Socrates is unamused by your negativity.
Dear Steff Metal
Someone wrote a 1-star review, eviscerating my band’s first release, and posted it on Amazon and iTunes and every other outlet they could. I’m gutted. We worked so hard on this album and now all people see is this horrible review.
How do you deal with haters / people trolling you online, or bad reviews on your work?
My little corner of the internet isn’t anywhere near the size of someone like Amanda Palmer, or Alestorm, or any of the other amazing artists I follow who use their online presence to grow their audience. But it is not immune from vitriol, trolling or lashings of pure, unadulterated rage. I’ve had my fair share of ugly comments, 1-star reviews, and hate mail over the years, and let me tell you that I completely empathise with you here.
I am definitely not an expert at dealing with online hate, but I have a few tips that help me, and they might help you, too. Here goes:
Realise that Not Everyone Likes Your Shit, And That’s OK.
It would be great if everyone thought you were an undiscovered genius, and the world was filled with magical unicorns farting rainbows, but that’s just not the way things are.
Have you ever bitched to your friends about a movie or book you hated? What about writing a review of a bad experience at a restaurant? How many reviews have you written about all the restaurants you ate at where everything was perfectly all right? It’s the same thing with your work. I often tell my friends when they talk about reading my stuff, “It’s OK if you don’t like it. We don’t have to like all the same things.” Because that would just be boring!
Criticism is an important part of art. If people look at a painting, read a book, or listen to a piece of music and learn to critically assess it, then they are participating in the fundamental enjoyment derived from being a consumer of art. People love to dissect work, pull it apart in their heads and put it back together again in a way that resonates with them. And after a while, a person learns more about their particular taste.
People are passionate about art, but unfortunately, it’s much easier to get riled up about something you hate than it is to say, “Oh, that was alright.” I find people only comment on my blog or review my books if they either a) passionately love them or b) violently oppose them. Not everyone in the world is going to passionately love what you do, many of them will think it’s just all right, and some will hate it. That’s OK. That’s their right, and it’s not your job to convert them. You’re not in the business of changing people. You don’t want people who hate you to be part of your audience. Then you’d be Limp Bizkit.
If you ever need a quick fix after seeing a negative review of your own work, go read the negative reviews of someone whose work you really admire. I was reading Andy Weir’s 1-star reviews the other day after getting a 1-star of my own. It’s good to know this is something that impacts even the big names, the awesome people. It helps put it into perspective.
Be A Positive Example
People sign up to writers forums all the time to complain about their bad reviews, and often, when you do a little digging, you find out that they regularly review books themselves, many of which they give negative reviews. At that point, I am out of the conversation, done. It’s hypocritical to dish out dirt to other artists and then be upset when it happens to you.
I’m not saying you have to like everything in the world, or lie and give glowing reviews to art you actually hate. But if you aren’t a fan of something, just ignore it. It’s not hurting you in any way. Just let those fans keep on liking that lame thing, and you keep doing your thing, and no one is hurting anyone’s career. Leave the in-depth, scathing criticism to the actual critics.
The reason I don’t write a blog that shares a huge number of reviews is mainly because I don’t want to be forced to publish reviews for albums I think are mediocre or bad. I want to share albums or books or whatever that excite me and light me up in some way. I know how hard it can be to put your work out there, and I want to support other artists, rather than tear them down.
Now, this only applies to your public image. In private, between your friends, feel free to rip shreds into everything if you must. Sometimes a little hate is cathartic. But don’t write that shit down and publish it, because it says more about you than it does about the work in question. Make sure your own review policy for your public image is the same policy you’d like reviewers to extend to yourself.
In short, just be nice. It’s a good policy to live by in general.
Ask why you’re doing this
It takes a certain kind of bravery to put your work out there for others to consume and therefore judge. Don’t make that decision lightly.
If bad reviews or internet hate upset you, why are you making your work publicly available? You could always make music or write or paint for your own enjoyment, and share with your family and friends if you must – people who are going to praise you for finishing something, even if it’s not personally to their taste. You could create for the sheer enjoyment of creating. You don’t have to put it in front of the whole world if you don’t want to.
So why do you want to? What are your goals? Do you want to make a living from your art, or meet new people, or collaborate with other artists on cool projects, or make a million dollars, or deliver important information to people who need it, or inspire others, or tell your story, or just find a few fans across the world?
Why are you doing this? You don’t have to. If you don’t want the negativity, then you can always step back, go private, make your art for it’s own sake. That’s not a bad thing, it’s not piking out. It’s a matter of getting out of your work what you want. It’s your choice.
Constructive Criticism Can Help You Improve
I don’t know it all, and I never pretend that I do. With each book I write, I improve and I learn new things. But nothing I do is perfect, and I am happy to have readers who point that out. Because I’m in the business of giving them what they want.
One of the coolest things is that you guys actually help me to improve my art. When you talk, I listen, even if you don’t think I do. I recently published The Gauge War, the second book in the Engine Ward series (following on from The Sunken).
When I was working on the draft, I read through my reviews for the first book. One criticism kept popping up, again and again. Sometimes it was phrased nicely, sometimes not. Every time I saw it, it stung a little: The Sunken has no strong female characters.
It’s a fair criticism, because it’s true. The book focuses on the relationships of four men. A huge part of the theme of the series is about friendship, and theirs was the friendship I was focused on in that book. The exclusion of a strong female POV was unintentional – it wasn’t that I deliberately left a female voice out. It’s just that it wasn’t part of the story, not yet.
