Sunday, March 2, 2014

This author should die

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m an author.  Which means this is perhaps a dangerous subject for me to write about, but it is also one I believe I need to speak to.  So…here goes.

The Internet is a wonderful thing.   It gives us access to information (although not always accurate information) at lightning fast speeds.  It allows us to quickly communicate and send documents with a click of a button.  Social media gives us the ability to with very little effort keep in touch with those we might have otherwise not taken the time to connect with.  What’s not to love?

And yet, the Internet is also a terrible place.  Because it is a world that is explored from the seemingly anonymous and safe place behind the computer screen, many people say things on the Internet that they would never say in real life.  You see evidence every day of this on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments of every political news article.   Words that would never come out of someone’s mouth if they were having a discussion face to face rear their ugly heads. 


Well, I can only guess.  However, it seems to me that many people feel words typed on a screen and posted on the Internet have less meaning than those said aloud.  And you know what, if that is the case those who believe that are wrong. 

Words have power. 

I believed that long before I became an author.  Words have the power to lift people up, cause great joy, instill fear or inflict injury far greater than many weapons.  And unlike a misplaced comment said at a cocktail party or on the phone, the words on the Internet live on and on and on, which gives them even greater power.  Which is why I wish people would treat them with more care.  The lack of care when attacking other people’s political, religious or social beliefs makes me want to scream.  Especially when I know the people posting and know they would never choose the words they typed if they were speaking face to face. 

The Internet and the screen we sit behind desensitizes people to the power of their words.  And because of that those words do damage.

As an author, I see signs of this desensitization in the reviews that are posted online.  (Yes…this is where the author in me treads dangerous ground.  I know it.  I’m walking it anyway because I believe in what I say.)  Now…don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe book reviews should be universally wonderful.  What would be the point?  Not all people love all books.  That is as it should be.  Books that I love will be disliked by others.  Good.  We are all different.  We should have different opinions.  Reviews should state what the reader liked and disliked.  Reviews should be critical of the storytelling moments that didn’t click for them and praise the writing that made them read into the early hours of the morning.  That is what reviews are for.  Critical reviews are just as important as wonderful reviews.  Without one, we cannot have the other…at least not in any meaningful way.

But, over the years I’ve seen critical reviews turn personal.  Reviewers not only stating that they hate the book, but make personal attacks on the author.  I have more than one review of THE TESTING that not only hates the story, but goes on to say that they hate me and that they think I should die.  I’ve seen reviews that attack me as a person.  They tell me I was trying to rip off other books.  They suggest I should be hurt or worse because of their beliefs. 

Those reviews are scary.  I stumbled across them in the days before THE TESTING came out.  I haven’t read any reviews on Goodreads or searched out reviews on blogs since.  So there could be worse out there.

Do I believe they really want me dead?  No.  Do I believe they would use those words to my face if they met me at a bookstore or on the street somewhere?  Heck no.  Yet, for whatever reason, they chose to type those words.  They chose to share them with the world and sign their name (or online pseudonym) to them. 


I wish I knew.  Do they get more hits on their blog by publishing implied death threats?  Do they want me to see those words? 

Not long ago, ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth was published to an enormous print run and great fanfare.  Fans who disliked where the story went in that final installment of the trilogy took to the Internet and blasted the story.  That is fair.  If you don’t like the story, you can criticize the story.  But it went so much farther than that.  Lots of death threats.  Lots of words of hate and feelings of betrayal were spewed directly at the author on social media.  She was told she should drop dead more than once.  Because she wrote a book and they chose to read it.


I’m sorry, but under no circumstances does an author deserve to be told they should die.  Not me.  Not Veronica Roth.  Not anyone.  I don’t care how invested you are in the story or how much you value your time and hate that you feel it was wasted.  Telling an author they deserve to die or making personal attacks on them is just plain wrong.   I don’t care how you justify the words…those words are wrong.

