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This is not, by any means, a new topic around blogland. It’s been discussed ad nauseam in many places and by readers and writers alike. (I’ll even add a nifty list of links to previous conversations at the bottom of this post, for those who just got here) However, given a recent example of loud, unprofessional and childish behaviour from yet another author, it seems that the topic has not yet been exhausted.

So let’s recap, shall we?

Good promotion should cost as little as possible and result in the highest number of actual sales possible.

Reviews from readers who bought the book themselves are free promotion for the author—which definitely falls into the ‘good promotion’ definition above. Regardless of the actual tone or grade of the review, it puts the book’s title and the author’s name out there for other readers to become aware of. Name recognition, in other words. If I know your book exists, if I know your name, it’s more likely that I’ll at least check out the back blurb of a book with your name on it than that of a dozen other writers whose names I don’t recognize, when I’m looking over the book aisle in the grocery store.

Many blog readers will read a review wherein the reviewer didn’t like the book, but because they, the readers, know the reviewer’s tastes and how they mesh or differ from their own, they will buy that book. Many of those potential sales, though, can be lost when the author feels the need to publicly explain how the reviewer didn’t like the book because she “didn’t get what the author was doing.”

It may be true, at least from the author’s point of view, but it is also irrelevant. The reviewer didn’t like the book, she explained why, she moved on.

Seriously, there is no need whatsoever to tell her that she didn’t get the book—or the author’s voice, or whatever it is—because she’s stupid. Or shallow. Or too afraid to read outside her comfort zone. Or whatever the condescending and insulting remark du jour may be.

Because, whether any of those remarks is true or not, will not change the fact that the reviewer didn’t. like. That. One. Book.

She may have liked other books by that author in the past. She may look forward to future books by that author. She just didn’t like that one book. It is not open to debate. “Explaining” the book to that reader won’t make that reader like it

So, what to do in the face of non-glowing, rather blah, or outright horrid reviews that slash your book into confetti?

In all three cases, authors should remember this: A bad or negative review is nothing but the opinion of the person writing it. Further, it is about the book being reviewed, not the author of the book. Repeat: it’s about the book, not the author, and it’s one person’s opinion, nothing more.

But, what to do then in the face of a reviewer who crosses the line from reviewing the book into attacking the author?

Remember where you, author, are vs where the reviewer is, career-wise. Readers’ bottom lines ain’t affected by their occasional outbursts, their bad language, their choice of pictures or icons or what have you. Authors’ bottom lines can be affected by the same behaviour—and more often than not, the effect is negative.

What to do then?

You could leave a short comment, “Thank you for taking the time to read and review my book.” Perhaps add, “I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you, perhaps you’ll give (insert plug for the next one) a chance.”

Or, if your blood is boiling, you simply don’t post, you don’t comment. You don’t react (at least publicly—you can always call your mother, sister, best friend, and curse the reviewer to the bottom circle of hell in private). Through all this, though, remember that it is not about you. This person doesn’t know you—even if she is inferring all sorts of unsavory or negative things about you from her reading of your book, she still doesn’t know you.

She can’t hurt you—unless you let her. And she can’t hurt your book sales or your writing career unless you forget that. So, don’t forget it, don’t give in to the anger and the hurt, and don’t play into the hands of an agent provocateur.

Remember, keeping your cool is one of the hallmarks of professionalism, in any field.

What not to do, under any circumstances: do not argue the point. No amount of explaining—no matter how calm or civil or polite—what you meant to convey will change the reader’s opinion of the book, but it may very well leave her thinking that you are calling her slow for not getting you.

Insulting readers who took the time to read a book and write a review, however non-glowing or even outright negative, is a very very very bad idea. It is BAD public relations—in caps—because it may very well alienate future readers. It also creates negative name recognition—as in, “I’ll never buy book by …”

Readers are people, and people tend to have reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally long memories for bad behaviour and negative publicity. Added to this, there’s this little thing about the internet: it never forgets. Between Google cache and screen caps, anything and everything you put out there remains out there, forever and a day, amen.

