Respecting Others’ Privacy and Opinions: What Authors and Bloggers Can Learn from the Kathleen Hale Controversy

Handshake 2

In the past week, the book blogging world has exploded in reaction to YA author Kathleen Hale’s article at The Guardian. In it, Hale describes her decision to confront a book blogger who had given a negative review of Hale’s debut novel No One Else Can Have You and then purportedly harassed Hale online as well as other bloggers who gave positive reviews for Hale’s book. By “confront,” I mean that Hale followed the blogger’s social media accounts, gathered personal information about her, and rented a car so she could drive to what she believed was the blogger’s home address. Turns out in the end that the blogger didn’t live there and (like many book bloggers do) may have been using an online pseudonym to keep her real-life identity private.

Complicated as this story is, readers have been quick to lash out at Hale since last weekend. Reviewers at Goodreads have either posted mostly 1-star reviews for No One Else Can Have You or vowed not to read Hale’s work. #HaleNo has become one of Twitter’s most popular hashtags in the past few days. And regardless of whether you’re a book blogger, a writer, or both, it’s nearly impossible to escape the uproar Hale’s actions have caused – and equally difficult to not have an opinion about it. 

After some reflection, this is how I feel:

Yes, I agree that Hale crossed the line. However, the incident raises serious issues that deserve to be addressed in a broader context.

*beginning of rant*

The idea that an author pursed a reviewer over a negative review disturbs me on every level. Hale’s actions don’t border on stalking. They are stalker-like acts, and other authors should be discouraged from taking the same route. Hale even acknowledges that other writers warned her not to engage with the blogger. Yet she did, and her revelation now has now upset and shaken a valuable reading demographic. (If anyone is wondering: No, I’m not interested in reading No One Else Can Have You, because the story synopsis doesn’t appeal to me.)

*end of rant, takes a deep breath to relax*

Now, I’ve never read the blogger’s reviews. Nor have I heard of the blogger before the Guardian article. (I’m also not using her name / pseudonym here out of privacy.) So, I won’t assume whether Hale’s allegations about the blogger’s online behavior are true. However, as a music journalist for 6 years and a casual book reviewer, I’ve witnessed trolling similar to what Hale described. I’ve never participated in it, but I’ve been a victim of it. Thankfully, none of the negative experiences involved stalking, but the viciousness still rankled me.

I also feel compelled to look at the Hale controversy from a writer’s perspective. It’s probably because I’m working on a novel right now, with the intention of publishing it in the future. I’d be thrilled if everyone who reads it loves it – but I know that’s not going to happen. So, when I finished Hale’s article, the disgust and horror I initially felt was soon replaced by this question: “What should I do differently when I receive a negative review on my own work?” 

That, as well as this article from Bustle, is what inspired me to write this article. I’m not interested in spreading more animosity. Instead, I want to look at this situation as a teachable moment and see what we – authors and bloggers alike – can learn from it. So, here are my thoughts, based on my experience as a reviewer and how I want to conduct myself as a writer and as a member of the book blogging community.

Wisdom and Integrity

For Authors: Remember that You Won’t Please Every Reader or Reviewer

Some reviews will be positive, others mixed, and the rest… well, you know. It’s impossible to please everyone, so do your best to not worry about it or convince yourself that you can. Otherwise, you’ll set yourself up for failure. Instead, let go of your concerns, and try to keep reasonable expectations. Also, trust that your novel will find its audience – and remind yourself that anyone who doesn’t care for the story isn’t part of that audience you’re looking for.

For Authors: Focus on the Positives and the Road Ahead

Negative reviews, especially tactless ones, will sting. But once they’re out there, you can’t do anything about them. Try to ignore them by concentrating the positives of the present and the future. Relish the exhilaration of your book launch, the positive feedback you do receive, and the joy of growing a readership. Also, start working on your next novel and other projects, which will spark an equally fulfilling excitement within you.

For Book Bloggers & Reviewers: Keep Doing What You’ve Been Doing

Hale’s actions (and the notion that authors would fathom confronting reviewers in this way) may have frightened you, and rightly so. However, don’t let fear stop you from being a part of the book blogging world. I follow a number of book review and literary discussion blogs, and I don’t have a problem with any of them so far. Your reviews are thoughtful and balanced. Your enthusiasm and support for authors is contagious and without a doubt cherished. And, the community you’ve established over the years has become an integral part of the publishing industry.

Sure, bad apples will spoil the barrel every now and then, but why should that deter you from doing what you love? In this day and age, when publishers invest less money in promotion and book tours, authors need you more than ever to help spread the word. In my opinion, you’re doing an awesome job at that, and I (and many other writers around the world) applaud you for it.

For Everyone: Respect Each Other’s Privacy and Opinions

Social media has enabled readers and authors to communicate directly. Unfortunately, it has also enabled users to a) read and openly disagree with opinions they don’t share, and b) lure, stalk, and bully one another online. While the former is impossible to avoid and the latter is unacceptable, we must handle these situations with integrity, grace, and common sense.

