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June 30, 2009

(F)lame Twitter

TART NOTE: Thank you! to all who ordered THE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB. Like most authors, I treasure each reader and, trust me, I do not take your purchase for granted. Hope you find it worthwhile...


(F)lame Twitter

Late to the internet party, most New York publishers now heartily embrace the era of digitaTwitterl communication. It started with webpages - we authors were encouraged to get them - and then the much touted, and over pixilated, "E-cards" inviting readers to come to signings or buy new books. Then came blogs - hello and welcome to TLC - and from there the speed picked up. Myspace. Live Journal. Facebook. Twitter. Suddenly, there were a million ways to connect with readers, filling in the gaps between books as fast as we possibly could.

For some of us natural procrastinators, twiddling around with the World Wide Web suited our distracted brains just fine. I started a "Bubblesheads" listserve back when you had to type in inordinately long addresses just to log on and recently my Cinderella Pact moved off the Yahoo! groups to Facebook where we found, lo and behold, a Cinderella Pact group already in existence.

I could happily chat all day with readers, many of whom have become friends, about news events or recipes or how to remove mold from the shower. (See a hint below on that one.) Hanging around the water cooler was never my problem; sitting down and concentrating was.

For other authors, however, the web continues to pose something of a dilemma. Perhaps because they've been holed up in a garrett writing or reading books four hours a day as Stephen King suggests, they still have not quite grasped the electric quickness of something like Twitter. With dire results.

Alice hoffman Take the case of renowned bestseller Alice Hoffman who, in a fit over what she considered to be a lame review by Roberta Silman for the Boston Globe, made the unfortunate decision to not only lambaste the reviewer on Twitter, but also to publish Silman's phone and address urging loyal readers to register their outrage personally.

According to the Christian Science Monitor who got it from Gawker, Hoffman also published the following ""tweets."

• “Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books? And give the plot away.”

• “Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?”

• “Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shut. We don’t have to.”

• “My single bad review in my hometown. This is a town where a barking dog is the second top story on the news.”

• “No wonder there is no book section in the Globe anymore – they don’t care about their readers, why should we care about them.”

Now, far be it from me to scoff at Hoffman. In my naivete long, long ago, I excoriated a former newspaper editor of mine for a pretty harsh review of my first book - Bubbles Unbound. It was the book whose advance allowed me to quit said newspaper and I was certain that the review was meant as retribution, as a take down of one of their own. Probably was. But I was wrong in calling him up. Would have been much better to ignore it and move on, as I have with other bad reviews. The way I look at it, a review is a review. It's my name in the paper and for that I'm on my knees in gratitude.

Moreover, once on this very blog, I tossed off a careless remark about being disappointed that a certain individual in the bookselling business greeted one of my books coolly. This, too, revealed the same ignorance about the internet as Hoffman showed when she hopped on Twitter. She was not sending a nasty note to her friend across a classroom. She was telling several hundred people. (Hard to know since she cancelled her account.) They then told a thousand who then told a thousand times that and now I'm telling you.


And I can understand her peeve about the plot - that's my complaint with a number of customer reviews on Amazon. I was reading Nantucket Nights by Elin Hildebrand, went to Amazon to read what other customers thought, and all the plot twists were revealed with a review that posted no spoilers alert. I filed a complaint with Amazon, but have heard nothing since. 

But I never demanded to know "who" a reviewer was. As it turns out, Roberta Silman is a74-year-old award-winning writer and novelist. Perhaps this is why other reviewers are furious and why unpublished authors, especially, rage in resentment. Hoffman is a talent. No one can dispute that. So one might have expected a little less arrogance.

Underlying this whole hoo-ha is the delicious realization that even with a massive audience and Oprah holding her coat, a bad review stings. Danielle Steele and Nora RobertDanielles shrug and go on - or so they say - and because of that they seem, to me, like goddesses. I imagine them slipping another sheet of paper into the typewriter and plugging on as their bank accounts fill to bursting, as their readers beg for more.

