Note- this post is about writers dealing with attack dog bully critics, not legit critics who read your stuff and don’t like it. Bad reviews happen to everyone. But you don’t have to put up with the assholes who weaponize the review system just to screw with writers. This is about the scumbags who want to financially hurt writers just because the broken system makes it so they can.
This discussion happened elsewhere yesterday, but I thought I’d compile my comments (and clean them up because I typed this on my phone!) because I think this topic is important for writers to know how to deal with.
It started with a screen shot of some author’s emails, where a bully extortionist was threatening to spam their book with one-star reviews (this one was interesting because it was straight up extortion, as opposed to the usual social justice crusader bad review campaigns). Of course this new author was really scared by these threats, and other authors were sharing it (which is actually a very good thing, as I’ll talk about below)
So I quipped:
“Oh no! Someone is threatening to give me an unfair negative review! Help!”
Lol. They must be new at this.
The author who shared the screen shots responded and said that of course I wasn’t worried about it because I had sold millions of books and had thousands of reviews already so I was immune. She’s very talented and will probably have a great career, and I hate to see people like that fall into the bullies’ trap, so I expounded.
What? You think I sprang onto the scene fully formed with all those thousands of reviews and millions of copies sold?
Real Talk time.
Whoever wrote this needs to learn to not negotiate with terrorists. Then when the attacks happen (and they will) you learn to use those attacks as a marketing weapon yourself and turn that energy around for your own benefit.
I’ve had repeated organized review bombs against me. That’s one reason I got to those millions of books sold. Obvious bad spam reviews motivate your fans to counter them and spread the word.
When you get those bullshit reviews, embrace them. Mock them. Celebrate them. Because it means you pissed people off. When you panic, it just makes the attackers stronger. When you point and laugh and bring your fans in to point and laugh, they tell their friends and it turns into something fun.
Plus, Goodreads is a cesspool of SJWs. I always have one star reviews trashing my books as soon as they are listed on there. Well before anyone has read it. Sometimes including me because the book isn’t done yet.
It don’t matter. The harder the attack, the more energy you can use to turn it around on them.
When I did the first Tom Stranger on Audible, I got over TWO THOUSAND one star reviews. (let me tell you, that’ll lower a rating average!)
But it didn’t matter. I’ve made a metric fuckton of money off that series. I actually weaponized the funniest one stars and wrote a scene responding to them in the sequel!
I took those one stars and spammed them across the internet. The more they push, the sillier it gets. The more people talk about it. The more people respond. The more people BUY YOUR STUFF.
The bad reviewers don’t understand that the harder they push, the more buzz words they use, the fiercer the scolding and condemnation, the more regular folks want to check it out. Nothing makes a real American want something more than being told they shouldn’t have it.
If I was this author (and I have been, probably 20,000+ times) I’d tell this anonymous critic “fucking bring it” in the hopes of provoking them to sputtery rage. Because then it is comedy gold.
Then I started getting questions about how to flip this kind of attack around.
Back when I started (pre-social media) it was via blogging. But the extortionist reviews really didn’t explode as a threat until Twitter and Facebook became a cesspool of scum and villainy. And then at that point I’d take the really stupid reviews, and cherry pick quotes from them (almost like cover blurbs) and I’d post them in order to mock them.
The key is not coming across as whiny or victimized. People hate that. It makes you look weak. As an author you want to come across as happy and successful. So the key is making it fun. The beautiful thing here is that most one star reviews aren’t honest at all, so they’re easy to pick apart to find nuggets of hilarity.
But what about genre? (it was felt my “Real Americans” comment might apply to my fan base, but not something like the genre in question, which was romance or erotica or something.
Genre doesn’t really matter. It’s always the same thing. Terrorist sees a target. Tries to threaten. Says mean bully shit.
Take that, flip it around back on them. If you wrote a good erotica or romance or whatever, there’s an audience out there for it. And that audience doesn’t like being lied to. The harder the reviewer reaches, the more obvious it becomes that it is a grudge review. And regular decent people hate bullies.
The biggest danger is if your publisher is a candy ass who caves to outrage mobs.
But as far as readers go, for every reader scared away by an angsty bully throwing a tantrum, you can pick up two or three who are curious about why an angsty bully is throwing a tantrum.
You get enough angsty bullies throwing a tantrum, and it gives you an incredible opposite effect. Get half the internet screaming at you, and it causes exponential fan base growth.
It’s like how Rotten Tomatoes the audience reaction is often diametrically opposed to the critic reaction. The more the critics rail against something (especially when it is loaded with political buzz words) the more it causes regular people to check it out in backlash.
If the terrorists were smart they wouldn’t do blistering one stars loaded with PC buzz words. They’d keep it vague, oatmeal, and two stars to lower the average, without drawing attention to themselves. But bullies aren’t usually that clever.
Then there was some more responses about how it’s not that easy, and how most writers aren’t combative. Absolutely true. It isn’t easy and most artists aren’t fighters. Bullies count on that.
“I think one thing that has changed dramatically is that blogging isn’t really an option if you’ve not already been doing it for awhile.”- Don’t matter. You respond on whatever regular marketing channels you do use, in whatever manner best suits you.
” So while it might have been easier to build a following of loyal readers willing to go to bat for you when social media came along, that’s now gone.” – Totally disagree. It was HARDER back then because we could reach 1/10th the people with the same amount of labor.