If you’re an author and you find one of your critics on the Internet, resist the temptation to contact them,  follow their social media sites, and – most importantly – dig around for personal information. Easier said than done, but it’s the smart thing to do. Bloggers and reviewers have the right to voice their opinions. So, recognize and accept that fact, then walk away. This will allow you to respect their privacy and preserve your good name.

I do believe in one occasion – and one occasion only – when it’s acceptable for authors to engage critics: when the author learns something valuable from the review and chooses to thank the reviewer instead of lambasting them. For example, I’ve received private messages in the past from authors and musicians about my reviews of their work. The most interesting responses tend to be on mixed reviews, which I always write with honesty, tact, and balance (i.e., discussing strengths and weaknesses). Some artists expressed their gratitude, even going so far to say they’d apply what they learned from my review in future projects. I don’t mind these kinds of messages. In fact, they make me smile – not out of spite, but out of delight and thankfulness that the artist understood my approach. Of course, I’ve gotten nasty-grams, and I delete them without responding. Why fuel the fire further?

Now, what about book bloggers and reviewers? Again, maintain your distance when you happen across an author whose work you’ve criticized. Despite how small your corner of the blogging world may seem, you also have a reputation to maintain. This extends to sharing your book reviews. If you don’t like a novel by a particular author, give it the rating you believe it deserves and explain why. Then, come time to promote the review, perhaps avoid tagging or tweeting the author to notify them of the unfavorable review. That way, you won’t invite possible trouble to your doorstep.

Also, book bloggers should take care to respect their peers’ opinions. Some reviewers may love novels that don’t appeal to you. Vice versa is true, too. People’s reactions to one story are bound to conflict because of personal reading tastes, life experiences, and other factors. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. You two have different opinions, that’s all. (Hey, life would be boring if we agreed on everything, right? *winks*) So, if you give a book a score of 2.5 out of 5 and another blogger awards the same novel a near-perfect grade, don’t comment on their review to say something mean-spirited (e.g., “Your reading tastes suck!”) Would you want someone posting the same for you? Most likely not. So, try to look at the other review from a positive angle. Maybe the blogger’s argument is well-written and worth praising, or maybe he/she picked up on something interesting that you had missed. If an honest compliment comes to mind, share that with the other reviewer while carefully acknowledging your difference in opinion. Otherwise, as Bambi’s friend Thumper would say…

Thumper

Finally, If You’re a Victim of Online Harassment…

  1. Never tolerate personal attacks on social media. No one deserves to put up with that nonsense. Summon the courage to block the other user and report the abuse per the site’s guidelines.
  2. Never stoop to your attacker’s level. Doing so will only make you look as foolish as your troller. Instead, fight the urge to respond by reporting the abuse as instructed, then taking a brief break from the site where the abuse occurred. This will help you to regain your composure and maintain a healthy sanity level.

The Moral of This Story: Respect and Common Sense Can Go a Long Way

It’s human nature to take sides on a debate as contentious as the one Hale has sparked. However, there comes a point when we need to stop the hate and start creating some good. Authors and reviewers may love and nurture the book blogging world, but we’re also responsible for keeping it vibrant, fun, and nontoxic. Will everyone act this way all the time? Probably not. Can we counter and transcend those bad examples with respect and integrity? Absolutely. 🙂

Divergent author Veronica Roth made some excellent points about the author-blogger relationship dynamic at YA Highway in 2012. The insight she shared then is still relevant today, and will be for a very long time. Let’s take it to heart – because if we do, we’re not ignoring the issues raised by Hale’s controversy, but rather we’re working towards a solution that we can all benefit from.

So, in closing, let’s agree to treat one another with respect. Let’s agree to honor one another’s right to privacy and to expression of personal opinion, so we can continue to foster healthy relationships with authors and a thriving book blogging community. Finally, let’s agree to practice integrity, grace, and common sense in our online communications. If you like what you’ve read in this article, please either comment below or tweet me at @SaraL_Writer with the hashtags #RA4privacy (Readers & Authors For Privacy) or #respect. 

4 thoughts on “Respecting Others’ Privacy and Opinions: What Authors and Bloggers Can Learn from the Kathleen Hale Controversy

  1. Not sure what Hale was thinking when she decided to pursue this, myself. The reviewer in question is clearly a troll (assuming Hale’s account is accurate), but I doubt they’d have done any really damage had Hale simply kept quiet. So yeah: I agree that the best thing to do with negative reviews is to simply ignore them.

    Incidentally, I always get really nervous when I’m contacted by people I’ve reviewed (unless the review is wholly positive), but so far the messages I’ve had have been nothing but pleasant. The “worst” I ever received was an email politely pointing out that I’d misspelt the author’s name in the review header; the mistake, of course, was duly corrected.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *nods in agreement with your first paragraph*

      I completely understand your nervousness. You always hope their response is positive but fear they might be upset for some reason. But it sounds like you’ve had mostly good communications with writers so far. 🙂 I hope it continues that way for you!

      Like

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