Since then she's apologized, sort of. But like a lot of public apologies these days, the damage has been done.

Why does she even read her reviews? If I were she, I simply wouldn't care.

Entertainment Weekly, by the way, had a great footnote to this story. Turns out author Richard Ford once shot a book - I mean, literally, shot it with a gun - written by someone who panned one of his own books. The shot-down author? Alice Hoffman.

Talk about Karma.

One thing's for sure - that's going to be the best read review this week in the Boston Globe. Read it and see what you think. Was Alice right? Did Roberta Silman give away huge chunks of the plot? Was Hoffman right to take action? Or do authors - or anyone who puts him or herself in the public eye - need to suck it up and move on?


P.S. THE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB, a story about a shopaholic who has to save up for a divorce, Penny pinchers comes out Thursday. Now don't make me come to your house and knock on the door begging, people. This book may not be of Hoffman's caliber, but it does have fun characters, sex, tension and even money-saving tips. Also great reviews. Though I promise here and now that when the bad reviews come in - as they will - I will keep my hands off the keyboard.

PPS - The household tip. Nearly forgot - spray hydrogen peroxide onto mildew. Kills the mold and breaks down quickly into hydrogen and oxygen so it's not bad for the environment. Bleach, people tell me, simply turns mildew white. (Though, I'm not quite sure that's a bad thing.)


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People pull the most outrageous crap, and think a shrug and the words "I'm sorry" make everything okay....

Doesn't sound like the kind of book I'd like anyway, and I can't tell if too many plot points were given away. But she was fairly complimentary in general of Alice Hoffman, just didn't like the book. I can see how an author wouldn't exactly like the review, but I don't think it deserved the alleged remarks about the reviewer.

On the other hand, The Penny Pincher's Club DOES seem like my kind of book, and I can't wait to get it! :)

Somewhere along the way, the "apology" took on a different form. It's either a weepy mess - like Sanford - or a belligerent "I was within the law" like Clinton - or the all-purpose, never successful "I'm sorry if anyone took offense."

Because Hoffman is a writer, she knew enough to rephrase that last one into the active "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" but she should have realized as well that this blanket vanilla statement often insults more than soothes.

And the thing is ... it wasn't a particularly damning review!

It's just hard sometimes to watch your baby being ripped apart, I guess.

I blogged on the same story this morning! Just goes to show how fast bad publicity travels online--and how many people are reached.

Like Sarah mentioned above, I thought the review was okay, too. After all, Silman basically stated it wasn't up to par with Hoffman's other, excellent, books.


Sarah, I'm with you 100% that the best way for an author to take a bad review is gracefully and silently. You never win by jumping into the fray. You just make yourself look defensive and petty.

But I have to disagree that reviewers are entitled to any sort of zone of protection for their opinions, or entitled to be free of the consequences of pissing off the author or her fans. Free speech means the reviewer can write whatever she wants. It also means the author can Tweet anything *she* likes, short of inciting violence, to get back at the reviewer. This may not be good form or well-advised, but it's not unfair.

Since movie reviews are usually so far off the mark, I don't read them. And so it follows, that I don't read book reviews, either. Is that good news for an author? I don't know. I do know, that if I've read your other work and liked it, I will probably buy your next book. However, book reviews from friends, especially from those of you here, are worth their weight in gold to me.

Sarah, I've marked my calendar and plan to be at the bookstore on Thursday. Good luck with sales, but I know you won't need it!

If I've learned anything as an unpublished author, bad review = bitch about it in the privacy of your home and only to your dog. Good review = tweet it everywhere!

I've read about too many "authors behaving badly" and trust me, this kind of stuff has an influence on the buying public. Example...I was at a writers' conference (unnamed). Three "big time" authors were there...very much acting like they were the "cool table" in the high cafeteria and these of us were geeks and not allowed at their table. And no, I don't buy their books. They write best sellers. I'll never know their talent level.

