How to deal with haters

Sarah J Alderson
May 20, 2014 · 7 min read

Haters gonna Hate. I have those words etched on a post-it stuck right over my desk. It’s a daily reminder to stay away from Goodreads and to avoid Googling myself. Obviously I fail. It’s like trying to tell me to stay away from coffee and chocolate. I know they aren’t good for me but I CAN’T HELP MYSELF.

I still remember being about 8 years old and sobbing to my dad about something — probably about only getting the silver in the Beckenham Festival for my poetry recital — and him telling me ‘one hundred people can tell you you’re amazing and if just one person tells you you’re not, why do you listen to the one?’

BECAUSE I’M HUMAN? (Because I wanted the gold?)

Show me a person who doesn’t listen to that one in a hundred? It’s hard, I’d go so far to say, impossible not to. One must develop a thick skin in life. One must develop the skin of a diamond-plated rhinoceros to be a writer.

The more public notice I get as a writer (I now have seven books published), the harder the job becomes in many ways. I am so dependent on reviews that when a new book comes out I glue myself to Amazon and Goodreads, hitting refresh every five minutes, adrenaline rushing like a tidal wave through me at the sight of a new star rating. Heart rate pumping, a bubble of nausea rising up the throat, fists clenching unclenching. I’m pathetic. And I loathe myself for caring. But of course I do. My career is on the line. Or, at least, that is how it feels.

I am living on Cortisol and coffee right now. I had a book come out in the US on Tuesday, another coming out this Thursday in the UK, and yet another is out in a month. Reviews are coming in for all three so I feel triply tripped out.

Luckily the reviews are all so far pretty good and I’m happy, but like I said, there’s always that one in 100 that makes me teeter for a moment over the abyss called QUITTING.


I want to take this moment to differentiate between critics and haters. I’ve received bad reviews, but beautifully written ones, with great constructive feedback, which I’ve taken on board and really appreciated. They’ve helped me improve my writing. If you get this kind of feedback, toss it aside like a tennis ball or toy with it, take it on board, and then toss it aside.

For the purposes of this post though I’m not talking about them. I’m talking here about haters. The people who use memes and gifs as well as words to tear apart your book, often spending what appears to be more time constructing their ‘review’ than you took to even write the book in the first place. They take the piss, sling low blows and are just plain, well, mean… There’s nothing constructive in their review. Only destructive.

They are laughing at someone, encouraging other people to laugh at someone — someone who has tried and put themselves out there, into the arena. That’s bullying in my mind. And the people who then ‘like’ these posts are the same people that stand in a circle and egg a bully on.

So what do you do in this situation — when confronted by a review that eviscerates you, makes you cry and want to quit and call down all sorts of Tarantino-style retribution on their heads?

Here are my 8 steps to dealing with haters. I hope they help.

  1. Don’t ever respond.

That’s a given. Not even if they have fundamentally misunderstood every word you wrote and you want to help clear up that misunderstanding. Not if they have insulted your child or your face or your dog or anything. DO NOT FEED THE BEAST. It will never work out in your favor. EVER.

And besides, if they are not in the arena, daring greatly, what do you care what they say? (see point 8).

2. Remember it’s NEVER about you. It’s about them.

When people are vitriolic or plain nasty they are often using you as a dumping pot for all their own issues. They see you and your efforts and then they see their own failings, their own frustrations reflected back at them, and vent on you. In which case empathy is the answer because…

3. …This person is sad

Honestly, I never write bad reviews. Sure, I read books I don’t enjoy. I stop reading them and move on. Life is too short. Do I then feel the need to rant and rave about said book? No. Because I know exactly how much work and effort and dedication and sweat and tears it takes to write a book (also, usually I’m too busy reading the next book!).