Can you criticize the story?  Yes!  Do it!  Jump up and down on it.  Throw the book against the wall if you’d like.  Heck, I’ve done it.  We all love different things. Different stories speak to different people.   Criticize the story. 

Now, I’ve seen lots of people say that they can’t leave the author out of the review because the author is active on social media or because the author wrote the book and therefore has put themselves out there to be reviewed right alongside their story.   No.  Just no.  I’m sorry, but telling the author that writing a book has invited personal attack is akin to telling a girl that wearing a tight dress to a frat party is asking to be raped. 

Both are wrong.

I am an author.  I hope readers will like my stories, but I respect when they don’t and appreciate opinions that applaud my books just as much as I respect those who tear my books down.

But, I am a person.  And I have a child who will someday search the Internet for posts on his mother and reviews of her work.  And that child will see people’s posts that make threats on my life for writing a book. 

Which is why I am asking - how can that possibly be okay?


Thomas Pluck said...

I must agree that the sense of entitlement that consumers of culture have begun to feel toward other people's creations has become almost MISERY-like in its virulence. And I can't say I'm innocent, for I felt that way about the Star Wars prequels. Now I just think "why did I watch all three, when the I thought first one was so awful?"
I've read reviews where the readers appear to be hate-fucking a series that they stopped liking several books ago, but they compulsively read them, perhaps hoping for the spark that they'd found all those years ago. They really need to move on.
Or go write fan fiction or something, if they're that obsessed. They might make more money than the original author ever did!
As geek culture becomes mainstream, we see more and more people identify with their favorite stories like they used to with sports teams. If becomes a tribal marker, a brand of individuality they bear (along with thousands of others) like the sponsorship logos on a NASCAR vehicle. They internalize it, and feel like they share ownership in some way.
And they are completely wrong. When the fans start influencing the story, it almost always gets terrible. "Fan service," as they call it. But that feeds the entitlement. And when they find another story where the author writes purely for the story, and slaughters favorites a la the Game of Thrones "Red Wedding," you get feedback. (No one threatened to kill George R.R. Martin as far as I know, probably because they knew he held the rest of their fvorite characters hostage).
Anonymous discourse on the internet will die within our lifetimes. The "Internet 2" that research institutions use tracks every packet back to the user, and is much more secure than our flimsy protocols, (which were built this way to survive a nuclear attack, not fend off cyber attacks or improve security).
Anonymity has its place, and for political reasons I hope it never truly goes away, but when it comes to death threats to anyone and calls for raping outspoken women on social media, I'm all for tracking it back to the user and giving them an internet timeout that puts them alone in the corner with a dunce cap at minimum, if not prosecuted for making threats and harassment.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I notice this on blogs, on amazon, on good reads. The Internet seems to have become a platform for people to hurl vitriol at an author. This sort of review is never credible. Usually they show little sign of understanding the book at all.
I think Good Reads and Amazon need to look for a way to stop this. These review sites have taken on a lot of power of late.
I realize personal blogs are difficult to monitor or control, but surely amazon and good reads can take some responsibility.

John McFetridge said...

"... we see more and more people identify with their favorite stories like they used to with sports teams."

Great, now we're going to have book hooligans and show hooligans...

And I think you're right, Thomas, a lot of this is the combination of geek culture becoming mainstream and opportunity. I attended a sci fi convention in 1977 and there was already this stuff at the fringes. And then it became so easy to post anonymous reviews.

Erin said...

I will never understand why people invest the time and energy in spewing vitriol. I sometimes wonder where that energy went before the internet...I mean, did it just eat these folks from the inside out? Did they gather in groups and share it with like-minded individuals? Do they still? Is it possible that by being able to express themselves online, they're less inclined to *actually* kill someone? (As far as I know, murder rates haven't declined since the advent of the interwebs, so I doubt it.)

I've been wished cancer (by a reporter at the New York Times, no less) and a horrible, gruesome death (when I was quoted in an AP article about the last presidential race), and both were deeply disturbing, so much so that the experiences have stayed with, years later. Authors are at risk of this kind of reaction every time you release a book, which is beyond unfortunate. That any author reads her (Amazon, especially) reviews at all is beyond me.

