Yes, I did it. I made the mistake a few months ago of actually responding to reader comments to a couple of my books on Amazon. I suppose I felt so appalled at being doled out a 1-star review that I let my natural combativeness get the better of me and…off I went, bringing to bear a modicum of wit (though not malice) in defence of the book which I had worked very hard over, and which I knew with the certainty of past experience (of truly bad writing) that Seeds Of Earth is not a 1-star book.
Three sentences were what I wrote in framing a mild rebuttal of the review’s wholesale condemnation of SOE. And wow! – the responses it provoked.
“Tell you what Mr Cobley, I’ve been using Amazon since it started and never felt the need to post before either. You appear to have created an exceptional case.” – was one, followed by;
“His recommendation to avoid it has been taken up by me – you’re sheer arrogance and pig-headedness is clearly hiding a lot of insecurities about your writing. What a spectacular way to alienate your once and potential future audience.
If you had never replied you might have earned more respect and income from this. Because you’ve been a fool, you’ve lost both.”
Now, I have to keep reminding myself that, as other writer colleagues have impressed upon me, that the reading experience is very personal, with personal taste playing a large role. Which is fair enough. But I’m surprised by the anger I provoked – as if it somehow goes against some kind of cultural taboo for a writer to respond in defence of his own work. And the second comment’s conclusion begs the question – why would I earn respect by keeping my mouth shut? In what other field of human endeavour is respect earned by the gagging of the artist?
Going back to the original review, I think that if it bestowed 2-stars I would have gritted my teeth and got past it. But to be consigned to the bottom of the heap, along with the John Normans and the Lin Carters and other scarcely workmanlike writers, just stuck in my craw. Getting 1 star and a dismissive review did not needle any insecurities about my writing, rather it felt like bullying, it felt unnecessarily crushing (particularly in the context of a lack of other reviews by the same commentator). And if there is one thing that makes me take up the cudgels its an unfair, unjust judgement.
Hindsight is always 20-20 and I can see now that I should have just averted my eyes and moved on down the road. But I thought I would share this experience with you, partly to lay bare the oddness of the resentment some people clearly feel when a writer disagrees with criticism, but mainly as a rueful warning to my writer buddies – just don’t go there, guys, okay?