Something interesting happened to me on Christmas Day. I opened up the Goodreads page for my book Plastic Wings and found that I’d received my first one-star review. Given I’ve only received positive feedback since publishing, I wanted to know what I did wrong, if my book was problematic, and what I could think about doing differently in writing the sequel.
Interestingly enough, I found that the one-star review was from a quite popular, traditionally published author who hadn’t purchased my book (I run my own book sales, so I know how many people and exactly who the book has been sold to). I’ve never spoken to this author before in my life, and really, the only thing connecting my book to her was the fact that I’d written a blog post about a week prior listing books that attempt to be inclusive but are really more damaging than not. Go figure.
I bought the book a while back and was super excited to read it until I was informed that it was problematic by a friend and trusted blogger. While I was gravely disappointed about it, I already owned the book so I was planning on reading it anyway. Never mind.
When I originally planned out this post, I was going to keep her identity a secret because it felt rude to announce it. I’ve changed my mind for several reasons:
I am a self-published author with 200 followers on Twitter and a minuscule number of book sales. Prior to her review, my book had 8 total reviews on Goodreads. That means that her one review dropped the rating of my book .5 stars. As an author with no traction, that could have been fatal to my career.
This author is traditionally published and has a large following. By attacking my book, she’s encouraging her followers to do the same, which simply is not okay.
And to anyone who thinks I attacked her book first, here’s my blog post. The extent of what I said about her book is:
Fan Art (Sarah Tregay)
Treats being outted as “cute” and a “happy ending”
I’m a small-time blogger looking out for my fellow marginalized readers. This is not an attack, this is not aggressive, and quite frankly, this post would likely do nothing to her book sales. It is absolutely shameful that an established author would try to take away my livelihood because I called her out on being problematic.
So this is how it goes.
Why is it wrong to rate an author’s book that you haven’t read and know nothing about in retaliation?
First of all, it’s petty. If you react to someone saying they didn’t care for your dress by dumping marinara sauce on theirs, what does that say about you?
Second, you’re talking about possibly ruining someone’s career. Indie authors already struggle enough trying to sell their books, so if, as an author with a major publishing company (Katherine Tegen Books an imprint of HarperCollins), you decide it’s your job to tank someone’s career because they didn’t like your book, you’re not just attacking the review or a book but that person’s source of income. You’re attacking their right to food, medication, housing, etc.
Third, if someone criticizes your book, they’re usually right to at least some degree. Listen to criticism. Criticism is how authors grow. I completely respect the decision of many authors to blatantly ignore any reviews written about their books, and I think this is a great way to go. At this stage in my career, I’m thirsty for criticism. I want to improve, so I’ll read reviews, the good, the bad, and the ugly. But understand that if you’re reading criticism, the point isn’t so that you can strike back. It’s so you can learn from what other people have to say. What Tregay did is taking white privilege and victim blaming to a whole new level.
Now, I want to say that Tregay tried and failed to hit me where it hurts. If she knew anything about me, she would know that writing is not my sole source of income, and in fact, I lose more money on my writing than I earn off of it. I write because I love it and because I want to see more diversity in the world.
She’s also encouraged me that my blogging is important. If my blogging helps to expose authors for just how problematic and damaging they are, then clearly I need to continue speaking up, perhaps even speaking up louder.
As an added note of pettiness, as of the point in time that I’m writing this post, Plastic Wings still has a higher average rating on Goodreads than Fan Art, so I guess that’s just a double win for me.