Saturday, April 26, 2014

Suffering Fools

Are you a writer?

Do you leave comments on forums, blogs, and/or social networks?

If either or both apply to you, you've probably encountered pinheads before.

Perhaps they left you a snotty book review. Maybe they attacked you instead of your book. Maybe they didn't even read the book.

Perhaps they trolled your blog, or tried to engage you in a flame war in a forum, or misquoted you or lied about you.

If so, welcome to the Internet, where people write things they'd never say to your face, and anonymity makes the weakest coward brave and full of themself.

There is a simple, yet effective, way to deal with pinheads:

Ignore them.

You shouldn't Google yourself, or read your reviews, or seek out what others are saying about you, good or bad. None of it matters. The only people that matter are those in your inner circle. The rest of the world has no power over you unless you allow it.

Don't allow it. There will always be negative people. There will always be trolls. There will always be pinheads. It isn't your job to deal with them. They aren't worth your time.

Ignore them.

If you don't have people who disagree with you, dislike you, and want you to fail, you aren't living up to your potential.

Q: But Joe, someone just gave me a one star review for no reason at all.

A: Ignore them.

Q: But I only have a few reviews, and that blew my four star average.

A: If it is against the site's rules, report the review. But you'd be better off not reading your reviews in the first place. Readers aren't stupid. They can sniff out hateful one-star reviews the same way they can sniff out phony five-star reviews.

Q: What if the review misrepresents the book? Should I reply?

A: In 99.99% of circumstances, you shouldn't reply to a review. On a very rare occassion (like this one) you can add a comment. But always be gracious, and keep your tone respectful.

Q: But what if someone really hurt my feelings? What should I do?

A: Have a beer and talk to your best friend. But don't respond to the pinhead.

Q: Don't you respond to pinheads on your blog?

A: I control my blog, and I don't mind being trolled. But if things get out of hand, I kick people out and delete their comments. The only place you'll have similar power is on your own blog. Everywhere else on the Internet, you should ignore them.

Q: You said to ignore them, but you just admitted that sometimes you don't ignore them.

A: There aren't many absolutes in life. There will usually be exceptions. But overall your best bet is to leave the tools in the toolbox. Don't engage. Don't respond. Ignore them.

Q: But this pinhead/review/comment is hurting my sales. How can I ignore that?

A: If you're writing good books, one person/review/comment won't hurt your sales. A hundred people/reviews/comments won't hurt your sales.

Q: But I'm being systematically targeted by a cadre of haters who stalk me 24/7.

A: In very, very, very rare cases, you can involve the authorities. But my guess is you're just being overly touchy. The baddest of the bad people on the Internet thrive on provoking responses. If you don't respond, you take away their power.

Q: What if other people see those lies about me? Shouldn't I reply?

A: No. And give people some credit. Do you ever Google someone, find something negative someone said about them, and assume that's all there is to know? Or do you research further?

EVERY celebrity has haters. EVERY author has one star reviews. You aren't being persecuted. Don't take it personally, because you're not that special. You're just one of billions of Internet users who have been trolled. Welcome to the human race.

Q: But what about intelligent discourse? Do I need to avoid all debate?

A: Debate those who debate respectfully. Ignore those who don't.

Q: Why are there so many pinheads on the Internet?

A: Human beings have a desire for control. It's genetic. For some, the need for control extends beyond self. Some people with certain personality disorders (sociopaths, grandiose narcissists, those with low self-esteem and/or small penises) need to control others in order to feel good about themselves. One way to control someone is to tweak their emotional response.

That's why you shouldn't engage. If you don't like what someone says, the greatest gift you can give that pinhead is to react.

Ignore them. Write that on a Post-It note if you have to and stick it to your monitor.

No one else cares if people are saying shit about you. The only one who cares is you. You need to pay more attention to your writing, and no attention to the pinheads.

Now turn off Google Alerts and get back to work.


Andrea said...

And sometimes authors are trolls themselves, trying to provoke an emotional reaction and start a fight. The same advice goes for respectable reviewers: don't respond to rude comments where the author is obviously flaming you over your fair and honest review.

Walter Knight said...

I put some politics in my writing, so I engage trolls as an extension of political debate.

Anonymous said...

This is perfect and all your points ring true.

I've been self-publishing since 2011. Back then I used to do everything herein you have said not to. By the end of that year my psyche was in tatters due to trolls targeting me because they knew they could wind me up.

So guess what I did? I went off the grid. I stopped everything interactive online. I got back to writing, then publishing, then sticking new release notices on the web only once, then repeating.

