Readers here may remember a blog I posted on WWK a while back about the whole crazy StopTheGoodReadsBullies mess. http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2012/07/bullying-bulliestwo-wrongs-dont-make.html I had hoped that this whole bit of authors going crazy over bad reviews (in some cases, egregiously bad reviews) would disappear when Google shut down the STGRB website (which is back online, I notice). Even though Anne Rice has been raising some dust about reviewers on Goodreads lately.
An article in The Guardian/Books two days ago has shown me just how wrong I was and just how insane a writer can become. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic Let’s start by pointing out that the practice of reviewing under a pseudonym is not “catfishing,” which is the act of creating a false person online in order to make someone fall in love with you, often in order to steal money from them. And a little more background on the author, Kathleen Hale, shows that she’s involved with a very powerful publishing family—her live-in fiancé writes for Saturday Night Live and The New Yorker and is the son of an executive editor at Harper Collins (her publisher) and a powerful New York Times former critic and columnist and current Guardian columnist.
In this article, Hale details how she went about stalking a Goodreads reviewer who gave her a one-star review on her debut novel. She stalked her online first and then paid for a background check on her, deceived a book blog to get her physical address, rented a car and drove to her house where she peeped into her car and tried to peep into her windows, then called her several times at her place of work to interrogate her with threatening questions, such as “I know you have two children. Do they live at home with you?” (Remember, this is from someone who’s already been to the house, and the reviewer knows that.)
This is not new behavior, apparently, for Hale. In an earlier Guardian piece, she discusses her obsessive tendencies (and also how she retailored her testimony in the second trial of an alleged rapist when she wasn’t believed in the first trial which ended in a mistrial). http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/longreads/prey And this is Hale’s own recounting of her stalking of a 14-year-old and attacking her (by pouring a whole bottle of hydrogen peroxide over her head and face) when Hale was also a teen. http://thoughtcatalog.com/kathleen-hale/2013/02/169836/
Hale’s own account of what she did, which she quite rightly calls “stalking,” is horrifying, but what was even worse were the multitude of commenters on the Guardian piece and on Twitter who applauded what she did, or at best said, “I don’t condone stalking, but…” I want to say firmly that never under any circumstances is stalking a person a valid response. I don’t care if you didn’t like their review. I don’t care if their review was no good or frivolous or downright malicious.
I’ve read tweets and comments from a number of book bloggers and reviewers (on Goodreads and elsewhere) who now feel intimidated and are reconsidering whether they will continue to review or write about and promote books if this is the type of reaction they can expect. As an author, I happen to feel that we need all these bloggers and reviewers, even the ones who aren’t very good, even the ones who’ve given my books one-star reviews. I’ve been pretty lucky with reviews, but yes, I’ve had a few one-stars—and some that lowballed my books for trivial reasons and didn’t even read the books. The more we have a vibrant and diverse universe of reviews, discussion, and criticism of books, the better off we are.
I suspect Hale will not suffer for this because she is privileged and well-connected, but her actions may drive reviewers away who could have been important to the career of some struggling writer without those connections. I think it’s important, as a professional novelist, to say, NO, to stalking and other insane behavior toward reviewers and book bloggers. Just. No. Just. Stop.