Monday, January 9, 2012

Friends Don't Let Friends ...

Happy New Year, everyone! Yes, I do realize I'm arriving a bit late to the 2012 party, but I swear I have good reasons! I'm excited to catch up on blog posts I've missed, and to see how each of you is starting this new year.

Over the past week, in the midst of all the other stuff I've been working on, I was sort of riveted by the various dramas going on on Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter, and at least one author blog. In each of these, reader/reviewers posted negative reviews of a book, which was followed by various negative reactions on the part of either the authors or, in one case, a friend of the author. In all cases, feelings were hurt, harsh words were spoken, and mistakes were made. In no cases was the author's career helped in any way whatsoever. In a few cases, I think it did concrete and measurable harm. [I don't think I've ever written a paragraph with so many passive sentence constructions]

All this stuff got me thinking, about lots of things. Why people are able to talk to each other this way on the internet (that's for a later post), how things have changed with the rise of a more democratic vs. professional reviewing process (also a later post), and what people can do to avoid making mistakes like the ones I've been reading about over the last week.

There have been a few extremely good posts about how authors can avoid acting out online. One of the most recent is Lynne Kelly Hoenig's entry on how to respond to negative reviews. Lynne is not only hilarious, but also wise (and has a book coming out in May). I strongly suggest you get over to her blog and follow her!

I have to say, I can't do much to improve on her advice, which includes some concrete ways to lower your blood pressure and lighten your mood when confronted with potentially hurtful information. But there's another piece to this, a part all of us can play--and that is of the friend.

The writing community is vast and incredibly supportive (and, from what I've seen, the reviewing/book blogger community is quite similar). We empathize with each other, cheer each other on, and often band together when threatened. Buuuuuuut ... I think there are better and worse ways to provide support.

Here's an example:
Author: OMG! This reviewer posted a horrible review of my book! How could she?!?
Friend: No way! Your book is awesomely awesome! She doesn't know what she's talking about.
Author: Yeah! I worked SO hard on that book, and she has no idea what that's like! And her review was crap! A personal attack!
Friend: That bitch! She has no right to do that! Someone should put her in her place!
Author: You're right! *sits down at keyboard to compose career-killing reviewer-bashing opus*

[yes, I know this is grossly oversimplified, and I'm sorry about that.]

Now ... that friend was being really supportive of the author, right? The friend had the author's back, was totally on her side. Yet ... did that friend help the author think rationally about the situation? Did that friend's "support" ultimately work toward the author's well-being, or was it the opposite?

I'm thinking of using this as
my author photo. Thoughts?
Last year, there was a research study that seemed to suggest that seeking out friends to whom we can vent about our disappointments actually makes us feel worse in the end. Positively reframing situations and coping using humor resulted in improved mood, while churning in the stew of outrage did not. And there's plenty of research showing venting in general leads to increased aggressive and other negative behaviors. I think these results might have something do to with whether our friends whip us into a frothy meringue, or whether they help talk us down.

I have a good friend you've probably heard me mention before: Brigid Kemmerer. Brigid is ace at the talk-down. She's really frank and honest, but supportive at the same time. So, on a few occasions, I've emailed her and been like, "OH NO THIS IS SO UNFAIR I CAN'T FREAKING BELIEVE BLAH BLAH BLAH ..."

And Brigid always says, "Oh, that must really hurt. I totally get where you're coming from. But ... do you want my honest opinion?"

Hahaha. This is always followed by her gently challenging me and helping me see the situation from various different perspectives. She NEVER fails to validate my feelings, but she also never gives in to the OUTRAGE impulse. In other words, she never whips me up. When I get to the point where I have to deal with reviews, Brigid is the first person I'm going to seek out, because I know she will hug me ... and then smack some sense into me before ever condoning anything unwise.

I am fortunate to have many sensible friends like this. Lydia Kang and Justine Dell, to name a few others. Do you have friends like this? Friends who will sympathize with you while holding you back when you feel like going on a rampage? Are you a friend like this? Ultimately, the author is responsible for her* actions, but if she's lucky, she has friends who help her out--sometimes by ripping the keyboard from her hands and emailing her the link to a baby animal video.

Be sure to check out Lydia Kang's Medical Monday post, and Laura Diamond's Mental Health Monday post!

*By the way, I don't mean to exclude male authors. I just like to have subject-pronoun agreement without using her/his all the time.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Michelle Argyle Davidson had a recent post about how authors should handle reviews. I'm also keeping that one in mind should I ever have one of my manuscripts published.

    I'm curious about who the author was and where the review was you're speaking about. Last March, another author had a meltdown on the blog with a negative review. She also retaliated on her blog. The woman did a lot of damage to her career, I think. It took her months to acknowledge her failings on handling the situation an to pull her self-published book for fixing. While I don't know how I'd feel to read a negative review, I do know I wouldn't curse at commenters.

    Even the best books have negative reviews. We need to keep that in mind.

