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A Lesson for All Authors

June 1, 2012 by Kiersi

Kiera Cass's agent Elana Roth, calling a reviewer a "bitch"

Kiera Cass's agent Elana Roth, calling a reviewer of Cass's book a "bitch" on Twitter

As a reviewer, I’ve experienced an author’s wrath first-hand. In my particular case, my negative book review spectacle was more fueled by said author’s rabid pack of fans than by the author herself–later incendiary comments on Goodreads by someone named “Marilyn” even accused all of us who wrote negative reviews about the book of “colluding to ruin this good woman’s reputation.”

Regardless of that hilariously absurd allegation, the whole situation got me to thinking in broader terms about the blogosphere and the ramifications of its naturally low barrier to entry. To set up a blog these days, all you need to do is visit a site like wordpress.com or Blogger and create an account. Pick a theme, add some content, and you’re up and ready to post some book reviews. Social media networks such as Goodreads lower the barrier even further, so anyone with a computer can sign on and review a book.

By the same token, authors use these platforms to great success. Kiera Cass (who I will talk about more in a moment) keeps an online journal where she talks about book releases, signings, and more. I recently added a book to my Goodreads’ “to read” list after reading a fabulous blog post by that book’s author. I’ve built relationships with other debut YA authors on Twitter over things like cover reveals and critique partners. Social media–including my Twitter, my Facebook, and my blog–have all done a lot of my marketing for me, because I simply enjoy using these mediums to talk about my passion. (Which means I am always working, and by the same token, never working.)

My friend Abi over at A Hunger to Learn pointed me to a much larger-scale debacle than my indie-pub incident. This controversy stars Kiera Cass, New York Times best-selling author of The Selection (to which I gave a panning review here), and a high-profile blogger-slash-book reviewer who goes by Wendy Darling.

So Wendy writes this review of The Selection. She gives it one star, and cites some very valid reasons she didn’t like the book. Even though she’s a little harsher on The Selection than I was, I think she’s right in a lot of ways about the quality of writing, the clichés, and some other things.

Then the bomb drops: Kiera Cass’s agent, Elana Roth, calls Wendy a bitch. I am not even joking around here. A professional–not an author, a breed of “professional” known pretty well for being slightly insane and prone to outbursts, but an actual literary agent–stoops to grade school name-calling because someone didn’t like her client’s book.

Holy. Fucking. Cow. (Read Wendy’s full disclosure on her blog about the incident here.)

Does this actually, really happen in the grown-up world? I flash to an impromptu high school reunion I went to last night and the petty, trite things we did to each other back in those days, when we were still 90% idiot instead of the average adult’s 20 or 25% idiot (caused by some normalization of hormones).

Not to mention that, at the same time as this name-calling action on Twitter, Wendy is being bombarded on Goodreads and her Midnight Garden blog with personal attacks by some “Anonymous.” Then shit gets truly, up-and-down-are-reversed real when said “Anonymous” tries to distribute her and her husband’s personal information. Even Publisher’s Weekly gets involved by doing a piece on the whole ordeal called, “Should Agents and Authors Weigh In on Citizen Reviews?

At that point, Wendy’s fellow readers raise their heads, look around and go, “What the hell? This isn’t right.” Even readers that hadn’t read the book have far less respect for Cass after her and her agent’s behavior, and are questioning even picking up the book (regardless of the review). We wonder if one of us ever criticizes a book, if we’ll get personally attacked and/or sabotaged by the author that wrote it. It’s happened before the Selection debacle: a negative reviewer of Julie Cross’s Tempest was slandered ad nauseum by Cross’s agent and fellow authors.

Kind of a scary thought.

To make it worse, agents and authors are conversing openly about how to pad higher-star reviews with likes by organizing fans and, sometimes, fake accounts on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. It’s one thing to use the system as it exists–with “like” or “helpful” functionality, so more trusted or prestigious reviews appear higher on the list than others–and it’s a completely different thing to actually cheat it for your own benefit. Openly.

I’m going to just say it: I don’t like this trend. As writers and authors, young adult-specific or not, we are professionals–not Charles Bukowski. If you’ve ever done a peer critique, or even just asked a friend to look over a few paragraphs for consistency, you know how to take negative opinions about your work. You use them to make yourself better. You learn from them.

And you never respond by attacking the person who critiqued you. In peer critique–that person spent the time to look over your work and give honest feedback on how to make it better. In the publishing world–that person paid good money for your book, and did their best to help other readers make educated choices about what they spend their time reading.

Come on, now. This is grown-up land.

