Monday, February 22, 2010

Where Do You People Get Off? by Jess Lourey

I can see the allure of the writing life—spend all day in your pajamas clicking out words which make scenes which make books that people can’t put down, bothering to shower only when you have to go out to cash those big royalty checks. What they don’t tell you about (besides the lie to all of that) are the angry reader emails.

I’ve gotten a handful in my three-year writing career, fewer than five but more than I need. Here’s an excerpt from the most recent one, which I received while on vacation with my boyfriend this past weekend: image

“I just read September Fair, and it started out strong but then got stupid…why is it always the business owner who is the murderer? And your language? ‘FU’--yuck! And one of your characters had multiple sex partners!!!”

First, don’t be worried that I’ve given away the ending by sharing this slam. There is more than one small business owner in the novel, the small business owner(s) didn’t do it, and no small business owner in any of my previous books was the killer. But that’s the danger—dissecting these slams and all the ways they’re wrong and might be right, feeling that icky green anger burble up from my stomach caused by someone disliking my writing enough to seek out my email address and tell me how terrible I am--it’s the trap that lures me in every time.

I’d previously received a different slam for September Fair, telling me that while the book was fine, this reader was sick of “you image people” telling her what to eat and what not to eat, and she wanted to know where “you people” got off controlling her life. In the novel, there is an animal rights activist who talks about how meat and dairy products are produced, and it is pretty gross, but I’m fine with my readers eating whatever they enjoy. And I sent her an email letting her know that. (Read here to find out why that wasn’t a good idea.)

I get that some people aren’t going to like my books, either my writing style or the content, and I understand that a certain imagepercentage of the population feels compelled to use their personal opinions as weapons, but I still don’t know how to distance myself from the pain of random, oddly personal reader criticism (which, for the record, I separate from valid and constructive criticism of my writing, which is a blessing I’ve learned to appreciate). Any suggestions? If not, any war stories to add company to my misery?

29 comments:

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, so what is the ratio of good emails/Amazon comments to bad ones that would leave us with a positive feeling? 10 good comments to 1 bad? Nope, not for me. On Amazon, 11 readers give Dot Dead 5 stars, one gives 4. And then there's the one who gives it (gives me!) a 1. She says, "The characters lacked depth and are completely unbelievable." That one comment is like a drop of black ink in a bucket of white paint. It sullies the whole thing. So, Jess, no answers.

Lisa Bork said...

I used to have a boss who said if you aren't pissing people off, you're not doing your job right. Seems to me the ability to elicit strong emotion, be it positive or negative, is the mark of a great writer.

G.M. Malliet said...

The bad karma in giving anyone a one-star review is just--well, it's an accident waiting to happen. There's jealousy at work there, and it shows.

Jess Lourey said...

I like that "drop of black ink in a bucket of white paint" analogy, Keith. I think it's dead on.

Lisa, any advice from an Agatha nominee is worth taking. Congrats on the quality of your book being recognized, and cheers to eliciting strong emotion!

I hear you, Gin. I am perplexed by the internal machinations that would drive a person to post a one-star review. If I don't like the book, I don't finish it, just like if I try a new dish and I don't like it. To finish it and then be angry because you did...well? Good thing we believe in karma.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Let's see, a few years ago one reader wrote that reading my book was "more painful than going to the dentist." Another accused me of "thin bashing."

Love Keith's analogy. It does sully the experience, but I try to laugh it off and move on. Bad comments/e-mails don't show up that often, but even so, those are the ones that stick and aggravate, like a popcorn hull lodged in my gum.

If a criticism is justified, like a typo or error, I might answer and thank them for pointing out the problem. But I never respond to hateful comments because I don't want to appear defensive, and sometimes I think those people are just looking for attention.

Jess Lourey said...

"Thin-bashing," Sue Ann? Empowering characters of all body types and poking fun at popular culture's narrow definition of beauty that constricts all of us, regardless of body type, is now thin-bashing? Dangit, now I'm mad at your haters AND mine.

Alan Orloff said...

Some people have way too much time on their hands. When I'm reading a book I don't care for, I stop reading it and move on to the next. If I do finish one that didn't float my boat, I certainly don't take time to go vent about it somewhere. (Of course, I'm talking about non-professional reviewers here.)

