Envy: a Lesson in What Not to Do

Don't shoot yourself in the footA couple of weeks ago, an author in the UK named Lynn Shepherd made one of the more bafflingly boneheaded moves I’ve seen in a long time, by posting a blog on the Huffington Post entitled “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.”

Many of you probably read it, and/or saw the resulting kerfuffle as it spread across Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet at large.

At this point the cyber-flames have ebbed and the dust has settled, as newer scandals have inevitably taken over the headlines, such as Travolta mangling Idina Menzel’s name at the Oscars. But the reality is that for Ms. Shepherd, it ain’t over. I’ll explain why in a moment. First let’s take a look at some of the most incendiary parts of her blog (as if her title were not incendiary enough).

“I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the [Harry Potter] books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

Ms. Shepherd’s primary complaint with Ms. Rowling is about the books she has written for adults, which Shepherd maintains “sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere.” To back up her position, Shepherd states that “Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do.”

Shepherd closed her diatribe by graciously advising Rowling: “By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.”

Written without a trace of humor, the one unintentionally ironic part of her post is in the opening section, where she says:

“When I told a friend the title of this piece she looked at me in horror and said, ‘You can’t say that, everyone will just put it down to sour grapes!'”

Wow – ya think?

But I’m not here to beat Shepherd up. She’s taken quite a beating for this already. Instead I want to look at what she did, why it didn’t work, and – when it became clear that it hadn’t worked – what she should have done.

Why this was a very, very bad idea

  1. She hadn’t read the work she was criticizing. It’s nothing new for an author to take a public stance on somebody else’s work. But to be at all effective or compelling, you need to at least be familiar with the work you’re criticizing.
  2. She dismisses and insults a massive body of readers. Obviously there are a lot of fans of Rowling’s work out there, given her astronomical book sales. Do you really want to make an enemy out of every single one of them?
  3. She blatantly insults readers – and thus, writers – of children’s fiction. Shepherd clearly considers it inferior to literature aimed at adults, and is not afraid to tell us. This was incredibly offensive to many readers and writers (myself included).
  4. By claiming Rowling should stop writing, she is suggesting that an individual woman’s right to express herself should be denied. This is not only a denial of an artist’s freedom of expression; it’s a denial of a human being’s basic right of freedom of speech. Seriously?
  5. Despite her over-the-top thesis, she wasn’t trying to be funny. To me, this is the scariest part of all. Hyperbole can be an effective means of provoking a reaction, when it’s clear that the exaggeration or outrageous stance is intended to entertain (some of my anti-Cussler rants come to mind). But I didn’t sense the presence of any tongue in Ms. Shepherd’s cheek. Just some grapes that were apparently none too sweet.
  6. She clearly didn’t consider the repercussions. When I first read it, I (and many other readers) could only assume she’d chosen to post from a “troll” point of view, purposely inciting an extreme reaction from her readers. Based on that assumption, I figured she had some sort of next step planned, where we would all realize this was just a big ploy to get some press, or to promote some new book, or some other “ah-HA” insight that she would shortly unveil. I mean, she had to have something up her sleeve, right? Oddly, the next step never happened. But here’s what did happen next.

Rising bile and falling stars

The comments section of her HP blog was quickly flooded with hundreds of replies, almost unanimous in their condemnation of her post. Twitter lit up, and the timeline on Shepherd’s Facebook page began to fill up with comments ranging from angry but logic-based rebuttal to violent profanity.

And then things got worse.

Somewhere among the comments, somebody posted the suggestion that readers who disagreed with Shepherd’s tirade could use the Amazon reviewing system to let their displeasure be known. Immediately the one-star reviews started rolling in, little cyber-bombs exploding in a crescendo like a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

Two weeks later, all of her published books now have dozens and dozens of one-star reviews, and her overall rating for each book has dropped significantly. To add insult to injury, many of the reviewers quote Shepherd’s own damning words, openly admitting that they haven’t read the books they are criticizing, and decreeing that she should stop writing.

Two weeks later, all of Shepherd’s published books now have dozens and dozens of one-star reviews, and her overall rating for each book has dropped significantly. 

Some consider these reviews to be cyber-bullying, while others see them as Shepherd’s just deserts. Either way, they have nothing to do with her actual books. Maybe Amazon will eventually remove the offending reviews, but if you’ve dealt much with Amazon, you’ll know not to count on it. In some of the post-game analysis I’ve seen on the web, many people think Shepherd has committed career suicide, and will need to assume a pen name for any subsequent work. I don’t know if it will come to that, but so far I’m less than impressed with how she is handling things, as I’ll describe next.

How her response has been a failure

Shepherd finally did apologize in an interview with The Guardian. But she hardly came off as contrite, instead issuing the sort of “non-apology apology” we’ve come to expect from some of our more slippery-tongued politicians.

On Twitter, she has been blithely tweeting about other topics, and doggedly ignoring the hundreds of tweets tagging her on the Rowling debacle. Picture a young child sticking her fingers in her ears and singing, “La la la la… I can’t hear you!”

For an author savvy enough to have secured a regular blogging spot at the Huffington Post, Shepherd shows a remarkable disregard for the communication vehicles at her disposal. 

None of Shepherd’s other social media channels – her website, blog, or Facebook page – show any acknowledgment of this brouhaha, and to date none of the many negative comments on Shepherd’s FB page have been deleted.