An author indulging in a temper tantrum in her own blog, livejournal, yahoo group, or whatever, may come to her senses and be able to delete as much of the evidence as possible—but she won’t be able to control other people’s actions (repeat after me: screen caps).

An author indulging in a temper tantrum in someone else’s blog—say oh, a readers’ blog—will have absolutely no control over whatever she spewed while in the throes of emotion. Her words, with her name (or her IP number if she chooses to post anonymously), will be there for as long as the blog owner wishes them to be. And of course, also subject to screen caps.

There’s more, of course.

What happens when the reviewer got the book for free? As a giveaway sponsored by the author, or as an ARC specifically to create advance buzz for the book’s release. Shouldn’t the reviewer have some gratitude? some consideration for the author, and therefore write a good/positive review no matter what? Shouldn’t the author be able to express her displeasure if the reviewer fails to comply with this?

First… I’m sure the vast majority of readers are grateful and happy to receive free books—I know I am. And most reviewers I’ve come across online are happy to devote time out of their own lives to share their love for books and reading, and so they write reviews about both books they have and books they haven’t enjoyed. But a free book not a positive review makes—and authors need to accept that it is the prerogative of the reader, whether she paid for it or not, to like or dislike their book.

Furthermore, when an author sends his or her book to a reader for a review, he or she should be prepared to receive that reader’s honest opinion of the book. It will not always be what the author would like to hear, it may be horrible—or it may be amazing and glowing and beyond the author’s wildest expectations. It is still that one person’s opinion of the book, nothing more, nothing less.

If the author knows himself incapable of keeping his cool without reacting to less than glowing reviews, he should most definitely refrain from giving away free books in any way—giveaways, contests, ARCs, what have you—because no book will be adored by every single reader, and the possibility exists that that free book will end up in the hands of that one reader who doesn’t get what the big deal is.

Authors, accept it. Move on. Don’t make public asshats of yourselves.

Your target may be momentarily bewildered, perhaps hurt, perhaps angered, by your diatribes and over reaction, but otherwise all you are gaining is a negative reputation among those who may have become your readers, had you but kept quiet.

Look, guys, I’m just one person, it’s just one sale—but whereas I will recommend authors who behave professionally to people whose tastes I know those books will fit, I will not ever mention the name of an author behaving like an asshat, even if I know that someone else would like their writing voice. Sorry, I’m petty that way.

And I’m convinced I’m not the only one either.

And further, the asshattery? It doesn’t even have to be directed at me, it’s enough when it’s directed at readers in general.

And I’m petty enough that I won’t name the asshat authors here—not giving them extra Google hits. Anyone interested can dig around and figure out what and who prompted this (though the topic has been in my head for a while).

A final note: All the authors that I’ve reviewed so far have been extremely professional in their behaviour, regardless of what grade I’ve given the books or what I’ve written in my review. It can be done.

links, in alphabetical order (or as close to it as I can get)

Ann Aguirre at her blog

emily veinglory at ERECsite

Holly at Book Binge

Julie Leto at Romancing the Blog

Lauren Dane at The Bradford Bunch

Robin at Dear Author

Shiloh Walker at Trivial Pursuits

30 Comments »

  • A few years ago, fellow authors and I created a list of the Top Ten Things Guaranteed to Shoot Yourself in the Foot as an professional writer. The very first one was Thou Shalt Not Piss off the Reviewers.

    It’s one thing to send a ‘correction’ to a reviewer if something in the review was wrong, it’s something completely different when an author attacks a reviewer for a negative review. That type of behavior is what separates the pros from the hobbyists.

    RT gave me a 1 star review for One With The Hunger and I turned it around into a promo blitz that read, ‘RT thinks I’m Number 1!’ – not to mention that my sales skyrocketed. 🙂

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  • Hi AztecLady,

    You relayed very well my very thoughts on the subject. Argh. I also blogged about this at the time of the last “incident” on my blog here if you’re interested. 🙂

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  • Anji
    June 9
    2:16 pm

    AztecLady – amen!

