The Golden Rule for Writers

If you read or write books and spend time on the internet, you probably already know what happened on GoodReads last month. I’m fairly new over there so this is the first time I’ve ever seen it, but apparently this kind of escalating argument and attack between authors and reviewers happens from time to time. You can google “writers behaving badly” or “GRBullies” and get the whole sordid story. The situation has been on my mind because I’m an indie writer and like it or not, the behavior of others like me effects me.

Look, I get it – reading a negative review of your book feels like being punched in the face. With a hammer. A big, heavy one – with hooks on the end. The point is; it hurts. When I get one, sometimes my knee-jerk reaction is to hit back, which in this case means rushing to the comments section to demand that the reviewer remove or reconsider her hurtful words IMMEDIATELY!! But here’s the thing – and this is the important part, so please listen up – even if my feelings are hurt or the bad review is totally off-base or was posted by my arch nemesis for reasons both petty and mean-spirited, I don’t write a defensive, crazy-eyed response wherein I make threats against the reviewer and her beloved dachshund, Mr. Snippy.

Why not? Because as a member of society, out in the world and here online, I’ve agreed to abide by certain rules, the most important of which is don’t be a confrontational, self-important jerkface. You can apply this rule almost anywhere, but I’ve begun thinking of it as the golden rule for writers – updated in light of recent events.

As writers, our job is to write books and put them out in the world. That’s it. Once it’s out there, our control over the situation, tenuous as it was, is over. Readers and reviewers are free to think and say whatever they want about our work. Some will like it, some will hate it, but either way it’s out of our hands. We’ve already done everything we can do. There’s no sense in rallying our angry mobs. Our job is to write. Just that. And we can’t do it if we’re busy shaking pitchforks and brandishing flaming torches.

When we ignore the golden rule, the whole system breaks down and readers and writers – the original two great tastes that taste great together – end up shouting at each in ALL CAPS on the internet. And when people google us, they don’t discover that we write great books, they find out that we spent our summer making threats against house pets and calling our readers douche nozzles. Maybe your mother told you to use your words to express your feelings, but I don’t think that was exactly what she had in mind.

As hard as it is to do, ignoring bad reviews is really the only option we have. Breaking the golden rule, confronting readers and getting involved in arguments with them, does more harm to our reputations as a writers than a bad review or two ever could.

I’d like to thank Steve Weddle for reminding me of the word “jerkface” and, more specifically, how much I don’t want to be one. If you’re interested in reading Mr. Weddle’s article about the dark side of google alerts (I think you should), click this:

If you want to say something about readers, writers, or flaming torches, please do so in the comments. But play nice. Don’t make me turn this car around….

2 thoughts on “The Golden Rule for Writers

  1. Oh my goodness, I giggled thru this article WHILE nodding in agreement, because I love yer writing style! I haven’t read your book(s) yet but now I KNOW I want to – the first book in yer Tab Bennett series sounded good already; now that I know yer sense of humour runs along with mine, I’m looking forward to digging in!

    Beyond that, I whole-heartedly agree with yer post. And it reminds me of something my ex-husband always tried to pound into my head: Do Not Try To Argue With Anonymous(ish) Internet Jerks – it only ends badly for you!

    Keep it up, m’lady, I’ll be bookmarking this site and hurrying over to the netGalley to try to get a copy of Tab Bennett and the Inbetween!

  2. Pingback: What do you look for in a review? | Jes Young

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