But I didn’t realise how much this factored into the way people read and enjoyed a book. And that genre expectations called for a prominent female voice. I heard the readers, and I made some changes. When I was writing the next book, this was in the back of my head, and I realised that I could make the second book stronger by including a more powerful female presence. And so I did.
Even though it still makes me sad whenever I see a bad review, without those reviews, The Gauge War would have been a much weaker book. I am grateful for the people who took the time to think critically about what didn’t work in the book, as it helped me to improve as a writer. My readers are awesome, and I trust you guys if you tell me something isn’t quite right!
It’s More About Them
This particular point applies less to that 1-star review from the person who just simply wasn’t the right audience for your thing, and more to those people who seem to go out of their way to maliciously attack you in every available forum, create groups and pages specifically dedicated to hating you and everything you do, and sending you horrible messages just to make you feel bad.
This kind of bullying/trolling usually starts when you get some amount of success behind you. The trolls can get quite dramatic – posting screeds of vitriol against you on forums, on your blog, on Facebook pages, reviewing all your products with 1-stars just to drag your averages down, inciting others to join them in their mission to help you fail.
If you ever got bullied as a kid, you probably spent many lonely days wondering what was wrong with you, what it was about your core, your essence, that made others hate you. And some adult who couldn’t possibly understand told you that when people bully, it is more about them than it is about you.
I know, it’s so helpful. I mean, all I ever wanted to be was someone like my bullies, normal and pretty and popular, and now someone is trying to tell me they’re doing this to me because they feel shit about themselves? What do they have to feel shit about? I mean, that’s just great. It sure does make the school day zip along faster.
That was sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch it.
So, while I know it’s not helpful to hear if you’re living it, let me be that adult. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
There might be a number of reasons why they’ve chosen you. You may openly share beliefs or a lifestyle that the hater abhors, and they feel morally obliged to take you down. You may have created something that inadvertently offends them on a deep emotional level, and they lash out in anger. They may feel as if you present a false image of yourself, and they feel it’s their moral duty to expose the truth. They may feel envy for your life as theirs isn’t going so well and they want to drag you down to their level. They could have emotional or mental impairments that you or they don’t even understand.
None of that has anything to do with you. It’s all about them using their personal mission against you to fill some need in their own life. And as such, you need to stay out of it. I know it’s hard, but if this sort of thing is happening, it’s best not to engage. Let them do their thing. You do your thing.
Trolling damage control
But what if trolls have been somewhat successful? What if they’ve successfully buried your book in bad reviews, or manipulated search engine results? Is there anything you can do?
There’s always something you can do. Here are a few ideas.
1. Read the review policies of the sites where you’ve been one-star bombed, and if any of your negative reviews violate those policies, contact the sites to request them be taken down.
2. Create a campaign to encourage the fans you DO have to leave their own honest reviews to help jump your review averages back up.
3. Find one or two people in your real like who you trust and who are kind to you, and do all your ranting and bitching and crying to them. If you don’t have anyone in your life who can do this, find a creative buddy online who you can share sob stories with. Rant as much as you need to feel better, but at all costs, keep those rants out of the public eye!
4. Create comment policies on your own website. If a shitty comment comes in, refer back to your policy to decide if it gets published or not. You don’t have to publish every comment that comes in. If you keep getting too much shit, just turn comments off.
5. It can be hard for people to understand that what is presented online isn’t the whole of a person – a perfect instagram feed doesn’t equal a perfect life. Some people want what you have, and it makes them angry that you (seem to) have it and they don’t. It can help sometimes if you’re getting a lot of comments about that sort of thing to do a bit of a “behind-the-scenes” reveal, where you talk about some of the less-than-glamourous realities of your life. It might help the commenters to see you as more human.
6. Make more epic shit. Make so much epic shit the trolls can’t keep up.
7. There comes a point where if some rumour is getting ridiculously out of control, it might be time to consider addressing it. Think VERY HARD about doing this, as you can’t take your words back if you do confront your trolls. It’s important to publish any response on a channel you control, so your own website, not Facebook, not Youtube. Somewhere that’s YOUR space. When you write, be honest and humble. Don’t spew hatred back at reviewers. Write it as you would write not to the haters, but to your fans who might be concerned about your or hearing something false about you that makes them not want to be fans anymore. Address it to them, because they are the people who really matter to you.
8. If you truly feel a project has been compromised beyond repair by trolls, then can it and start again with a new project, under a different name, and don’t connect the two. Starting from scratch sucks, but it can also be a blessing in disguise. You would have learned a lot you can apply to putting out a more polished product from the start.
I hope this helps when dealing with negativity online. Above all, I think it helps to remember that behind those awful comments is a human being, and something you’ve created has had an impact on them, even if it wasn’t the impact you were hoping for. There is room for all sorts of opinions and moral perspectives and worldviews, so don’t spend too much time worrying about those that don’t agree with you.
I get bad reviews, although I’m at the point now where I don’t really read them much anymore. The good ones, either, simply because I don’t want to feel as if I need the validation. But sometimes I do glimpse a 1-star, and they sting. Perhaps they always sting. But criticism is a vital part of art, and the experience helps me to grow as a writer, and that’s ultimately a good thing.
Readers, do you have anything to add? Have you ever had to deal with online trolls?
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