...on the subject of critics and reviewers, in particular online reviewers. This is a difficult subject, particularly in light of recent events, so I have to pick my words carefully...
In the 'old days' i.e. pre-internet, book reviews were generally undertaken by freelancers and professionals. The opinion of the general public went largely unheard, except in terms of book sales: if a book was a smash hit bestseller, then people must have liked it.
At least I assume that's how it worked. I'm still relatively young - 34 - and have no clue how the world worked prior to about 1997. I'm just hoping that I can type this stuff and get away with it.
We live in a different era now. Anyone with access to the internet can post a book review on Amazon and other online vendors. By and large, I think this is a good thing. However, we writers are a delicate bunch, and nothing is guaranteed to cause us exquisite emotional pain than being on the wrong end of a bad review.
Until recently I had been lucky. The reviews of my stuff on Amazon and Goodreads had been generally positive, with a few hiccups - one critic pointed out the inclusion of a field of potatoes in my novel set in the fourteenth century, which caused much private alarm and hasty last-minute editing by my publishers.
Occasional historical mistakes aside, I felt safe and smug in the warm glow of positive critical opinion, and assumed that the conveyer belt of four and five-star reviews would keep on rolling forever.
I think you can guess what happened next. One and two-star reviews started to appear, often coupled with remarks that an over-sensitive chick like me was bound to find hurtful. They weren't designed to be, of course. Several comments referred to the sloppy editing of one of my self-published books. This was perfectly true, entirely unacceptable and entirely my fault. I am now in the process of re-editing and revising the book in question.
One reviewer claimed that I had portrayed a historical character as a 'prancing buffoon'. It was not my intention to do so, and I so I responded - politely - and offered a free book to the reviewer as compensation for her disappointment. This was probably the wrong thing to do. Some wise person said recently that book reviews are not for authors, and it is bad form for authors to respond to them.
But here's the thing - justified or not, the negative reviews hurt. They really hurt, and when someone is hurt their instinctive reaction is to lash out. This is precisely what has happened recently, with certain authors setting up sinister self-help groups, the primary aim of which is to hunt down and harass those who dare to leave negative reviews of their books on Amazon.
I can understand the impulse that has led to the creation of such groups, but what they are doing is wrong. It encourages the idea that reviewers are 'out to get' authors, and leads to an atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust. In short, making cyberspace an even more awful place than it is already.
Groups like these make authors look like a malicious bunch who are incapable of responding to criticism in an adult manner. The only decent way to respond to a bad review is to suck it up, take a deep breath, get up from the computer and walk in circles for a bit, perhaps kick the walls and down a stiff brandy or six...but in no circumstances start a hate war on the internet.
Readers might notice I name no names. Cowardly, I daresay, but I don't want to be dragged into the morass. At some point everybody concerned will have to start talking to each other in a reasonable, civilised fashion again.