For an author savvy enough to have secured a regular blogging spot at the Huffington Post, this shows a remarkable disregard for the communication vehicles at her disposal. Shepherd has a wide range of opportunities to try to spin this, walk it back, apologize, retract, or even dig in and fight. Instead, she seems content to bury her head in the sand. I only hope she isn’t also burying her career.

The temptation to be provocative – and the accompanying responsibility

So what does this mean to us? Well, when you become a published author, part of your life becomes public, whether you want it to or not (aspiring authors, take note). The current conventional wisdom is that we writers should use our communication skills to shape our public presence, and in turn, more effectively market our books.

Some writers and publishing professionals take to this notion more readily than others, creating powerful online personas – some funny, some self-deprecating, some bristling with confidence and insight. In this latter group, it’s not unusual to see somebody take an intentionally provocative stance. JA Konrath is a prime example, an author who is both generous and blunt with his insights and opinions (and who seems well on his way to becoming more famous for his controversial opinions and his impact on the industry than for his actual books). Dean Wesley Smith is another writer who makes a habit of taking provocative stances, often focusing on the goal of writing and publishing fiction extremely quickly. The savvy-and-not-shy-about-it literary agent Janet Reid openly refers to herself as a “shark” on her blog and Facebook page. Even perennial nice guys like Hugh Howey – and our own Donald Maass – will occasionally take a purposeful step out on some rhetorical limb, with the goal of prompting some lively discussion.

The thing is, these people are all ready to face the response their opinions will generate. They are ready to back up their arguments, they are tough enough to weather some fallout, and they have a reason for taking that provocative stance in the first place. Above all, they have the courage to stick around and take part in the conversations that their opinions generate, which I think is Shepherd’s biggest failing in her own recent fiasco.

That’s the lesson that we – and, I hope, Ms. Shepherd – can ultimately learn from all this. It can be a fine thing to be occasionally provocative. Just make sure you have a reason to provoke people, and the cojones to stand behind your words. Otherwise, you’re just poking a hornet’s nest with a stick, and that never ends well.

An understandable emotion

Bird by Bird, by Anne LamottLet’s face it: we all can get envious from time to time, and writers and other artists are particularly susceptible. While Lynn Shepherd has inadvertently demonstrated how NOT to handle envy, she is certainly not alone in harboring some envious thoughts.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s insightful and intimately candid how-to for writers, the author addresses this topic very openly, noting that “…if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know – people who are, in other words, not you.”

Lamott goes on to offer suggestions for how to deal with professional jealousy, devoting an entire chapter to it in her book. Here’s a snippet:

“Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading. And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are (a) getting older, (b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and (c) using it as material. Also, someone somewhere along the line is going to be able to make you start laughing about it, and then you will be on your way home.”

I’m a nuts-and-bolts guy, and Bird by Bird is definitely the most touchy-feely book on writing that I’ve ever read. Still, I found it very helpful. Lamott makes you realize you are not alone in your insecurity, and makes you feel less crappy about some of the less-than-noble sentiments that insecurity can inspire. I recommend the book highly – to all of you, and to Ms. Shepherd.

How about you?

What were your reactions to Shepherd’s Potterpocalypse? Have you felt similarly envious of another writer’s success? Was all that Amazon review-slamming justified, or appalling? Have you ever committed a social-media faux pas for which you wished you could press a magical “Rewind” button? Please chime in – I’m eager to hear your thoughts. And as always, thanks for reading!

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About Keith Cronin

Author of the novels ME AGAIN, published by Five Star/Gale; and TONY PARTLY CLOUDY (published under his pen name Nick Rollins), Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith's fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

Comments

  1. says

    I actually blogged about this after the fiasco, somewhat reluctantly. I didn’t want to fuel the fire, but I thought I should comment on what went down. As I wrote on my blog and also in the comments of Lynn Shepherd’s post on HuffPo, I would hate to think the answer is for a writer — any writer — to stop writing, as Shepherd suggests. Conversely, I think the answer is for all of us to KEEP WRITING. I truly believe that if the writing is good enough, it will find readers. And shelf and review space. As for giving Shepherd one-star reviews? I thought that was awful. You never right a wrong with the same wrong.

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    • says

      I agree with you, Dina. I certainly can’t condone what she said on her blog post, but to use the review system on Amazon to retaliate is also unacceptable. That is cyber-bullying and also becoming a problem lately. To even suggest it is in very bad taste. Even if Ms. Shepard did deserve it, the problem is that it is a slippery slope that opens the door for cyber-bullying. That is not a review. I write a review blog and I think the so-called “reviews” on Amazon are really aren’t reviews. I wish that Amazon would get stricter in the reviews it accepts. They should explain exactly what a review is, and that you can’t review something that you haven’t experienced. I see some reviewers giving one star reviews to the authors when they have a formatting issue with Amazon. The author has nothing to do with that. Those type of reviews should be disqualified completely. I tried to “like” your response, but for some reason it won’t let me..so here I am to tell you, yes–I like your response! :)

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  2. says

    Wow!

    I have made some blogging blunders in the past, but not quite like that. One thing I have learned, with blogging, is to just “save draft” when I feel I’ve composed a piece loaded with strong emotions. I usually find, a few days later that it’s slanted and either end up deleting the post or modifying it.