That said, numerous times I have asked Amazon to remove reviews like this, and they always have. While it would be preferable for them to monitor at least for keywords that show up in "reviews" that are personal attacks, I'm pleased that there is at least the option to bring these to their attention.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

If you would not be willing to say it to a person's face you shouldn't be putting it on the internet.

I avoid negative reviews in general because when ever I read them it sounds like people with an ax to grind.

Life really is as simple as "Treat other as you would like to be treated"

Christine Ashworth said...

I'm with you. The things I've seen on Goodreads are scary. When I did a blog post about it, my feed blew up - I was attacked for "not doing my homework" and "showing favoritism". No death threats, but just reading the condescending words made my blood pressure rise.

Thanks so much for speaking out. I just don't understand why people can't be kind. Sending you hugs (because everyone can use hugs).

Unknown said...

Why is it so hard for people to be nice? It is not funny when you are cruel and crack jokes at a person's expense. I will not review books that I dislike. The trouble with this is that I have so many books to read and I have not read some author's and I worry that they think I dislike their book. I have not read The Testing (I'm sorry). It is hard to believe that a person would attack an author due to a dislike of a book. But, I have seen trolling reviewers snaking their way through Amazon just cracking on everyone. I consider them bullies. I really never want to hurt a person's feelings. It takes a lot of heart, research, time, and emotions to write a book. If a reader feels that they wasted their time reading a book that they consider bad, then that is their fault. Stop reading it. Stop reading and don't complain. We live in a whining generation. Unfortunately, with the computers we get to hear those people whine more. Thank you for pointing this out, Joelle.

John McFetridge said...

Well, I understand that it's very emotional - the whole point of storytelling is to affect people on an emotional level. So it isn't completely surprising that sometimes the emotional reaction is extreme. We kill off characters for an emotional reaction, we have violence and threats of violence to manipulate emotions.

What I think is tragic is that there are no "teachable moments," as the cliche goes.

If a 13 year old has an extreme emotional reaction to fiction it can be a good time to have a conversation. But what we're talking about are 35 year olds having that reaction. Of course, often those 35 year olds are reading YA fiction.

I wonder if Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood get this kind of reaction in the reviews?

Suzanne said...

The internet has just become a big hatefest a lot of times. I have heard of authors attacking reviewers (see "Emily Griffin - Authors Behaving Badly") and reviews that are just about trying to make the author feel bad. It's way too easy for people to spew insults without immediate repercussions.

Read the book. If you don't like it, fine, but personal attacks on blogs, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. are just what makes the internet a nasty place to be at times.

Breandan said...

I have often referred to the internet as "the greatest enabler of rampant pedantic asshattery since the invention of whiskey by my own ancestors."

I think it's actually SURPASSING alcohol now >.<

Steve Hockensmith said...

Years ago, I used to read all my reviews, thinking (I told myself) that I could learn something from them. (I think I was actually just in a constant search for validation.) Then a book of mine came out that suddenly brought me to the attention of a lot of new readers -- many of whom had *very* strong feelings about the subject matter of my book. The reviews turned personal. I got hate mail. People I'd never met felt free to call me names and make assumptions about who I am. (The primary assumption: I am a shallow, mercenary, no-talent hack.)

There was only one way to respond. I didn't. I turned off Google alerts and never searched for myself again. I'm on Goodreads from time to time, but I avoid the reviews for my own books. "Here be dragons."

Alas, I think it's just par for the course -- the course, in this case, being the swampy, malarial, alligator-infested swamp known as the Internet. The negativity is just a reaction to your success. If more people notice you, and X% of people are trolls, then you will be attacked X% more and the attacks will be X x Y more virulent.

So congrats! Certain people inexplicably hate you with the heat of a thousand suns? You've reached the big leagues! Now try to ignore it.

Erin: a New York Times reporter said you should get cancer? I'm impressed!

Saje Williams said...

