Snarky: When Good Critiques Go Bad

Click image to read the full review.

In my limited time blogging, I haven’t been shy about saying what I don’t like about a certain popular trilogy.  In fact, I’m rarely shy about anything, even admitting when I’m wrong. Yesterday, I grabbed a link from somewhere that led to a particularly lengthy takedown of the series, the characters, the editors, the readers and finally, the author. It was easily a 2,000 word tome, this “review”.  And I use the word review loosely because the writer/reviewer seemed to have spent as much time grabbing movie clips online as she did critiquing the content of the books. She freely admitted to having hated the first one from the very first sentence, and nevertheless being inexplicably drawn to read the second and third installments. And at some point, what began as amusing and creative became a cesspool of pure, unadulterated snark. Meanness of the worst kind, bordering on cruelty.

Now there is no doubt that writers voluntarily put themselves out there when they put pen to paper and publish their work. Generally speaking, we want to hear what people think and keep our fingers crossed that there is some segment of the reading public who will like what we’ve done.  And with this particular series, there is no doubt that a significant percentage of the public liked what this initially self-published author did. So much so that not only publishing houses, but Hollywood came calling and she landed a seven-figure deal for the film adaptation of her work.  Now, say what we will, this is every self-pubbed author’s dream scenario. We can pretend that we would be equally satisfied if we had no public support but plenty of critical acclaim, but I don’t buy it. Ideally, we would have both, but my guess is that if forced to choose, a majority of us would take the cash.

That’s likely what’s behind a lot of the snark about this series. The awareness that with negligible talent, this writer was able to pull off something that happens to one lucky author once every decade, if that. She has become the Kim Kardashian of the literary world – someone who is viewed as famous with very little natural ability to justify that fame, and the wealth that’s come along with it. I don’t even have to imagine how much that’s pissed off the literati, all I have to do is Google the name of the books and the word ‘review’ and a flood of snark will come cascading my way, some of it well-meaning and much of it funny, but most of it just plain nasty.

I had the series recommended to me by a family member who said she loved it. I told her I’d heard about the hype and would read it, so I did. I admit that by the time I finished the first few chapters of book one, I felt somewhat like a hostage to my impulse to finish all reading material that I start. And by the end of the trilogy, I was downright resentful at the series’ success. That feeling lasted for about a week.  And then common-sense returned. And following that, empathy.

Here’s the thing folks: it takes extraordinary bravery to share what you write. Few of us who do feel completely confident about what we have committed to the page. And fewer of us still will write something and go on to share our work despite our insecurity about how it may be received. Even praise doesn’t banish our uncertainty. One bad review can negate all the good ones, no matter how numerous they are. Hence all the jokes about book critics with that novel hidden in the bottom of their locked desk drawer. And let me tell you, when you read some of the reviews of this popular trilogy, almost all have flourishes that reek of  “frustrated-unpublished-novelist.”

I think the writer of this trilogy, however technically flawed her product, spoke to something that women are feeling today.  I for one am intrigued about what that might be and what it says about us. So lately I’ve begun to focus more on that question, and less on the millions of dollars this author is earning, some say unjustifiably. I’ve also decided to focus on the guts it took to put herself out there, knowing that legions of armchair critics would be polishing their swords, ready to eviscerate her for having the temerity to think she had something to write worth reading.

I say more power to her.  And to those purveyors of snark, go ahead, let’s see some of your work. I dare you.

2 thoughts on “Snarky: When Good Critiques Go Bad

  1. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all of your feedback and comments on my writing. This post is brilliant because I am one of those people who particularly loathe the fascination behind this trilogy. However, I am like you and feel that anyone who is willing to put themselves out there is worthy of some admiration. It is a difficult and particularly vulnerable thing to do. It certainly is not easy. I feel such a validation from your support that I can at least understand what it feels like to have someone view and appreciate your work. This is a great feeling. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have the following that she has; however, there is something to be said of the support of a discerning audience.

    Mistress M
    http://www.giveheadandheart.wordpress.com

    1. As someone who agonizes over her writing, and is up on average until 2 a.m. writing at least five times a week, I can tell you it’s no small feat to put stuff out there and have it slammed. Having said that, we both know Fifty Shades wasn’t great literature. I’m going to stop bugging you about writing, but please know that I was more impressed with what you wrote in two paragraphs than with what I read in that entire trilogy, and frankly, more impressed with your writing than anything my all-nighters have produced as of late. Good luck, and keep writing! I promise no more unsolicited advice to submit your stuff!

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