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A Lesson in Courtesy, and I Didn’t Even Have to Participate

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What a dust up in the blogosphere this week! We’ve seen these train wrecks before, but never on the scale of this.

For those of you who want the Cliff Notes version, Big Al reviews books available on Kindle. Many books available on Kindle are self-pubs, or e-pubs. I imagine in the world of self-pubs, there are good books and bad books, just as there are in print form. His review of Jacqueline Howlett’s The Greek Seaman, caused the author to appear on his comment thread. She spewed expletives, and while 1. this is the Internet, and 2. I have no sound on my computer, I could hear her screeching.

We’ve seen this before: authors getting worked up and ornery over reviews. While I understand the burning desire to defend oneself and the work of art (i.e. baby) they have created, starting an online flame war is not likely to win many friends and influence people. At least, not toward the positive.

It took an hour for me to read the comments, many of which were entertaining. I did not comment. What else is there to say?

Like Big Al, I sometimes write book reviews and I sometimes receive free copies of books from publishing houses. Unlike Big Al, my mantra is, if I can’t write a gushingly positive review, I’ll write no review at all. Not that Big Al’s review of Ms. Howlett’s work was all that scathing. A review is a subjective thing, as are books. There are books I’ve read and wondered “How the hell did this get on the New York Times bestseller list?” There are others that I tweet and review and push on my friends and employees, because those books are great and seem to get no press at all.

Big Al pointed out the flaws in Ms. Howlett’s books, and he did so without malice. It seemed a rather tame review. Even in subsequent comments, he maintained a level of professionalism he should be congratulated for.

On the other hand… Jacqueline Howlett has caused an Internet splash and held tenaciously to more than 15 minutes of fame, but nothing good will come from it. If she ever approaches an agent or publishing house, the first thing the respondent will do is Google her name. (Don’t you? I do all the time.) Nothing is ever erased from the Internet, no matter how you back-pedal or delete. Unless she changes her name, this eruption of bad behavior will likely follow her for the rest of her life.

Let this be a lesson in courtesy, for writers and everyone else in the world. Some people might like what you do, they might like who you are, or they might agree with your political leanings or your choice of rap star versus Justin Bieber. They might prefer the way their mother cooks roast beef and not Arby’s, they may feel loyalty to American cars over foreign brands, or they may want to live in the woods with the bears instead of in the city. As my friends know, I’d rather live on the West Coast than in Michigan. This is not to dis my mitten; it’s just my preference.

Artists are entitled (sometimes compelled) to create. Once you put it out there, it’s there for the world to see. It had better be perfect (which is why I haven’t e-pubbed anything – yet). Once released, you lose your right to be indignant over subsequent comments.

Authors should keep in mind these things when it comes to critique and reviews:

1. It’s not personal. Unless your mother or your ex-husband is the reviewer and you can prove it’s personal, let it go.

2. Grow a thick skin, because if you’re on the Internet, you’re going to need it. Not everyone loves you, not online, not in real life.

3. Keep your mouth shut. Someone likes your work. And even if no one on the planet likes your work, YOU do. If you don’t have faith in your work, you might as well go back to your day job.

4. If you find a burning urge to debate your opinion, do so privately. Public displays are great for us rubber-neckers, but not so good for you.

5. For God’s sake, DO NOT use the *F* word in comment threads, particularly if you’re a writer. A sprinkling here and there in a manuscript is one thing, but a writer should be able to come up with a more genteel metaphor. As in the real world, overuse of the word does not make you look cool – it makes you look crass, uneducated, and rough.

Finally, consider your critique to be an aid to making the next piece better. Big Al brought up some very valid points regarding grammar, spelling, and purple prose that would likely help Ms. Howlett with her next project.

If she listens.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • http://lifesosmall.wordpress.com/ marylisa

    A lesson in courtesy for us all, indeed.
    Ms. Howlett was out of line and certainly started the whole exchange, but I can’t help but feel bad for her, since her Amazon ratings have dropped so drastically. I’m sure most reviewers were responding to the controversy when giving a 1 star review without actually having read the book. I don’t know how Ms. Howlett, as an author, will be able to overcome it.

    When, when, when will we all learn that once it’s out there in cyberspace there’s no coming back?

  • max

    I got here by accident. I meant to google “semen”