    I’m a reader and frequent lurker on a number of blogs. I don’t post much, but I like to see what other people think about books that I’ve read or am planning to read. And I may often disagree with a reviewer. But that review and following discussion are way more important than the actual grade. I completely agree about name recognition. (And reviews with “yay, five fluffy kitten grades” where all books are ‘awesome!’are useless to me).

    And yes, authors are marketing a product, and image is incredibly important. I remember if and how the author reacted. I’ve had instances where I’ve liked books by an author but their public behavior was so awful or childish that I’ve decided to spend my money on someone else’s books. When an author is disdainful of readers and makes comments like the reader is too stupid to understand, or says things like “I’m laughing all the way to the bank” – well, then clearly that author is doing well enough to not need my support.

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  • An excellent, excellent essay!
    Should be a hand-out to every writer.

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  • Oh YES. Yes, yes, yes. Thank the reviewer if you can. Use it positively if you can. But no matter what, let it go even if you cry in your room for a few days (and yes, I’ve done that). If it’s an honest review, it’s going to help you for next time.

    And, in fact even if the review does not seem honest and the reviewer is personally attacking you (unless it’s face-to-face with a weapon) you really need to say nothing. Because then it’s the reviewer who comes off the worst and that’s the only way the reviewer will. Response will not help you in any way.

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  • I think one thing authors don’t think about when they react badly over a negative review is this:

    Authors are readers, too. Have they liked every book they’ve ever read? No? Did they not like the book because the author didn’t explain something clearly, they couldn’t follow, it just wasn’t to their taste, it was badly written?

    Whatever the answer, it’s going to boil down to subjective opinion.

    Everybody has different opinions. Readers. Writers. We need to respect the opinions of others-otherwise, we can’t expect anybody to respect ours.

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  • Word.

    I’ve detected quite a bit of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality lately (and probably contributed to it, albeit not intentionally) and I think there is still quite a bit of ill-will around from Savage Gate.

    This is not a new topic, but I think with more people reading blogs and getting impassioned and heated, it seems that the lines are hardening a bit.

    RRA-l has been around since the early 90s (first at Kent and now at Yahoo) and I remember the many, many, emotional flame wars about ‘you cannot say mean things about a book, this is the author’s baby’ that we had and that eventually stifled discussion and in the end turned the list into something much different than it originally was.

    Most of these comments came from readers, but a few writers certainly were involved and one even flounced off the list because we were so ‘mean’.

    In the end, it all comes down to economics as much as we would like to window-dress the issue. Readers have dollars to spend and authors want them to spend them on their books.

    If a writer disagrees with a reader, that’s fine, but while it may seem unfair, as the party wanting to make a sale, smart marketing of oneself requires not making enemies out of potential readers.

    If a writer says something that leaves the reader feeling as if they were cut off at the knee and humiliated, whether or not it seems justified to others, I will not buy their books ever, I will share that experience with other readers and I will never forget and it doesn’t have to have happened to me personally, but to any reader, whether or not I agree with their views about the author’s work or opinions in a discussion.

    After Savage Gate, several authors I used to buy and enjoyed tremendously went on my ‘never buy again’ list, while a (larger) number went on the ‘gotta check them out’ one, all predicated on whether or not I agreed with their public stance on plagiarism.

    I love interacting with authors, fellow readers and industry professionals and I had lots of fun doing just that at Lori Foster’s Get Together this last weekend, but it’s a double-edged sword, because the author does not equal her books or a blogger her posts, for that matter. There’s always a chance that you won’t like what you see online or in RL of an author/reader whose books/posts you enjoy. But that really applies to everybody, not just romance authors and readers.

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  • MB (Leah)
    June 9
    3:51 pm

    How an author conducts herself online carries a lot of weight with me as to if I will buy or stop buying a book of theirs.

    I might really like an author’s voice and love her books, but if she acts like an ass, I’m inclined to stop buying her books because it’s a turn off for me and there are many more authors’ books waiting in the wings for me to read.

    Conversely, if I’ve really disliked and author’s book whom I’ve read for the first time and I see her acting very classy and dignified online, I will buy another of her books. Give her another try because I respect that kind of behavior.