    When writers put up their blog posts, comments on forums, interviews (heck, even this comment right now), they are “being published”, no different than when they go to print, so this means the same mark of professionalism applies. That’s not to say we can’t be free and fun (and forgiven for the occasional typo), but it does mean we must be careful and think about repercussions.

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    • says

      I agree, Graeme. When we react immediately to something, that reaction is often based on emotion rather than reason. There’s something to be said for letting things simmer awhile.

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    • says

      Graeme, I do something similar when emailing people with whom I disagree. I’ll go ahead and spew my thoughts into a reply, but then either save it for a cooling-off period, or simply delete it if the act of writing has helped me blow off sufficient steam.

      One crucial safety precaution I learned was to delete all names from the “to” field in my email program before writing my email rant, so that I don’t inadvertently hit the Send button. That would be VERY awkward.

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  3. says

    Very good points. I agree she should have addressed her critics, but I’m even more upset by the way people behaved in reaction to her post. I thought her post was very misguided and a little sad, but certainly didn’t deserve all the vitriol she received. You’re so right about the Amazon reviews. Giving a person a one-star review says a lot more about that person’s unforgiving and punitive nature than it does about Shepherd’s misstep.

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  4. says

    I read the original piece and laughed–mainly at Ms. Shepherd’s lack of self-awareness (viz. the opening line you quoted.) The whole thing seemed so over-the-top I couldn’t believe it was serious. As a one-time Brit, I sensed that Shepherd was trying to harness one of our national characteristics: a British bulldog in a china shop. She certainly has carried on, after the debacle, with a “stiff upper lip.”

    I think she thought she was being honest, and that her envy would touch a chord with many people. After all, how many of us have muttered about the success of bestselling authors with our co-conspirators at a cocktail party? I do think it fair that she was whacked upside the head for her stupidity–but the one-star Amazon reviews show us something else about the internet: it is a refuge for scolds and shamers. You had better navigate it carefully.

    It’s pen-name-time for Shepherd after this. Except when she writes for the HuffPo–they must have loved the massive traffic.

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  5. says

    Keith-

    I’m all for agitprop theater but as you point out, Keith, there’s a line (fuzzy as it may be) between ironic discourse and it’s opposite. Did the attack on Shepherd’s Amazon ratings cross that line? Did graffiti slip from art to vandalism?

    I rue two things. First, that the arbiter in this case is Amazon. Second, that sour grapes were attacked with a fusillade of sour grapes.

    Such a waste of sour grapes! It seems to me that we could learn from the literary feuds of the past. Take the feud between Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. Now *that* was the way to do it.

    But there I go again, sounding like an apologist for the traditional ways. I guess that’s the price you pay for poking the fire a little.

    In all seriousness, thanks for your piece today, Keith. The real problem with envy is that it gets in the way of creativity, and that’s no fun at all.

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    • says

      It surely seems to be sour grapes beating up on sour
      grapes. Ms. Sheperd’s comments are the thoughts and the
      pitter-patter we all see, experience and feel and maybe some even
      feel safe to express in writing groups. It’s natural (not wise) to
      be envious and we forget that most of us will get to enjoy our
      craft and our passion though we will never achieve the Rowling,
      Patterson, Grisham fame. But we enjoy and keep on seeking our
      moment in the sun.

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  6. says

    This is such a great post, Keith. So thoughtful and smart. I love how you presented this issue . . . with compassion and wisdom.

    I (with my head in the ground apparently) had not heard of this kerfuffle . . . my take away? I pity this woman. She clearly messed up on the world’s stage, and I, a bear of very little brain, also mess up (though not–so far–on such a big stage). I cringe for her.

    The retaliation, however, this mob mentality, troubles me. Does this desire for payback need to be so unkind and so enthusiastic? Shepherd messed up; she didn’t apologize in a way that seemed genuine; she shot herself in the foot when it wasn’t even necessary to carry a loaded weapon. She totally blew it. But was it necessary for others to go after her with such rage?

    As someone who makes many mistakes daily, I like to hope there’s still some grace in the world, some compassion for the mistake-making of others.

    Thank you, Keith! Such great food for thought.

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  7. says

    I’m happy to say I didn’t learn about this nonsense until a week ago. I don’t know what it is about the internet that makes people behave so badly. There is a person, a human being, behind a book that is written, behind a post, behind a comment. Kindness, people.

    I think your fraternal correction has just the right tone, Keith. Your summary of the aftermath shows you can never repay evil with evil.

    And I’ll add one more thing. The success of JKR allows us midlisters to stay in print. It’s good for children’s lit. And the books are terrific. She should read them … as penance.

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  8. says

    I’m not sure we can responsibly say we should let Amazon be the arbiter and leave it at that. Look at the recent flap over cyberbullying on the site, and the Change.org petition of which Ann Rice is champion.

    Cyberbullying is scary stuff. A quick perusal of Shepherd’s 1-star reviews on Amazon didn’t reveal any threats of bodily harm, but an increase in the general haze of hatred in the world. What’s the point in that?

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  9. says

    Every writer and reviewer should read this piece. Thank you, Keith! Really insightful comments here too. Didn’t some great writer once say jealousy was poison? Can’t recall who. But I do know that kindness and respect are all writers’ bread and butter. Somebody should send Lynn Sheperd a loaf and a slab.

