When someone tears your baby from your arms and drop kicks it

Lately the Internet has been all abuzz about what an author should do about terrible reviews on GoodReads, blogs, Amazon, etc. (I believe the correct answer is: nothing. Even if the reviewer aggressively tweets links of said review to the author.)

But what I think is even more painful is to be told that your book is going to be reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, one with tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, and then the "critic" decides he or she had better live up to the title.

When Richard Ford didn't like a New York Times review written by Alice Hoffman, he and his wife took turns shooting Hoffman's own book and then mailed it to her.  (The two shared a publisher). Years later, when Alice Hoffman didn't like a reviewer's take in the Boston Globe, she tweeted the reviewer's home phone number and encouraged her followers to contact the reviewer.

A friend's first book just got a bad review in a big newspaper. A bad review for the very first book. God, that hurts the worst. It's your first born, it's perfect, and then someone drags that baby out of your arms,  and drop kicks it. That's about how it feels.

How my first book made a reviewer homicidal
When my first book came out in 1999, I remember my publicist telling me excitedly that it was going to be reviewed in the Los Angeles Times. This was pre-Internet. I enlisted an old friend from high school to fax me a copy of the review the morning it appeared. (Good Lord, this was all so long ago. I might as well say she used Pony Express to send me some chiseled tablets.)

I waited excitedly by the fax machine. The cover sheet had a single word scrawled on it. "Critics!"

I began to sense this might not go my way.

The review sucked. Until today, I had blocked it out of my mind, but thanks to some digging this afternoon, I was able to find it again. It contained words and phrases such as "dreary," "barely credible," "less-than-brilliant," "irritating gimmick," as well as the memorable "made me homicidal."

Yes, my mystery actually made the reviewer feel like committing murder.

I felt so ashamed. So worthless. I felt sick that my old friend had read the review. Was my career over before it had even begun?

Four other facts to note: 1). The reviewer loved a book where the mystery was solved by cats. 2). The reviewer died a year later from cancer, and had probably been undergoing treatment when the review was written. They left behind a son about the age of my daughter. 3). The book was also a Booksense pick, and a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony awards. It also came close to being made into a movie. 4). I have published 16 more books since (with more on the way).

So a review is just one person's opinion, whether that person is on Good Reads or the New York Times. I say that as someone who occasionally reviews on Good Reads and for the Oregonian. But because I know something of the blood, sweat and often literal tears that go into a book, I always try to give a balanced view.

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Thank you for writing this, April. I read through that whole saga with the author stalking the reviewer, and it left me with an uneasiness for everyone involved.

This post is a balanced view as well.
It's hard not to take personally. It reminds me a little of a Louie CK routine I was watching. He was talking about the things he said in his car, like yelling about how a little old lady should F off and die. And he was talking about how he would never say that to her face, and how he really hadn't meant it. I think we need to remember that the things we post or write can end up in that person's face, and they don't feel as removed from it as we do.
Three years ago, I posted a scathing review of a certain book on my blog. In March, I went to a multi-author signing and ran into the author. She was a real, flesh and blood person, and a nice one at that. I deleted the review as soon as I got home.
Another time, I posted a negative review of a historical fiction novel. Two weeks later I took an AP history test and information from the book helped me pass. I sent a thank you email to the author and revised my review. It was still mixed, but it had more of a positive vibe.
I'm just a girl with a laptop. No one pays me to read books. Why would I believe my opinion is anything special? If I hate a book, I don't review it, and that takes less time and effort than writing a one star review. I guess things are different for professional critics and ARC reviewers because they're under obligation to post SOMETHING. But that's my code of conduct.
I have passed on books before rather than have a bad review in the Oregonian. About the only time I did turn in a bad review it was for a John Grisham book, and I'm pretty sure that it bothered him not at all.

I think book culture should be about promoting the books we love, rather than taking that same space and devoting it to books we hate.

A mixed review is more honest to me than a totally negative one.
One thing I learned from years of being in book clubs is that someone can really love a book and someone else, a friend even, can really dislike it. In my reviews I try to focus less on the like and dislike and more on what the issues are that will prompt a reader into deeper thought, something they may want to talk about with a friend.
Like The Goldfinch. That was one of my favorite books of last year. People in my critique group _hated_ it. Sometimes it makes me feel better about my own books when I go to Goodreads to post a review of a book I loved and see I'm in the minority.
I do the same thing - check Good Reads or Amazon. But then I'm amazed when I see that I'm the only one that thought the plot twist in a big book made no sense. I will also sometimes check if I'm 50 pages in and on the fence about continuing.
Interesting. I can only read reviews before or after the actual book. If I'm in the middle, I might pick up on flaws that I wouldn't have noticed myself.
on the other hand
All I can say is that I read your first book immediately after it came out because Barbara Mertz recommended it to me (and you don't get a better recommendation than that) and I've been following your work avidly ever since.

I remember corresponding with you in the early, early days of the internet when an email conversation seemed so fast and cool and futuristic.

Re: on the other hand
I remember those early days, back when that squealing modem sounded magical. I used to be on some kind of Compuserve board ran by Diana Gabaldon, the lady who wrote the Outlander series.