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  • Dorothy Mantooth
    June 9
    4:22 pm

    What if, in a positive review, the reviewer poses a question or mentions something they didn’t understand? Is it okay to thank them and answer the question? Or does that sound snotty?

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  • Dorothy, I don’t think that sounds snotty at all, but it’s all in the phrasing.

    I have written reviews only for a few months now, but I’ve had very positive experiences with authors who have, indeed, participated in the comment threads–Shiloh Walker in the Beautiful Girl review and Nora Roberts in the Strangers in Death one come to mind. And Sandra Schwab in the Castle of the Wolf review.

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  • Dorothy,

    I, for one, am happy if somebody explains things that puzzled me. I’m not a native speaker, and even though my command of English is pretty decent, there are cultural references and sometimes vocabulary that I just don’t get, or misunderstand. But it’s all in the delivery.

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  • K
    June 9
    5:42 pm

    For the most part, I agree with you, Aztec. However, I do think sometimes reviewers take it too far. Mrs. G called it “author baiting.”

    That letter you linked to, I think that was author baiting. And it worked.

    Perhaps reviewers should also stop and think before they post. No, I’m not saying they need to temper their opinions, or give glowing reviews all the time. But if you love books and reading and this genre so much, why do something that will prompt the furtherance of its bad rep?

    Because it will. If you bait an author into a fight and they fall for it, rightly or wrongly, that reflects negatively on romance as a whole.

    Just my $0.02. I imagine I’m in the minority.

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  • Anon76
    June 9
    5:44 pm

    Great post!

    The old “but you didn’t get what I was saying, here, let me explain it to you,” is a self-serving defense every author should stay away from.

    If, as an author, your words in one book don’t resonate with all readers, that’s okay. The world is too diverse to please each and every reader on the planet. Write with your voice, and your heart…and take whatever lumps come along. And…

    DON’T GO ON THE INTERNET AND MAKE AN ARSE OF YOURSELF!

    It will eventually bite you in the butt.

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  • Because it will. If you bait an author into a fight and they fall for it, rightly or wrongly, that reflects negatively on romance as a whole.

    I can agree with this…I’ve definitely read quite a few things that come off, IMO, as baiting.

    But, just because the bait is put out there doesn’t mean the author has to bite it. I’ve had quite a few people bait me, in private and on the ‘net. I generally try not to respond, and when I see the need, I do it in the most professional way I can.

    One thing that generally stops baiting dead-on is when the responder (author in this case) makes it clear they aren’t going to take the bait.

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  • We just talked about this on Plotmonkeys last week and had a really good, civil discussion.

    http://www.plotmonkeys.com/842/reviewsworth-worrying-about/

    Like you said–a bad review is a single person’s opinion. Readers of that blog might or might not have that review in mind when choosing what book to read. A completely over-the-top hissy-fit response from an author is something blog readers will almost certainly keep in mind when choosing what book to read. Not to mention allllll the other readers who will come over to “see what all the fuss is about.”

    My question in the blog I did about this is why is so much spite directed at the blogger-reviewer? You don’t see authors having screaming meltdowns when PW crushes their books. Just don’t get it.

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  • K, regarding that specific letter, I will have to disagree with you. If you check the original review, you will see that the author behaved like a nitwit–worse, an insulting passive-aggressive nitwit–from the get go. So the letter may have come across as over reaction, but given the history… not so much.

    Would I have written the letter? I dunno, frankly.

    Either way, I do not think that the intention was to bait the author.

    On author baiting–or just baiting–it is a fairly common thing online. Trolls, anyone? That is where some common sense and adult restraint come in handy. As Shiloh said, the person being baited always has the choice to ignore the bait.

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  • K
    June 9
    6:59 pm

    But, just because the bait is put out there doesn’t mean the author has to bite it. I’ve had quite a few people bait me, in private and on the ‘net. I generally try not to respond, and when I see the need, I do it in the most professional way I can.

    One thing that generally stops baiting dead-on is when the responder (author in this case) makes it clear they aren’t going to take the bait.