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  10. Denise Willson says

    Great post, Keith.

    The internet has allowed us (human beings, not just writers) to vocalize anything we wish, and receive an audience in the sandbox. Some lose sight of the social subtleties that remind us to play nice.

    Just because we have the means to speak on a whim, doesn’t mean we should. The sandbox isn’t big enough for bullies.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth, and (coming soon) GOT

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    • says

      I agree with you, Denise, but the sad thing I’ve noticed is how the anonymity of the Internet seems to tap into many people’s baser instincts.

      If you ever want to really lose your faith in humanity, just read a dozen consecutive comments under any popular YouTube video. :(

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  11. says

    Taking this one step further, Ms. Shepherd seems to be
    saying that any writer who’s achieved some (unspecified) level of
    success should drop out of the game to make room for others. Hmm,
    how should we determine how much success is too much? If Mary
    Balogh has to stop writing, does that mean my books will suddenly
    find a home in the hearts of Regency readers? Of course not!
    Achieving that is MY job. I’m going out to buy some Harry Potter
    Forever stamps.

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  12. says

    Reading the original post felt like watching a train wreck. (Sorry for the cliche.) Like Keith, I kept waiting for the punch line that never happened. Ultimately, I came to the “this is the most amazing example of sour grapes I’ve seen in a long time” conclusion. I did NOT like what happened on Amazon, even though a tiny part of me felt it was justified. (It wasn’t, but she hurt my feelings by suggesting I was stupid to have read and liked HP.)

    In the last few days, there’s been a fierce discussion on the Historical Novel Society Facebook page about cyber bullying and professional respect between authors. It has been equally eye opening and possibly as divisive as Shepherd’s piece. Oddly enough no one brought up this specific example, although I think it’s relevant. There seemed to be a lot of sour grapes in those posts as well, and some people who were truly adult and worth of emulating.

    In conclusion, as someone who works in the software industry, specifically with internet and security products, I can say with some authority: the internet is a dangerous place. Nothing you say will ever go away; you have no control over who will see or use what you say; and your anonymity is an illusion.

    When blogging or posting to social media, it’s probably wise to follow what people used to say about flaming someone in emails: write it in a word processor first. Let it steep for a couple of days. Get other opinions, and listen to them. Shepherd clearly didn’t listen to other opinions.

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  13. says

    Envy is rot for an author, cheapens your thoughts and dulls your words. Envy and self-doubt are twin plagues that everyone needs to avoid like you-know-what. Instead, you need to cheer successful writers on because they lift all of us. I personally loved Rowling’s mystery and can only imagine how cleansing it must have been for her to blow out her writing pipes by engaging in a new genre–bully for her!

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  14. says

    Thank you, Keith, for making me aware of this “episode”. I must have had my head in the dirt because I didn’t read anything about it. After reading your post, I don’t know that it was worth knowing about in the first place and I don’t mean that in a negative way toward you! What I take away from this is the fact the woman was an idiot for making bad comments about readers as well as writers of young people’s fiction. Who DOES she think she is? I’m sure anyone who held her in any “high regard” has changed his or her mind – hopefully.

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  15. Wendy Rae says

    I did read the original piece by Shepherd just after it
    posted. My husband sent it to me since we both read and enjoyed the
    Harry Potter series. I did not bother to comment at the time,
    mainly because I figured the devout HP fans would tear her to
    pieces. How can one rational voice be heard in the chaos destined
    to follow a diatribe of that magnitude? Plus she openly stated a
    friend warned her of the reaction, a warning which she not only
    ignored but bragged about. To openly criticize work you’ve never
    bothered to read and then state you haven’t read it because it’s
    beneath you? Whoa. I wrote the whole thing down to not sour grapes
    but nasty rotting grapes capable of supporting their own ecosystem.
    I wanted no part of that or the following backlash. My typical
    reaction to pointed personal attacks like this are to find the
    object of the attack and go read/watch/experience it to see if it
    has any weight and form my own opinion rather than taking someone’s
    word for it. (Yes, when a certain televangelist attacked
    Teletubbies a while back I did sit down and watch an episode. I
    doubt I’ll ever recover the lost brain cells however I saw nothing
    to validate his claims.) Actually I must admit the only works by
    Rowling I have read are the Harry Potter novels. Now I am highly
    intrigued by the prospect of JKR’s adult novels, especially if they
    “suck the oxygen” from all other books. I feel I must be missing
    out. What is her pen name again? I must go find those!

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  16. says

    Great piece! I remember seeing the original piece and rolling my eyes so much they hurt. One of the great things about the internet is that you never get away with stupidity. But what sucks about the internet is that you never get away with stupidity. The author’s pretentious and envy-fueled article definitely deserved to be condemned (talk about abusing a platform!), and a deluge of one-star reviews is just part of that. It’s not “cyber-bullying” until someone starts sending her death threats (which might have happened…because, well, the internet…but I sincerely hope it did not). Others may be helping to sabotage her career through amazon and other platforms, but ultimately she brought it on herself by not exercising judgment and not acting like an adult, much less a professional, in an arena where she fully knows millions of people have the potential to see it.

    Anyway. You said it better than I did.

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  17. says

    Shepherd’s frustrations were understandable, and I don’t blame her for having them.

