Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kathleen Hale the Stalker: 4 Things to Consider

Kathleen Hale is a writer who, after having gotten a bad review on her book, stalked the reviewer online, in person, and on the phone.  Hale wrote about her experiences in The Guardian, and the story has elicited a great deal of comment in both writer and reviewer circles.  As usual, I'm a bit late to the party, but I figured I'd make my thoughts known anyway.
  1. There's an expression that I love when it comes to commentary on situations like these: moral preening.  Or, if you prefer, burnishing your moral bona-fides.  In short, you should get no points for taking the moral stand that's self-evidently right, even if many people have taken the opposite position.  There's no bravery in pointing out an obviously wrong thing and saying, "Hey, you shouldn't do that."  With that in mind, it's clear that Hale was completely batshit crazy and shouldn't have stalked the reviewer.  She shouldn't be trusted with sharp objects, she's an entitled lunatic, etc. etc.  We know that, so let's move on.
  2. This is an interesting piece, if only because it hits the most overwrought high points and completely forgets how unbelievably small the respective author and reviewer pools truly are compared to the population of actual readers.  The vast majority of readers don't give a shit outside of the drama Hale's story has created, which is itself interesting reading.  If all the book bloggers/reviewers went on strike, people would still buy and read books.  Even indie books.  Note also terms like "systematic devaluation of female voices" in the actual piece and comments from readers that include "it all seems to me to be part and parcel of a trend toward silencing women".  This from an opinion piece that does more than just reference a woman writer who stalked a woman reviewer.  If female voices are being devalued, some of the blame must fall upon women, right?  The expression about one's only tool being a hammer and every problem resembling a nail comes to mind.  If everything's about women's issues, nothing's about women's issues.  This isn't about women's issues.
  3. I care about reviews: most beginning writers do.  Reviews affect business.  Obviously, I only want honest reviews from people who read the book (no moral preening here).  If the book's great, tell me so.  Tell everyone how great it is so they buy it, too.  However, I ache for the time when none of it will matter so much to me.  It will require a great deal of work to get there, so I just put my head down and write.  When it comes to bad reviews (anything less than 3 stars is a bad review, and even a 3-star review isn't good), they hurt, but you suck it up and move on.  If the reviewer has something pithy to say, you go back and see if the criticism is valid.  Improve where you can and move on.  One thing, though: I reserve the right to hate you a little because you didn't like my book.  Just a little.  I won't act on it.  But it'll be this thing between us.  And you might have forgotten it, but for me, it's always there.  For some writers, the hate is bigger.  For some unhinged writers, there's a need to act on that hate, hence Hale.  
  4. Goodreads is where the dastardly attack on Hale's good name was perpetrated.  I dislike Goodreads.  Most authors I speak to feel the same way.  It's tailor-made for the passive-aggressive set, with its context-free rating system that doesn't require that you've read anything further than the blurb to use.  Many Goodreads reviewers love to write long, vicious attack screeds about the books and authors they hate, and these reviewers have gained reader followings for those screeds.  Self-important internet book-tyrants stake out fiefs on Goodreads, and woe to the fool who makes the mistake of expressing a different opinion.  Luckily, Goodreads isn't representative of the reading population.  Hopefully it isn't representative of humanity in general.  Like every other form of social media, it's high school.  It's small.  It's not the real world.  But writers have to acknowledge it.  
All the successful writers I respect say the same thing: ignore the reviews.  Write.  Improve.  Market.  Repeat.  It's what I intend to do.

Right after I check my Amazon writer page to see if anyone else has reviewed my books yet.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

On my own blog, I wrote a post on this issue. I agree with many of the points you bring up, but I honestly think that authors should really try to ignore reviews until they've built the confidence to ignore the negativity and use what is said to improve.