At one point last year I was aware that one of my books had only a 1 star rating on it. I didn't react, didn't read the review. I just found out which title it was and noticed I still got sales on it, so I knew then that reviews don't matter to readers.

"Out of sight, out of mind."

By staying off the trolls radars I became unknown to them. By ignoring them they weren't able to goad me. By staying offline I've been able to write and write.


w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

The only response I make to a reviewer is a thank you and suggestion for further reading to a positive reviewer. Couldn't hurt. When someone is absolutely cruel and inaccurate, without logic, sense, or decency, I send them information on how to become a Federal Court Judge. They have all of the qualifications.
Couldn't hurt. As Saint Oscar Wilde observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.

Carradee said...

I actually would rather debate a troll than have dinner with family.

Thank you for a reminder of reason #1002 why I need to get out of town ASAP.

That detail re: troll > family is probably why I don't mind them and sometimes engage them on purpose. Playing too naive to realize a person is trolling can be fun. *shrug*

RG Dillon said...

Fortunately I have some experience with trolls for the day that it does happen to me - for six years I moderated a newsgroup so I've been called every name in the book to having my heritage questioned.

Sometimes though - questioning or commenting on a post does work out for the better. I recently gave a three star review on one of your collaborations. Your partner on that book emailed me - I responded and over the course of several emails new contacts were made. He offered me free books (I had already bought them) and I offered him a copy of my current release.

So it worked out great for both of us - but the sage advice is to never ever respond!

Judith said...

RG Dillon:
So it worked out great for both of us - but the sage advice is to never ever respond!

Except, Konrath wrote:
"Q: But what about intelligent discourse? Do I need to avoid all debate?

A: Debate those who debate respectfully. Ignore those who don't."

Unless you think you wrote a "pinhead" review - and, most likely a 3-star isn't a rant, but more likely giving plusses/minuses or likes/dislikes - then Joe's partner wasn't responding to a pinhead but to someone who had given evidence of an ability to make respectful critical comments.

Nils said...

Supposedly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt..."No one can make you feel inferior without your permission". (I always liked that one). To paraphrase one from "The Four Agreements"by Don Miguel Ruiz...."Don't take anything personally". It's usually their problem and not yours. Nice post..well said.

Gary Ponzo said...

But what if your mother gives you a 1-star review? Should I have her put in a retirement home where her internet activities are monitored?

J.H. Moncrieff said...

I haven't said this in a long time…since back in the day when I got you the Roots Canada cap…but I love your blog and you are awesome. So proud of what you do to help other writers.

Keep on keepin' on.

Suzan Harden said...

"Readers aren't stupid."

Joe, would you put this in caps? I think that's an even more important statement than "Do not engage trolls."

1) Readers can recognize troll reviews. In fact, I bought a historical romance two weeks ago BECAUSE of an incredibly trollish review by a person who delights in leaving trollish reviews and hopes to cause a shitstorm. The writer got brownie points from me for not engaging said troll.

2) When a writer corrects a reader, no matter how gently or well-intentioned, the writer has just called that reader stupid, and therefore, has become the troll.

Not everybody's going to love your work. Take a deep breath, let it go, and move on to your next book.

Chris W. Martinez said...

Having trolls and "haters" is actually a luxury, a sign of some measure of success. I welcome them!

allynh said...

TED has an interesting video by Elizabeth Gilbert about dealing with her success.

Watch the video and pay attention to the audience at the end. They are supposed to have a standing ovation at the end of each talk to give the appearance of wild acceptance. Each person paid 7k to 8k, and went through an approval process to be there. You can't just attend a TED conference, you have to fill out an application and be approved before you pay your money, so these people are already successful in their fields.

So here she is telling these people to just be mellow and keep doing what they love, not focus on their success or failure, not focus on what other people think, and you can see that they are not impressed by her story. This was not what they paid their money to hear. HA!

I've downloaded a copy of the video to my desktop so that I can watch it over and over, because what she said hit home.

Vivere said...

hahaha_ I loved your take on pinheads. Especially the reason why pinheads are pinheads.

Here's a nice quote I'd like to share:

"Don't be upset by people or situations. They are powerless without your reaction."