    The blog post about her frustrations and the request that another author stop writing was ill advised, if sincere. She does come of a bit whiny in the piece. But I’m not angry about it. I’m supposed to care if someone with a platform says they don’t want JK Rowling to write adult books anymore? I really don’t care. Successful as she is, Rowling is no sacred cow. Even if Shepherd’s post is sour grapes, why should Rowling be somehow immune to negative comments? She does nothing to deserve being spared such things.

    Of course on the other hand, thousands more people now know who Shepherd is. They know her name, and as they say, so long as they spell that name correctly, any publicity is good publicity, and she may have been aiming at that all along. Here we are talking about her, after all.

    As for the retaliatory bad Amazon reviews on her books, that just shows the propensity of other authors to engage in the cult-like status of Rowling and other writers. “Say something I don’t like about the creator of Ron and Hermione, and boy are you gonna get it.” My dad can beat up your dad. Reviewers with such motives are about as qualified to judge good writing as I am the defense formation of the New England Patriots. (Zero qualified, if you were wondering.)

    People with something intelligent to say about writing don’t write spite reviews on Amazon about a person’s blog post. The fact that Amazon reviews are seen as so crucial to the success of someone’s career right now is another part of the problem that is really its own blog post. Suffice to say that Idiots will find a way to defame someone who has even for a moment cast doubt on whatever idol they’ve latched on to, whether that be via review, counter-post, or youtube tantrum.

    Shepherd may or may not have done herself any favors with what was, in the end a pretty mediocre blog post that angered a lot of people to a level I do not understand. Something silly went viral again, probably because it dared look at JK Rowling sideways.

    In either event, I lose no sleep over her having done it.

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  18. says

    The reason “thou shalt not covet” is in the Big Ten is because things like this happen. Once that first shot is fired, it is never the last. As the writer discovered, there is no way to defend herself against thousands of people who take great joy in putting her in her in place with punishment beyond what is necessary. Shock jocks do this kind of thing because that’s what is expected of them, and it boosts ratings. Professionals have no business attacking one another unless moral lines are crossed, and even then it should be handled carefully, preferably one-on-one and not in a public forum. We all get a bit jealous over the success of another, but once we’ve matured past high school, we should know how to temper that.

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  19. Tom Witkowski says

    I hope you’ll bear with me for two points.

    1) I don’t understand how anyone could go after an author who has engaged SO SO MANY readers, especially at that level. How many children grew to love reading by Ms. Rowling’s writings? How many adults (myself included) fell back in love with reading thanks to her books? She hatched a generation of readers…readers who may have eventually picked up her stories. And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    2) As a first-time author, I write everyday with the intense belief that there will always be room for great words on the bookshelves (no matter what famous author has crossed aisles to seek space on another shelf). In the purest sense, that should be the only way we all look at it. Thinking anything else is fruitless. And when I do think about it like that, I don’t get envious. I get inspired and driven. And focusing on my words and what I can control, well, that’s way more productive than spewing venom.

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  20. Melissa Lewicki says

    I have never understood how a “reviewer” can be so arrogant that they feel justified in “reviewing” a book they’ve never read. This goes for the Amazon bullies who “reviewed” Shepherd’s books as well as for Shepherd.
    This same kind of arrogant mindset comes up when people want to ban certain books in schools or public libraries–books they’ve never read.
    It just boggles my mind.
    Interesting post. Thanks.

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  21. Ari says

    Clearly most or all of those commenting here are authors;
    it is obvious by the figurative, sympathetic winces in reaction to
    the Amazon reviews….just like a guy crosses his legs or covers
    his crotch after seeing another guy hit between the legs. But the
    Amazon reviews are no more bullying than this article. Shepherd
    insulted many and the many showed their displeasure in a way not
    much different than signing a petition or boycotting a
    corporation/country in protest. The internet/public is fickle –
    there’s a massive hubbub for the day or so that Shepherd is
    trending and then everyone forgets about her to focus on Travolta.
    Thanks to your article, so handily filled with links, many who
    weren’t aware of the uproar can now join in – just when she thought
    maybe the dust had settled. Does that mean you shouldn’t write the
    article or that I think you are bullying her? Of course not – it’s
    a good warning for other authors as with Jacqueline Howlett and The
    Greek Seaman fiasco. Howlett claimed that the infamy led to
    increased sales of her book – perhaps that worked for Shepherd too
    – don’t cry for her just yet. In fact, in there being so many
    reviews of the same sort, anyone who actually wants to read
    Shepherd’s book and reads the reviews will realize that the reviews
    are not about the quality of the book. (Mind you, Howlett’s book
    disappeared from Amazon and I haven’t checked but she’s probably
    using pseudonyms now so this is clearly not something you want to
    try yourself…) Anyway, I’ve drifted off-topic. My point is this –
    people shouldn’t use the term cyberbullying so glibly or
    sensationally. Enduring “15 minutes” of intense, self-inflicted
    infamy is not being bullied though it is painful and embarrassing.
    It is only those who continually harass her days after she’s gone
    from the headlines who may be bullying her.

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    • Ari says

      Where have all the paragraph breaks gone? Such horrible formatting – that’s not the way I wrote this.

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  22. says

    I believe Ms. Rowling has written a very small number of adult books – so was very startled by the original post.

