Monday, May 19, 2014

Writing 101: Are You Being Bullied...or Criticized?

Critical feedback is essential for each and every single author, and sometimes truth is harsh. On the other hand, criticism can cross the line. With one wrong word or turn of phrase, it turns into bullying. So when you read those scathing reviews and biting comments, you have to make a decision: are you being bullied...or criticized?


Indie Authors and Bullying

This is a touchy subject, and I'll do my best to tread lightly. There's been a recent outcry regarding indie authors and bullying, and it's gained so much momentum that non-indie authors are sounding off on the subject. But to call every single negative review or harsh remark a form of bullying is incorrect, because they simply are not. If we start to scream "bully" about everything, then that word begins to lose its power and then we've all got problems. 

So it's your job to learn how to differentiate between bullying and ordinary criticism that's just hard to deal with. In matters such as these, I find that it's best to take an analytical approach. 


  • If it makes you cry...it's not necessarily bullying. Some reviews can be harsh. Don't believe me? Type the name of your favorite book, your very favorite book, into Amazon. Now go read the reviews, and ten to one you'll find at least one that makes you gasp. My favorite book has plenty of one-star reviews, and while I don't think they're all fair I haven't found any that qualify as bullying. Some of the criticism is accurate, in fact. 
  • If it contains offensive language...okay, that's not good. But there is a difference in someone swearing and someone swearing specifically at you. A review that says "this book is no damn good" is essentially benign even if it is hurtful. But if the review says "the author of this book is a piece of &%$#" then that is much more in the realm of bullying. As a general courtesy to all, a reviewer should always leave the taboo words out of their critique. But by that token, let's all remember that these words are by and large meant to emphasize. They've been misappropriated as a tool to berate, but I think we ought to reclaim them for the good guys (who merely wish to stress a point). 
  • If it contains incendiary language...such as name-calling, it's probably bullying. If the reviewer says something regarding the author's personal character, convictions or preferences then that's bullying because that doesn't have much of anything to do with the book. 
  • If it says the book is terrible...it may just be a bad review. Calling a book "the worst I've ever read" or saying that all the characters are two-dimensional does hurt...but that's not bullying. That's a criticism, and even if it's one you don't want to read that's exactly what it is. 

Isn't It Personal, Though?

Many indie authors feel that they're being targeted, and that's why the word bullying is coming into play. If someone is coming after you specifically to attack you at all costs, you are certainly being bullied. 

Is that what's happening with you, though? A regular reviewer who reads all your work and writes about it may not be a bully; that could be a fan. Now, if someone is constantly telling you that you suck on your blog posts or creating threads to rant about you on Goodreads or specifically calling you out by name in other reviews they're writing, yes that does sound like targeted attacking. But a handful of comments, a few reviews, this does not necessarily a bully make.

Goodreads takes a harsher stance on bullying than I do; their definition is a bit more broad. Calling a book a piece of &%$# is harsh, this I grant you, but it's not bullying. I've said that about books, movies, TV shows. Maybe I haven't said it in a public forum, but I've said it. Some reviews are opinions expressed by readers, and that's what you need to hear as an author. 

It's not always easy to hear harsh words, I know. But the word bully is a serious one, an impactful one, a word that we cannot mis- or over-use because it must keep its power. So before you say it, be sure about it. Otherwise, try to take in the criticism as best you can. Remember the information you need. Discard what you don't.

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