Another example...Mother-daughter writing team. Mother is giving presentation at 8 in the morning. Daughter comes in about 8:20, wearing her PJ's, had not brushed her hair, no bra, houseshoes.. then proceeds to heckle her mother with rude comments and rude "corrections" to what her mother was saying. I was embarrassed for the mother. I will not buy any book by this girl (daughter) and I had been known to slide her books into the second row of the "new release" table and move someone else's to the front row. SOOOO cheesy, I know. But she let such a bad taste in my mouth!

Yup, bad reviews are one reason to have wine at home--so I can rant and rave and bitch to my husband and dog and not worry about anyone getting wind of it. Good reviews get posted on my website and blog (and, um, if I knew how to twitter, there as well).

Can't wait to read Penny-Pinchers, Sarah!

Tiramisu is great for sublimating bad feelings also . . .
I have an ongoing mission to challenge the theater reviewer for the Riverfront Times, which I have done so frequently that the staff at one regional theater has republished my letters in their anniversary album. It also was the basis of my students having the opportunity to work with the Shakespeare Festival group my final year of teaching -- which I guess proves that even bad reviews can spark good outcomes.
One of my favorite storytellers made a most gracious response to criticism of a lovely story about discrimination against gays. She wrote to each person who had objected, saying she was sorry that person was offended and offering to meet with them the first morning of future storytelling festivals to help them mark their programs in order to select sessions that would not offend them. She has people who still meet her to do this. Way to make lemonade.
BYW, a St. Louis columnist, writing about adopting a kitten had this wonderful nickname to contribute, "I bet Governor South American Booty Call will get a cat when he moves into his sweet bachelor pad in a few months." (in case you want more) http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/lifestyle/columnists.nsf/suburbanfringe/story/59814B85EF52EE56862575E400737BC8?OpenDocument

A newspaper man once told me that even a negative review is better than no review. Ms. Hoffman could've been totally ignored and that wouldn't have made her any happier. Like Sarah, I didn't think it was a particularly damning review.

I once got a vicious review from a woman whose brother is an author. I'm actually talking beyond vicious, more like vile to the tenth power. I let my publicist at the time respond to it.

Funny thing, though, I'd been monitoring the sales on this book, and after that review came out, a remarkable number of books sold. I learned a valuable lesson from that newspaper guy. What's worse is a lame review with no passion.

Sarah - Thanks for the peroxide tip!

I just got back from my annual physical where my doctor and I were talking about how shitty a year it had been stress wise because of the down economy. And then she says to me, "I know. Like, I see these hardcovers I want to buy and then I think...shouldn't it be better to wait until they come out in paperback?"

I said, "Thanks. Thanks a lot."

She responded by writing me a scrip for anti depressants.

I read Alice's review and thought, "There but for the grace of God -- and threats from my agent -- go I."
I returned from a long tour and found a "damn with faint praise" review of my book with an irritating phrase "I haven't read all of Elaine Viets' series but . . ."
I wanted to fire off a nasty note, but was too tired. The next day I read it again and decided the woman considered me enough of a friend who give me what she thought was honest criticism. I let it go. But it was close.
Elaine Viets

She responded by writing me a scrip for anti depressants.


That post actually made me go to B&N.com and buy Penny Pinchers in hardback. (Besides, they sent me a coupon)

Red Cross taught me another great peroxide tip -- it gets blood out of a white t-shirt very well. (another tip, if the tourniquet feels too tight, speak up before they stick the needle in) Final tip, if you whine enough about the state of your clothes, they might find you a new t-shirt to wear home . . .
Oh, and watermelon is a great source of iron!

I'll have to be content with the library. Still waiting for the right match for the condo . . . .

Okay, I read the review and although it wasn't so bad, I do agree that she seemed to totally give away all of the salient points. So much so, that I wouldn't feel the need to read the book now as I know what happens.