    Ms. Shepherd didn’t go after the good targets – Stephen King and James Patterson come to mind – who clog the bestseller lists (which I admire when it’s due to excellence of writing however the writer and readers define it).

    Those are her Adult competition.

    Other than that, Ms. Shepherd’s complete cluelessness about her kind of behavior – and its consequences – was baffling. Even I, writing in my tiny hermitage, have heard about the Goodreads, or Amazon, or… cyberbullying incidents. I agree with you that one should not set off such a firestorm without premeditation and great expectation of higher returns to the writer. Just to offset the KNOWN consequences.

    And if she didn’t know, her editors should have – instead, they allowed her to throw herself on the sacrificial pyre. DOES the Huffington Post have anyone in charge?

    I’m going back to my writing – but I’m not worried. And I’m happy I have more of a clue than Ms. S. has.

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    • says

      Alicia, I had the same thought: why target Rowling, when the Patterson Publishing Juggernaut probably published two or three new novels just during the time it took for Shepherd to write her blog post?

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  23. says

    Shepherd would’ve lost me when she said she never read Rowling’s work. The fact that she went on to diss children’s literature – which abounds with classics – illustrates her ignorance, imho.

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  24. says

    Just once, I’d love to see the reaction to someone’s incendiary post be that absolutely NO ONE comments on it. Sigh.

    I understand the envy that might have prompted Shepherd’s rant. I write erotic romance. Somebody ask me how I feel about the 50 Shades books. Actually, don’t. Sour grapes? Oh, yeah. This envy, however, did not send me out, flames shooting from my fingertips, to publicly trash the author or her books during the height of their popularity. I had my little fit, in private, then I got back to work, trying to improve my writing. Oddly, I’ve developed a strong and nauseating aversion to gray ties.

    Sophia Ryan / She Likes It Irish

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  25. Ari says

    Oh, and by the way… On some level I can understand what (I think…hope…) she was trying to say. I’ve recently noticed, for instance, that successful movie actors have taken over commercial modeling from professional models; hopeful actors are losing small roles to musicians trying to get into acting; D-list and has-been celebrities are taking over reality TV from non-celebrities, etc, etc. That, I think, is the author’s point – crossover successes are squeezing others out.

    Such an article could have been written without picking on one author. But Shepherd didn’t just pick on one author or the wrong author. No, the real crime here was the insult of her potential audience and THAT is why her Amazon reviews got trashed.

    Not smart questioning the intellect of every adult who has read YA literature and every young adult who began reading the Harry Potter series as children and continued as adults. Considering how many books were sold and that for every purchase there were probably 9 others who borrowed it in the library or from a friend, that is alienating a lot of people.

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  26. says

    I saw a little of the kerfuffle and avoided it. Such high-emotion posts and actions often draw out the worst of the internet (ie. attacking Sheperd’s books in retribution for being short-sighted and rude) and I try to avoid the worst of the internet. I got a little taste of the mob mentality when I wrote a post that some people didn’t agree with (and it wasn’t even inflammatory!) but a few people left comments indicating they thought I was privileged and snooty. And that wasn’t even close to what I was talking about in the post.

    I don’t know what was in Sheperd’s head, or what she wanted to accomplish by her actions. She obviously doesn’t have many interpersonal social skills, and maybe the internet just blew those detriments to larger than life proportions. It’s one of those things I just shake my head at, and hope the mob never comes for me.

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  27. Lynn Robb says

    Before you expend a great deal of emotional energy on this, you have to understand what exactly Huffington Post is–and is not. It is an unabashedly liberal website celebrating everything proletarian.

    Anyone who makes a bloody fortune writing something kids want to read and then ventures into adult fiction should be hauled before the tribunal, set in a tumbril and taken to the Place de Greve.

    By definition, if you make a success of yourself as a writer you are highly suspect unless you are writing political prose or fiction with a distinctly left leaning slant.

    Ignore HuffPo and it will go away. No, really!

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  28. says

    Thank you for bringing this inane opinion to my attention. What shocked me most was that her opinion regarding children’s literature:

    “I did think it a shame that adults were reading them [Harry Potter books] (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

    I’ll just respond to that with this quote:”A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” (C.S. Lewis)

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  29. says

    I read Ms Shepherd’s ‘statement’ a day after it was posted,
    and found it hard to believe that I was doing so on the Huff
    Post…what were they thinking, never mind Ms Shepherd? As for the
    lash-back on amazon, it is unfortunately a different face of the
    same coin and a sad indictment on human behaviour in general. The
    whole subsequent flap led to some interesting discussions in my
    writers’ group about envy and jealousy, and how we all feel at some
    time or another – and some very honest confessions. Being a
    writers’ group, of course it diverted into a discussion on the
    semantics of jealousy vs envy :) A quote from Aristotle “Jealousy
    is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is
    base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good
    things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to
    have them through envy.” Not sure I’d agree that there is anything
    reasonable in the nature of jealousy, but we all feel it at times,
    and we all make mistakes, big and small – I just hope I never make
    such a public one. I’m still completely at loss as to why the Huff
    Post would allow Ms Shepherd to make such a glaring one. Great
    post, Keith.