    Oh I completely agree. The author bears the responsibility of biting her tongue. But really, authors are human, and quite frequently dramatic (perhaps even neurotic?). Poke a dog enough and sooner or later it’s going to bite.

    Aztec, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. I read the original review thread, and I still think the letter was unnecessary and baiting. But that’s just moi.

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  • I think as long as a reviewer can come across in a professional and intelligent way regardless of whether they enjoy the book or not, then there should no worries.

    If you are sent a book to review by an author or publisher, they have to realize you may not like what you are given. As long as the reviewer is respectful to the author and gives an adequate reason abaout their opinion, than the author and the ones reading the review should understand that.

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  • Ghetto Diva
    June 9
    8:00 pm

    I’m an author of two of the (better) online publishers. And I agree with what you’re saying.

    Reviewers have posted their likes or dislikes of my stories. And guess what? I take it all in and thank them for their time.

    It’s their opinions, and they are allowed to express it in whatever way the like.

    Disagreeing with them, would only make yourself look like an ass in the end. Because after all is said and done, freedom of speech is something everyone has a right to express.

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  • My question in the blog I did about this is why is so much spite directed at the blogger-reviewer? You don’t see authors having screaming meltdowns when PW crushes their books. Just don’t get it.

    I think it’s because PW is deemed to be more professional, and less accessible. Some authors also believe that bloggers who review don’t have the right to rip a book to shreds.

    As to the author/reader disconnect? It’s alive and well in Romanceland, but not so much in the real world. This is obviously due to the fact that readers have a greater access to authors on the net.

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  • I’ve never been “author baited” (that I know of; I don’t always manage to keep up with blogs and such O_O), but I did learn a few things as a result of having certain opinions on certain message boards in the past. The best way to stop a message board troll in their tracks is deny them your anger. Someone posts “u r a returd” or something equally scintillating, you post back with hearts and smiley faces. Most trolls decided that since they weren’t getting the reaction they came for, they wouldn’t stay. I imagine the same strategy would work with author-baiting. Ignoring the bait does, IMHO, fall firmly into the same category as the “confuse ’em with luuuuurve” strategy *g*

    On a side note, even though I’ve read (and received) some pretty scathing reviews, there are very, very few I would actually label as deliberate baiting. I’ve seen a good bit of baiting — of and by authors, reviewers, readers, etc etc — in blogland, though. It seems to me that non-review-type blog posts and comments are more prone to dramatics.

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  • Wow-very well said.
    Great post.

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  • Shayne
    June 9
    10:37 pm

    Having read a book by a NY Top 10 lister and thrown it across the room after page 38, I can very well understand the theory some people won’t like a book and some will, no matter how bad somebody else says it is.

    That book received many glowing 5 stars as well as it sucked 1 star.

    *shrugs* Sorry, the concept isn’t hard to understand, and very easy to apply to my own works.

    I’m not sure why other authors don’t understand it on that level.

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  • It’s tough to argue with an opinion, especially one that’s well thought-out. It’s also pointless.

    Misstated facts, erroneous assumptions, unwarranted leaps in logic? Welll . . . countering/correcting stuff like that is far more justified. As others have mentioned, it’s all in the approach.

    Author baiters? Screw ’em. Best ignored.

    What I find both pathetic and amusing is how many blog posters who get embroiled in some back-and-forth will ultimately (and huffily) say, “Here’s my last word on the issue. After this, I’m walking away from it” . . . and then come back with four or five or six more posts. That seems to border on some kind of egotistical OCD. I find myself totally discounting the opinions of people like that, who strike me as more than a little, well, crazed.

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  • She may have liked other books by that author in the past. She may look forward to future books by that author. She just didn’t like that one book. It is not open to debate. “Explaining” the book to that reader won’t make that reader like it

    This is just the case in a book I recently read and wrote my thoughts on – haven’t posted it yet though. While I do have some things that really didn’t work for me for this book, I have read many of the authors previous books and will continue to do so as I think she is a very good writer.
    So it’s good to emphasize again that even if one book didn’t work – the next one might be one that is a real keeper.
    And for the record, I’ve never gotten negative feedback from any author whose books I’ve blogged about. Mind you I like about 85% of what I read – I’m lucky that way 🙂

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  • Michelle Monkou
    June 10
    9:51 pm

    Always stay gracious (in public) LOL.

