Heads up, WU’ers: Bryn Greenwood‘s bestselling novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is available in paperback today! All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, was named Book of the Month Club 2016 Book of the Year, and took second place in Goodreads’ ‘Best Fiction of 2016’ contest.
We’re so glad Bryn’s with us today to share with us how she handles negative reader feedback about her intensely human and controversial book, and why. Be sure to check out her bio box for links to her website and social media accounts, to learn more about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.
Haters Gonna Hate (but you don’t have to)
It’s funny but my fan mail & my hate mail almost always start out the same way. The subject line is usually either “Your book” or the actual title of my most recent novel. The first line of the message is also the same, “I just finished reading your novel All the Ugly and a Wonderful Things and …” There is so much hanging on the words that follow that and. The next words decide whether I hit Reply or Delete. It’s one or the other, because people don’t go to the trouble of tracking down my email address unless they feel strongly about my book.
I always reply to fan mail and I always delete hate mail. Why? Because there is no universe in which replying to hate mail will have a positive outcome. The people who email me to say “You’re a disgusting human and probably a pedophile,” are not interested in having a conversation with me. They’re aiming for the email equivalent of a drive-by shooting. Inflict maximum damage and move on. They don’t want me to talk them around and, if they’ve read my book, they’ve already read the most compelling things I have to say on the subject.
On my most generous days, I suspect the people who send me hate mail just want to vent what’s inside them: hurt, fear, outrage, a sense of moral superiority. On my worst days, I wonder if they hope that their email telling me I’m glorifying child rape will be the one that finally convinces me to kill myself, or at least pull the book from publication and spend the rest of my days on earth tracking down every last errant copy so it can meet its proper fate on a bonfire. (I’m not making this up. I get emails like this. Or I assume these emails still contain this invective. Honestly, I haven’t read past the first sentence in a long time.) I also get emails from polite people who simply really hate my book. Because those emails are indistinguishable from the vituperative ones in the first sentence, even the polite ones get deleted.
Why do I tell you all this? To scare you away from writing that shocking and controversial novel that’s been brewing in the back of your head? To tell you, as if you don’t know, that the world is full of people who don’t agree with you?
No, I’m sharing the details of my regular deluge of hate mail to caution you that if by chance or by design you produce a novel that touches upon controversial or troubling issues, you will need to gird your loins for readers’ reactions when it’s published. You will need to decide upon your rules of engagement long before the ARCs go out.
For people who write to shock or titillate the risk of hate mail is likely irrelevant. It may even be the goal. But seeking sensationalism will put you in the uncomfortable position of being associated with a story line or theme that isn’t built of your own sinew and bone. There will be no hot ember of certainty in your breast that you wrote this story for the people who see themselves in it. It’s why I wrote this most-hated of my novels. I wanted to tell a story that reflected my personal experiences, and so my hate mail is simultaneously deeply personal and bearable.
I have a mantra I repeat to myself on a daily basis:
Not every book is for everybody. I use it to help me accept that readers are allowed to be angry with me, and I’m allowed to decline to absorb their anger. We are in different spheres, drawn to different stories, guided by different stars.
The reality is that dealing with angry readers often means not dealing with them at all. Discretion being the better part of valor, and all that. After more than a year doing this, it’s the method I recommend. I delete hate mail. I avoid negative reviews. I don’t respond to taunting or harassment on social media, though I’ve been known to subtweet, as one does. I write essays and blog posts that reframe the issue on my terms. I aim to control my end of the conversation without going on the defensive or the offensive, and without personally calling out readers who disagree with me. I remind myself that the book is what I wanted to say, and I got to say it.
While you may never get hate mail, if you pursue a publishing career, I guarantee at some point, somebody will say something unpleasant about your book on social media and, for reasons known only to them, they will feel the need to tag you. At that moment, I hope you’ll remember that your book is your statement. You don’t have to be a silent martyr, but you also don’t have to respond directly. You can untag yourself. You can mute the conversation. You can block the person, if necessary. You can click delete with a steady hand.
Thoughts on negative reader feedback? The floor is yours.