A Discussion on Response to Reviews: Elitism?

It seems to happen often enough, but a topic was raised on the writers forum group of Dreamspinner Press a few days ago regarding “Nasty Reviews”. The question was, should a writer ever respond to a nasty review.

Considering the fact, I had recently had a review at Three Dollar Bill reviews which, while the rating was not bad, it was average, the words of the reviewer were extremely subjective, borderline nasty, and unprofessional in my opinion.

I have no problem with someone saying they didn’t like one of my stories and I actually appreciate someone saying why they didn’t, what aspects they found problematic. Yet it is entirely different when someone judges your work, not simply give their opinion on their view of it.

As with ANY review I receive, I write the person to give my thanks and appreciation because I do appreciate they took the time to give my work a chance, besides using their literal time to read it.

At the DSP writer’s forum, I provided my own example and what response I made to that reviewer. (Review, replies and comments can be viewed at Goodreads.)  was not surprised by some of the comments from writers who seem to consider their words or thoughts to be the definitive on whatever topic they are addressing, standing on the soapbox.

“A writer should never respond to a review….”

A) If it is other than 4. or 5 stars (who made this rule?)

B) If they are a GOOD writer (not even borderline insulting, this is insulting because they are saying anyone who does respond is not a good writer)

C) If they are a professional writer (same as above)

Do you see where I am going with this? If you know me, you’ll know where I’m headed :-)

At the beginning I was the lone voice which clearly stated I felt it was up to the writer’s discretion to reply, but it should be an appropriate response written in a professional way.

Of course, the assumptions, conjectures, elitism and imputing of wrong or bad motives kicked in with full force as the soapbox got higher and higher.  I’m not going to quote anyone although there was some particular further replies which made a point to quote or use words I had solely used, yet they didn’t use in the slightest amount of, what I consider to be common sense, my name even though they directed their comments to my reply.

My first reply after stating I HAD replied to an unprofessional review:

“I come from cultures where it’s considered respectful and natural to speak your mind, to respond to comments, conjectures, or anything else if one feels the need to, or wishes to. Those responses will not be rude or tactless, but they will expression your agreeing or dissenting view, and it’s simply that.

I do not believe one premise should be applied to every situation. I think it is entirely appropriate to respond in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Those who choose to misinterpret that response, or assume things further than is mentioned is a problem on the part of the reader.

So although I do agree it is not appropriate to respond in a heated or hasty manner, I do not in any way believe one should not respond with an appropriate comment. So the “Do not engage” wholesale admonition I feel is as subjective as the “nasty” reviews in a way.

One can reply as one feels the need to but that comment need not be “nasty”. There was nothing nasty in my comments to a review, and I would personally never ever place any type of less than respectful comment anyplace because that would reflect negatively on me. If I choose to reply in a balanced manner, I know someone will also misinterpret that wrongly (and someone always will) but I have remained true to myself and my beliefs in fair play, not “no playing.”

Others expressed the feeling it might be a dilemma in deciding what to do. Yet another that a writer might feel helpless at the hands of such reviewers. And honestly, I found those type of expressions confusing and difficult to understand. For me it’s simple, no dilemma, and why should I feel helpless over words typed and how I should respond to them?

One writer whose attitude and blanket statements reminded me very much of those cliquès in high school of cheerleaders, for example, who say things like, “I (emphasis on I) think people who use mockery in their replies are….(Again) If you want to be part of the right crowd, you’ll do (thus and so as they decree)…” And if you don’t, well then obviously you are on the “outs”. Their fellow cliqué compatriot, now choosing to use names, says something like, “I completely agree with you…”

This again makes me laugh a bit. It’s like that cliquè turning their collective back on “certain” ones, and if you want to be part of their groups, you have to act like them also and turn your back. In affect, they are attempting to exert peer pressure. They make sure you “overhear” them, and if you choose to respond to them again? See, you’re exactly proving their point! You are defensive. You are nasty. You are mocking. Any number of assumptions and labels.

Did they really mean to come off so condescending?

In my comment to the unprofessional reviewer who read my work, I honestly thanked them as usual and appreciated they did change a wrongly applied tag to my story. Additionally, and in all good will I said I found their review reasonable in its way, I did not like or dislike it, and I considered myself in good company, because they had slashed plenty of other books by good writers.

What an outrage! My honest statements were labelled mockery by some of those writers on the forum.

What kind of society and people do these elitist writers/labellists live in so that even honest statements are made out to be sinister attempts at defamation? Are they so ill-secure as to distrust anyone’s words no matter how honestly given. Or as an acquaintance of mine reading the exchange questions regarding them, “Do they not know what candid means?”

This reminded me of another writer in the very same group who had become highly offended when I wished them good luck in their finishing of a manuscript I had declined to read. They accused me of “taking the piss” (intentionally trying to offend) simply because I wished them good luck! How demented and skewed is that!

How unfortunate and sad to be in a society or around people who never really trust each other to say what they really think! I treat other people with respect by never lying to them. I do not mince words but I won’t be rude. If I give a wish, a thank you, a note of appreciation, it is always sincere. There is never anything I do that is not sincere and honest. It would be a disservice and betrayal of myself to give false words or observations to anyone.

