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Friday, April 25, 2014

A Few Words On Reviews and Online Bullying

I know what you're thinking. Oh, no. Not another one

No. Not another one. This post is probably coming at an odd time since the waters have been calm the last two weeks or so, but I've learned over the years that it's not always a good idea to pull the trigger and shoot my mouth off right away. Sometimes, it's better if I sit back, brood, and wait to see if I really want to venture into a hornets' nest. 

And this particular topic has been ruminating in my head for about two years. So...yeah. I guess I have something to say. (I know. You're saying to yourself, "Get on with it! What's your point?") Pull up a chair. This is gonna be a long post.

I was a victim of bullying for a majority of my childhood. A few of my older siblings loved to use me as their whipping girl. When I was a toddler, my older brother would tie my hands behind my back and chase me until I fell, knowing I couldn't put my hands out to prevent my face hitting the floor. (This was a story told to amuse the masses for decades. How entertaining, yes?) I was punched until I bruised, teased relentlessly, and belittled for the slightest flaw. When I complained to my mother, she told me if I didn't cry or react, they wouldn't be so entertained and they'd stop. The bullies won, and the torment didn't cease.

My one solace came in elementary school where I excelled. My teachers were so kind and praised me for my high grades and insatiable thirst for knowledge. (At home, a report card with straight A+ grades was met with the comment, "Why should you be rewarded? It's what's expected of you.") Is it any wonder I stayed after school every day? 

But then, I went from elementary school to junior high. And the bullying intensified. Not from my older siblings, who'd pretty much moved out at this stage, but my fellow students. I was smart, but didn't have to study. I liked to read and write. I didn't have the right clothes. I was shy and awkward. And I didn't fight back, which made me a delightful target. There were nasty songs sung about me every time I stepped on the bus, books knocked out of my arms in the halls, signs taped on my back, gum put in my hair. I sat alone in the lunchroom, never had a "buddy" in gym, and pretty much meandered in and out of classrooms, silent and haunted. 

In bed every night, I would pray that I didn't wake up in the morning. No joke. I literally would lie there, staring at the ceiling, begging God to kill me overnight. And every morning, I'd wake up and repeat the cycle again. This went on, to a lessening degree, until I graduated high school. Once out in the real world, I managed to find my way out of the bullying cycle. 

And yet, when I started writing, I still had to deal with bullying from my siblings. They harassed me through my website with the most offensive comments, threatened "a big surprise" at one of my first booksignings, and then sabotaged the event. It's truly sad that I had to contact my local authorities before the online bullying and harassment finally stopped, but I wasn't a child anymore and I knew how to stand up for myself. Know what else they did? Handed me my first one-star review and even mentioned my private life in their trashing. But guess what? As obnoxious as that last incident was, it didn't constitute bullying. The review is still there. I didn't beg Amazon to take it down. It's a badge of courage for me these days. They tried to beat me, but in the end, I beat them.

You can't live through decades of that kind of behavior and not recognize the signs of bullying when you see them.

So, when I hear accusations of bullying in the author world, my first reaction is empathy. And in many cases, that empathy is well-deserved. But...not always. There are too many authors who classify any bad review or online disagreement as "bullying."  

Let's clarify a few things, okay?
1. If someone threatens you with harm, that's bullying.

2. If someone threatens your livelihood or your family, that's bullying.

3. If someone continually belittles you or spreads stories about you as a means of causing you distress and/or harm, that's bullying.

4. If someone physically assaults you because they're bigger, stronger, more popular, or know they can get away with it, that's bullying.

But...

1. If someone says, "Your books suck, you should give up writing," that's an opinion, not bullying. Even when that someone posts the comments on a review site, it's still not bullying. Does it hurt? Sure. But you haven't been threatened or harmed in any way.

2. If someone puts your book on a list on a review site as "Authors Who Shouldn't Quit Their Day Job" or "Blah" or "I'd Rather Watch Paint Dry," that's not bullying

3. If you find yourself in a heated debate and your opponent strongly argues his/her side of the argument--even if they resort to name-calling--that's childish. But it's not bullying.
  
4. One-star reviews are not bullying. Criticism about your book, even when it's not constructive, is not bullying. 

5. If you do something dishonest and someone calls you on it, that's not bullying. 

And if you cry "bully" like the little boy who cried "wolf," threatening to quit writing because the bullies have stolen your mojo, perhaps you should reconsider whether you have the chops to be a writer. 

As I said earlier in this post, I do empathize with writers who are truly the victim of online bullies. And I know they exist. But, if that's the case, instead of signing a petition or (worse!) engaging the bullies, do what I did. Involve the authorities. Don't quit writing if it gives you joy. That's letting the bullies beat you. Beat them instead. 

In the words of Henry Miller, "Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy; I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the general reader or the critic makes of them is not my concern."


For tips on writing and fun articles, visit Gina's Articles For Writers page: http://www.ginaardito.com/ArticlesforWriters.html
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