Just In Case You're Confused.

Lately, I've been blogging a lot about the difference between a bad review and actual bullying. But I've actually had people message me on Facebook and ask me to really come out and clarify what I think the difference is.

So just to be clear:

According to StopBullying.Gov, bullying is defined as "unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance." And "in order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include" both an "imbalance of power" and "repetition" of the aggressive behavior. These terms are further identified as follows, quoted (in part) from StopBullying.Gov.

  1. An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power - such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity -  to control or harm others.
  2. Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

You might be wondering why I used a site that deals with bullying as a childhood behavior, and I'll tell you, I did it because generally, bullying is a childhood behavior. So how do I apply this to the adult "review bullying" thing? Okay.

It is not bullying to go leave a bad review because you hated the product, the packaging, or whatever. If you're sorry you bought it, and you say so, that still isn't bullying. If it's a paperback and you cut the book up for crafting because you didn't like it enough to keep it, that still isn't bullying. And if you write a review blog and you write a post about your craft that also includes your somewhat hurtful bad review of the book?

It's mean, but it still isn't bullying.

But ... if the author of said book finds the review and slowly comes to a boiling rage because one reader had the simple audacity to not fall madly in love with said book, and if the author shares the negative review, asking for comments, and if said author has a prior history of sending her fans to lash out and verbally beat down people who don't like her books ... Well, that's bullying. Sorry, Anne Rice. You can't cry about bullies and play the martyr'd pansy author if you're so busy actually trolling and bullying your readers that the entire world begins to take notice.

A bad review is the personal opinion of a consumer, who has the right to review the product in really whichever way they want to. That's how marketing works, and no one is so completely perfect as to completely avoid negative reviews. The only books with all positive, sparkling reviews are the books written by authors so desperate to look successful that they are willing to pay for good reviews - or authors who just happen to have lots of friends willing to lie to them to keep them feeling happy. Or maybe authors (like me) who haven't really broken completely into the industry just yet and haven't been thoroughly discovered by a wide range of readers.

The crazy thing is, in the midst of all this outcry against "review bullying," authors are now threatening the reviewers. Not just with immature bullying, but with adult bullying. Serious adult stuff like libel lawsuits. It's no wonder reviews are so hard to come by - people who read books are AFRAID to review them, they are afraid of being personally attacked, they are afraid of being the target for online trolling ... They. Are. Just. Afraid.

Why? Because authors are now making a habit of biting the hand that feeds them, the hand of the reviewer. (Check out this article for some astonishing references.) Instead of thanking someone, whether they liked your book or not, for taking the time to read it and give it a chance, instead of thanking them for taking the time to even write the review in the first place, authors are now in the habit of either writing a bad review in return for a bad review, or simply changing a previously written review.

I can speak that as a fact, because I've seen it happen personally. An author contacted me once, and after some time spent in small talk and needless flattery, this author finally got around to their point - would I be willing to read and review one of their books if they would read and review one of mine? Sure, no problem. So I picked what I wanted to read, and they picked what they wanted to read. We read. The other author reviewed, gave me five stars. I reviewed too, honestly stating that while I liked the story and acknowledged it's listing as a "short story," I felt that it ended too abruptly and left me hanging. I was being nice - the entire truth was that the very abrupt ending didn't feel like an ending at all, and I was actually outright disappointed. But I didn't say that, I was honest, but gently honest. I gave four stars. Well, the other author saw my review, wrote me a rude facebook message about how my review "disappointed them" and I "let them down," and has not spoken to me again since.

But in truth, even that isn't "bullying" - it's just rude and unprofessional. Because what that author's behavior ultimately said to me was, "I don't care if I have talent (they did), I don't care if my work is any good (it was), I don't care what your actual opinion/review is ... all I want here is an ego stroke, and my sense of integrity is low enough that I'll stoop to 'getting even' with you if you don't give me what I want."

That author also went back to amazon and changed their five star review of my book to a four star review. Can you imagine the smug look on their face? "Ha, Brandi Kennedy, that'll show you!"

But it didn't. I later went on to leave lower-star reviews for several other books that I felt either weren't well polished or just generally sucked. Sorry, I guess I'm just not that big of a pansy. I'm not afraid of a review. Not even a bad one. In fact, I will welcome constructive criticism. If you see an error in one of my books that was missed during three+ rounds of editing and polishing and then still missed by several beta readers, please send me a message - I'll fix it. If you didn't like my story, or you thought the hero was "too perfect" (yes, I got that once), or the heroine was to vapid or didn't have enough dimension, or if you really just felt like I was writing out of my ass and shouldn't have published that one, then that's okay.

Say so. I'm strong enough to take it. And I won't cry and call you a bully. For three reasons.

  1. Because I've encountered actual bullying before, and bad book reviews absolutely do not qualify (unless of course they are instigated by a bully author who is generally acting out of basic pansy-ness). And ...
  2. Because I'm not a pansy. I came into this business to succeed - to work honestly and build both my following and my talent, however unimpressive it may be to some people. I came into this business because I couldn't not do it. I came into this business, not to have my ego stroked by a world full of yes-men, but to make an honest living.
  3. I'm afraid of snakes, sharks, spiders, slugs, and snail goo. I am not afraid of opinions.

Now that we know the difference between being a "consumer/reviewer" and being a "bully", come back tomorrow for a more humorous take on how to find out if you're a bully ... or if you're a pansy.