Picture this if you will. A society where everyone has an anonymous suggestion box at the end of their desk, the side of their car, or even stuck to their back in a kick-me-sign style. Imagine that at any time someone could secretively slip a tiny sheet of paper in there and evaluate your performance. No identity would be tied to the paper. There'd be no retribution for the commentator.
Oh, what a world.
Think of the grocery clerk that rolled his eyes at you, the police officer who gave you that parking ticket. Think of your boss who always makes you work overtime and fill up his coffee. Think of your colleague who is online shopping all day while you bust your bum. Oh, the scathing suggestions you could pen. Imagine the justice scrawled on tiny slips of parchment.
But, our world doesn't work that way. At least not most of the time. Sure, you can complain about your co-worker or tattle on the clerk at the supermarket, but usually you have to march your fanny to a manager and take the time to complain. If you tell your boss, you could risk him or her spilling the beans to your co-worker. And there's probably no suggestions box on the CEO's desk. And if there were, how many brave souls would dare?
Our world doesn't function with anonymous suggestions and thank goodness. With anonymity, people can become some of the most vile of creatures. Ever heard of internet trolls? What about group riots where faceless looters flip cars and set couches on fire? We need accountability or some of our most base desires take over. We become animals. Me Tarzan. You Jane.
But what about writing in the 21st century and life on the internet? If you have a book published lately, you know where I am headed. We authors have an anonymous suggestion box posted next to the purchase link of our product. It is the equivalent of Dunkin Donuts having their Yelp reviews scrolling on the brick next to the entrance as you walk in to buy apple fritters. Do reviewers who tear us to shreds have to give their real names? No. Do they have to prove they've actually read our books? No. Do they have to prove they don't have a personal vendetta against us and therefore are plotting to destroy our lives and boil our bunny rabbits? Once again, no. Sometimes I think about the reviewing system I am required to depend upon and feel like crawling into a corner and sucking my thumb. You mean if I tick someone off in real life they can ruin my book career? Why yes, yes they can. Lord help us if that ever happened in real life. Hold onto your butts, workers at the Secretary of State. I'm coming for you.
And yet, I'm not advocating for any of this to change. We need reviews. We need people able to give honest opinions about products without fear of retribution from product makers. Reviews are essential. I use them all the time. So, why bother bringing it up? I should just talk about something interesting like where the Malaysian airplane went. That sure hasn't been talked about enough.
The reason I wrote this post is that last week I met with an aspiring teenage novelist. I wish you could have seen her. Her eyes were so bright and sparkly. Her smile was so wide. When she talked about wanting to publish her book on Amazon, my immediate reaction was to dissuade her, which I stopped myself from doing but only barely. What would reviewers do to her wide-eyed wonder? What would her smile look like a few weeks after publication? I wanted to shelter that adorable child and keep her safe from phrases like, "Can I get a BORING!" (Quoted from a review I got this week.). It's a harsh world out there and, baby, it ain't getting any easier.
While I would never dissuade anyone from publishing, I do think a dose of reality can be helpful. If you know of any bright-eyed, aspiring authors, I think it's okay to show them some of your one-star reviews. Maybe it will help them take a little more time before publication. Maybe they'll look into hiring a professional editor. They'll might want to learn the hard way, but we can be there to soften the fall. And it might help them to think of that blinking suggestion box floating over their heads day in and day out. It never goes away. It doesn't answer to reason. And it can have a life of its own.
In the end, the best we can do is put out a damn fine book and ignore the suggest box. Nay-sayers are mostly nit-wits anyway, right?
What are your thoughts on the realities of harsh reviews? How would you counsel an aspiring author these days?