Author goes into a tizzy over amateur response

Globe and Mail columnist Russell Smith penned an article about author Kathleen Hale’s obsessive hunt for an amateur reviewer who had expressed an intense dislike for her book.

From the article:

Conventional wisdom has it that an author should never even respond to a negative review, let alone show up unannounced at a stranger’s house, looking for a fight. The intellectual level at Goodreads is known to be embarrassingly low, and most serious authors will claim to never even look at it, let alone engage with it. So why would a successful writer stoop so low? But the issue is a little more complicated than that. It’s not just about one writer’s hypersensitivity. The fact of the false identity and pictures is particularly intriguing. Posing as someone you’re not is fundamentally fraudulent, and we all have a natural urge to try to expose such frauds. When a friend of mine was harassed with anonymous hate messages and vague threats, I, too, wanted to hire a hacker to try to track down and identify such a cowardly person. (I was persuaded not to pursue it.) I completely understand the urge for justice. We all fantasize about the gotcha moment.

There’s something else going on here, too, and it’s a new phenomenon in literature. It’s not just the democratization of comment, the fact that average or illiterate readers now have public forums just like professional reviewers, nor is it even the commercial power of such forums. It’s the fact that authors are actually pressured to respond to amateur comment, to “engage,” as the PR jargon goes. This is the new wisdom of publishing, particularly for some reason in genre fiction such as YA: It helps to sell your work if you respect the “community” of readers (meaning online community, of course), if you make yourself accessible, if you tweet and blog frequently so as to make yourself as interesting as your writing. The idea is that readers will follow a charismatic person with more excitement than they will follow a body of work.

Read the full piece on the Globe and Mail here.

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