police shouldn’t either.
DO NOT LITTER – Police your own space. Your website, blog, video channel, twitter account, etcetera, are YOUR space. Don’t be a jerk there, and don’t tolerate jerks there. Keep your comments from being a forum where toxic asshats can spew their goop, and keep your finger firmly on the block/mute buttons in your Tweetspace. Now don’t forget, policing your space starts with policing yourself. Don’t refuse to talk with someone who’s being reasonable, or critical from a real stance rather than a spurious one. If someone disagrees with you politely, that doesn’t mean they get the footwear of invitation to the outside. But if they’re attacking you personally, or being offensive to others in your space in a way that is intentional or refusing to learn, then it’s time for the bye-bye boot.
DO NOT ENRAGE – Don’t be a jerk yourself. This is sometimes surprisingly hard to do. After all, you’re a writer – the wittiest ever response to an asshat comment is just on the tip of your fingers, sparkling and perfect. And it would be so easy to just type it in, then close that comment thread forever, ensuring that you have the last word. Thing is, that’s the mindset the commenter had too. Don’t reduce yourself to his level. It’s also very tempting to Unleash the Hounds – ask your fans to harass and annoy the offender, or disingenuously point them out and mention that it’d really be awful if anybody treated this guy the way he’s treating you. Don’t use your powers for evil. Other people will be reading every word you ever put out on the internet – if not now, then later, when your career takes off. It’s important to be yourself, so that people will know who they’re dealing with and your integrity will remain intact. But it’s important to be your best self, as much as you can. Fans will, for the most part, offer you their loyalty, precious coinage that you get to spend on every book you write.
DO NOT OVERDO IT – When you find all this overwhelming, it’s perfectly fine to take a break. It’s also perfectly fine to say, “I’m taking a break for mental health, see you guys in two weeks.” If you do lose fans, then be assured they wouldn’t have stuck around anyway, with an attention span like that. For the most part, people understand when you need a break. The ones who don’t are the ones you don’t need. But what it really comes down to is taking care of yourself. Get paid for your work – otherwise you won’t be able to keep working. Care for yourself ahead of your fans – otherwise you won’t be able to produce the books that are the core of what they want. Take whatever time you need – it’s the best thing you can do for everyone.
It all boils down to using common sense and not being a dick – or a doormat. It’s a balancing act, and you can do it.