This post, from Victoria Strauss, originally appeared on the Writer Beware! Blogs on 7/7/09. In it, she shares some past and recent examples of authors behaving badly as the result of receiving a bad review, and gives authors many reasons to think twice before Tweeting, blogging or posting in anger.
Last week, the Twitter- and blogosphere were abuzz with two tales of authorial bad behavior: much-published author Alice Hoffman’s Twitter meltdown over a poor review (Hoffman tweeted several angry messages about the review, including one that provided the reviewer’s phone number and email address and encouraged fans to "Tell her what u think of snarky critics;" Hoffman’s publisher subsequently yanked her Twitter account, and Hoffman issued an apology);
…and philosopher and author Alain de Botton’s blog explosion (de Botton posted an angry comment on the reviewer’s blog, concluding "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make"; he, too, subsequently apologized, excusing himself by saying "It was a private communication to his website, to him as a blogger…It’s appalling that it seems that I’m telling the world." Well, duh).
Although you can blame these errors in judgment on the social media phenomenon, which encourages us all to tweet (or comment, or post, or email) before we think, they are hardly isolated incidents. Authors wigging out over criticism is nothing new.
This past April, a Russian court ordered a journalist to pay compensation to a writer who objected to the journalist’s review of his novel. Compensation amounted to US $1,000; the writer had originally demanded much more. Per the news report of this incident: "Observers have commented that this judgment creates a very dangerous precedent, opening the way for lawsuits based on subjective opinion. Some have even suggested that if a book reviewer can be sued, a reader who did not like a book can sue the author for making a bad quality product." Holy frivolous lawsuits, Batman!
A recent article on the Hoffman debacle from Salon.com provides several more examples of authors behaving badly over criticism. Authors Caleb Carr, Jonah Goldberg, Stanley Crouch, and Richard Ford have (respectively) written invective-laden letters to, blogged obsessively about, slapped the face of, and spit upon/shot holes in the books of reviewers to whose analysis they objected (one of those reviewers, ironically enough, was Hoffman herself).
In 2007, Stuart Pivar sued blogger PZ Meyers for libel for Meyers’s negative review of Pivar’s book Lifecode, which proposed "an alternative theory of evolution." Most observers dubbed the charges "frivolous" and "empty." Pivar eventually dropped the suit.