How I Handle Hate-mail & Criticism As A Writer


Criticism. As writers, sooner or later we’re likely to encounter it. How we deal with it – either internally or externally – depends greatly on our personality, and also I suppose, on what sort of place we’re in at any particular moment.

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

So someone posted a nasty remark on one of your social media book shares, or left a shitty 1 star review and a harshly-worded comment for you on Amazon. You stare at it, re-read it a second time just to try and absorb any sense or usefulness in the words as you fight a rising tide of red anger surging up from your chest area.

Why did they do that? Was the book really all that bad? Was there really something wrong with your writing? How could they be so mean – don’t they realize I pored my heart and soul into this? Is what they said in any way helpful or – no matter how remote – possibly true?

There is a huge difference between someone being helpful (or trying to be) to a writer. “Perhaps you should’ve made the story longer? It was great – just too short!” or “You misspelled ‘bureaucracy’ on page 11!” are examples of positive criticism. My mom always used to praise my writing talent, but frequently criticized my choice in genre – she didn’t enjoy sci-fi – she suggested I write in more contemporary, mundane settings… in genres like suspense, drama, action and adventure! I used to counter with “but I can do that in sci-fi too!”

That sort of criticism is helpful, positive and constructive in nature – and they can be discerned on the basis of their intentions to help the writer to grow or improve their writing, not to break them down for it, or even to cause them to stop writing altogether.

There are numerous and even perhaps unfathomable reasons for people to criticize a writer or their writing in writing – by leaving nasty remarks, bad reviews and even by sending them hate-mail – and on the unhelpful side, they include everything from simple jealousy to disagreement with the writer or their statements, and even disapproval of their subject and the way they address or present it often form part of the motivation for it.

In the following example, a reader downloaded a FREE eBook of mine – a short story called “Death By Vampire”. They left a poor review and a rant on Barnes & Noble.

“This book was only 19 pgs. Had potential. ***spoiler seemed to have a lot of unnecessary information. Also the description of the blood diamonds didn’t make any sense, they are named for their color but the color is green? Needs some editing.” 2 stars – Anonymous

I know this person didn’t actually READ the story, because inside it there was a whole paragraph that EXPLAINED how the aliens called the green stones ‘blood diamonds’ because they had GREEN blood – but it “needs some editing” because he didn’t understand it? All this guy did was expose his illiteracy!

As to length, it was a free short story, but he obviously missed that part too.  Yet that story now has a 2-star review and a snotty comment from someone who obviously has problems with comprehension – and a narcissistic mean streak.

What can I take home from this? Not much – just that some people are basically mean-spirited and will make me the scapegoat for their own failures… but then, being part of an oft-persecuted social grouping blamed for everything from stock-market crashes to natural disasters, that’s nothing new to me. Should I take it personally? I’d like to think not – after all, what real value does unfair criticism really have?

In a technical sense, is there anything I can change or improve on the item involved? Were the words or sentences not clear enough? Were they confusing? Was a thorough spelling and grammar check done during the editing process? I honestly can’t see how I can make the story – or the facts of the story – any clearer without resorting to formatting the eBook using neon lettering, or replacing them with pictures to cater for the illiterate ‘reader’.

Moving on, negative reviews left at book sellers can and do damage a writer’s reputation – and in the long-run, their income. Reviews and ratings affect sales and distribution after all, mainly because readers will be more inclined to look at a book that has a bunch of 4 and 5 star ratings rather than a book that has one or many 1 or 2 stars. Let’s look at an example:

A few years ago I witnessed a writer falling under attack from his former small press, their writers – and everyone else they could rally to their cause. Lies and slander were spread broadly, and I personally witnessed calls being made for their cohort of cronies to ostracize him from the writing community and to even leave negative 1-star reviews on all his books! Other tactics and dirty tricks were employed against this poor undeserving writer, but this one is pertinent to my example. Suffice to say, that writer suffered a breakdown, has disappeared from social media – and hasn’t publishing anything since 2016. In that case it’s safe to say the bullies and haters won.

Any hostile criticism of our work as writers tends to have the potential to cause a writer to doubt themselves. Often that can also be one of the reasons why people leave nasty remarks – the writer or their work has (for whatever reason) offended them – and their intention might be to hurt them out of some feeling of vengeance or satisfaction. Some people, like the unfortunate author in my example are less resilient in the face of such attacks – while others, like me – well, I just don’t care for what the nasties say – anyway, I have more than enough fan-mail and great reviews to compensate. As far as I’m concerned, it’s water off a ducks back – and I’m a very oily duck.

Naturally, there are some things that spring to mind for every writer when faced with stinging and even personal criticism: are they right about me? Are they right about my work? After all, your writing might be utter crap laced with spelling and grammatical errors – and the story might make no sense, have plot holes big enough to drive a bus through, and your characterizations might be almost non-existent – right?

Are these critics giving you advice on how to improve your work? Is there anything of value in their ‘feedback’ you can learn from and use to produce a better story?

If the answer is no, and you’ve reason to believe they’re just being vindictive – such as making personal attacks and indulging in name-calling without giving any serious or pertinent pointers on how to improve your work, then their criticism is actually weaponized hatred intended to break you down! Let’s be honest – when someone criticizes your hard work, your ‘baby’, your pride and joy – it hurts a bit! Part of the answer – not the sum total of it – is of course to grow a thick skin.