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  • You know what? You can learn from a bad review. My very first published story was “Yorkshire.” I’ve only had two bad reviews for my books, and this one was the worst. The reviewer was uneccessarily unkind, that’s true, because she actually read the book and took notes about it – how many times have you done that? But she did have one point. She said there were too many people in it, and it was hard to follow all the characters.
    So I thought about it and when I had the chance to rewrite for a new publisher, I took them out.
    The rest of the review, however, was a bit odd. The reviewer hadn’t read a book written in the first person before. She said that she read the first few chapters, wondering if it went on the same way and because it was written from the perspective of one character, it read “Like a big flashback” or something like that. So at the end, I was happy to be in the same company as Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens and Diana Gabaldon. (I wish!)
    So did I scream and cry? Well, yes, actually I did, but not in public. Just to my friends, and they patted my hand and gave me whisky to drink and I felt better. And then I felt better later because I hadn’t complained.
    On the other hand, one of my books recently garnered a review which actually got top marks, but we asked if it could be taken down. It wasn’t a site we were familiar with, I hasten to add. But the review was really badly written, and worse, it was peppered with spoilers.

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  • Lynne, I waited a few hours before replying to your last comment because I try hard not to snap out when I’m upset or offended, but to wait until I’ve cooled down. The idea is that then I’m a bit more coherent and that I don’t cross lines I don’t really want to cross. In many cases, waiting translates intro shrugging and moving on–which is fine, because I don’t much care for wasting time and energy on trivialities.

    So I slept on it. This morning I found out that it still annoys the crap out of me, so here it is.

    I don’t think you are aware of just how… well, condescending (for lack of better) this comes across (to me, at the very least):

    …a review which actually got top marks, but we asked if it could be taken down. (snip) But the review was really badly written, and worse, it was peppered with spoilers.

    Now, I hate spoilers with a passion, so wanting a review riddled with them to be taken down? Makes all sorts of sense. The way it’s phrased, however, makes it seem as if you would have asked to have it removed even without the spoilers, because it was “badly written.”

    What the ever loving hell?

    That person who wrote so badly took the time to write down all the things s/he liked about your work, and risked people thinking s/he “wrote badly” to share that love with others.

    I’ve been told that writers have a need to share their stories, but that even then they are always afraid of failing; afraid of being told they can’t write; afraid of being told they “write badly”; that it takes a lot of guts for writers to seek publication, to share their stories with strangers.

    How much more courage would it take for a non writer? Someone who perhaps knows s/he can’t write, but who still wants to share his/her love for a book?

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  • Atztec Lady, many apologies.
    Having read it back, yes, you’re right, it reads very badly, and wow, yes, condescendingly. Ugh.
    I should have said “It was written badly because it contained lots of spoilers” because that was what I meant. Not that the writer didn’t write ‘properly’ in any way. S/he’s entitled to write any way s/he wants. I’m just glad s/he enjoyed the book.
    I’m in the business of encouraging people to read books, not to put them off, so I don’t really care as long as when they express their opinions, they do it without spoilers.
    In the book that was reviewed, the heroine had a secret identity, a kind of double one, because there was one behind the other, and both were revealed in this review. Not just that, but there were other little surprises which happened after the first half of the book which were revealed.
    But you’re right. For a writer, or for anyone come to that, that post was really poorly expressed. I didn’t want anybody to come upon the review unawares, since it wasn’t labelled “spoilers” or anything, and since the bulk of it consisted of spoilers, it had to be rewritten to take them out, or come down and I think the site decided to take it down.

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  • I agree with Michelle M. Stay gracious…in public.

    However, I’d like to add one thing. Husbands. They’re great to vent to! My husband has really big shoulders, he can handle a bit of grumbling from me. The best part about blubbering to him in private is that I’m not making a bloody fool of myself to the whole world. lol

    I won’t say it’s easy, but this is a business and you need to remember to conduct yourself in a professional manner.

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