I have a problem I was hoping you could help me with a rather… sensitive issue. I’ve written a book that deals with a lot of cultural issues. I’ve gone to great lengths to keep my writing as inoffensive as possible, as I want people from all walks of life to be able to read it, enjoy it, and maybe find themselves in it. However… I’ve recently been getting hate mail and negative reviews from people calling some of what I’ve written offensive. I really don’t want to get into great detail for my own protection, but I was wondering if you had any advice on dealing with accusations of bigotry and negative reviews.
(Anonymous by request.)
You’re in quite the bind there, I’ll definitely tell you. First of all, there’s nothing you can do about negative reviews. They’re par for the course when it comes to putting media out there for public consumption, so that’s something you’ll most likely have to live with. If you have reason to believe that the negative reviews are trolling or someone who didn’t read the book, there are methods to appeal them with Amazon, GoodReads, Etc. So you might consider that approach.
As to your other problem… having not heard the other side, nor read your work, I’m going to be functioning on the assumption that you didn’t put anything into your book that is blatantly bigoted… or if you did, you framed it in a way that was appropriate to the story. If you basically rewrote Mien Kampf, you’re getting what’s coming to you, but again, I’m going to assume that’s not the case, given what you’ve told me.
Unfortunately, in the current climate we live in, people have a heightened sensitivity to pretty much every social issue on the planet. It seems almost completely unavoidable. Some say it’s because they were raised to believe that they were special and that the world owed them something… others say that these issues have always been around, but social media just really put a magnifying glass on them.
I personally think that the truth is somewhere in between, though I would note that the debate on political correctness vs. free speech is fairly troubling. We’re living in pretty stressful times.
This is honestly part of the reason I don’t tackle social or political issues in any sort of overt way. Yes, they make their way into my writing, but not with the intention of making a political statement. I just go where my fingers take me and people seem to like my work.
Okay, back on topic. At the risk of generalizing people… likely the people you are dealing with who are calling you a bigot are one of two kinds of people;
- People with heightened sensitivities and insecurities. These people typically see social problems where ever they look and if they don’t find any, they’re pretty good at creating issues for them to complain about.
- People looking to cause trouble. Yes, unfortunately, there are people out there that actively look to spark some kind of social outrage, usually for their own gain. Either they want to get their name out in the public or they want to get something out of whoever gets in their sights.
- Legitimate people pointing out a problem. Again, I’m assuming you didn’t rewrite Mien Kampf. However, maybe something in your writing is unintentionally off. Maybe you unintentionally wrote a character as a bad stereotype?
I would re-read your work and if you believe #3 is what you’re dealing with… This is a little more difficult to advise on. I don’t typically recommend revising the original work, but if you’re genuinely concerned about it, you have that option. That being said, you might consider not changing it… again, I haven’t seen your work and I don’t know what your characters are like, but writing as an art form is supposed to challenge people, it’s supposed to move them, to anger them, to sadden them, to make them uncomfortable, and yes, to make them happy. If this is the option you go with… the best advice I can give you is to grow a thick skin.
If it’s either of the other two, I recommend ‘The Rock’ approach: Ignore it.
Why do I call it the Rock approach? Well, it’s in honor of one of my favorite actors; Dwane Johnson. Arguably one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood has come under fire recently from cultural figures, Paralympians, and environmental figures alike…
How has he responded to all of this criticism? Well, near as I can tell, he hasn’t. He hasn’t apologized or addressed it in any way. Why do I say that this is the smart thing to do? Because it takes the wind out of their sails. Look at each of these complaints. Have they gone anywhere? Have you heard of them after the initial outcry? Not likely. If you apologize to them, you’re admitting doing something wrong, even if you don’t mean to. Often times, they aren’t looking to, and won’t be willing to, accept your apology. If you try to fight back, you’ll wind up looking like the bad guy. It’s basically a power struggle, one you’ll be hard-pressed to win.
If you say nothing, do nothing, and keep your mouth shut, they’ll be yelling into an empty box and it will likely go away faster. I know it’s not an easy thing to do… take it from someone with boiling Irish blood in his veins, but IMHO it really is the correct approach.
Remember, your writing is all about you. Does it sound good to you? Do you like what you’ve written? Is your book something you’d like to read over and over? Then that’s all that really matters. Other people may like it or may not and your book sales will reflect that, but in the end, you can only write for yourself.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Let’s open it up to the floor. Readers, what do you think our friend here should do? Should they ignore it or attempt some kind of damage control. Let me know in the comments and let’s get the conversation going.
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
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Catch you on the flip side!