On Responding to Reviews

I’ve been asked a few times recently – certainly more than I was asked with God’s War , Infidel and Rapture – to address specific responses to THE MIRROR EMPIRE. We all like a good author meltdown, I suppose. I think what some folks don’t realize is 1) this ain’t my first rodeo, and I’m very good at sorting GamerGate style trolls/imposters from real responses 2) I’m a pro author with a book due in February, and I seriously have better things to do.

In any case, it seems to be requested more now than with prior work (people keep pointing me to them in my mentions, and it came up in a couple interviews, which is super annoying even when I’ve cut down on social media use here as book deadlines loom), so I’d like to state here, for reals, and for posterity:

I don’t respond directly to negative reviews, folks. If you’re lucky I may paraphrase a particular point and snark about it on Twitter about it, but that’s it. There are very good reasons for this.

1) I’m a professional author, and I have better things to do than rant at some fourteen year old reader (especially trolls posing as readers) on the internet. There is no greater mark of the non-professional than going after Jo Blow Reader and taking them to task for being upset because they found the names in your book difficult or because they think you’re trying to bring your feminist gay agenda poly communist socialism to the masses. It’s just a book. I’ve published four of them and need to finish the fifth one, and I have better things to do. People being upset about being uncomfortable with the themes I bring to the page in my fiction is something I expected. Troll backlash, GamerGate/Your Slip is Showing style, with dudes posing as queer women of color who are totally being objective was also expected (these get easier to spot as you go along). Classic troll behavior LIVES for author meltdowns. I’m actually not very good at real meltdowns. Trolls tend to be sadists who take delight in the pain of others. I find a lot of responses to my work tell me more about the reader than the book, and find them deeply funny as opposed to painful. Which is why I could never date a sadist; they would die miserably while I laughed.

2) Book conversations are for readers, not authors. Social media has made creators more accessible than ever before, and I get wanting to ask us questions about what our intentions were, about what we meant, about What It All Means. But the reality is that half of the reading experience has to do with the person reading the book. Only half comes from what I actually put on the page. That means that reader conversations about books should generally stay reader conversations, without me barreling in to muck things up.

3) Authors butting into reader conversations shuts down discussion. The moment I post a big rant, or show up in some comments section is the minute the discussion of a book ceases to be about the book and instead becomes about my reaction to reviews. This also makes readers who may not comment hesitate to publicly discuss my work on the internet, for fear that the Eye of Sauron will beam down upon them at any moment, waiting to descend on their comments section and take them to task. I like readers reading my work. I have no interest in being Sauron.

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4) I respect the book blogger’s role triaging books. I read book reviews too to find great new books. There are a ton of book reviewers whose opinions don’t gel with mine. I don’t read those ones for book recs because, invariably, they will hate books I love. Alternatively, folks like Justin Landon will love books that I have no interest in whatsoever. But if both Justin and Liz Bourke like a book, then I may take a look. The reality is that many readers who get book recs online rely on these sorts of tastemakers to decide what books to read. When I’m looking at movies to watch, I read movie reviews from Charlie Jane Anders, because we seem to have the same “just cheesy enough to be fun but not horrifying” taste in film. We all have particular reviewers who we use as touchstones to guide our reading experiences. Trying to shut down one of those voices is the dumbest thing ever; bad reviews actually sell a lot more books than you might think, especially the ones that are more about the reviewer than the book.

5) I am not going to stop writing because people are angry on the internet. Listen. People get justifiably angry over all sorts of things. That’s good anger, understandable anger. I’m good at reading through reviews to find out where I’ve made people angry because I’ve honestly done something hurtful or got something wrong and when people are just angry because they’re uncomfortable about having to think about things they never had to think about before. So don’t worry: I am hearing the stuff that is actual stuff I could do better, and discarding the stuff that is people going through the process of growing up into a world that is bigger than they are. There is a difference and I’m good at spotting it. Take heart. Have some faith. I will also note that in a world where my fan mail far exceeds my hate mail, and where the sort of fan mail I get is of the “you saved my life” variety, I have no intention to cease writing because some people are uncomfortable. What’s one person’s rage at me ruining epic fantasy compared to saving people’s lives, to showing people what is possible, to making a real, tangible difference?

It means absolutely nothing. Ok, maybe it means I make some popcorn and delight in the show. But emotionally, intellectually, career-wise? Nothing.

So seriously, my friends: leave me out of discussions about the book on Twitter, for reals. We’ve sold a lot of fucking books (for me), and I have a lot of readers hungry for a second book that needs to get written, and will not get written if its author is ranting like a n00b on the internet about every. single. reader. response. I have books to write, my friends.

Books for people to RAGE about!

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