Hey! An axe!
Let's grind it.
Back in 2013 I wrote a post about critics. Four years prior to that, I did another post about critics.
It's time to revisit.
Like all breakthrough technologies, the Internet has improved life for a lot of people.
We now have a fast and easy way to reach other people who share our interests and ideals. We have unrestricted access to information. We can entertain ourselves, educate ourselves, make some money, improve the world, and make life better.
And then there are the haters.
The first human who invented fire: "Look! I can harness this wondrous new technology that can keep us warm and cook our food to prevent disease and protect us from predators!"
The first critic: "It sucks and you're an asshole."
I understand some fundamental concepts concerning genetics. As a species, we must band together to reproduce. We're wired to seek out each other, to share, to empathize, to help.
But we're also tribal. That means we're fiercely protective of our tribe, and suspicious of others. In fact, we're suspicious of everything, because knowing what is good and what is bad could save us from terrible deaths.
Somewhere along the evolutionary path, hating a rival group of Homo heidelbergensis because they might kill us all and steal our food was beneficial to our survival.
And somehow, in just three hundred thousand short years, that led to people hating one another for their skin color, religion, sexual identity, country of origin, politics they follow, way they dress, sports teams they watch, and art they enjoy.
Everyone has an opinion. And I truly believe all opinions are valid.
Those opinions may not be defensible (XY, you have zero say in what XX decides to do with their bodies.) Or they may be defensible (We are going to destroy the planet if we don't reduce human-caused greenhouse gases.)
No matter your opinion, right or wrong, you are entitled to it, and entitled to shout it out everywhere. Even if you are an ignorant pinhead.
Free speech is required in society. It allows ideas to be exchanged and debated. Asshats who are relentlessly negative, clueless, bigoted, stupid, raised-wrong, and incapable of using logic, reason, common-sense, or facts to form their dumb opinions, must still be allowed to voice those dumb opinions.
And you, as an open-minded skeptic with a thick skin, are allowed to calmly and dispassionately engage and refute those opinions without ad hominem attacks or any other fallacious endeavors.
Unless you are a public figure.
Some public figures should be openly criticized, and should defend themselves. Those we elect to serve us should suffer the slings and arrows of voters with opposing viewpoints, so that they may better govern. Unleash your inner hater to comment on the injustices you perceive due to unequal representation in politics. And, through town halls and public debates and social media, discourse can happen between those who govern and those who elect them.
This is required.
But other public figures aren't allowed that opportunity.
If you play sports, professionally, you will be publicly hated, and so will your team.
If you are an actor or director, you will be publicly hated, and so will the movies and shows you are involved in.
If you make music, you will be publicly hated, and so will your music.
Create YouTube videos that you pour your heart and soul into even though you don't make a dime? Publicly hated.
The down votes and dislikes and mean comments will always follow you, because people have opinions and they believe if a series finale doesn't live up to expectations its just as enraging and terrible and worthy of a petition as the twelve million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean every year.
Unlike the sociopath politician, who probably doesn't want to have to deal with the finicky voters and would much rather govern with absolute control, but must engage sometimes because there are laws in place, other public figures have one rule and one rule only when dealing with criticism.
Shut up and take it.
Some moron can take twenty seconds to write a venom-filled screed that publicly lambastes something you worked on for ten months, and your options are to ignore it, or ignore it.
That seems one-sided and unfair, doesn't it?
I'll watch sports figures getting roasted on Twitter for a bad play, and my first reaction is, "Wow, not a single person slinging the hate could ever play professional sports."
How do I know that is 100% true? Because unless you are in MMA, professional sports players don't trash talk each other. They are respectful in public. Probably because it would bring negative press. But maybe part of it is because they know how much work it takes to become a professional sports player, and there is respect there.
You'll never see me give a one star review to anything. I'm an artist. I know how hard art is. Even art I don't like. Even if the art is demonstrably terrible.
Even though the Internet makes it sooooo easy.
I could spend every waking hour bashing other artists. I could even make a living at it (no one misses you, Roger Ebert.) I could even do it anonymously.
