You may have heard about Jacqueline Howlett, the indie author who last week responded spectacularly badly to a review of her novel. It all got a bit unsavoury and soon spread across the internet. Occasional Write for Your Life contributor and all-round good egg, Jean Hannah Edelstein, wrote this fantastic follow-up piece in The Guardian:
It didn't surprise me that this teapot-sized tempest went viral within online writing communities, tweeted back and forth with smirky comments. But I didn't find it entirely hysterical. Is her response pathetic? Yes. Can we surmise that her resistance to criticism may have contributed to the fact that it appears she did not allow anyone to edit her somewhat incoherent prose before she published? Probably. But is it the same thing that everyone who has ever published anything would like to do when he or she receives a bad review? I'm afraid so. And I also fear that everyone who tweeted the link to Howett's meltdown knows that it's true. By drawing attention to Howett's misstep, we make it seem like we'd never do it ourselves. But, by golly: we'd all love to.
I think Jean has this spot on. As I read through the comments section of that review, I felt really, really sad. It wasn't the author's reaction that got to me, but the mob mentality of the comments that followed from other writers, most of them seemingly either independent or unpublished. People just like the author herself.
It's easy to get all holier than thou when it comes to writing. Many comments in that thread read along the lines of: 'What an idiot you are, you'll never get a publishing deal now.' And you know, I thought to myself, if I were a literary agent or publisher, and I saw you slagging off another writer in a public forum, I'd be pretty uninclined to give you a deal either.
For goodness sake writers, have some empathy and be nice to one another. If someone is behaving badly and you're in a position to politely, preferably privately, have a quiet word with them, then do so. Don't gang up on on someone and pretend they've committed some awful literary sin. They really haven't. They've just made bad decisions. We all make bad decisions.
Receiving negative feedback can be unpleasant and embarrassing, especially if it's in the public domain. Don't be quick to judge, instead be willing to help. Because you never know when you might find yourself in the same position.
If you want to hear me rant about this in person and at length, listen to this week's Write for Your Life podcast (towards the end).