N.B.: The following post is a response to recent events involving Emily Giffin, NYT Bestselling Author of “Something Borrowed” and “Something Blue”, as well as several other chick-lit romances in her bibliography. To summarize some of what happened – Giffin’s husband took to Amazon over a one-star review of her recent release “Where We Belong” and proceeded to criticize the reviewer’s perspective and even call the reviewer some incendiary terms. Giffin was also a part of the criticism (though claiming not to read the reviews in question) by linking via her Facebook page to the respective critical reviews. Her assistant was also involved in critiquing one of the one-star reviews, written by an Amazon vine reviewer, who had downgraded a previous 4-star rating to a 1-star and proceeded to write the reasons why.
This open letter is my response to those events and addresses Giffin directly. I do not know if Giffin will ever read this, how it may be received by the community at large, but I figure I might as well stick my hand out to try, because I think a lot of what I have to say is important and that this issue really shouldn’t be swept under the rug or ignored. I, like many in the reader/blogger/writer community are really getting sick and tired of these kinds of events, and I’m wanting to open the floor for some open discourse on the matter, so here’s my two cents, and I’m going to be as open-minded as I can. As usual, I’ll resume writing my reviews among other usual content for this blog, but I thought this opinion piece would be an offering to make in the community.
Dear Mrs. Giffin,
Hello. I’m writing this open letter to you as someone who has read your books and not only being a chick-lit and romance reader, but a general, genuine lover of books of all genres and the written word. To date, I’ve read your works “Something Borrowed” and “Something Blue” – I first read the former back in 2010, and finished “Something Blue” earlier this past year after some time. I’d had my fair share of criticisms over both works, but I was more than willing to read more in your collective bibliography to find something that would click with me, considering the amount of praise I’d heard about your writing and genuine, dedicated personality to your fans and your work. My friends and fellow readers have, in previous considerations, been genuinely enthusiastic about you and your work, and it was hard for me to say no knowing that.
As of yesterday, August 22nd, I don’t think I can in good faith be a regular reader or supporter of yours any longer. I don’t think you realize just how much it pains me to say that, probably even moreso than your reaction may be to reading that particular statement. If you’re still reading this letter after that striking sentence, please read onward because I have a few constructive critiques and rationales as to why. Despite how you may want to skirt the issue and pretend that it doesn’t exist or isn’t a serious problem, I would like to open the floor for due discourse on it because I think in light of recent events, this has become a problem that’s shaken the core of the reader/reviewer/writer community that I don’t think you realize just how grave and shameful of a situation it really is and how your actions (as well as your husband’s and assistant’s actions) have been a part of it.
Let me first put on my reader/reviewer hat because that’s the chief role that I play in the reading/writing community as of now (though I’m also an aspiring writer). Granted, I’m a critical reviewer and I have a way of telling things like they are for any work that I may come across, and what affects my reading experience, and I think that’s true for many reviewers of different walks. I write my reviews for myself, and allow others to peruse those opinions to see what they deem to be helpful – there’s really no right or wrong way to write a review on how a work makes one think or feel – and to say that the author isn’t tied in some way to the reading experience of a book is misguided at best. Reviewers have the right to reflect on what they read and define what affects their reading experience in collective measures. It’s important to be respectful of that and know that opinions come from many different walks and in a vast variety. It’s understandable that you or loved ones might not like all the reviews you come across and may have knee-jerk or thin-skinned reactions to them because…well…every writer goes through that stage. I’m sure you know this already from your experiences, and by the mention that you do not read your reviews on Amazon.
I understand with the advent of social media and how easy it is to connect with your readers that you have a venue to communicate with them in a way that wasn’t feasibly possible at one point in time. But when you perpetuate linking to a critical review in your fan community – even if you haven’t read the review in question – that constitutes a problem. It would be one thing if you were linking to a positive review – I think many in the reviewer community would welcome that. I’ve even had authors link and retweet my positive reviews – and I welcome the thanks and praise that comes with that – it makes my day a little brighter to know that in loving someone’s work, they love the honest, positive expression.