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Great post, Joe. Echoing off of what Andrea said, I'm always surprised when I see authors playing the roll of troll. I don't think they realize how it tarnishes their brand. When I see an author attacking another author, even if I don't know the author they're attacking, they build a negative brand image in my mind and I'm less likely to want to support the attacker as a reader or a potential partner. I've only been in publishing for six years, but I'm amazed at how the the longer I'm in it, the smaller the world of publishing becomes. This is a relationship-driven business where relationships give authors incredible strategic advantage.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Great stuff, as usual, Joe! I've had lots of 5-star reviews, and a couple of 1-stars which I resist responding to. Interestingly, sometimes other fans take up the cause...which I watch with amusement in the comments. Thanks for continuing to pin down the pinheads!

Sharper13x said...

I understand that if you google yourself you can go blind. Is this true?

LiAdara said...

Gary Ponzo - I am lucky that my mother doesn't even know how to switch on a computer and smart phones leaves her confused..

Sad as it is this is becoming a reality more and more and it seems that the people are out to get others for fun. Modern day internet hunting with authors as the prey.

I know that Anne Rice has been lobbying that you can only leave your review on Amazon if you use your real name.... And I think that even if it is a good idea it still has some setbacks...

BUT i want to ask a question and Joe would love to know what you think about this: If you read a book and you didnt enjoy it (bad writing, plot holes you can fit the sun into) can you write a bad review? I always feel bad because I know how much time a author spends on the book and it is their baby .... How then do you write the bad review and can you write the bad review or should you just skip it?

Ripley King said...

I'm out there. I have signs on my truck. People ask me about my books, and I tell them. I get a review for every 500 books I give away. I love each and every one of them. In fact, I love them so much I have a Reviews page, just so I can post them uncut.

I'm not getting traction, but have some great reviews. I want readers to see my reviews. I post big samples, too. I can't throw money at my marketing problems, but I don't mind pressing the flesh.

Walter Knight said...

Everyone, even authors, should be encouraged to stand up for themselves. However, it takes experience to do it right.

Enjoy this U-tube video on bullies.

Jim Self said...

Oh man, when anyone starts to engage other people on the internet, they have to learn the same rule first: Do Not Feed The Trolls.

Believe it, there are people stalking the internet looking to throw metaphorical bricks at windows. Not a lot, but some everywhere. You get to decide if the window breaks, though.

Patty said...

Don't read the reviews.

I've been saying this for years.

For whatever reason--reviews are for readers, readers are smart enough to pick trolls, responding to reviews makes you look defensive, yada yada...

It has only one effect on the author:

It's a waste of time. You can't change a review, and all the time you spend googling, fretting and arguing, you're not writing.

Do something you can change, like write the next frakkin awesome book.

cinisajoy said...

Great blog post and Andrea, I loved your comment.

David L. Shutter said...

Amazingly simple and effective advice. Very timely as well. The Web, and the world for that matter, would be a much nice place if people could do this simple thing.

And it made me think of this:

When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong

antares said...

I read 1-star reviews.

I found a 1-star review of a collection of Robert Silverberg's short stories -- by Robert Silverberg. Silverberg wrote that the collection was not authorized; that is, it was a pirate work. I did not buy it.

Usually, I read 1-star reviews to see if they are cogent. When they are, I pass on the book. When the reviews are attacks without merit -- that is, pinheads spouting off -- I buy the book. For example, Barry Eisler's Redemption Games has three 1-star reviews. One is an attack on the narrator of the audio book. The other two are disguised ad hominem attacks on Barry Eisler. The book is on my BUY list.

Contrariwise, I no longer read 5-star reviews. "This is the greatest book", "I couldn't put it down", "!!!!!". Sometimes the reviewer writes a spoiler synopsis. Cliff Notes in a review. I do not want to read that.


Jolie du Pre said...


Have I told you lately that I love you!


Becky said...


I passed this column to a friend who isn't a writer but has been getting some grief from folks on the net.

I'm hoping it will help her deal with the BS getting sent her way.

Thank you very much for a timely post.


Unknown said...

Great advice, as usual.

Alan Spade said...

Joe, thanks for your advice about reading The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. Not only did it give me very valuable insights about stalkers and their characteristics, but it helped me to train to recognize the stalker within me.

We authors have to be persistent ones. But at what point does persistence, or obsession, begin to alter our own personality or our relationship with others?

We have to be careful with that, and The Gift of Fear helped me to step back a little.

Regarding mean one star reviews, yes, they can hurt authors. Imagine you are a newbie author. You are trying to gather reviews by making people read your book (even with free ebooks or paper books). You have gathered, say, seven four stars reviews and one five star review. You need ten good reviews for your Bookbub submission to be accepted. Your average ranking has to be at the minimum 4 stars.

