As many of you — especially those who’ve been following my blog for some time — will already know, I have a tendency to grow concerned whenever someone says that something cannot be said, that it may be “offensive” or is in some way “poor form”. Not naturally a person who goes out of his way to cause offence, or to be confrontational, I nevertheless grow suspicious when the aforementioned terms are used in an attempt to dictate, or guide, what others can or cannot express.
So earlier today, during a conversation on Twitter, I found myself once again treading this already familiar path. Chatting to a fellow writer (and very lovely lady) I was pointed to a blog post dealing with some of the don’ts of promotion. The post contained some excellent advice but I was immediately concerned by one point that stipulated a writer should not say anything online — specifically nothing negative about books, other authors and reviewers.
Now, as I’ve already pointed out, I very rarely deliberately set out to trash someone, or to argue publicly with them. Thus far, reviews of If I Never have largely been extremely positive — and I doubt I’d lower myself to argue publicly with a reviewer, anyway. Nevertheless, I can certainly envisage scenarios where I might politely correct certain points, for example, and if the response was offensive, I would certainly pursue the argument (with appropriate dignity, naturally 😉 )
On the matter of not trashing other writers or books in general… well, I’ll always express my honest opinion — and do so as forthrightly as I deem fit. The notion that this might somehow come back and bite me, damage my sales, say, is something I find highly unlikely (the readership I’ve already built up, I feel, expects honesty from me — and if I couch my expressed opinion in strong terms I think they are already familiar enough with me to know that I’ll be doing so with, as I see it, good reason.) However, even if my honesty did threaten the sales of my novel, I tend to feel that — admittedly under exceptional circumstances — I would still speak my mind. Why? Well, quite simply, how could I not? What would that really say about me if I withheld a negative opinion simply because I was afraid it might damage me in some way.
As to how it might affect the author concerned, of course, this is always a consideration. I’ve been around long enough to know how devastating a negative comment can be — and whilst we all have to learn to deal with that, as writers and individuals, I’d only ever pick on someone my own size (or bigger), so to speak.
This isn’t to say that we should all say whatever the hell we like about other people and their work, of course, without giving it careful thought. It’s vital that, where they can, writers support each other — and as a newly published author I’m well aware of how fortunate I am and, whenever possible, try to help others along this pretty demanding path. Generally speaking, if I don’t like a piece of work, I’ll say nothing about it rather than publicly trashing it. But we are writers. By definition, we write, we share ideas, we communicate and, yes, sometimes we argue like cat and dog. Is that a bad thing? Is it healthy creatively to tiptoe around opinions that some might not like?
The very idea that it is “poor form” to contribute to the cut and thrust of “the literary life”, to express an honest (if negative) opinion, simply because “the writing community” or some imagined social convention considers it so is not something I’m prepared to subscribe to. Yes, I take time to consider any response I make, and, where possible, do it as inoffensively as possible.
But I will post online about the books I love and hate, about the writers who inspire me and those who make me despair. On occasion, I might even respond to a negative criticism. And if that’s poor form, then so be it.
A sample chapter of If I Never can be read here.
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