Hi, kids! Here’s Auntie Andi with yet another “Things Writers Shouldn’t Do.” This one falls in the public relations department, though it’s also a good example of what could happen if you don’t adhere to one of the golden rules: “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
That’s a good rule for just about anything in life. But let’s see how it applies in the writing world.
As many of you know, I’ve talked quite a bit in the past about what not to do as a writer. For example, I don’t recommend responding to reviews (see why here). And here are some other things I suggest authors not do.
And here’s another suggestion.
Don’t bash your fellow writers. Especially not in a public article.
Author Keith Cronin (shout-out to Keith!) over at Writer Unboxed has the tale of a UK author who took to HuffPo last month to rip the hell out of JK Rowling in a rant that smacks a bit of envy, as Cronin notes. Basically, the author thinks that JK Rowling, if she cares about writing, should stop doing it. You can read the original post at HuffPo here.
Why? Well, because Rowling has hogged the limelight long enough and needs to give others a chance, is what the author seems to be saying. The author also criticized Rowling’s YA books (i.e. Harry Potter) even though she admitted she hadn’t read them. Then she criticized the fact that adults read them, too. Well, here. What she said below:
“I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?”
The author’s main complaint, as Cronin points out, is Rowling’s adult books, one of which in particular “sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere.” In addition, the author continued, Rowling doesn’t need the “shelf space or column inches” that other authors “desperately do.”
“You’ve had your turn,” the author directs at Rowling. “Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.”
Whoa. Sounds like…well, you know. ::drops voice to a whisper:: Sour grapes.
At any rate, if you read the piece, you’ll see how deep she dug this hole. And as Cronin at Writer Unboxed says, the author has taken a huge beating online, including the “de-starring” of her Amazon reviews as angry readers have left lots of 1-star reviews on all of her books, significantly dropping the ratings.
She’s already suffered a huge backlash and Cronin’s point isn’t to add to that. It’s to understand why what she did was SO not a good idea, which is what we need to take to heart. I’ll paraphrase him here. One, she hadn’t read the work she was criticizing; two, she insulted a lot of Rowling fans; three, she insulted readers and writers of YA fiction (see quote above); four, by saying that Rowling should stop writing, she’s trying to deny someone’s creative expression.
He wraps up his bullet-point list by noting that the author wasn’t trying to be funny, which made it even worse. He says that the piece wasn’t meant to be hyperbole or exaggeration to make some other point. It was what it was, and he finds that scary. He also notes that the author apparently had no backup plan. That is, she clearly hadn’t prepared for the response she was going to get about her piece. If she meant it to be a troll bomb, maybe she was trying to drum up some publicity for herself or something and she’d let everybody in on it. Right?
Nope. She didn’t. That never happened. She dropped a troll bomb and didn’t have a bunker in place.
And her reaction to the backlash? I’ll let Cronin enlighten you:
Shepherd finally did apologize in an interview with The Guardian. But she hardly came off as contrite, instead issuing the sort of “non-apology apology” we’ve come to expect from some of our more slippery-tongued politicians.
On Twitter, she has been blithely tweeting about other topics, and doggedly ignoring the hundreds of tweets tagging her on the Rowling debacle. Picture a young child sticking her fingers in her ears and singing, “La la la la… I can’t hear you!”
None of Shepherd’s other social media channels – her website, blog, or Facebook page – show any acknowledgment of this brouhaha, and to date none of the many negative comments on Shepherd’s FB page have been deleted.
Upshot? I’m with Cronin on this one. When you become an author, part of your life becomes public. That means that what you say publicly will attract attention. As an author, if you express an opinion, take responsibility for it. Be tough enough to weather any fallout you generate, and make sure you have a good reason for putting it out there in the first place.
That’s the lesson that we – and, I hope, Ms. Shepherd – can ultimately learn from all this. It can be a fine thing to be occasionally provocative. Just make sure you have a reason to provoke people, and the cojones to stand behind your words. Otherwise, you’re just poking a hornet’s nest with a stick, and that never ends well.
Indeed. And if you’re not sure about something you want to say, or if you’re not willing to own the fallout it might generate, I recommend that ol’ golden rule I mentioned above: “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
Happy reading, happy writing, happy Wednesday!
Thanks for this Andi. Wise and timely advice. I actually unfriended an author on Facebook this morning because I was tired of the continual bashing of others — authors and otherwise. Whether the critiques were accurate or not, it just got old and did begin to feel like it was sour grapes. Thanks for the reminder and here’s to hoping everyone plays nice in the sandbox!
Redonkulous. And totally unnecessary. You nailed this one, Andi. And so politely. I prolly woulda used nasty words. 😉
Right? Careful in the sandbox, kids! It might not serve you well to kick sand on everybody.
JKR appears in articles and newspapers because that’s who people want to read about. Everybody can’t be the best seller. Just focus on one’s own craft and writing the best thing you can write, and stop comparing yourself to the one-in-a-million author who became a star.
Likability and longevity in the entertainment business go hand in hand. Consumers don’t like actors, singers, writers, or other popular-entertainment figures who act bitter and resentful, aloof, or mean.
Your advice is inarguable, but I hope your readers don’t need it. 😉
Hopefully none of our colleagues need it! Heh.
Thanks Andi for this enlightening blog. Good for you. Hope the potty mouths read this and hear what you are saying.