SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Can’t We Be Respectful?

I’ve never done a Sunday Soapbox before, mainly because I’m a very easy-going person.  Adaptable, go-with-the-flow, whatever you want to call it; if you’re not hurting someone, or something else – physically or playing mind games – I’m pretty much good to go.  That’s not to mean I don’t have opinions and that I love a good debate, but I have always gone by that old proverb Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged.

The thing is, though, the one where I said if you’re not hurting someone? Over the last few weeks I’ve begun to see across the media, parodies, off-color remarks and jokes, regarding another author’s work.  In particular, the current hit “Fifty Shades of Grey” (which, by the way, I just started reading today).

Now I expect it from the late night talk show hosts and other comedians but I’ve begun to hear peers making fun of the title and its content which, to me, is not playing nice.  Don’t we, as authors, get enough criticism from the general public? Must we take it from our fellow writers? Is it envy? Now E. L. James may not care one iota what anyone thinks of her title, especially as she’s driving to the bank. Heck, she’s even admitted that no one person is any more surprised than herself with the success of the books.  But what if she does have feelings about it?  I can tell you, even if I had the big checks coming in, I still wouldn’t want my “baby”, my hard work to be made fun of – and particularly not by other authors.  Stephenie Meyer has been made to suffer through it and J. K. Rowling.  And another thing, when we’re making fun of the book, aren’t we also discrediting every single reader of that book?  I believe so.

We should be grateful that these books have taken off as much as they have.  They bring to the forefront the power of books and open up a market for those coming in behind them.  Thanks to J. K. Rowling, how many wrote books about sorcery and magic and had a new market to sell to; thanks to Stephenie Meyer, we now have the explosion of vampire and werewolves books.  Perhaps with E. L. James, we’ll have a surge for romance and erotica.  Now, that’s what I’m talking about 😉  And an interesting tidbit:  According to Wikipedia, E. L. James initially wrote this story as a fan fiction homage to “Twilight”.  Therefore, aside from the obvious inspiration some of those books have had on others writing, think of how many young people cut their baby teeth on J. K. Rowling and will grow up to be avid readers; all the young adult and middle aged who now have a renewed interest in reading.  That’s certainly not anything to be making fun of.

It’s not just what’s going on with “Fifty Shades of Grey”.  What about the reviews that are written on Amazon from hate mongers?  All successful authors have had them.  You know, the ones where you have read the book and it is not only good but wonder why it’s not on the bestseller list; then you read a particular review and wonder if that person even read the book? I’ve seen reviews so filled with inaccuracies but someone, for whatever reason, took the time to write lies hoping the buying public will give weight to their one star review vs. however many five star reviews have preceded it. One can only surmise it’s been placed there to stall sales. Why? Is it someone in the business who wants to throw sand down your underwear while you’re sitting in their sandbox?  What gives?

There’s enough writers and equally enough readers to go around.  There is no competition. I can guarantee you that if you give ten authors the same writer’s prompt, you would have ten different stories.  That’s the power of the imagination.  It’s a wonderful gift.  We share it every day in our words. So please, let those words be kind.

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7 Responses to SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Can’t We Be Respectful?

  1. While I don’t buy in with hate-mongering, I don’t think that means everyone has to like a book, and I don’t think that means everyone can’t have an opinion about a book, even if that opinion is bad.

    In Australia, it’s cultural to make fun of stuff. Anything. Everything. Politics. Religion. People. Movies. Books. Even ourselves. Hey, we don’t make any exceptions, and we can laugh at ourselves just as hard as at anything else.

    So while I can agree hate-mongering is bad, I’ll have to disagree on the making fun part. Unless we’re going to ban comedians from making jokes about far more serious things than books, I can’t see any reason for books to be the exception to the rule, and an author who is thin-skinned enough to be bothered by the jokes has no business being IN the business.

  2. This post could not have come at a more opportune time for me – I was invited to be interviewed on BBC Three Counties at the weekend, and the topic was the Fifty Shades Trilogy and why it was so popular (I also had the chance to talk about my own new novel 🙂 ). I took great pleasure in putting forward the view that this is a really great book, with a strong narrative voice, that is clearly giving readers what they want. I don’t know EL James, but she’s a fellow writer, and we writers should stand together and support each other. If it wasn’t for her book, I wouldn’t have been on the radio on a Saturday morning talking about my book! So I, for one, am grateful for her success.

    It was helped by the fact that the interviewer is an avid book-fan, and wasn’t looking to make fun of the book’s topic, and we chatted about how social media has increased the opportunities for a book’s success. But social media also provides the forums for people to pull a book to pieces very publicly – and like you I’m mystified as to why so many choose to do this.

    All books are good – even bad books are good, because what’s bad to me might be great to you, and hey: It’s a book! I wish Amazon would tighten up their book reviews and offer to remove spurious 1 star reviews which clearly add nothing to a potential reader’s decision, and are only there to be spiteful. But, hey ho, that’s another story.

