I’ve always been the kind of person who hesitates before saying anything online that could hurt a person’s feelings. I attribute this to two things:
- I’m a lifelong reader. Readers are more empathetic and, therefore, more sensitive to their effect on other people.
- I was viciously bullied as a kid and, as a result, am pathologically predisposed to hating bullies.
When it comes to books, foods, TV shows, or anything, really, that someone put effort into, I’m inclined to hold to the Thumper Rule. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I won’t say anything at all.
I know this runs counter to the entire concept of the honest review, right? People rely on reviews, good and bad, when making decisions and an abstained review is no help to anyone, right?
Sure, until I think of all the people responsible for making whatever I’m reviewing happen, in which case I feel like a bully. I mean, say I read a book and I can’t finish it. It happens to me all the time. The more I learn about writing, the less I’m able to stomach sloppy prose. This makes me sound snobby, but it’s no less true.
Regardless, just because a particular book didn’t sit well with me doesn’t mean someone else won’t glean enjoyment from it. Books are written in a countless variety of styles specifically because there’s no accounting for taste. Just because so-and-so’s writing drove me up the wall doesn’t mean it won’t go down smooth as honey for someone else.
That said, if I write a scathing review lambasting that poor author’s work, it might frighten away the very person for whom the book was intended. And doesn’t that make me a bully? Frightening people away from making friends with someone just because I happen not to like him?
You have to understand, a bad review of your work lands like a sucker punch right to the gut. Believe me, I’ve gotten some terribly mean ones and every single one of them does more damage than ten nice ones because, for some masochistic reason, I’m more likely to believe negative reviews than good ones.
I realize this post isn’t going to stop all the people out there who write scathing reviews. I’m sure it’s empowering, in a way, to write an articulate diatribe against someone who you feel has wasted your time (and/or money) with substandard work. That said, all I can do is represent this side of it and plead for empathy.
You never know who’s reading your stuff online. I suppose I just have to hope that none of my friends and readers are the kind of people who enjoy making other people feel terrible about themselves for sport.
</End Guilt Trip>