This is an open letter. I sent the original to the author, but felt like it was important to share. I have made an effort to remove identifying information from my portion, but those who really want to know are welcome to dig!
I must confess, I was a little bit surprised when I got your e-mail on March 30th in response to my review. Note, I was only a little surprised because I spent a week waffling and trying to decide how best to approach what is only the 2nd two-star review of my six-year reviewing history. It was incredibly hard to decide how to proceed, especially as I have been subscribed to your blog and a pretty religious follower for over a year now.
With 20 years of experience in the industry, you were kind of my idol, considering I’ve only been publishing for six years. I talked with A LOT of my writer friends before publishing my review. All agreed that it was best for me to be honest in my review, and to leave my personal feelings for you out of it. You had a lot of experience in the industry, and they were all sure that you could handle the criticism.
I spent three days crafting the two reviews that I wrote on my blogs. The review for my reader blog, An Angell’s Life, I couched my review with how I admired your blog for authors, and was surprised by the lack of quality in this book. That same blog, where not a month earlier, for International Women’s day, I listed you as one of the top female authors I wanted to read this year. Ironically, despite my disappointment with your book, I still intended to read some of your fiction books. After the way you’ve behaved, there’s no way I would read and review another one of your books.
On my Angell for Authors blog, I did a bit more of a philosophical view, wondering if someone I considered to be a good author could struggle with writing what I considered not a very good book, because of the rush to crank it out. Maybe we all needed to take a step back and re-evaluate our approach. I guarantee that I put far more thought into both of those reviews than you did when you thought it was a good idea to send me the following emails in quick succession:
Kind of surprised and sad by the harsh review you gave my book Crank it Out. It wasn’t very nice. Vomited it out? I spent a lot of weeks writing this and surveying authors, etc. I realize you have the right to say what you want. But it’s just not very kind, especially since I made room for you to guest blog on my site. Something to keep in mind as you make a presence for yourself in the writing world.
And just a few obviously heated moments later:
Oh, and please point out all the “glaring grammar and misspellings and errors.” I’d really like to see those, since I did a thorough proofread and had others find errors for me. And I’m trained in CMOS. Are you? Let’s have you back that up with some long list to support what you’re saying here. It’s very damaging to make those kinds of claims on a review. I hope you reconsider and think about your wording and how you are coming across.
I’ll be honest, my gut reaction was to write back a nasty-gram of my own, citing all the errors and explaining that I do, in fact, have training in Chicago Manual of Style. I got a B.A. in Communication and as part of that, I had to learn Writing for the Public. Then I remembered that I also learned in my degree about interpersonal communication and perhaps a nasty gram was not an appropriate response. Perhaps I should go through the review when I was less angry and didn’t feel like attacking you back.
I had every intention of making some citations to the errors I found, as that’s not really an unreasonable request, and to address in more detail the reasons I came to the conclusions I did. I also wanted to take some time to do some soul-searching and ensure that my review was not based on some bias. Was I expecting too much from you, as I had kind of idolized you for the last year or so? Was this sort of like my reaction to Stephen King’s Cellular? I was a HUGE Stephen King fan before that book, and then I read that and was so disappointed. If reviewing had been around then, I probably would have given it a big fat 1 star, though looking back, that wasn’t fair. It was far better than many other books. But compared to King’s previous brilliance and ability to terrify me, I found it so deeply disappointing. Was I perhaps doing the same to you?
Was my review based on some cognitive dissonance I was experiencing regarding this concept to write faster that is a pandemic in the indie publishing world? I wanted to give these issues a good think before responding to you, and before I changed my review.
After all, a review is not an analysis. It’s a gut reaction, and even if all of the above is true, that didn’t really require me changing my review, did it? It’s my OPINION, which you assured me was my right to have. (PS, I already knew that.)
I went back to my trusted author friends to get their feedback. I had to call off the hounds! Quite a few asked me to send them a copy so they could read and review and let you know exactly what they thought of you! A few said I should adjust my review to include your bullying emails, but calmer heads (and my interest in protecting my reputation for avoiding drama) prevailed. We all agreed it would probably be best for me not to respond at all, and only to change my review if I felt it had been unfair. I planned to re-evaluate it on Monday, as I have been striving to follow Michael Hyatt’s advice regarding productivity, and make sure to cherish the time with loved ones as it is your chance to re-charge.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. I awoke Sunday morning to find this charming gem that you sent me at 11:08 pm on April 1st:
Hi Heidi, I didn’t hear back from you about your review and the very mean words you wrote. I would encourage you to at least rewrite the review, if, for this reason: so you don’t have a lot of people react in a negative way to what you wrote. Just in case you aren’t aware of this, people reading hostile and mean reviews form a certain distaste for the reviewer, and if you are an aspiring author trying to “make it” in the publishing world, it does no good to come across in this very unprofessional flaming way. I’m just trying to help you here. I’ve seen this kind of behavior really backfire on authors, even best-selling ones.
On another note, I took down your post on Live Write Thrive, again because of the connection between that review and its cruel words and the reputation of my blog. It’s just plain wrong to be that mean in a review.
My gut reaction was, “Good! I don’t want my guest post up on her site anymore anyway!” Holy crap, are we in 3rd grade? If you don’t play my way, then I won’t let you play in my sandbox. That is hardly a professional response!
Seriously, I never saw any traffic from that post anyway, so I’m really not crying about that one bit. I shared my frustration with my family, and my boys said, “Mom, seriously? That’s bullying! And if she’s doing that to you, then you know she’s done it to others. You always told us to stand up against bullies. You can’t let her get away with this!”