G.M. Malliet said...

I used to read a book doggedly to the end, no matter what. Now I have no problem abandoning a book that doesn't hold me. It may be a function of age and the sense that I've no more time to waste on books that have nothing to teach me.

But I also don't have time to go spew all over a book I didn't like, and I never did have time for that.

Jess Lourey said...

But you, Alan, are just a really nice guy.

Cricket McRae said...

Eff it. There's no way to have the number of readers you have and not run into a few nuts. That kind of vitriol is really the problem of the person who spews it, though it's nearly impossible not to take it personally. It's a shame you had to come home to such nonsense.

Multiple sex partners, you say? Gosh, that's terrible.[As I move September Fair to the top of my TBR pile...]

G.M. Malliet said...

Cricket - LOL

Keith Raffel said...

What is multiple sex?

Jess Lourey said...

Haha, Cricket! You really did get an LOL from me, not just a cyber LOL!

Jess Lourey said...

Gin, I'm with you. I don't waste time on books that don't draw me in OR on spewing. If I could just adopt your zen attitude toward the reception of those spews...

Keith, you'll need to speak to your spiritual guide about multiple sex because I don't want to corrupt. Just make sure you know you have to have a partner for it. ;)

Cricket McRae said...

Now I'm laughing...

Shel said...

New commenter here - hi everyone! Jess, your book just moved to the top of MY TBR mountain too. Cricket, you made me LOL as well.
I've already offered my sympathy to a couple of other authors on the one star review thing at Amazon, and the same thing applies here, Jess. Some people just don't have anything better to do with their time.

Jess Lourey said...

Shel, your kindness in posting positive thoughts does dispel some of the negativity out there. You've earned your good karma for the day! Thank you.

Keith Raffel said...

One kind word, Jess, and you turn all soft and mushy?

Jess Lourey said...

I don't know, Keith. Why don't you try it and we'll see?

Jess Lourey said...

:P

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, After Jeanine's comment on the weekend's news item (previous post), it's not easy resisting mushiness, but at least I'm putting up a good fight. Growl.

Mike Dennis said...

Jess, my best advice would be to quote Joseph Mantegna from HOUSE OF GAMES: "Play past it."

Julia Buckley said...

I'm curious to know why the people who would criticize don't ever want to root their criticism in, say, rationality or a balance of good and bad, simply so that they would be taken seriously.

When it's all vitriol my mind screams "mental problems." Wait, now I'm mental health bashing. :)

The things she chose to complain about seem odd and not bothersome, not even controversial.

And I can't offer you tips, because the one truly bad review I got made me feel not just humiliated, but utterly exposed, as though the whole world were reading it over my shoulder and laughing. It didn't matter at all that I didn't agree.

Jess Lourey said...

Mike! Did you figure out how to log in without having to reinvent the wheel every time? Let me welcome you back with this deep thought by Jack Handey:

"Whenever you read a good book, it's like the author is right there, in the room talking to you, which is why I don't like to read good books."

:)

Julia Buckley said...

And PS, it gives me pause, since my WIP is truly controversial because of its main character and some of her behaviors. I think it's a good story, but I also think that, were it ever published, it would reel in the hate mail writers like so many Asian carp.

Jess Lourey said...

I know exactly what you mean, Julia. Our brains can see it for the meanness that it is, but like Keith said, that one drop of black ink destroys the whole bucket of white paint. I really don't mind helpful reviews, but the ones that are just meanness, I can't seem to let go of. Why give them that much power?

Jess Lourey said...

Bring 'em on, Julia! I can't wait to read it. I think Lisa is dead on in her comment about pissing people off being a sign that you're doing something right.

Keith Raffel said...

Go, go Julia.

Mike Dennis said...

Jess--
First let me say that yes, you've pegged me correctly as a Mac guy. Second, I took your advice and tried Firefox. Same result. I have to get a new account every time, but it always accepts the same user name, password, birthday, etc. You know, as soon as I start to type it, it fills the rest of it in (except the password).

A lot of sites have, under "choose an identity", the option of "name/url", wherein I can type my name and Website url without having to go to a separate page and get a whole new account. But Ink Spot doesn't have such an option. It's either Google or those "open IDs".

It drives me crazy every time I want to comment on this site.