But no one likes their critical reviews to be linked by an author of a particular work, and I’m going to make it very clear to you as to why. It’s intimidating, it’s hurtful, it’s patronizing – and it’s likely to direct those who are fans of your work to bash and berate the person who wrote that review – and the critical review really has every right to have a differing, distinct opinion. You may not have intended to fallout to be what it was, but you perpetuated it and were a part of it, even if you chose to distance yourself from it. By linking to one of the reviews that changed their opinion of your work, you invited an army of your supporters (whether you supported their behavior or not) to attack that reviewer and make a slew of horrific claims which included a threatening phone call to that reviewer.
That kind of instigation/pressure IS bullying/harassment. And it is just one of a long line of authorial incidents against the author/reviewer community that have occurred in the past year. It pains me to say that yours was among the worst that have happened this year.
Giving an apology is one thing. I’ve read your husband’s apology – I’m personally cool with it, though I’m not sure if the victims of your, your husband’s, and assistant’s actions will be so forgiving – that’s up to them, and they have every right to be angry with the lot of you for the matter. I understand what he did was likely a knee jerk reaction and that he’s trying to protect you – but you’re in a professional industry. The actions that he takes, you take, and the people in your personal/professional circles in social media may have repercussions on your professional image whether you want them to or not, no matter how you try to bury your head in the sand or pretend it’s not an issue. In a social media environment, the actions that you take don’t go away even if you delete them.
You’re an NYT bestselling author. You even have a movie based on one of your books. You have every right to your respective successes, truth. I get that, I respect that.
But I don’t understand why would you want to pick on people who are consumers of your work? No, don’t answer me directly – think about it. What good does it do to egg on your husband in supposedly “defending” you against what was an honest, reflective opinion of your work? The original review that your husband commented on did NOTHING wrong. It was a just review, gave reasons and was succinct. It’s just one opinion among many – it wouldn’t have really affected your sales if it was left by its lonesome, and there was NOTHING about that particular review that attacked you or your person – it was completely about their impressions of your latest book “Where We Belong” and some reflections on it in comparison to your previous work.
So what if they didn’t have any other prior reviews on Amazon? That doesn’t mean anything by itself. That doesn’t make them automatically a troll or stalker or any negative name you may call them. It may just be a novice reviewer or private citizen who has just started reviewing that has been familiar with your work and subsequently disappointed by your latest effort – you had NO way of knowing who that person was, and the way that you/your husband assumed it was someone with malicious intent was wrong (especially since there was no maliciousness in that review).
I’ve written over 400+ reviews on the book social media book community Goodreads myself, and well over 100 on this blog – but only have written maybe 7 or 8 on Amazon on various things (not books though I’ve been sitting on my hands about it. It’s incidents like this that discourage me from doing so.)
The point I want to make is that you didn’t even LOOK at the review yourself to judge its content, so I don’t even know why you would, objectively, encourage that behavior to begin with if you were unaware of its content and what it had to say. You had many chances to say STOP by this point, but you didn’t.
That was just the first offense.
By linking to the review your assistant was criticizing and commenting on in your Facebook feed, you opened yet another floodgate. This time against a reviewer who had every right to change her opinion if she didn’t feel comfortable supporting your work, even if she’d originally given your review 4 stars. She wrote a blog post about it that covered much of what happened and references the information that now you yourself have removed. I don’t really have much to add to that reviewer’s notes on the matter other than I wholeheartedly agree and support her frustration and upset over this. I do, I really do. And it doesn’t make you look any better to say “Can we not talk about it anymore?” because frankly, it makes you look puerile.
You’re in a position of privilege with being a professional – you have a large support network to get you through the negativity that might come with reading a critical review of your work. Honestly, you have every right to react to that in whatever private way you want to grieve or express frustration or deal with the negative emotions in your own terms. But Facebook and Twitter aren’t private networks and you have thousands of followers and friends. While you have every right to express yourself, airing your grief in a way that intimidates those you may not agree with to the point where it affects their livelihood is NOT professional. You have to realize that the things you do in a social media network do affect your professionalism and direct different events of causation, especially if you’re using said social networks to promote and connect with respect to your work. The fallout was so great that it went viral and put these reviewers in harm’s way just for expressing an opinion on your work. They’re people too, not just faceless names or avatars.