I herald anyone who goddamn tries. In my opinion haters must be really unhappy. Who needs to belittle the efforts of others to feel big about themselves? Not a happy, well-adjusted person who loves themselves. I know this. I’m 36 years old. It’s taken me a while to get there but now, surrounded by happy, well-adjusted people, I know for a fact that only unhappy, wounded people feel the need to attack others and humiliate / destroy them. Happy people do not act this way! So therefore…

4. Offer loving kindness

OK, I admit this one takes practice. But my philosophy is that the more you hold onto the anger and sadness the more it brings you down. Yes you want to rant and rave at the mean, horrible asshole who wrote such nasty things about the book you spent months crafting but that’s WHAT THEY WANT. Why are you going to give them what they want?

Take a deep breath and in the words of Elsa (or was it Anna?) let it go instead.

Meditate for ten minutes offering compassion and loving kindness towards them. Imagine them bathing in white light. Sounds bliss ninny I know but what it does is release you from the chains of negativity that bind you to the reviewer and it allows you to move on with peace — better than dwelling and stewing in hate and sadness. And who knows, maybe the reviewer, might suddenly have an awakening. And even if they didn’t, you can dream that they have!

5. Be successful!

Nothing destroys a hater like success.

I love this quote from Tina Fey, collecting her Golden Globe for Best Actress:

“If you ever feel too good about yourself, they have this thing called the Internet and there you can find a lot of people who don’t like you. And I would like to address some of them now…You can suck it.”

Haters want you to quit. Nothing would give them greater pleasure than to see you fail because then their own failings won’t seem so bad in comparison. They can then keep on telling themselves; ‘hah, what’s the point of even trying? Everyone fails.’

Are you going to give them that satisfaction? No. Goddamn it you are not. GET BACK ON THAT HORSE. Trample the haters into the dust with your next book which will be so awesome it will win you thousands of new fans (and of course a few more haters, because if you are doing something well…you’re going to get haters…).

6. Make good art

Watch this masterpiece by Vi Hart on how to deal with negative comments and trolls.

She reminds us that to create is much braver and more difficult than to destroy and that haters have no power over you that you don’t give them.

And when you’re done watching that, watch this film by Neil Gaiman which reminds us that the only worthwhile response to hate is to make good art!

Thank you to Brainpickings, my favourite website for putting me onto these videos.

7. Laugh

Laughter helps lift the spirits. It puts everything into perspective. It helps. I love Emma Stone. This is what she does when she Googles herself.

‘I don’t usually like what I find,’ she says. ‘But some of it is really funny.’ Stone mentions Internet comments that referred to her as a ‘Bland Basic Bitch,’ which was probably meant as a dig, but she found it hilarious, to the point that at dinner she now begins to refer to herself as ‘That Bland Basic Bitch.’

8. Keep being vulnerable

Although it hurts sometimes more than you think you can bear, being vulnerable is the only way to live. Brenee Brown is one of my heroes. Her TED talk on Daring Greatly, and her book of the same title, really nails it.

“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is in the arena. Whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly …”

As Brown says: “If we want to be courageous and we want to be in the arena, we’re going to get our butts kicked. There is no option. If you want to be brave and show up in your life, you’re going to fail. You’re going to stumble. You’re going to fall. It’s part of showing up.

I think being vulnerable feels dangerous, and I think it feels scary, and I think it is terrifying,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s as dangerous, scary, or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and wondering, what if I would have shown up? That, to me, is what daring greatly is.’

Watch her awesome speech whenever you need a boost.

Engrave this on your soul. Never forget to dare greatly. Is writing hate-filled reviews daring greatly? It is not. Is writing a book or creating any form of art daring greatly? YES!

So you my friend have already won.

Sarah is the author of young adult novels Hunting Lila, Losing Lila, Fated, The Sound and Out of Control (all Simon & Schuster). Her first adult novel Come Back To Me is out June (published by Pan Macmillan).

Follow her on Twitter @sarahalderson

    Sarah J Alderson

    Written by

    Author of HUNTING LILA, FATED, THE SOUND & other YA books. I live in Bali where I feed my addiction to coconuts. I also write adult fiction @MilaGrayBooks

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