My final reply on that thread:

“I don’t find it a dilemma at all, nor would I feel helpless. But admittedly I am odd in that I had a quirky sense of humor, and things like that generally made me laugh. It seems so incredibly funny, I suppose, that whatever they’ve said denigrating actually makes me feel better. Sure I might be surprised at first, but as time passes, it just gets funnier and funnier and then it’s completely done and I don’t think about it again.

If I feel the need to respond in an appropriate way, someone will
always misinterpret that as defensiveness when it’s only explanatory or simply a response, but that’s their error. From our angle, it’s being respectful to give their opinion an honest response. I don’t worry or lament. “It is as it is.”

As I mentioned in my first post, and as Jessica also brought up, I
read the reviewer’s other reviews, and certain reviewers do have a bad rap sheet. That’s why I honestly said I felt myself in good company. They have a long pattern of nasty reviews of good authors. No mockery. I think I’d describe it as “not being insulted or offended because one chooses not to be”. It doesn’t occur to me, and if I really thought someone was trying to, I would genuinely ask them ‘why’ and wait for answer. (And some people may take that as mockery or intimidation, it’s not. We also ask questions instead of assuming something.)

I consider every thing a learning experience, so negative or postive opinion, I choose to take something positive out of the situation and learn from it. If not, as I described in a post on my blog “Counting Coup With a Pen: Online Life”, you tap them with your literary stick and ride off in great good humor. No need to attack or hurt, a little,professional “tap” was all that was needed.

My conclusions on the topics, replies and repliers:

I wholeheartedly believe a writer should reply appropriately to any review they may receive. Some other writers on the forum eventually made this statement also. It is not an attempt to intimidate, as some writers suggested. Despite having a bad review or disagreeing with a reviewer, when you thank them for their time, it is NOT mockery or an attempt at flippancy. It is not unprofessional to reply to such a review, and it does not mean you are not a good writer or a good person.

Although it certainly might not be what they intend to display, but the elitism some writers show towards others I find very unfortunate and immature. It reminds of the attitudes of cliqués and soronities & fraternities who are dismissive or condescending to others not in their “special” group. The stating of subjective, blanket statements as if they know everything and their words/rules/guidelines are what everyone else should go by is also unfortunate.

The attribution of wrong motives or intentions, of applying assumptions and conjectures never once having spoken to, interacted with, attempted to “get to know” a person, yet they judge them negatively or dismissively is condescension and completely unnecessary.

I write gay fiction and non-fiction, but the books I choose to review are in other genres by strong majority. The other writers I generally interact with or those who’ve chosen to interact with me write in other genres than M/M. I have never observed this type of behavior or snarky elitist attitudes in any other groups, although I admit it’s likely there someplace. The insecurities, passive-aggressive behavior, attempts to undermine and misclassify, to what point is this? How is that so many from certain societies seem to have lost the meaning or ability to recognize honesty?

I believe it must be hard to live in a society and interact with people who are so quick to judge, to show bias, to label and categorize other people. Where you distrust and question even the most innocent of comments or statements. Where when someone simply says, “Thank you”, they are convinced their is some mockery or artifice behind the gesture. What an unhappy, insecure way to live.

I’m a writer but I am “real” in the sense I do not put on a persona just to gain fans, or charm other writers. I don’t need to be a part of any elitist group or cliqué to feel I’ve “made it”. I will never say anything I don’t mean, and I am never insincere. As the old saying goes, “I say what I mean, and mean what I say.”

My trademark quote is: “I welcome questions. I hate assumptions.” And that tells the whole tale of Red Haircrow as succinctly and truthfully as possible. I wish other people could allow themselves to be “real” in the sense of accepting people at their word. Their actions as having no ulterior motives. They would be so much happier and have true freedom.

When I make a response I give my candid thoughts in a professional way, even if they might be a disagreeing thought. Then I’m done with it. I don’t lose any sleep over it. I don’t lament or need commiseration. I don’t later kick myself for not having spoken up for myself or another person I felt was treated poorly. I speak up.

Partially a cultural necessity, as the German people I grew up with understandably felt a collective sense of culpability because of what their parents and grandparents didn’t do, when they didn’t speak up against the slaughter of millions, and they instilled in their own children and others: you speak up at all costs, because if you don’t the cost may be too great. You don’t have to be rude or nasty, but you speak your thoughts and let them be known. Among my Native peoples, you let them be know also and then that’s that. It is the person’s choice in what they choose to do with what you’ve told them, but they are expected to do the right thing. You don’t hold grudges.

Quoting from my blog post “Counting Coup with a pen: Online Life”: “Forget all the pretension and postures, the little verbal digs and “high-handed” little comments people make. Life is too short to be bothered by those who are too full of themselves, their own thoughts, and little whatever-you-wanna-to-call’ems. Way too short for me to waste my thoughts, or time or honesty and good will either. The conflict is what they imagine, because it’s simply not there from my end. I’d rather have a beer at a garten and a long, slow extremely detailed conversation and become friends, or give them a “proverbial” whack on a head and ride off laughing.”

P.S. My post “The Self-Critique”, is an example of what I mean of being professional enough to detail what you found flawed in a writer’s work, without resorting to subjective phrasing and derision.