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  30. says

    I remember the shock of reading Shepherd’s post, an initial disbelief that one writer would attack another so directly and so publicly and for such a frivolous reason. Maybe I’m naive, I believe we creatives are all “in it” together. Looking at your success as my success doesn’t make me immune to envy, but it helps me keep that envy in its place. I admit that I’m a Rowling fan. I enjoyed the Harry Potter books and loved her two books for adults. I also recall how much it bothered me that Rowling felt she needed to publish under a pen name in order to somehow validate the quality of her newer work. Success is obviously a mixed blessing for her. It has given her wealth and renown, but taken away both her anonymity and the confidence that her writing has intrinsic value apart from the name value that might be attached to it. So for me the saddest part of this Shepherd business is that by completely overlooking Rowling’s humanity and focusing on her commercial success, she’s degraded ALL of us who write for the sake of writing and may never achieve fame and fortune from our work. If the work itself isn’t enough for Shepherd, she’d probably be better off finding something else to do that has more guaranteed results.

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  31. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    A few years back I took a tour with my son of the film school he planned to attend. The girl who was our guide asked him in a rather interrogative manner for the names of some of his favorite film directors. He mentioned Steven Spielberg, to which the guide gave him a supercilious smile and replied, “Oh you’re one those people who will spend the bulk of their career making popcorn movies.” My son replied, “If I can move one person moved, the way ET moved me when I was a little kid, I’ll consider myself successful.”

    Sour grapes often seem to masquerade as refined tastes and superiority of intellect…

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  32. says

    Hey, I told J. D. Salinger to stop writing all that sensitive, introspective crap, and look what happened. But that’s just me.

    Back on this planet, good post Keith on the tin ear we can often have for audience (and perhaps our own voice), and for the caustic response potential granted us by the Net, which often seems to bring out the worst of our better (we hope) natures.

    I’ve had my own struggles with writing jealousy, which I’ve written about, decorating the post with this Carrie Fisher quote: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ”

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  33. says

    Great assessment of the Shepherd scandal! Personally, I don’t think the “why” of it matters all that much; she just shouldn’t have done it. Period. If you dislike a person’s work or want to offer up criticisms, there are definitely more professional, redeeming ways to go about it. There is a huge difference between playing devil’s advocate and just publicly bashing another author.

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  34. Liz Stein says

    One aspect of the hoopla I think went mostly
    unacknowledged, perhaps because Shepherd is a woman, is the sexism
    inherent in this criticism. Would she have said this to a male
    writer? The idea that a woman should be satisfied with “enough”
    success, when no man would be expected to, underlies at least some
    of Shepherd’s thinking, if it can be so called. Women are still
    expected to be aware of the space they take up, and not to overstep
    the line. They may not presume to be the best of all; they might
    succeed within a given sphere (children’s literature, for those
    with a disdainful view of it, might be an appropriate sphere for
    such success), but too great a success is, in this sexist world
    view, inappropriate, and thus open to criticism.

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  35. says

    Well, I had my head in the proverbial sand and knew nothing about this mess, and I am so glad I didn’t. I hate, hate, hate the fact that in so many arenas people do not know how to behave. I am so glad you recommended Anne Lamott’s book, as it is one of my favorites, and I read that chapter you mentioned when I am feeling a bit green about the success of some other writer and have the urge to go on a rant. I remember when the Harry Potter phenomenon first exploded on the publishing world, I wanted to hate the books. I wanted to tell Ms. Rowling to leave a few crumbs for the rest of us poor writers. Then I realized how wrong that thinking is, and after I read the first book, I realized she has every right to her millions.

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  36. says

    I’m envious of all the contributors and founders at Writer Unboxed, and one day I will exact my revenge by joining the ranks of the successful. My reaction to envy isn’t malice, but appreciation, especially when people share their stories. Envy reminds me of my desire to achieve. We have to own our feelings and emotions. Many people do not want to do that. It’s easier to blame someone else when feelings like anger, jealousy, fear, and pain hit close to home. It’s just our body responding to stimuli (Stress).

    I’m not going to read the Shepherd lady’s comments. I’m still slightly perturbed by Dean Wesley Smith. I don’t know if the guy was genuinely upset with Don or if he was being controversial. Hell, in the end, I just wanted to cry.

    Fuddruckers! I don’t know Keith. I just want to create some cool ass stories like The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.

    Was the review-slamming justified?

    Meh.
    Apparently, Shepherd wasn’t impeccable with her word, so she got the boomerang. Sometimes entitlement mixed with freedom of speech can produce some catastrophic results.

    Here’s the proper way to express envy.

    Dammit, that Keith dude can spank the digital humor. Every day I pray, dear Force make me a “Word Smith” like “The Cronin”. Wanna be like Momma Tee, so I can call myself Daddy Bee. Move Samuel L. Jackson, because I’m going to be Mace Windu and walk the path with Master Don Yoda. I’m Batman, now I can write Pulitzer posts like Robin (LaFever). Writer Unboxed II, The Wrath of (Lisa) “Cron”. Who’s the real deal, like Barbara O’Neal?

    JEDI MASTER ROYYYYYCROFT! (like Birrrd Mannn)

    Enough said
    Any questions?

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    • says

      Who’s the superhero tonight? I say it’s BB–Night Angel–King! I *know* you will succeed, BB. Attitude is everything, and yours is always spot on.

      Great job, Keith! Great conversation, WU! I’m proud of my community tonight.