From the mouths of babes, this open letter rises.
So let’s begin with your first complaint “Vomited it out.” Yes, I wrote that in the review. I could’ve gone with regurgitated. Sure, I’ll change it to regurgitated, if you would rather. Either way, taking “weeks” to write what amounts to a 164 page book that you are charging $9.95 for, is absurd. Particularly when, in my mind, it did not contain a single piece of deep wisdom or enlightenment to help unleash an author’s potential. It merely rehashes common sense like “Eat right, get plenty of sleep, commit to writing, have a positive attitude, and exercise.”
I got all that advice for free, with actionable tips, from Michael Hyatt’s hour long seminar The Seven Deadly Sins of Productivity (Plus WAY more… and it took me an hour, not three weeks of my 1–2 hour reading time that I set aside each night to review for authors.)
As to your very condescending suggestion that I am being unfair in suggesting that it was riddled with grammar and misspellings, and that you are a pro at CMOS, I reviewed just the introduction and chapter one while donning my editor hat. (Yeah, I provide editing services for authors too, so thanks for being so smug and suggesting that CLEARLY you are so much BETTTER than I am!)
In what basically amounts to the first 14 pages of your book, you:
· Used But to start at least 27 sentences
· Used Because to start at least 5 sentences
· Used And to start at least 16 sentences.
· Used So to start at least 14 sentences.
· Used Or to start 11 sentences.
Now, we all know that it is perfectly permissible to use conjunctions to begin a sentence, according to most style guides (including CMOS). However, it is generally taught to use this sparingly to make a point. I like Grammar Girl’s explanation for why this became a rule:
“During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like but or and, presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing.
But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should ‘never’ begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are.”
Why? Because it is incredibly distracting. A general rule is that beginning a sentence with a conjunction should make up less than 10% of your work. I think you used it a lot more than that.
It was daunting going through each line, particularly when you so often didn’t use complete sentences. Here are just a handful of examples from the introduction and first chapter of the book.
“And that’s fine.”
“And that’s great.”
“An unusually organized person.”
“Only know your circumstances and abilities.”
“Work on speaking positive into your life instead of negative.”
“Or, at least we should be.”
“Or that memoir or self-help book.”
“Or raising and homeschooling a passel of kids.”
“Not until my books become available to readers.”
“Well, maybe not if people are screaming.”
Obviously, as writers, we want to aim for a conversational tone. On occasion using sentences like this to draw attention is fine, even though it is grammatically incorrect. However, in about fourteen pages, to have this many that jumped out at me? That’s exhausting for a reader.
Speaking of exhausting, did you know that you have 29 one-sentence paragraphs and 18 two-sentence paragraphs in the first 14 pages? Again, this is a great tool to highlight a point, but come on!
Some of those sentences were horrendous run-ons that could have easily been cut own or turned into multiple sentences, like this beauty:
And while being a “fast” writer may imply you can crank out more books than a “slow” one, that is also not necessarily the case (I put those words in quotes because fast and slow are a matter of perspective.)
Or this sentence that broke my brain:
Write this down, think about why this is our biggest obstacle, and how you might change your self-talk about it, to stop making excuses, and push it aside enough to get past yourself and close to becoming a super-productive writer.
I mean, why? Just… why?
That leads me to another objection. You flip between parenthesis, en-dashes, hyphens, semicolons, /, commas, quotes, italics, and just to make it fun and quirky, you throw in a couple … regularly.
That was a super fun sentence to wrap your brain around, right? Yeah. I would say about 99% of the time, you used all of these correctly, but you are over-complicating text. It’s exhausting for readers, and for editors.
These are all issues I found within the first 14 pages. It doesn’t get better from here. All these little bits and pieces just added to an extremely frustrating flow of content where the organization was haphazard at best. I could write a whole book on why I didn’t like your book, and why I didn’t find it useful. Why I found it exhausting to read, and why I didn’t feel like it helped me at all.
But Michael Hyatt made a great point in his Seven Deadly Sins of Productivity, when he said not to waste time on things that don’t generate results. I have already wasted FAR too much time on this.
Why did I write this? Because as professional writers, we should be above complaining about a two-star review. We should accept that readers have opinions that may vary from ours and that whether we agree with their input, we should not ask them to change their review, demand that they change it, or subtly (or blatantly, in your case) threaten retaliation against them for their reviews.
My two star review didn’t hurt you. You still have a higher rating than Stephen King (which, honestly, I strongly suspect is because I am not the only reviewer you’ve bullied.) Get over yourself. If Elites like Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, Clive Cussler, and J.K. Rowling can survive a 2 star review, (All of them have more than one.) I think you can too.
I have gotten my share of two-star reviews, and I welcome them as I welcome all reviews. You know why? Reviews let us authors know what we need to improve in our writing. It gives us the voice of the people so we can meet their needs. That is why we write, right?
So, in that vein, I welcome anyone to read and review my works. Whether you feel it is worthy of a 1 star or a 5 star review, please post that review!
You can find all of my books on Amazon.
- ** Edited April 10th, 2017 at 4:34 PM MST****
The author just responded with this to justify her behavior:
It’s one thing to leave a review stating politely why you don’t like a book (read some of those other reviews), but to say I “vomited out” the material is downright rude, sorry. I would never say that to anyone, not even someone I detested. It’s just unprofessional in addition to being mean. Of course I can handle criticism, but if you can’t tell the difference between constructive criticism and being cruel, maybe show your comments to some other professional writing instructors and ask what they think of that. I do hope you either remove the review or at least review so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with people associating your name with hostile flaming of other authors and instructors.
To each their own, I suppose.