I’d highly recommend this article by Beth Revis (via my friend Eddy) called “How to Respond to Negative Reviews.” In here is a lesson that all authors–published or unpublished–should take to heart.

When you publish a book, you indicate that you want people to read your book;  you put it out there for people you do not know to pick it up and read it. It’s a non-verbal agreement.

The same is true for social media. If you want to be a part of the big experiment–to be active on Twitter, to interact with your readers, to participate in Goodreads–you have to accept at some point that someone isn’t going to like your work. Beth points out in her article (linked above) that many great works of fiction that we consider classics–Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Hamlet, even Harry Potter–have received one-star ratings on Goodreads that number in the thousands.

So, yes. Someone out there won’t like your work; but that’s no excuse for alienating your readers. Be the bigger man or woman. Turn your cheek. A lesson not just for authors, but anyone in a professional industry, to take to heart.

And please, future agent–please don’t ever do to me what Elana Roth did to Kiera Cass. I bet she was pissed when this thing blew up in her face.


13 Comments »

  1. As far as I’ve been told, authors should NEVER respond to reviews. Agents shouldn’t either. But in this case, the number of people who are now shelving this book as To Read on Goodreads is phenomenal! So many.

  2. Well, there are batshit crazy figure Olympic figure skaters who hire hit men to take out another skater’s knees…there are politicians who behave like middle school boys on a locker-mauling vendetta…there are grownups who just never got it. Sad.

  3. Claudine says:

    I do agree that the agent screwed the author up just by responding so immaturely. Never respond to negative comments/reviews … It could be difficult, but it never pays to lash back. And you’re right: that reviewer did pay and spend time to read the book. His/her comments will likely point out areas the author might have missed out previously. Lessons. Lessons.

  4. Abigail says:

    Don’t you think there was something a little mean spirited about the Wendy review? I agree that authors need to be professional when accepting criticism, but unlike in your example, when a friend gives their peer a critique, they do it from a place of goodness- they want to help their friend and they therefore a) lay it on them gently and b) cushion it with love. There are a lot of reviews on goodreads that may be kind of funny and entertaining but also make me cringe. I couldn’t be so mean to someone even if it was all anonymous.

    • Kiersi says:

      Perhaps so, Abigail. However, Wendy’s job is both as a reviewer and an entertainer, and introducing a degree of snarkiness (not saying that mean is necessarily equivalent to snarky–I didn’t interpret her review as mean so much as snarky, but that is a matter of opinion) is part of her role. I still think that regardless of what anyone writes on Goodreads, it’s highly unprofessional for an agent or author to respond–not to mention in the way that Elana Roth did. Though I commend your higher ground approach.

  5. Sara says:

    Was there ever any proof that Kiera Cass was the anonymous commenter? I was just wondering because, although I’ve never spoken with her, I got the impression she wouldn’t be vindictive.

    • Kiersi says:

      I think the “Anonymous” comments were from multiple people. I think Wendy discovered the person who was sending out her personal information was someone who already had harassed her before.

  6. […] that passed through my addled bride-brain before signing off from reality was a discussion over posting negative book reviews. I know I’m late to the party, but it’s a topic that’s both relevant to me as a […]

  7. AnnaKaris says:

    Wow, that is terrible! And from an agent, no less. She should know better than that!

  8. Casey J says:

    I too thought that Wendy’s review was a little harsh and the “sheep herd” following they have for her. Iunderstand the repercussions of the name calling but as far as boosting review by liking good ones? What are actors/actresses doing on talk shows? Promoting their movies or shows.
    I purchased the book and enjoyed it very much as an entertaining read, if your looking for prolific writing in the YA section then you are going to find disappointments on the way. Just so as not to have a biased opinion I looked up other reviews by Wendy and found that had I followed her opinion (like so many others seem to base their entire readership on) I would have missed out on 3 series that I enjoy very much.
    I feel bad that Cass is the one who ultimatly suffered from this bad press for something her Agent did and so publicly so. Had her Agent not made the comment it would have simply been someone’s opinion on a book review.

    • Kiersi says:

      It sounds like you and Wendy have very different tastes. But you’re right–it’s too bad Cass had to take the fall for something her agent did.

  9. […] end up in an Emily Giffin fiasco. I’d also suggest keeping your agent away, because literary agents behave badly sometimes too. If you’re still doubting me about how fast that shit goes viral, try seeing […]

  10. […] more about the controversy you can read about it on The Midnight Garden, Publishers Weekly & Prolific Novelista, but that’s all I’ll be saying on […]

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