If she doesn’t want to fight back, good for her. Then she can be a victim. Because this business is cruel, there are lots of bully assholes out there, artists are easy targets for bullies, and nobody is going to come to save you.
You see her problem. I’m offering one potential solution. That way might not be for her. Oh well.
But this stuff isn’t insurmountable. I’ve taken probably a thousand times more hate and heat than most authors ever will, and I’ve used that like pouring fertilizer on a weed. Your mileage may vary.
But either way, bullies are going to come for you.
Then a couple of other authors who’ve been through this sort of thing chimed in:
It’s like the woman who was bullied into pulling her book after landing a huge contract a few years ago. They kept attacking her even after she pulled the book, made changes, etc etc. Once they smell weakness they continue to attack and, as Larry said, seek to terrorize and exploit this weakness.
Brad R Torgersen
Yeah, never, ever let them bully you into making a decision. The reason this so often works is because writers (as a class of people) tend to be sensitive, often introverted, and anything which looks even a little bit like barbed criticism can be a real emotional killer. The trolls know this. They depend on it, in fact.
Jason and Brad are right. Artists tend to be sensitive, which is why they make great targets for bullies. They count on it. They love it. (and it’s why they extra despise those of us who don’t fit their victim selection stereotype)
So your friend might not care for the fight, but that’s exactly why they’re going to go after her. So she can either learn to respond, cope, or ignore.
As for how to use/reach her audience, whether it is social media and what kind, it doesn’t matter. She’s selling books somehow. Whatever that channel is, whether there is ten fans or ten thousand, that’s who you care about reaching. That’s who you flip this stuff on.
It is a great and universal truth of human nature that when someone attacks something, the fans of that thing also feel personally attacked. Humans put some measure of their self-esteem into the things they like. So you make fun of a sports team to a hard-core fan of that sports team, they’ll want to kick your ass. I learned this back when I sold guns for a living. When I was behind the counter, I never insulted a customer’s choice in gun, because that customer would take that as a personal insult. (now I don’t sell guns, I don’t care, so Taurus isn’t very good, sorry, BRAD) The customer picked that brand, so by insulting it, you insulted them.
Writer fans are the same way. If their writer gets insulted. THEY feel insulted by proxy. (if the bully critic declares that a writer is gutter trash that only stupid people would like, the people who like that gutter trash understandably don’t like being called stupid) So when somebody goes all one star attack dog and talks trash, the people who liked it are now a thousand times more motivated to post reviews in response, and go to bat for their choice, and most importantly of all TELL THEIR FRIENDS.
Because word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool on Earth. So weaponize your tribe.
Heh. I never look at Goodreads because it is fucking trash.
I just checked. Monster Hunter Bloodlines already has a bunch of one star reviews. It doesn’t come out until August.
I’m pretty sure those morons didn’t purchase the eARC.
(note on this one, best one star was somebody whining that the cover was too sexy and blah blah blah feminism evil male gaze and whatnot. The character in question is a literal succubus!) 😀
At this point the author who started the thread posted a link to another discussion about this, that had more screen caps from the extortionist. However, the really interesting part was the comments afterwards. The discussion here had been a bunch of writers. That linked discussion was a bunch of regular internet denizens seeing this nastiness in action. And the extortionist’s shitty behavior really made them angry.
Yes! Absolutely! Read the responses under that post!
What are the regular people saying? They’re offended. They’re pissed. They’re going to buy her books. They’re going to go post reviews. If they bring a knife we’ll bring a gun. THEY ARE GOING TO WAR.
WEAPONIZE THAT TRIBE.
Right there, that’s using social media right.
That one new post already has 36 comments and 44 shares. Each of those people are going to see that and be like WTF. Because regular people HATE BULLIES.
This is what I was talking about. When you get attacked, respond, expose, adapt. For every scumbag hater you can pick up a few normal decent people to check you out. The harder they hate, the better. The more fire, the more light.
Every time these assholes have come at me, for 12 years now, I’ve come out stronger. That same time I’ve watched dozens of other writers roll over meekly, and that never works out. They just keep getting picked on.
Embrace the suck.
So that’s what I wrote yesterday. Only thing I’d go back and change is to say that ignoring them is also a perfectly valid tactic sometimes, but that depends on scale. Most of these bullies aren’t that motivated. You are the temporary focus of their hatred, so they’ll post some one stars about a book they haven’t read because you’ve got the wrong politics, said something that hurt their feelings, or they just want to watch the world burn… But then they’ll move on to the next person they’re supposed to hate.
But if you’re getting a ton of them coming at you because you pissed off some moron collective, ignoring them just leads to you getting buried. That’s when you dump this stuff out there for the people to see. Just remember, make sure to have fun with it. Don’t come off as whiny. People root for under dogs, but they hate whiners.
Social media has empowered a whole bunch of dumbshits to sound a lot more powerful and numerous than they really are. Artists/companies listening to them has led to some really lame choices in movies, books, video games, and pretty much all of society. And artists keep caving to these mopes and tweaking their art to suit them, which leads to bad art, which annoys regular people who then buy less of it. Meanwhile, the artists like me who just make whatever art we want are considered obnoxious dicks by the mopes and the snoots, yet we keep our audiences happy and make money, just like how the “un-woke” movies and TV shows and games get mocked, but are financially successful, while the proper approved woke stuff goes broke. Or in the case of the multi-billion dollar IPs that are Too Big To Fail, have super disappointing ROIs.
It ain’t complicated people. Just make your art your way, have fun, and get paid.