  3. I almost got drawn into a flame war for writing a good review! My good review for a self-published book (which I enjoyed) caused somebody else to buy the book, and he hated it.

    This person wrote a scathing review, mentioned me, and attacked my taste. Then -- would you believe it -- the author flipped out and responded, and then accused me of leading the obviously deluded reviewer to his book and asked how we knew each other. (We were both members Amazon Vine)

    I responded once by email to the author, suggesting he should ignore the reviewer. He didn't. Then I stopped responding to either of them, quit Amazon Vine, and quit reviewing altogether.

    I think both these men must have crawled out from under a rock, and I felt dirty just by having my name flung about by the two of them!

  4. Had to remove my comment because I don't like to speak publicly about my day job. Thank you SO MUCH for saying such nice things!

  5. I find it hard to listen to someone vent and not offer some form of advice on how to resolve a situation or to reframe it rather than just ranting.

    I believe very strongly that if we keep negative feelings in our mind, we only bring about more negative feelings and situations. It's far healthier to take a breath, mentally step away from a situation, then come back with a positive outlook.

  6. My writer group, MVRWA is all about being there when the rejections and bad reviews come in. I don't know if I'd want to wade in these waters without them.

  7. You and Justine are definitely my go-to people! And just think - I haven't even started querying yet. I bet you're looking forward to THOSE meltdowns, aren't you?! ;)

    And Dianne - you poor thing! That's just awful. It's pretty sad when people can't even recognise a positive review for what it is!

  8. If I'm ever published, I'm not reading my reviews. :D

    I was amazed how that all went viral (okay, maybe not so amazed). Two of my friends emailed me about what was going on. Later, I read another review. This one was for a self pubbed book and the reviewer gave a very good, balanced review. Only one person had commented on it, and she attacked the reviewer. It was obviously the author's friend. If I have been sitting on the fence about the book, her biting remarks would have shoved me on the 'I'll pass' side of the fence.

    I think this is going to be a bigger problem with self published books, as more and more friends try to help the authors out. Most don't realize the damage they're doing. Like the saying goes: with friends like that, who needs enemies. ;)

  9. Wow, so I've been missing drama, huh?

    I have crit partners whom I can rant to, but that's usually enough for me. They don't need to hold me back. :-)

  10. LOL! I was just commenting on FB that it's important to remember whatever you post online can be seen by everyone. And the more embarrassing or wrong, the more people will see it... :D

    Great post, and you're so right. Hubs can usually talk me off a cliff with his well-chosen words. The few times he's ganged up on whoever was getting me down, I DID feel worse. It's weird.

    Here's to good friends and a great 2012~ :o) <3

  11. Great advice, and thanks for the shout-out!

    I was surprised to read that venting to friends can make things worse, because I think it helps to have an empathetic ear, but it makes sense that it doesn't help if the vent session is going to whip you into a frothy meringue. Good friends will listen and remind you of your awesomeness, then remind you to back away from the keyboard.

  12. first off- please do NOT use that as your profile pic. freaks me right out! :P

    secondly- regarding the subject matter of this post, i aspire to someday be jim carey in this clip when these situations arise:

  13. I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for posting the positive links. I've been kept informed through other writer friends. I believe everyone is entitled to an opinion. But when vocalizing in a public form, I believe people need to be respectful and professional. Bashing another writer's work does no good for the basher or the bashee. (Yes, I just used those made up words.) lol

  14. I'm so glad you posted about this! That need to get out the vitriol online is such a mistake. Deep breaths and tincture of time help. And a friend to help you bring rationality to the emotions helps too. I'm very thankful for your calming friendship, too!

  15. Great post. I have a very short temper, so I know exactly where you're coming from.

    On the other hand, I hope to think that I've been able to teach myself impulse control when it comes to blasting reviewers.

    Still, only time will tell. Maybe I should get some calmer buddies to keep me cool for once my book comes out. :-D

  16. I'm sort of the person who doesn't talk to ANYONE when I'm frustrated lol. Sometimes I will, but not often. I typically just keep it to myself, which some might say is unhealthy, but it works for me xD

    Sensible friends are great though, and I am definitely always available to my friends, writers or otherwise.

  17. As a matter of fact, Lydia Kang was kind enough to help me with a few chapters for my book that I really needed help with. Thanks Lydia!

  18. I think people need to remember that the internet is NOT a private place, so it shouldn't be treated in the same way you'd treat a personal diary. I picked up on the drama llamas a day or so after it all started, and there was just so much cringing and secondhand embarrassment. If you must vent, please do so offline.

    Sensible friends are ESSENTIAL because sometimes we all just need someone to TAKE THE INTERNET AWAY from us. Thanks for posting this!

  19. I missed all the shenanigans last week. This is an important topic, though, and I love how you put it in context. . .things have changed with the rise of a more democratic vs professional reviewing process. If we are going to be reviewers, we need to be responsible. And the advice on calming down is great. (Thanks for the link to Lynne's blog, btw!)