Then, you get two mean one star reviews, and your average ranking drops. You've just lost all your chances with Bookbub. That's an example, in my humble opinion, where one star reviews can be pretty detrimental for the author trying to get some visibility.

Otherwise, I agree with you (disclosure: it's just an imaginary example, it didn't happen to me).

Ripley King said...

Bookbub dropped their review requirements, from what I understand, but they still look inside. Format, editorial content. The price, though, is still out of my range.

At Goodreads, serious debate can take a beating, and there are trolls to slay along the way. Coker gets it right when he says:

"I'm always surprised when I see authors playing the roll of troll. I don't think they realize how it tarnishes their brand. When I see an author attacking another author, even if I don't know the author they're attacking, they build a negative brand image in my mind and I'm less likely to want to support the attacker as a reader or a potential partner."


I agree Joe. I had a one two star review for my first Wayward Pines Kindle Worlds story by a guy who literally has over 1700 Amazon reviews covering everything from books to camping gear. Since this was an early publication for me I paid close attention to his comments which stated that he thought the story was great but I needed a serious copy editor. This was only the third story that I had ever self-published and the first with the kindle world platform so I was pretty excited to get the story out there. I took his advice and copy edited and republished then posted a note to him and he adjusted his review from 2 stars to 4 stars and stated that he was looking forward to the follow up stories.

Author Joe Perrone Jr. said...

Absolutely five-star advice! Because I write mysteries, the only time I will ask Amazon to take down a review is if some "pinhead" intentionally reveals the "mystery" or twist in my plot, which effectively negates a possible sale. I've only had to do it on a couple of occasions, and each time I have had success with my request. Otherwise, as you advise, I ignore any "bad" reviews. No wonder you are so successful. Write on!

Alan Spade said...

Here's what Bookbub says about reviews in the tips for making your submission more competitive. Granted, there is no (apparently) minimum number of reviews, but reviews does matter:

"Customer reviews: Customer reviews and ratings help our editors get a better sense of how other readers have responded to your book. However, there is no specific "minimum requirement," and reviews are only one factor out of many that we consider."

And I just realized these are customer reviews. So all the efforts I'm making to have bloggers review my book may account for nothing because they are not customers, and the Bookbub team only take into account "critical reviews from trusted editorial sources".

And who those trusted editorial sources could be? I have no idea.


Ripley King said...

I have some great reviews spread over several books, from Barnes&Noble to Amazon UK, but only have one review for each reviewed book (3 books out of 10 at last count)at Amazon. Sucks for me, too. LOL

I can only do what I can to sell books, and hope for the best when it comes to reviews. I can't meet the review requirements of the cheaper newsletters, and somebody with skill and money should start a newsletter for authors who use other distribution channels, like Smashwords and iTunes. Level the playing field. Coker! Are you listening?!

I'm trying to cater to readers on my blog. Give them content. And it's working, but it's slow. Sometimes it feels like one reader at a time. I have huge samples for readers, and I just posted new content on the home page. Three chapters, because the next two blog posts will ask questions I've always wanted to ask of Indie Author readers. Most likely I won't get any comments, but I'll try.

I suppose I lost focus, for longer than I care to admit, and then somebody wanted me to out-Joe, Joe. I can't, and don't want to try. I want to reach my readers, and the only I can see to that from my blog is content. Try to actively engage them.

My strengths are in the content I provide, and I'll have to play to those strengths.

I don't engage trolls. But I love my reviews, even the one star I got, because it reminds me I wasn't put on this earth to please anyone but myself, and my wife. And not in that order.

I'm working on new material, sharing that with my readers, and I'll do what I can to market myself, but the obsession with marketing is over. I'm happiest writing.

Ripley King said...

And the only way I can see that happening is content.

Don't you just hate it when what you type doesn't match up to what you thought in the heat of a reply? And there's no way to edit it.

Unknown said...

Great Advice but hard to follow. I read my reviews daily....trying to get away from it though...Great post :)

Karen Woodward said...

Thanks for this post, Joe.

Once, years ago, a troll attacked a story I'd written under a pen name. That would have been okay. I wouldn't have loved it but everyone is allowed an opinion. But this review was vicious. The troll not only attacked my work but attacked me as well. I sat staring at the monitor feeling like I was going to throw up.

Then I looked at the next review; a five star review from someone I didn't know saying they liked it. I've never been so grateful for a good review!

That was the last time I read my Amazon reviews.

Carolyn said...

Great blog, Joe, and I agree. My good friends notify me of good reviews and let the bad ones slide--they just don't tell me. The people who do tell me about the bad ones...enough said.

Soph said...