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    • says

      I think the difference is you’ve READ the authors you envy. You can see what makes them great, and probably give a valid critique on parts of their work you don’t like and why. It’s not just because they’ve been read by eleventy-billion more people than you.

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  37. Adam says

    At the root of Ms. Shepherd’s article is the erroneous
    notion that authors are competing for the same patch of real
    estate. There is no point in jealousy. There is no need to compete.
    Even if one were writing about young wizards or hard-luck PIs, J.
    K. Rowling is no threat. She is not sucking up oxygen, creatively
    or commercially. Personally, I’d love someone else to write a
    really good series about another young wizard. I’d buy it. And I’ll
    read and reread it, right alongside Harry Potter. But there’s no
    point in bullying Ms. Shepherd, either. There’s something very
    disturbing about people aggressively trying to punish and
    intimidate someone for being wrong. Shrug it off. Move on. Remember
    it might be you being stupid next time.

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  38. says

    I’ve been in an editing cave the last few weeks and this is the first I’ve heard of the controversy. This may have been addressed in other comments but I hope the irony of the Amazon reviewers rating books they haven’t read wasn’t lost on Ms. Shepherd. Several years ago, my critique partner sold her first book and someone asked me if I was jealous of her deal. Heck, no. I’d been so excited for her that I was jumping up and down like it was my own deal. I’m firmly in the camp of “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Thanks to J.K. Rowling, a ton of people got excited about books again and that’s a great thing!

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  39. says

    I always look to Anne Lamott for advice on jealousy. Bird by Bird changed my life on terms of relating to looking at others success and dealing with it in a healthy way. Shepherd’s “article” or whatever the heck it was supposed to be was cheap and unwise. Over all it is a great lesson – to think twice before posting!

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  40. Markéta says

    I recently left social networks, so I had no idea. And when
    I read it here… I was just looking at those words with mouth wide
    open… I just…. No words for that

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  41. says

    I apparently missed the entire bruhaha of Sheperd’s piece – probably because I wasn’t being social enough. But after reading this piece, I felt myself bothered by the fact that people could be offended by Sheperd.
    Our job as writers is to observe, breathing in the essence of what makes us human and then writing about it. Writing is a humbling experience as the writer is constantly skinning her knees to understand the core of our existence.
    And that’s why I feel so sorry for Sheperd. Because even after publishing books and publishing for the Huffington Post, Sheperd doesn’t seem to understand that writing is not about the author. It is about the reader.
    In Rowling’s case, she has given millions of readers a new world to explore and new insights into our nature. Readers reciprocate by becoming fans, but only after they feel the writer has done something for them.
    I am in the midst of writing a novel for children. But I’m not offended by Sheperd’s words. Writing for children provides authors with the opportunity to write on two levels. And children’s fiction can pull it off because all adults are children at heart, not the opposite.
    Rowling has served both children and adults in the creation of her series. If Sheperd were a better observer perhaps she could have seen this, even without reading any of her books.

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    • Markéta says

      I am offended as a reader…
      It reminds me the morons, who say that sci-fi/fantasy is low literature without any reading any. Offending Tolkied, Asimov, Heinlain… without reading tham, I bet she is one of those people.

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  42. Kathy K. says

    I actually commented on the original HP article. I must
    have commented before the big Amazon Bad Review Revenge tour,
    because I remember going there to see her work and how it fared in
    the reviews. Before the flood of negative reviews, the people who
    actually read her books didn’t rate them very highly, either. The
    highest review she had then was 3 stars. I bring this up because
    I’d come off a bad editing experience (some of it was my fault),
    with a client who was in such a hurry to self-publish, she didn’t
    understand that writing is a process and that editing is not the
    same as proofreading. I made the mistake of not asking for a sample
    before agreeing to do the work. She basically finished a rough
    draft and handed it to me. Because I assumed (and again, this was
    my mistake) that she’d done some revision on her own, I gave her a
    quote and agreed to do the work. Basically, she expected me to
    rewrite her book for her instead of pointing out what she needed to
    fix. In the end, it was for our mutual best interest to terminate
    the agreement and take the loss. When I read the original post and
    the reviews (from people who actually read her books and critiqued
    the books and not the HuffPo article), Ms. Shepard came across to
    me as one of those types who would rather hit “submit” to
    self-publish than take the time to revise, rewrite or even listen
    to constructive criticism regarding her work. Instead of taking a
    step back and trying to look at this objectively, Shepard is
    “blaming” famous writers like Rowling for their success instead of
    acknowledging where Shepard herself could improve her own work.
    What people like Ms. Shepard & my former editing client
    have in common is that they don’t take the process seriously and
    don’t want to. They don’t seem to understand that you have to have
    a thick skin to be a writer. Ms. Shepard came across as someone
    blaming everyone else for her own shortcomings as a writer. So yes,
    I believe a lot of her post was sour grapes.

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  43. says

    Based on her title, I expected a humorous blog; but it does sound like nothing more than sour grapes. Apparently, she doesn’t want to have to write well for her accolades–she simply wants them handed to her only because she wrote a novel. Don’t we all wish it were that easy!
    My first book was a disaster. I’m changing genres, so I hope my next book will do better. I would love to meet Ms. Rawlings; even better, I would be delighted to be considered close to her league.
    Hey, a girl can dream.

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