To quote your comment: “What more can we do?” – I’m going to address this directly. Here’s what you can do that you haven’t already done:
Maybe actually say “mea culpa” in a genuine way – instead of saying “I’m sorry – can we talk about something else now?” – just say you’re sorry – blog post, personal messages to the reviewers targeted – reach out somehow in a way that offers genuine, responsible aid. At least it won’t seem like a half-hearted attempt and skirts the issue entirely. I also think you need to apologize for actually blaming the victim in that you stated she’s “enjoying” the drama and stating that she should “take down” her content. No, you don’t have the right to tell her to take down her content – period. She had her right to express her sentiments as she desired to, and you have to respect that (which is a little hard to judge considering you didn’t even READ the supposed offending review). No one in this matter has enjoyed ANYTHING coming out of it. Things like this discourage people from actually buying, enjoying and reviewing books as a hobby. I know I’m a hobbyist reviewer and reading is a genuine passion of mine – I DETEST seeing incidents like this, and there have been way more than a few going on this year. It’s disgusting and creates a fear culture that’s quite unhealthy.
I’m also an aspiring writer and I know how important it is to treat your readers and reviews with the utmost respect, no matter whether they may love, hate or fall somewhere between those with respect to my writing. I would hope that you’d feel the same, and that there’s no need to skirt the matter. What you and yours did was wrong. Own up to it, and I think there will be people who respect you more for doing so. Forgiveness is a personal thing, but I think taking responsibility is a good step towards that.
Never tweet/link to/or direct your followers/fans to a critical review of your work in a social media network (or, realistically, anywhere) EVER again, and certainly don’t encourage the practice of “downvoting”: More authors need to realize that this kind of behavior is intimating and hurtful to those who are reviewers, especially NEW reviewers. If you want your work to sell itself, then let the discourse stand as is. Take a page from J.K. Rowling or Jenny Crusie someone who doesn’t engage in a negative way with their audience. You may not like negative opinions but you have to respect it enough to let it stand on its own. Focus on your writing, focus on your positive feedback, focus on your in person events and promotions. You should know this already as a professional, I shouldn’t have to be the one to tell you this with the experiences you’ve had in this field so far. I am very certain there are many authors out there who would love the kind of exposure and experiences you’ve had and wouldn’t squander them in the way that you’re doing in the social media realm. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t see the wrong in what you and yours did and would put your professionalism at jeopardy for a simple differing opinion. These things should be common sense. If you need a reminder – have someone close to you remind you and yours to keep their wits about them and don’t act on a knee-jerk reaction. AND BE FIRM ABOUT IT. Whether it’s your agent, publisher, friend, family member – someone in your inner circles. It does no good for you and yours to attack private citizens, readers, or fans of your work who may express a critical opinion.
Talk about it as a learning experience: In addition to owning up to it, take it as a learning experience and actually use it for healthy discussion. If you love the culture of readers and writers alike, do things that are positive and encouraging and maintain a healthy environment of discussion of wide ranges. And encourage your fans/followers to be respectful of others who may not give gushing or glowing reviews. We all have the right to our preferences/opinions. Fostering a community of mutual respect goes a long way.
So I’m leaving these words here. They’re for you to peruse at your behest or not, but even with the consideration that you’ve lost me as a reader, it doesn’t mean that I’m not hoping that you can move forward in your own way with whatever endeavors you have in your career or otherwise. What I ask is that you own up to your actions, be mindful of the people you’ve hurt and don’t try to bury it. Opening up a healthy environment for readers/reviewers and writers alike is never a bad thing, and its an important thing to make sure that bond remains intact. Be mindful of that. Your actions have contributed in terms of fragmenting that bond in a sense, and I sincerely hope that you can learn what not to do from here on out.