Well said! Although, I wish Amazon would insist people leave reviews under their real name -- I think that would cut down on the trolls. I once tracked down a troll review -- I don't think the reviewer realized it was possible to be 'outed' -- and found out it was written by an author who had just published a similar book. If that author hadn't been such a pinhead, I would have happily promoted her book to my fans. Instead, I just ignored her.

Anonymous said...

But...but... "Someone is WRONG on the internet!"

Anonymous said...

What about when someone puts a book out on Amazon under your name (the auspices of a pseudonym) to devalue your actual work? What then?

Judy Goodwin said...

Shout it out loud!!! I'm linking this to as many places as I can think of. GREAT advice.

I love to debate, but it's important to always maintain dignity, professionalism, and a healthy dose of respect.

Hillary Rettig said...

Right on point.

One thing I would add is that the Internet would be a much better place if the good people just had each others' backs a bit more often. If you see someone being picked on, step in and leave a comment either supporting the person or telling the troll to back off.

It is amazing how often just a tiny amount of social pressure can send a troll running.

Vicki Funes said...

I feel that the Kindle algorithm is affected by the average rating for a book. I got one 1-star review. Together with the two 5-star reviews I had, it brought down my average to under 4 stars.

My book then got buried somewhere near the rear of the Kindle search results. (Who knows where; I couldn't find it.) I went from selling several copies a week to selling absolutely nothing.

While I believe that readers can make up their own minds, they don't get a chance when a book disappears into the nether regions of the results pages.

People can read the first several chapters and see that there aren't "tons of spelling errors," as the 1-star guy reported. They can still decide whether they're interested in the subject or not. But they simply don't get the chance. It's like having one's website banished by the Google search engine.

At this point, I believe that I need to buy 5-star reviews in order to get a chance for my book to reappear where people can find it in the Kindle results. But, that's against Kindle's terms. So, I'm not buying reviews. But who knows, maybe someday I will.

Meanwhile, the incident has had the effect of making me not care what happens to the book. I have a website that people actually do read, so I will focus on it, instead.

Merrill Heath said...

Vicki, I did a search on your name in Amazon ebooks and found listings for 4 Cambria the Mermade books and your author page. Perhaps you aren't as buried as you thought.

Peter Spenser said...

TO: Vicki Funes,

What “search results” are you speaking of? Searching on your name brings up five books of yours. As for other types of searches, perhaps you need to change your book’s categories and/or metadata. That often helps.

Sarah Stegall said...

Ah, but troll posts are such a great resource for the names of villains who die horrible, screaming deaths...

David T List said...

I haven't published a book yet. But I've always hoped I'd have the strength to follow this advice. Hearing it from you helps, thanks.

Terri Herman-Ponce said...

Great advice. Trolls exist everywhere, and not just online. Learning to understand that they won't help you or your career in any way, shape, or form is a great lesson to take with you through life. I've since learned to ignore those trolls. Total bliss. And a lot more time for me to focus on what I want to do: tell stories and publish them.

Jacqueline Vick said...

I didn't respond to a bad review, but I did feel the need to check out her other reviews, based on her wording. My short story had proud placement next to a thumbs down for a vibrator that didn't have a choice of speeds. Made my day.

middle grade ninja said...

I've read advice encouraging authors to set up dummy accounts and leave 1-star reviews for competitors, which is despicable behavior. I hope any writer who does this is found out and has to answer for their behavior. Someone else having success doesn't take away from your own. There are plenty of readers for everyone.

middle grade ninja said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Trolls: another great reason to find your tribe, nurture it, and immerse yourself in making it happy.

Thanks for another great one, Joe.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I don't want to be the one having to self-promote, i.e. face the merciless masses of the digital Roman Colosseum. If writing is to be treated as a business, the CEO isn't usually the one doing PR. Other people do. This emphasis on the self-published author being required to be a Swiss Army everything is ludicrous. I would rather have a professional (like a secretary?) act as a buffer, an intermediary between myself and the barbaric public, leaving me free to huddle in my secluded bubble and not interact with anyone.

I am absolutely terrified of people but don't see that as a reason why what I write should be disregarded. Just because I'm not a social butterfly who takes the time to venture outside of my comfort zone and actually "make friends" doesn't mean the content of my book is bad. I think the audience needs to learn to separate product from person. Just because I don't want to "network with readers" doesn't make me a bad writer or a bad person. It means that I'm socially phobic and would rather the work stand for itself. What I think about current events or whether or not I care what XYZ social-media user thinks should be irrelevant in terms of the actual work.