  20. There is never a win in going hostile online. Even if the reviewer was wrong or out of line, I think you just have to let it go. I hope I'm the type of person to talk someone down off the ledge in a situation like this. I saw one blogger get so mad over a review by a fellow blogger that he no longer blogs. Just walked away. What good does that do?

  21. If you act or write, you will be reviewed and I guess you have to have thick skin. I don't know if I would read reviews on a book of mine, but I probably would.

    I only review a book if I can say something positive about it. I just couldn't hurt someone who had worked so hard for maybe over a year by saying something negative. But then, I am a wuss.

  22. This topic is only going to get worse, isn't it?

    I don't do reviews anymore. I have my kids write their opinion and post that instead. Usually, they're right on the money. ;)

  23. I've heard a few things lately about reviews and authors. Authors letting lose on the reviewer doesn't seem to be the best idea though.

    As a friend, I try to be supportive, but honest. I'm not sure whether I'm an outrage-whipper-upper or not, but I hope not.

  24. I often try not to vent to friends because then I keep thinking about how horrible my situation/problem is at the time. I'd say writing about it in a journal makes me feel better. That way I can write evil little letters to people and they never see them! MWAH HA HA HA*

    *I don't really write evil little letters, but I could. I so could.

  25. You're always up on all the drama. Sadly, or maybe gladly, I missed all of this.

    As a friend, I'm pretty good with the funny.

    Seriously though, it's a fine line to walk, and it can be difficult to provide that balance. Empathy, without escalating any anger - if you're good at that you certainly are a good friend. Especially in this business.

  26. Yeah....sigh. Still thinking about all of this. Good thoughts here. I also what Veronica Roth wrote on about it YA HIGHWAY last week!

  27. Good point about criticisim and being a good friend. Is the criticism fair? Can I take something positive from it? I try to treat everything as a learning experience.

  28. Sarah, please don't use that picture as your author photo. Love, Dad

  29. Just another reason why I don't read reviews. There's no sense to it. Authors have to be confident with their work, knowing others won't like it. The end.

  30. I was kinda shocked by the whole thing on Goodreads! Just shows anyone can act irrationally when on the defensive - doesn't where you are on the publishing food chain. Hopefully, everyone learned a lesson! Don't comment on reviews of your books or a friend's book!

    I know I took note!

  31. Ugh, these situations make me feel queasy. The problem, is that they can never be "undone". The internet seems so fleeting when you're typing, but it's so permanent and your name can really take a beating if you lose it and fly off the handle. Good post Sarah and HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hope all is well:)

  32. hi dr sarah! wow! cool stuff. i went at my brothers work last week and sat in a group he did for how to deal out with angry people. what i got is called active listening and saying i can hear how upset you are and being sympathetic. he said the more upset and angry you get the more less you could think straight. i like to just give a little sunshine to my blogger friends specially when theyre upset.
    ...hugs from lenny

  33. Fascinating. I wonder if this is why I turn to my husband and mom when I am venting frustration. They tend to have this "okay, yeah, it sucks, move on" attitude that is addicting. They solve problems, but don't provide much by way of empathy. Very masculine-brained, I would imagine.

  34. I must live under a rock. LOL I never heard a thing about whatever went viral.

    You are SO right about venting not always being the best thing. I find that, definitely, when I vent to someone I end up crankier than before I started. But when I give myself time to get past it, I invariably come out the other end in a much more positive mood.

  35. Sarah, you are flippin' hilarious!

    Negative reviews are part of the territory. Even the "greats" are excoriated. Reviews often teach us more about the reviewer, for better or worse, than the thing being reviewed.

    Personally, I do not review books I can't be in some way complimentary about. As a writer, I know how much blood, sweat, and tears went into the creation, and don't want to add any more tears!

  36. Oh man, I missed all the drama, too. Darn! :) Just kidding. I don't like conflict, so I'm pretty sure I will not be ranting back at people who don't like my books. I'll be more like, "Well thanks anyway for reading it! I'm so grateful!" LOL! I've always heard that positive and negative publicity sell books equally well, but I don't think that include bad author behavior. It just tells us that, as authors, we can rest in the fact that a bad review or two is not going to kill our careers.

  37. Interestingly, I've been reframing stressful events at work in more positive, humorous REALLY helps decrease the intensity of some pretty awful situations. It ain't worth getting soooooo angry. Anyway...

    GREAT post!!!!

    BTW, Lydia is SUPER great at putting things in perspective--she's got the perfect balance of empathy and reality checking. ;)

  38. That's an awesome friend to have! I call my boyfriend my ombudsman. Anytime I'm going to engage in a potentially controversial blog post or communication, I ask him for an etiquette check to make sure I don't stick my foot in my mouth. It's SUPER helpful.

    And maybe I'll start pestering Lydia for advice... :D