Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
Most writers try to be diplomatic and cautious of what they say publicly. Many like to help others and enjoy sharing what they know. Yet a disturbing trend has emerged and is occurring at such an alarming rate it has many writers who once were helpful electing to withdraw from the public—and from other writers.
That trend is for a writer to take offense to remarks made by the heretofore helpful writer. But rather than saying anything to the offensive (intentionally or accidentally) writer, the offended writer attacks the other writer’s work in a public forum.
A common “attack” forum is in the form of negative reviews posted on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com or other online review sites. This gives the poster anonymity and does harm the author of the work.
I’m sorry this happens to authors. But it happens to a lot of them, including to me. Normally, I wouldn’t discuss this because I wouldn’t want to focus on it and give it a second’s worth of energy. But I think other writers need to understand that these attacks do happen so they aren’t blind-sided by them when they happen.
Twice, remarks were made about organizational leaders drawing an analogy between them and Nazis. These leaders are volunteers, and I gently reminded the poster of this, asking that this analogy please not be used for all the obvious reasons.
Shortly thereafter, on both occasions, my book (new on the market at the time) was stomped in essentially anonymous reader reviews on Amazon.com.
Perhaps these two events aren’t connected. But the book had been well reviewed by pros and readers many times and the timing of the negative reviews, well, it looked awfully suspicious. Frankly, this happened at a challenging time because several producers were considering the book for a movie. Did those two bad reviews impact their decision? Only they can answer that. I can say that they did not option the book. Did the good reviews negate the two bad ones? Maybe. Maybe not. Since the bad reviews were newest, they were first up, and we all know what they say about first impressions.
I am an outspoken person and when asked for opinions, I give them. I say that because I can relate being outspoken to negative reviews on nearly all of my books. Is that indisputable evidence? No, frankly it isn’t. But considering the number of times it’s happened, I can’t consider it coincidence either.
So I have firsthand experience with this, and I’ve talked at length with other authors who have also had this experience. Many have suffered significant challenges as a result, including lost income. But, due to the anonymous nature of the attacks, they were unable or unwilling to hold the individuals responsible.
It’s my understanding that this “anonymity” now has been challenged and is no longer inaccessible to the injured party. That, I feel sure, will negate the rate of these “attack” occurrences.
Hit-and-run posters should be aware that impacting someone’s ability to earn a living is treading into antitrust matters and, according to literary attorneys, that’s very dangerous ground to tread. It raises issues of legal, monetary liability.
The point is that no writer can stop anyone from making these attacks. Not until after they’re made and the damage is done. And not without tying up resources and embracing legal battles that drain time and money and energy.
So as writers, we have to accept the reality of this type situation, and to have a little faith in others, trusting them to draw their own conclusions on the value of our books.
For me, a non-legal approach works best. I draw deeply on my steadfast belief that I am not responsible for the actions of others, only for my reactions to their actions. I choose not to give negative things my energy, and I choose to trust that these negative actions won’t severely impact my life or my work. I choose to trust that others who appreciate the work will say so and that will diminish the impact of these negative remarks.
Why? Because this approach to coming to terms with the challenge and making peace with it is more positive and constructive and better for my mental health than letting the challenge chew me up inside or sidetracking me into getting involved in legal proceedings I don’t want to get involved in and will avoid getting involved in unless I’m pushed. Like everyone else, when pushed hard, I push back.
If you can adopt a similar mindset, then you’ll be far better off than if you try to defend against these type of attacks. When you present work in a public forum, you are going to have some who genuinely don’t like what you say or how you say it. That’s unavoidable and part of the wonder of our individual diversity, which is a huge blessing. In this case, granted, it doesn’t feel like a blessing, but at a deeper level, it is, and you understand that.
You’re also going to run into some who are feeling inadequate or downtrodden and zapping you makes them feel better momentarily. They haven’t yet learned that you don’t build yourself up by tearing other people down.
That’s a hard lesson for some people to learn, and they need more than one shot at learning it. Try to see that you’re offering the attacker one of those needed, additional opportunities. Because you are, then they have the chance to rise above this life-trial and learn that we benefit most by elevating the whole–doing what we can to help make everyone stronger, wiser, more skilled and competent at whatever they’re doing. You can’t make them choose to take that opportunity, but you’re offering it. That’s a good thing.
You can’t control their actions. You can and MUST control your reactions and your subsequent actions. Using this mindset, you react not with emotion but reason and, because your mind and heart are both working for you to determine your reaction and subsequent action, you limit your emotional upheaval. In other words, your mind, body, and spirit (your logical, emotional, and spiritual aspects) are all working in harmony.
Now, if you have proof positive of this attack (which is really difficult because reactions to books are so subjective), and you, the writer, and the attacker both belong to the same organization, you can check with that organization’s ethics committee. Many organizations have rules prohibiting any member from attacking another member in any way that hampers, harms, or restricts members’ careers. Typically, the penalty is expulsion.
That is an option in many cases–more so today than even a year ago. If it’s an option in your case, before you file a complaint or make any accusation whatsoever, I urge you to have in your hand indisputable proof of the wrongdoing AND of its negative impact on you.
Often, when these matters are confronted, they serve only to fan the proverbial flames. Still, having been the victim of this kind of action not once but twice on the same book, I empathize with writers hit. I know how these attacks undermine your efforts and focus–not to mention the strain they put on your sweet disposition.
I also understand that the author’s first inclination is to pull back and remove him/herself from public life. S/he feels s/he has attempted to calm things down and put them in perspective and was attacked for his/her efforts. The author feels betrayed. But think long and hard before electing to become a recluse over this. True, it might be safer for the author to remove him- or herself from the line of fire of those prone to attack. But it will also rob the author of the opportunity to share so much with others. That action is a disservice to self, I think, and to those the author attempts to help who are appreciative. I’ve not run a poll on this, but it’s pretty obvious that the number of writers who are genuinely grateful for help number far more than the attackers.
I can’t tell any other writer what to do about this. I can only share what I have done and the position I have taken.
Do these attacks against the author have consequences?
Are they fatal?
Can they cost the author sales?
I would say yes. (One of my books dropped several thousand places in the sales ranking system after each of two attacks.
Can these attacks affect your next contract?
Reviews are factored into the consideration equation on new contracts and on foreign sales.
Do they hurt you personally?
Only as much as you let them.
Did I pull back from public life?
No, I’m still here and still outspoken.
Am I going to pull back from public life?
No, I am not. And I hope other authors won’t withdraw either.
Don’t give anyone else this kind of power over you, letting him/her dictate your life. You’ll be robbing yourself and others of so much good.
Writers deliberately hurting other writers cause complications and frustrations—there’s no doubt about it—but these types of harm are truly just blips on the screen of your life. Instead the author should focus on the good things, on those things that infuse you with positive, constructive energy.
Writers are human and some humans enjoy striking back below the belt or outside the zone. They do it for all the reasons others do: jealousy, anger, greed, frustration, envy, manipulation.
No writer can change the actions of another writer. Only one’s own reaction to those actions. Accept that, and come to terms with it as best you’re able—and resolve that you won’t be one of those writers who hurts other writers.*