My wife used to run Love Romances and More, which was a rather large internet review site. The purpose of reviewing is to inform other readers who have similar tastes whether a book is or is not worth reading, based on the contents of the book. My wife went out of her way not to review books in genres she didn't enjoy, and recommended the same to her reviewers.

It's not about egos. It shouldn't be. In literature (even genre literature), music, and film, there is a LOT of room for differences of opinion. Everyone doesn't have to like the same thing. Your ability to listen to Imagine Dragons or Lady Gaga has nothing to do with my ability to enjoy Within Temptation or Nightwish. Your ability to enjoy a book, whatever it might be, has nothing in the end to do with my own enjoyment or lack of same.

As an author, I realize that people might not like my books. As a human being, I realize that people might not like ME. But being neither of these things should make me a standing target for people with an axe to grind, especially ones without even the nerve to identify themselves. These people aren't fans, or reviewers. They're trolls, and they're doing it for no other reason than to cause pain and misery.

Until someone invents a Troll-B-Gone spray, we'll have to grow somewhat immune to the stench. But perhaps with luck we'll evolve out of the Old West (Hollywood version) era of the internet and into something perhaps a bit more civilized. Though, even so, civilization is but a thin veneer for some of us.

Anonymous said...

As a publisher of Indie Authors, I see this quite a bit and I cannot imagine how it can be right or justifiable for someone to say some of the things they do. I am all for people having their opinions on a story and being entitled to those opinions but I will never stand for someone attacking or harassing any author of mine. It's rude, idiotic, and just plain mean. It's scary what people will say to, or about you on the internet that they never say to you in person. It often makes you wonder if they would actually try to do some of the horribly unspeakable things they say. I can't even imagine a person having thoughts like that, let alone acting upon them and yet, it can be very scary in an age where threats often become action.

I feel that something should be done about this, but what? We live in an era that is far too open and vulnerable where social media is concerned. We all need to stop and think before posting certain things on our blogs. We need to go back to the old saying, "If you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all." If people truly have those kinds of thoughts and feelings, I'd much rather not know just how insane they are. I do believe it takes a certain level of insanity to say some of the things I've seen on the Internet.

Admin said...

Your article made Anne Rice's Facebook page and she referred us all to read it. I hope you have a way to keep track of your page views. :-)

Blond Zilla said...

This doesn't seem any different to me than saying, "That is to die for!" or "Poke a fork im me I'm done"
This author should die, simply put you could have done better. If you read more into than that you probably need thicker skin... And hey, I have done my share of crying in the bathroom... I'm just sayin... I think its meant more funny than scary and lets face it, anyone with a computer and publish these days so, its important to put forth your best work. Not that this wasn't... I didn't read it.. But death threat? Come on...

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Just to be clear - I stated it in the article and will say it again - I'm all for negative reviews that are critical of the work....but I am suggesting there are lines that should not be crossed when it comes to personal attacks. I have a very thick skin and I'm okay with whatever is thrown at me. But people were beyond angry in their threats to Veronica Roth....because they didn't like the book...because they hated where the story went...because they felt they were owed something more. All those points are fair, but sending tweets in all caps that say - YOU BETRAYED ME. YOU SHOULD DIE. - if we don't draw the line at that, where should we draw the line? Do I think those threats are real? Do they really mean they are going to come hunt her down? I stated in the article, I don't think so. But there is a no tolerance policy at schools about threats for a reason. Sometimes someone does snap. Authors are always told to have thick skins. I've been a stage performer as well as an author. I've had all sorts of rejection and negative reviews. That's the business. That's the way it should be. But threats - whether real, implied or a joke should be considered with far more care. At least, I hope that people think they should be. After all - words have power. If they didn't - why use them in the first place?

Teresa Coffey said...

I think the anonymity of the internet gives powerless people a way to feel powerful. I feel sorry for those individuals that attack others like this. How miserable, barren and unfulfilling must their lives be that they spend their time this way? Considering the sheer level of vitriol, their lives must be very grim indeed to waste their time leaving a "review" that adds nothing to the discussion of the book or article in question when they could be doing anything else.