It annoys me. Especially when I read a review, and the reviewer gives the entire story in a cliff notes version. I like to say whether I liked it or not (I will usually only post if I do...mom taught me that if I cant say anything nice, then don't say it), and why. Did I like the writing? Prose? The characters? The emotions that may have been affected by the book?

Hmmmm... watermelon is an iron source? Yippeeee. Considering my every-two-weeks visit to donate at my local Red Cross, this is most helpful information to have!!!

And Sarah??? You know that I will be picking up copies of the PennyPinchers for me and a few friends. While lurking around the display area in order to recommend it and other of your books.

Your own saliva also gets your own blood out, if the spot is small enough. There are enzymes in your saliva that neutralize the blood. (My sewing tip of the day.)

Watermelon is also high in antioxidants. My husband loves the stuff, so I have to justify the mess he makes during watermelon season by consoling myself that at least he'll live a long healthy life. (Although some days that's not much of a consolation, picturing years of cleaning up sticky messes!)

When my book came out with Betterway, they spelled my name wrong in all the promo materials, so not even I could find it easily in Amazon. The description they wrote also had virtually nothing to do with the actual material in the book, and then to compound the problem the first review was completely wrong about who the book was aimed at. I threw my hands up and just did what I'd done with my self-published books, hand sold the daylights out of it.

Sometimes you just have no control over the way things go.

If any of the tarts get a bad review, all you have to do is let us know. The back bloggers will set the reviewer straight!
Or just sic Me, Margie on them! (BTW is she still MIA?)

The review was professional and Alice was not professional in her response to it. Granted, it stung in places, but that's what happens when we put our work out there for review. Sometimes chickens and sometimes feathers as the old cliche goes.

Hi, it's Me, Margie

I'm here, just really busy because not mentioning any names but some people simply cannot help themselves from jamming up every machine there is from the copy machine to the fax to the postage meter. I mean, how many times can you tell people that staples and paperclips (even the cute ones with the little charms) are the sworn enemy of machines with feeders? If I weren't such a lady, I'd really have something to say about it but I just found out one of my Aunts reads the blog so I'm on the down low.

Bad reviews for one of my authors? I think not. I can bitch about them, but anyone else? Two words: Take. Cover.

BTW, I think I am filling in and blogging this Friday. My cousin Petey is going to unhook the Aunts from the Net that day, otherwise it would be, like, a really short blog just saying.

Oh, rats. I'm going to be away from my computer for most of the next two weeks. Will most you, Margie!

Everyone have fun. I'll look forward to spending a whole day reading and catching up!

Uh, I meant, "will MISS you". Sheesh. Where's the edit button?

Are we getting a 4th of July fable?

K in OH, I rather like the idea of 'mosting' Her, Margie (in the abstract and literary senses, of course).

As for critics, most of the species is non-existent until someone else actually *does* something. In this case, the critic is in fact a novelist. Yeah, Hoffman embarrassed herself . . . but others have done worse, and the whole thing is a great object lesson for those of us somewhat thin-skinned.

Sarah, we're gonna want to see pix from the book release party!!

Like probably every writer who read this story, I immediately had painful flashbacks to my most rage-inducing review. So when I saw the first online teaser about Hoffman blasting a reviewer, part of me wanted to cheer her own. Yeah, sister, you tell 'em.

But then I read the content.

There's something intensely personal and aggressive about Hoffman's response that I find disturbing. "So who is Roberta Silman?" Posting her direct contact information on twitter?

At the very least, it smacks of a (far more talented) b-list celebrity excoriating a club doorman: "Do you realize who I am?" On a darker note, it reminds me of the power plays I would see in domestic violence cases as a prosecutor, intended to belittle, debase, and intimidate.

Pushing the send key too quickly in the internet age is nothing new or unimaginable. But 27 tweets? That's a little nuts. Hoffman owes the reviewer a better apology than the obligatory "I'm sorry if I offended."