  3. We can and should be respectful, but great sales numbers, or the very fact that you’re published/self-published and enjoying a bout of popularity doesn’t make anyone into a saint that should be preserved from criticism.

    Historically, writers have always taken jabs at other writers. Vicious jabs. This is not going to go away.
    I would like to support the idea that writers, bloggers and readers live in an ecosystem, which is great, but let’s not forget ecosystems come with predators and scavengers. And what do living creatures do in an ecosystem? They find their niche.

    You have a right to support writing that you believe in and think is good — I agree with Joanne Phillips when she says that even bad books are good — but you have the concomitant right to examine bad writing and expose it for what it is. Basically, you have the right to issue an opinion whether you are right, wrong, or something in-between. As long as you’re in earnest, you deserve to be listened to. Bad faith is something else.

    Unfounded opinions, e.g., baseless mockery, or attacks fueled by personal envy, those should simply be dealt with as discreetly and professionally as possible. Most often than not, it’s best to ignore them.

  4. Gail Gentry says:

    Thank you, Ciara, Joanne and @StartYourNovel. I truly appreciate the comments and agree for the most part with each of you. I support the fact that opinions are free to be expressed, both good and bad, including reviews that are factual in nature and intended to be productive – whether a one star or five star. I also understand that comedians and the such certainly have every right to garner their material from all sources. That’s their job. The point I was trying to make is that as authors we should support one another within this community we belong to, rather than, as @StartYourNovel said, throw out “baseless mockery.” It is uncalled for. Sadly, we do not live in a harmonious society and as with any profession you have those which will maliciously discredit or make fun of another within their profession simply to elevate their own status. It is with this intent the blog was based – not to squash valid opinions but to encourage them and tamp down the unfounded negativity.

  5. With your usual heart and soul you’ve written a necessary defense of writers. Obviously honest criticism is always welcome (and even necessary), but these reviewers who go out and overtly lie about a book with impunity (i.e. no real vetting process) need to be weeded our somehow. Not sure what the solution but you’ve articulated the issue perfectly. Great blog, GTG!!!

  6. I feel buffetted. I agree with all the opinions and I’m left with the usual confusion I feel when considering issues relating to freedom of speech. I am, of course coloured with my own experiences, and primarily that I would hate such harsh things being said about my own baby. On the other hand, although I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, I have read Twilight and been vociferous in my condemnation. This is where the dichotomy lies.

    In my opinion Twilight is a terrible book. Not only is it badly written but, more importantly, the messages it conveys are more than poor, they’re downright dangerous. Now, I would be grief stricken if someone said that about my work, devastated, and I wouldn’t like to think that my words would make anyone feel like that. However, should I then keep quiet and let something I feel so strongly about go past until some young girl had been killed or seriously traumatised by attempting suicide to lure back a boyfriend, or because she thought it was okay to have a stranger constantly watching her and breaking into her room in the middle of the night… maybe leaving the window open for him?

    The question is, where do you draw the line? When do you speak up and when do you keep silent? I, personally, welcome criticism in book reviews as it helps to make me a stronger writer. Of course, I prefer praise, who doesn’t. I don’t think that criticism of style should go further than that. However, when it comes to issues that you believe are far wider and may even stray into the realms of being dangerous or deeply offensive, then too bloody right I think you should speak up, to whoever will listen.

    Mind you, what I consider counts as offensive is a whole different kettle of fish

  7. Cia says:

    I love to support authors, and since I own the Twilight and HP series I don’t feel the need to bash them. They have their own niche, and they fill that niche very well. A lot of books/series that authors write do. Comparisons are inevitable in life, but I try to judge each book on the quality it represents.

    Fifty Shades of Gray is a book that I started and then stopped pretty quickly. I read a lot of reviews before picking up the ebook. When I opened it, I tried to keep an open mind. However, as I’m reading I’m come across the writer sending her character to Seattle from Vancouver THROUGH Portland. Except Vancouver is north of Portland and Seattle is north of Vancouver. Did E.L. James not even bother to do something as basic as look at a map? I cannot abide authors that decide to write something and then fail to do even basic research on their setting.

    That led credence to many of the negative reviews I read and frustrated me to no end. I put the book down because at that point I was too focused on finding mistakes than the story itself. I may pick it back up again at another time but not for a while. I didn’t write any official reviews for the book or blast the author yet since I haven’t finished the book. If I do, I will write an honest review. I will mention anything I don’t like or find wrong, but I will mention what I like as well. It is rare to find a book that does not have at least one redeeming quality. Focusing solely on the positive or negative aspects when criticizing a book does the author and every reader a disservice. No one deserves hatemongering, but I won’t pay lip service just in the name of supporting a fellow writer regardless of the facts.

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