The season of love and goodwill approaches, which makes it an excellent time to go through some hate mail. Yes, dear readers, it’s time for my now-yearly tradition: the “I Hated Your Book” blog post.
Negative reviews for books: it’s a touchier subject than ever these days. Writers can be a sensitive breed, and our books are our babies. Like any proud parent, we want to lash out at those who say our baby is ugly–but bad reviews are part of this business. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all, and no book is going to please 100% of its readers.
My first book Mistress of Rome got panned a few times, and my second book Daughters of Rome did too. Ditto for my latest book, Empress of the Seven Hills – and that’s ok. I have learned valuable things from negative reviews or emails–a sharp-eyed reader, for example, who was nice enough to contact me with the tactful observation that my Jewish characters should be speaking Aramaic and not Hebrew. Believe me, that detail will be carefully corrected in the next book. And as for those less-constructive (ok, downright nasty) one-star reviews that make me see red, well, I may call up my girlfriends and do some ranting about said reviewer’s lack of insight, literary discernment, personal hygiene, and use of the subjunctive–but I will always keep such rants off the web. Such online spats are unprofessional, and they can get ugly in a hurry–see the brouhaha when bestselling author Emily Giffin commented on Facebook about a bad review, and the poor book blogger who panned her ended up receiving violent phone threats.
Perhaps we authors and fans alike need just a bit more humor in looking at the situation. I’ve gotten some reviews and emails that are so bizarre or flat-out insane that all I can do is laugh. Here are a few memorable gems from this year’s readers who have contacted me with negative feedback. I have rephrased them for anonymity but all are true in essence:
1. “Cringeworthy bodiceripping lovestory.”
What I’m cringing at is your inability to hyphenate.
2. “I bought your book at the same time as Stephanie Dray’s Song of the Nile. Hers is slightly less boring than yours.”
I resent that. Stephanie Dray is a friend of mine, and I’ll have you know that she is MUCH less boring than I am.
3. “I hated the way all the women in this book were accused of being sluts whenever they stepped outside the rules. I mean, I guess it was historically accurate, but it bothered me way too much to finish the book.”
If you are that shocked by the notion that women of the past lived under an unfair double-standard, then historical fiction is not for you.
4. “I heart the hero Vix! He’s just so badass the way he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. I didn’t like the heroine at all, though; she was so self-centered the way she plowed through life just trying to get her own way.”
Ah, I see. Reader #3 was disturbed by double-standards for men and women. You just HAVE double-standards for men and women.
5. “There was such foul language in this book, I just couldn’t stand it.”
This reader has a point. Because the hero of this book is a soldier–and as we all know, real military men never cuss. In any era.
6. “Your Rome is like three blocks wide from the way all the central characters keep bumping into each other!”
They said the same thing about Dickens. He survived; so will I. Actually, I’ve never really cared for Dickens. Maybe I need to keep this review in mind for the next book.
7. “This book is an insult to my Jewish heritage. So anti-Semitic; any Jew would be offended!”
Thank you for your feedback. I would pass your concerns on to my editor, but she’s sitting shiva this week.
8. “Wasn’t interested enough to finish the book. Four stars out of five!”
So you probably think I’m crazy to be irritated by a 4-star review, but . . . huh?
9. “I didn’t like this book as much as Empress of the Daughter’s Mistress.”
Masterful. Not only can I not tell which book of mine you just read, I can’t tell what other book of mine you’re comparing it to. Considering that I’ve only written three books, that’s quite an achievement.
10. “This trash is an insult to intellectuals everywhere. I’m trying to decide whether to toss this book in the library’s 2 cent bin, or burn it.”
I think you’ll find that the real insult to intellectuals everywhere is book-burning.
And for the bonus crazy email of 2012 . . .
11. “I saw your picture on the book jacket, and I like girls like you! You know, pretty, blond, puffy cheeks, loves history. We should talk!”
Wow. Um. Just–wow. Did you read the bio under my picture, where it mentions that I’m married? Happily? To a very muscular Navy sailor/amateur boxer? I suggest Match.com if you wish to find unmarried history-loving blondes. And here’s a tip: don’t use the word “puffy” in your ad.