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June 28, 2009

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Teresa

I've never read any of Hoffman's books, and her behavior today really makes me not want to. That kind of venting, which included calling the reviewer a moron, is best reserved for conversations among friends, not out in public.

I think it's fair for her to complain that the review revealed too much and even to express some annoyance at the negative review. However, it's beyond the pale for her to call Silman a moron and to share contact info so her readers can complain--and this without linking to the review so they'll see that what they're complaining about isn't that bad. Silman herself clearly likes much of Hoffman's work. There's no way I'd call that a snarky review.

Melissa Klug

I have followed this kerfluffle since what happened last week. I believe in one of the past flurries of activity around QueryFail, there was an overriding message of, "If you can't handle rejection, this isn't the business for you." Every single author and every single book is going to have champions and critics. You will never create a book that will universally appeal to everyone. There are books that sell 80 million copies that are savaged by critics (DVC).

As my husband astutely pointed out, people who never would have seen or read that review now are drawn to it. You're not only drawing attention to the fact that you are not adult enough to handle a bad review, but then you essentially have directed people to read the "offending" review which allegedly is so dramatically against the book that it requires the public posting of the reviewer's phone number and address.

I think authors would be wise to realize that your presence in these social media forums really informs the reading audience and will affect people in terms of making a choice to read or not read an author in the future. Everything you put into the public forum is your brand. This week I learned about Alice Hoffman's brand.

Amy @ My Friend Amy

Total turn off. It seems authors don't learn lessons from other authors who have tried this crap.

Bella Stander

Virginia Woolf was right! So are The Book Maven & the commenters above.

My husband's response to the kerfuffle: "Well, Hoffman doesn't have to worry about any more bad reviews now." Indeed. I imagine she'll also be bothered with far fewer requests for interviews and speaking engagements. And I would love to know what her agent, editor & publicist say to her after all this.

Malnurtured Snay

I work part time in a bookstore in downtown DC, and if I ever see anyone buying one of her books, I'm going to have to warn them, "If you don't like it, Alice Hoffman will trash you on Twitter!" Except I'll probably just say "the internet" because I don't want to have to explain Twitter.

Rob Charron

Hi :)
I found this article via Twitter. I have also found great new authors and books on Twitter. When I first read Alice Hoffman's Tweets (yes, I follow her) I was embarrassed for her. It made me a little sick to my stomach to read them. I recognized it as a childish lashing out, and something every writer who gives advice warns any novice author against. I hope she apologizes to the reviewer, the paper, and to all on Twitter.
:)

jennsbookshelf

I'm scheduled to review The Story Sisters and I'm beginning to wonder if I should. The review wasn't as horrible as she's making it out to be; the entire situation is being made worse by her comments, and her posting of the reviewer's personal information!

M. D. Benoit

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! As a writer of more than one book, Hoffman should be used to rejection --pre and post publication. You have to grow a thick skin and remind yourself that it's not about you personally. In addition, you have to remember that a review is one person's opinion, not the whole world's. Finally, no one likes vindictive people; she probably blacklisted herself from getting reviewed in the future. @mdbenoit

expatina


Stalkers give out people's private phone numbers online. Writers don't. I never have liked AH as a writer. Now I can dislike her as a person, too. Guess I can rejoice that she doesn't have MY number. Unfortunately for her, this fit is what she'll probably be most remembered for.

Rebecca Woodhead

It's not fun to get a bad review but that's not the way to handle it.

I submitted a piece for an online competition and was pulled up on spacing and punctuation and, although the rest of the review was nice, this bit was a splinter.

As I knew the judge was an expert, I did some research. It turned out that she was absolutely right. My spacing and punctuation were totally out - for the American market. They were spot on, however, for the English market. I'm English and didn't know about the differences.

Instead of getting cross, I invited comment on my blog. An interesting debate ensued. Much was uncovered about the history of the typewriter and the use of commas and speech marks. It turned out that I wasn't the only one in the dark and the post even provoked comment from an academic publisher - who backed me up - not that I'm gloating :)

Since then, that judge has actually become a contributor to a group blog I set up. As I know she won't blow smoke anywhere proverbial, I can rely on her for honest feedback on my writing. It is vital to me that I can trust her to be an honest - and if necessary even brutal - critic of my work.

The other 'bad review' I received was for a comment I left on a newspaper website about twitter being a not-entirely-bad thing for writers. I was sworn at, defamed and generally set upon by twitter-haters.

On this occasion I DID summon troops but less to defend me than twitter, and I drew the attention of my blog followers to the attack even though it painted me in a bad light as - if I had genuinely screwed up - I didn't want to make the same mistake again.

It was pretty much universally agreed that I'd just been used as a scapegoat on this occasion and I even earned messages of thanks from twitter-users who'd wanted to make these comments but been too afraid. Within a couple of hours, the increased number of new, supportive followers who'd skipped across from my 'negative review' was far greater than the number of nasty comments, so I put it behind me. Sometimes, the people who speak out aren't the ones in the majority. Just because a book or opinion receives a bad review doesn't mean the reviewer's opinion will chime with the majority of those reading it. They may not openly defend you but, instead, they might show their support in their actions by following you online or buying your book.

Reviews are a good thing. Reviewers shouldn't be attacked. Those of us who genuinely ARE in a panic about where the next meal is coming from and whether or not we'll be able to afford hot water in a few weeks, don't appreciate authors who lack a sense of gratitude for their position.