I thank Alice Hoffman for reminding me to always take a deep breath, count to 10, sleep on it for a week (whatever it is) and then try to let it go. After screaming to my blog sisters and drowning myself in chocolate, of course.

BTW, I loved Alice's TURTLE MOON so much . . . I want to reread it, to see if it still holds up. Haven't read her lately, due to my One Book Per Author Rule (which I'm always breaking, esp. for Sarah Strohmeyer.)

And Sarah? I'm buying PENNY PINCHERS in hardcover.

Alafair! Thanks for stopping by. I think you must be the first to draw the connection between domestic abuse and alice hoffman. Wow.

And ... how many times? That is a bit obsessive.

Gee. I wonder if she has trouble sleeping. A brain like that isn't exactly easy to turn off.

When angry I will type up a scathing E-mail but I don't hit send instead I delete it. Gets it off my chest and saves me from embarrassment later.

She probably should've done that instead of Twittering. There's always a danger to 'instant gratification' isn't there?

If straight peroxide doesn't work on the mildew the first time, mix it equal parts with baking soda and use a toothbrush to clean shower grout. Works like a charm and yes, environmentally friendly.

I don't read book reviews at all. I figure I can decide all by myself if I like a book enough to buy it. I also will follow up on a remark on TLC about a book before I would read a review.

I am off on a road trip to Edmonton tomorrow for my friend Anne's funeral. Haven't driven over the rockies since 1971, I wonder if they have changed . . .

As we blithely share travel plans on the blog, I wonder if that's wise. I just read of a man burglarized while on vacation, who wondered if perhaps Twittering his day-by-day travels might have been an invitation to the burglar. I am thereby posting a notice here, to alert any potential thieves, that my blog sisters and brothers are not going anywhere without arranging for security from Her, Margie, Rocco, Cousin Rita and all her Navy buddies, and some others I've probably forgotten to mention. . . so don't try anything!

Well, I may be going away, but the rest of my family is staying here!

And our neighbors are super nosy. Nothing happens over here without them noticing.

Gaylin, my condolences on the loss of a friend.

Sarah, next time you go see your doctor, tell her you're thinking about switching to a doc-in-a-box because they're cheaper. See if her mind can make the leap...

storyteller Mary - peroxide gets blood out of a white T-shirt. Really? Once you get the blood out, can you still see traces under a UV light? Because I'm really upset with my insignificant other for leaving me in the car without A/C in Sunday's heat...just saying.

BTW, I blogged about this at more length at www.alafairburke.com/blog

Laurie, I'd say just wear a t-shirt you don't like and then get rid of it.
Karen, glad you have the house covered -- the neighbors comment reminds me of Elaine Viets' comments about south St. Louis neighbors peeking from behind the curtains . . .
I have observant neighbors also -- and I'm so grateful!
Now about the white fluff I just found in the basement and a less-used closet -- any ideas?

Storyteller Mary said: "... I just read of a man burglarized while on vacation, who wondered if perhaps Twittering his day-by-day travels might have been an invitation to the burglar..." I had heard that's why newspaper society pages switched from printing people's current/future travel plans to mentioning trips only after the travellers had returned.

Sorry, Alice Hoffman, you just lost me as a potential reader. When I was young and naieve, I would, if pressed far enough into a corner, snap at whoever was unwise, deeming them also 'less than', giving me the 'right' to talk down to them . . . that only lasted a brief, brief time, as I saw what it did to my rapport with them and our co-workers, and what it did to me (hate that bitter taste of undigested excessive ego).
I read the review, and thought it was a bit more of an academic assessment than my kind of review, but still, Alice, hold your tongue! Publishing reviewer's address????? Mean-spirited to an abusive extreme.
TLC authors: if I borrow a library copy of your books when money's tight, I simultaneously 1) wish you lots of buying readers and 2) talk about your book to all my reading friends.

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