George at The Thirty Year Itch said...

For most things in life, nothing is as simple as black or white. Books are no different. I review books, and in all the books I've read, I've yet to find one that I loved or hated every word of. My reviews generally include what I liked and disliked about the book. I'm not mean, not personal. Just comment about where I think the story was lacking, or where an opportunity was missed. After all, one could argue that reviews that only praise a book or an author are as meaningless as reviews that are only negative. As I said before, few things in life, including books, are as simple as lobe it or hate it.

But there are some things that are black or white, right or wrong. One of them is a person's right to feel safe and comfortable, to live a life enjoying their freedoms without fear of bodily harm because someone has a different opinion.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Joelle, having met you in person, I know how kind and loving you are. I am sorry you had to endure this but I'm equally thankful that you are speaking out against it. It took a tremendous amount of courage and I am glad you stepped up in the face of verbal oppression--and at the risk of more digital/public verbal abuse--to share your heart. Hugs girl! Keep the faith.

Gerald So said...

Hi, Joelle.

I moderate several online discussion groups and have seen firsthand how mean people can get, yet the same people seem to have thin skins when they are insulted. Evidently it's easy to forget you are communicating with flesh-and-blood people behind those screens.

I majored in creative writing and was taught how to criticize a piece without impugning the writer, but not everyone has this training or cares to show restraint. Some of the best known reviewers became known because their language is flashy, their reviews more about their own voices than about what they're supposedly reviewing. Amateur Internet reviewers think they have to imitate this to become known themselves. Unfortunately, you can add this to the list of many things that are not okay yet still happen.

Anonymous said...

As a writer I've been praised and I've been hammered. In the beginning I lived and died by the words of the readers who reviewed my books. After all these years I've just accepted the fact that not everyone is going to love your stuff and not everyone is going to be tactful when writing something negative. I've been lucky no has told me to go in a hole and die but I imagine that to will happen one of these days. Even though its hard I just let it roll off my back. If someone is a bully they win the second you allow their words upset your life. Asking Amazon to remove them seems to be the easiest solution. It's not fair and is a pain to those of us who put our soul into what we write but in the end I'm not going allow a few the satisfaction of taking the joy out of living out my dream.

Kristopher said...

Hi Joelle,

As you know, when I started my blog, I went in saying that I wasn't going to post negative reviews. There are plenty of books I hate, but I can actively choose not to discuss them.

Some people said I was making a mistake, but I had to do what was true for me. I just don't like to write negative things.

I would much rather try to lead people to books I love, rather than steer them from books I hate.

It would behoove all reviewers to remember that every book has a reader. I agree that critical negative comments are necessary in the field, but if it crosses into personal attacks, it just isn't right.

This is another reason, I don't post by reviews to GoodReads or Amazon. I tend to write 500 word, carefully constructed reviews and I can put that in the same place as anonymous vitriol found on those sites. Thus, I started the blog.

Vi Merveilles said...

I agree with you on a lot of points, but I am very disappointed that you chose to compare rape with negative comments. It's not cool, it's not clever, and honestly, if you're a writer by profession I would expect of you to come up with a less offensive comparison.

Example: It's like asking someone who doesn't lock all of their doors and windows to be robbed.

Look at that that comparison. So easy and it doesn't involve belittling victims of sexual assault!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Vi - I am sorry you took offense. It wasn't intended as such. I used that particular comparison because I think we all can agree that no matter how a woman dresses she is not asking to be attacked. I decided to use an extreme comparison that everyone can agree on. No...they are not the same, but the rationalization people use to make those arguments is the same. That is what I am hoping that the reader will come away with. I was in no way belittling victims of sexual assault. Sexual attacks are wrong and the victim should never be blamed. Personal attacks on writers are wrong and people often point to writers and say that because they wrote a book they are to blame. Neither is right.

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful post! Thank you so much for addressing this topic, Joelle.