Having said all that, I'm sure she's learned from this and regrets her outburst. We all do daft things sometimes. Handing out personal data like that was a step beyond daft, admittedly, but it's not a bell that'll un-ring so maybe she's been whipped enough now *ducks behind sofa and waits for the cushions to start flying* ;)

Rebecca

JOANN

I love Hoffman's writing, on the whole. Despite some stumbles, it is better than much of the writing that is out there. I have followed her for many many years, through a lot of personal and health issues she has had.

Having said that, this situation is very upsetting. The way she lashed out at you, Bethanne, was also uncalled-for. I just wish it had not happened. I have a headache reading about all of this. Sad.

By the way, this so-called "reviewer" wrote more of a BOOK REPORT than a review, and gave away so many plot points. This is inexcusable, especially for an established writer. Where was HER editor?

Malnurtured Snay

I noticed that @alicehof is no a "page that no longer exists" on Twitter.

Julia Sullivan

JOANN wrote: "By the way, this so-called "reviewer" wrote more of a BOOK REPORT than a review, and gave away so many plot points. This is inexcusable"

It really isn't. That's what book reviewers did in the pre-Internet era; there was no concept of "spoiler warnings" until recently. You can certainly fault Silman for not keeping up with the times, but her review is a fairly traditional newspaper book review.

I think a lot of people who are saying that Silman was "wrong" for discussing central plot points probably haven't read a lot of newspaper and magazine book reviews. The conventions are different from those of the online book reviewing world; they're also different from those of the newspaper and magazine film reviewing world.

Rita Kuehn

While a reverse scenario, this story reminds me of one of my first publicity lessons. My novel, Peripheral View, was recently released. However, a pre-release review was written, a very nice review, but with some chronological errors. I'd mentioned the review on my blog, and as an aside, I corrected the misinformation. I meant no harm to the reviewer, because overall it was a great review.

I was shocked when a publisher took it upon herself to write and scold me for what she deemed was a public criticism of the reviewer. The reviewer contacted my publicist as well.

Fortunately, my publicist had good advice for me: revise the blog, thank the reviewer again, do not respond to the publisher.

I could have defended myself, wanted to defend myself, but in the light of Alice Hoffman's angry blunder, I'm glad I followed the advice. I feel sorry for her, but we have to control our urges to slap back (or just slap).

Victoria Mixon

One of the first lessons anyone has to learn about expressing opinions is that someone out there disagrees. Some of them disagree on principal. Some disagree to be disagreeable. And some disagree because they're right. But there's always someone.

Writers are people expressing opinions: whatever you publish is going to find its way to someone who disagrees with you about it. Can we purge the world of our detractors? It'd be nice! Good luck with that, Alice!

However, I've found that silence is the best way to handle it. True, maybe you've been cowed into submission. Then again, maybe the negativity is too petty to deserve a response. Nobody knows but you, just as nobody made you put your work out there in the first place.

"It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Victoria Mixon

Chris@bookarama

I love that Virginia Woolf quote. She needs it on a t-shirt.

JOANN

Well, Julia Sullivan, not only have I read newspaper book reviews for many many years, but I also have written them! Long before the internet, in fact, and long before the word "spoiler" entered the lexicon. But I always KNEW that it was sloppy and unnecessary to reveal too much. So please do not put down my comment by stating something about which you have no idea.

In fact, I rarely read online book reviews.

If a reviewer cannot review a book without giving away so many plot points, then s/he should throw in the towel.

Margo

Joann - I do agree with you, in part, but as Sullivan pointed out, covering plot points in detail is a very common critical practice, as still upheld in the LRB & TLS, for instance. Or, if you read classic critics - Woolf or Frye, or contemporary writers like James Wood and Frank Kermode.

Melissa

Yikes. Something must be going on with her, because those were bizarre reactions to the review and your innocuous comment and question on Center Stage. (For the record, I agree with your point during that exchange; being good with words is not enough to make a good fiction writer. One has to be able to tell a compelling story. I interpreted your comment as praise for Hoffman, saying that she was both a gifted wordsmith and storyteller.)

An overreaction to a somewhat negative review is one thing. Being unable to recognize how much you overreacted is something else. Hoffman should have specifically apologized for calling the reviewer a "moron" and an "idiot," rather than issuing a vague apology to "anyone" and saying that her comments were "blown out of proportion." I've said some colorful things to my friends and family upon getting less-than-glowing reviews, but if my knee-jerk, defensive comments were made public, I would be mortified.

Juliet E McKenna

Back in the day, ten years or so ago, when my first novel got a rather simplistic and overall negative review, I was naively tempted to respond in my own defence.

A very famous writer was kind enough to advise me thus; 'Starting an argument with a critic is like starting an ass-kicking contest with a porcupine. Even if you win, the cost to yourself will not be worth it.'

So I didn't, and haven't, and I remain intensely grateful for that advice, whenever one of these stories crops up!

JOANN

Juliet, that was a great piece of advice. Love it!

Alice sure has gotten herself into a bad place. I wish she had expressed her regret more graciously. I thought Bethanne's comment was well-said and cannot imagine how it was misconstrued.

I think it is very hard work to write a review that reveals plot points but does not give away details that ruin the story for a reader. James Wood often reveals too much, but he is contemptuous of plot, so that should not be a surprise. He prefers fiction in which not a lot happens, and likes "destroying the tyranny of plot".

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