In my particular case, I write in the science fiction and horror genres – as well as in non-fiction from time to time. While a lot of my fiction writing contains the usual sci-fi or horror elements, some of it also focuses on LGBT issues and presents these in a sympathetic and favorable light – which naturally draws ire and derogatory remarks from the prejudiced and bigoted who seemingly can’t resist leaving snotty comments on social media ads or shares of my work.

It’s not that my work is badly written or poorly presented – it’s that they despise the people I use as heroes and heroines in my stories and dare to explain and promote them in the face of their ignorance and hatred. I defy the established anti-LGBT stereotypes – and I flaunt it. It’s also that, once they do a little background check, they realize that I’m also part of that same group they’ve been programmed to despise! Add to that, once they confront me and I not only stand up to them, but also trounce them in a debate, that really makes them foam at the mouth!

How dare I? How dare I stand in the open, unashamedly writing about people they hate in a good positive way? How dare I not feel any guilt? How dare I even exist?

In the below example, I held a free e-book giveaway contest in my Facebook author group in August 2016. I gave away a few books to contest winners. Soon after, the South African right wing ‘Christian’ (aka Levitican) community on Facebook went nuts about me promoting ‘demonic writings’, ‘homosexuality, sodomy and demon worship’! It was truly surreal!

The vast majority of the hate-mail I’ve gathered over the years – and remember the ones I’m showing you in this article are just since the advent of Facebook, from about 2016 or so – have been directed at me for sharing my books or writing or website!

Many of these people express negative ideas and emotions towards me because I’m transgender, a lesbian, an atheist – and because I’ve steadfastly refused to remain silent in the face of the overwhelming wave of hatred looming for numerous diverse minority groups in the world today. This provides one reason – albeit a big one – why most of my hostile critics and haters are what they are, or at least explains why they’re hostile toward me and to my writing.

My advice when receiving this sort of hate-mail or harsh personal criticism is “take it from whom it comes” – which means, consider who the person is that’s criticizing you or your work, and what their real reasons are for doing so – and give it a value or rating. Is their opinion worth your time? Are they trying to be helpful – or are they simply being hurtful? Should you even take what they say seriously? Should you care? Most of the time I laugh at the voluntary idiocy, poor grammar and spelling in the hate-mail sent my way, and casually toss it in the pile.

I have a use for haters and hate-mail you see, and they’re too obtuse to even realize it.

By far most of my critics and haters are religious extremist fanatics who engage in lunatic fringe politics and vent homophobic, transphobic and often racist language because they see me as more than just an enemy of their personal beliefs – but the personification thereof.

99% of the time, the people sending me hate-mail or criticizing me as a writer are attacking ME directly as an individual, not the worth or quality of my writing. I’ve also had the occasional odd-ball attack me using the fact that I’m self-published as though it means I’m somehow ‘illegitimate’ and not a ‘real author’, when all this does is reveal their ignorance about the publishing industry.

Here’s a clue, peeps – if self-publishing was in any way dishonest or dishonorable, I would have nothing to do with it. If was in any way, shape or form embarrassed or ashamed of self-publishing my work – or under the impression that it was in any way inferior to books by the big dogs, I wouldn’t be openly marketing myself or my writing as self-published!

It’s worth mentioning that within that same group of people who’ve sent me outright hate-mail, I’ve yet to encounter a single one who’s actually READ any of my books – they’re people who simply seized an opportunity to vent their hatred for me as a person because at that moment I represented the thing they hate.

In that light, this means that while my writing is good, even excellent, it is in their view ‘rubbish’ because what I write (or what I write about) contradicts their indoctrinated belief structure. To the folks who almost invariably misapply basic English words like “they’re/their/there” and “your/you’re”, I’m a ‘libral dirtbag’, a ‘libtard’, a ‘Christophobe’, a ‘commie queer’ and an ‘atheist fascist’ – and somehow inferior to them, not just because I’m part of the LGBT social group – but because I’m not afraid, acquiescent, silent or invisible.

I remind myself that these same characters tend to treat anyone more intelligent or in any way qualified, capable or talented than themselves – like scientists, doctors, artists – writers – and a variety of qualified professionals the exact same dismissive way – and I see them for what they are.

Over the last few decades of internet use, I’ve accumulated an archive of hateful remarks of all kinds, from people determined to convince me of the validity and value of their ignorance, to those who resort to childish mockery and blatant name-calling. (You can view it here if you like.)

I’ve always lived by the motto “if you piss off the right people, you’re doing something right”!

One fella wearing the crazy-pants ranted about how my children’s book on bullying, “Other Kids Are Kids Almost Just Like You” – aimed to teach children compassion for others – would ‘turn kids gay’ and that it was child abuse and I ought to be arrested!

So how do I handle hate-mail? Easy. I shrug it off, have a few good laughs – then save it, take screenshots of it – and use it as promotional material! In fact, I actually look forward to getting hate-mail these days!

After all, so many haters can’t be wrong, can they? 😉

I hope you’ve found this useful!

Take care and have a lovely day!


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email to christinaengela@gmail.com or use the Contact form.

Show your appreciation for Christina’s work!

All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2020.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. edochie99
    May 23, 2020 @ 09:04:12

    I personally value constructive criticism but yellow journalism is what I don’t have stomach for.It is unfortunate that when someone who didn’t even finish reading the book rated it low.Hopefully he or she didn’t discourage potential buyers from buying the book.I recently wrote a book on DEATH?.DATE and TIME by Philomena N Okeke. Love my book but who cares about what I think.I depend on others to review my book.

    Like

    Reply

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