How not to respond to a bad review

“Prime Minister by day - Teddy Bear Dan Brown by night” That’s a book idea with potential.


I haven’t read the entire book - only the excerpt provided in the review, but the way I read his response was that he DID believe in and use traditional chapters within the text itself, but didn’t use the integrated hyperlinks available in the software to skip around among the chapters via the table of contents.

The reasons he gave for not using hyperlinks don’t seem entirely without merit to me. When reading a novel in print or digital form I personally never refer back to the table of contents after finishing one chapter in order to move onto the next chapter.

Maybe you were just misquoting him for humorous effect though.

Stephan J Harper 2014-05-28 19:21

FYI: a conscious decision was made NOT to use iBooks Author’s Chapter divisions. They look fine in a textbook or non-fiction cookbook, but they interrupted the flow of the narrative. When I looked further into this I realized why. In Fiction, individual chapters don’t have these ‘abrupt’ changes that CAN be confusing in a narrative and were deemed inappropriate. For that reason I decided on a continuous flow with the individual chapters demarcated within the narrative like a standard novel. I do understand why you feel otherwise because not many people are aware of what iBooks Author can do in this new genre of MultiTouch Fiction. In fact, as of this writing, VENICE UNDER GLASS happens to be the FIRST and ONLY example of a MultiTouch Fiction novel created with iBooks Author - so I can understand your confusion.

(Emphasis added)

Then again I found the guy’s replies kind of entertaining - at least the first eight or ten of them.


No, I misunderstood him having missed that bit.

The theme of Teddy bear detectives and noir pulp rang a bell, then I remembered The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, by Robert Rankin.

Some googling also found:

Whatever the literary qualities of his writing, Mr. Harper is certainly in touch with the zeitgeist.

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No. There’s obviously some potential there, but from the review, it doesn’t sound like the author made good on that - or was even aware of what they were doing - at all. It sounds like an incredibly mediocre, banal mystery novel that inexplicably contains teddy bears. The author’s “AM I NOT A GENIUS?!!!” response reinforces that impression.


Which is fucking awesome, thank you very much. I spent 20 years trying to get my ideas together on cheap 4-track recorders and amateur equipment while also playing in bands. Ultimately all I could produce was demos of limited scope, that really had no chance of making a label. So no one except a few friends ever heard it. Now I have a studio on my PC that is beyond the technical dreams of most major artists up until the 70s/80s, and I can get my work out there, find a niche audience of a few thousand people who are into it, and share it with them.

Fuck the gatekeepers.

Well I see it as communities that create and share art with each other independently of the meatgrinder.

Look, its the 90/10 rule, with the barriers to entry so low as you say, 90% of the material released has obvious faults or shortcomings. But I tell you, within that 10%, there is some fucking great art that just couldn’t see the light of day otherwise. I’ll give an example of an artist I like, who I don’t imagine is getting signed to a label anytime soon:

I am really glad I can listen to this. You might not agree, but that’s because the target audience is very narrow. Thankfully.


Also Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series. Fun stuff.

And on the subject of responses to bad reviews…


I was fairly stunned when I realized that line wasn’t satire. He really meant it.

You know who he reminds me of? Ignatius J. Reilly.


I remember the last time this happened…

This is the most extraordinary display of author hubris I’ve ever seen. Like Anne Rice on steroids.

Dear God

Well I, for one, will now buy and read the book purely on the basis of how entertaining this comment thread is!

So…success, I suppose?

I think a lot of writers like prescriptivism because it makes composition easier. If good writing comes from following a fixed set of rules, then there’s a lot less uncertainty involved in the process.

From a linguistic perspective, this doesn’t make any sense, since language evolves in a (comparatively) chaotic fashion. Moreover, good writing comes in as many different forms as bad writing. There is an element of subjectivity involved, and that makes the whole thing scarier/more exciting.

I’ve been tempted to respond to reviewers before, if they just don’t get what I was attempting with a particular work or seem to have reviewed it unfairly. But that’s writing: you don’t get to control how people read what you write, and so I don’t respond to reviewers under any circumstances. And it’s tremendously unprofessional, in my opinion, to talk back to reviewers. The funny thing is, I thought this particular review of Mr. Harper’s book was very fair-minded and helpful.

[ETA: clarification, just in case I was unclear]


Rubbish. The only useful way for an author to act after a bad review is to ignore it utterly. If you reply, no matter what you say or how you say it, you give free ammunition to someone who already has a vested interest in pricking your ego. Cast not your pearls before swine.

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I can’t tell if the headline is sarcastic or not.

I would add the word “not” in the article title. The author engaged in a wild spam-fest even before people began to call him on it.

I don’t mean to defend him or his book specifically, but more generally I think interesting how fierce the backlash against amateur writers often is.

Sure, until recently the economic and technical realities of print publishing meant that there was a fairly clear division between books that convinced a publisher to put real money on the line and vanity-published or even home-made books that nobody read. In that situation publishing any book was officially a big deal and a bold statement.

However those barriers to entry are gone and not likely to return. I am confident that we can handle a full spectrum of quality in published books just fine.

It doesn’t seem like other amateur art is held to the same standard. Of course in this case it is sold which other examples aren’t, but I don’t think it is just that.

“Presuming to be a real writer” seems to be seen as worse than hobbyist music or drawing.

(And just in case, I have never written anything, not even in a language I speak properly.)


How to respond to a bad review

Throw a childish hissy-fit apparently.

Those middle-schoolers don’t have hundreds of photography books on the shelf next to Ansel Adams, do they? Amateur painters don’t have art books on the shelf next to the Renaissance masters, do they? Maybe I didn’t articulate what I meant. Having insufficiently unvetted, unprofessional work represented alongside professional work devalues the whole craft.

Please don’t put words in my mouth. Ordinary people have always been able to publish novels, they just had to be good to get published. Some of my favorite authors are “ordinary people”. They only had to be sure the work was good enough to justify the financial investment, so there was a much higher dedication and quality threshold.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention music. It’s the one area where this sort of works. Music requires about 5 minutes of investment to make a critical decision for most, and generally speaks for itself. And it’s got a built-in critical function, the community. If it’s good, it spreads organically. Cheap recording technology has nothing to do with your success finding an audience now, versus the difficulty you had in the 90’s. The internet and social networking makes that possible.

The rest of your post I pretty much agree with. I used to be able to slay a Fostex with an Alesis HR-16, $29 Casio, and a $99 effects rack.

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I always ran the speed trim at max to get the best quality! I think I still have it in a box in the shed…