But I don't do that.
Others do, though.
This is because, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are still fighting with other tribes over who gets to hunt in the mammoth breeding grounds. And by fight, I mean face-to-face combat to the death.
But modern technology lets us vent that pent-up aggression instantly and without consequence. And not at people taking our food, but at people who created a prequel we didn't like.
Face-to-face? Ha! You'll likely never meet whomever you are criticizing.
And if they have the temerity to fight back? They can't do that! They're a celebrity! They have to take criticism and not respond, because that's their job!
Welcome to the Internet. Technology that could improve humankind, reduced to a megaphone for schoolyard bullies.
For the insecure, the quickest way to feel better about yourself it to put someone else down. Especially someone who won't defend themselves. This will never change. There will always be haters. And artists will always have to ignore it and never engage with those haters.
That said, I'm a writer, with a blog about writing and publishing, and this blog gives advice based on years of experience, hard work, deep thinking, and how I'm feeling based on what I had to eat today.
So here is the Writer's Guide To Dealing With Haters.
RULE 1: Don't Read Your Reviews
I know that this is easier said than done. Especially when you first put a book out there, and you are desperate for feedback. Resist the temptation to read what people are saying about you. Their opinion of you, and of your story, is none of your business.
RULE 2: Do Not Engage
Okay, you're human, and you accidentally read a 1 star review where some baby compared your book to a giant pile of horse shit except your book would attract more flies. Then this baby goes on to spout a whole bunch of lies about your book that are just plain incorrect.
It doesn't matter. Don't respond. No matter how tempting, you cannot defend yourself. It will always backfire.
RULE 3: Don't Write Negative Reviews
This should go without saying. You shouldn't bash your peers. Or anyone, really, except for politicians. Treat people on the Internet like you would treat them if a friend introduced you at a party. Always.
RULE 4: Pyt
This is a Danish word, sort of a combination of "shit happens" and "no big deal." You don't need to get over it, because it was never a thing in the first place.
We don't have control over how other people act. We do have control over how we react. As a writer, you will get reviews. If something is inevitable, unchangeable, and impersonal, the most you should react is by shrugging, maybe with a knowing little smile.
RULE 5: Haters Gonna Hate
What Peter says about Paul reveals more about Peter than Paul. That bad review has nothing to do with you. Someone with a very small mind and a very unhappy life needs to attack art to feel better about themselves. Who cares? Not your problem. You don't have to deal with them. And it isn't going to hurt your sales, or harm other peoples' opinion of your book.
Do you know why? Because you have bought and enjoyed books that others have given one star. If you don't care, no one else cares.
To sum this up in one sentence; Ignore critics because people suck, be a nice person, and if you run into anything negative, pyt.
Q: But Joe! What if I have legitimate problems with some work of art and I want to protect people from making the same mistake I did?
A: Take a good long look in the mirror and keep repeating "Nobody cares what I fucking think" over and over until you go hoarse. Because nobody cares what you fucking think. You aren't protecting others. You're being a petty, selfish dick.
Q: But Joe! What if I'm writing thoughtful, heartfelt opinions, backed up with examples and logic?
A: Save that for reviews of art that you like. Writing positive reviews is encouraged. Hate should not encouraged, ever. You're not marching to save the rain forest. You're annoyed because you feel you wasted some of you leisure time. Get over it.
Q: But I'm allowed to say what I want!
A: Here's a litmus test:
Would you say it directly to the artist's face, live on stage in front of ten thousand people?
If not, don't post it.
Would you say it directly to the artist's face if the artist was a mixed martial arts expert and had their teeth clenched in rage?
If not, don't post it.
Would you say it directly to the artist's face if you knew their mother just died and they couldn't stop sobbing?
If not, don't post it.
Would you say it directly to the artist's face no matter what?
If so, you're a douchebag. Fuck off.
Now go read WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, by latest novel, which debuted for free.
If you hate it, cool. Write a review anyway. I promise you won't have to say it to my face. :)