You’ve slaved over your work for months, overdosing on caffeine and questioning plot choices in the dead of the night. You’ve deleted drafts, submitted manuscripts, triumphed over letters of rejection and now, finally, your work is ready to be released into the world. You proudly tell your friends and family about your achievement. You imagine yourself onstage in Stockholm receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, thanking everyone who supported you on this improbable journey, and making subtle but dignified digs at those who doubted your obvious talent and dedication. You pour yourself a stiff drink. And then you log on to Amazon…
Writers have always faced difficulty in getting their work out to the wider public. Traditionally, newspapers and journals provided valuable publicity, with positive reviews by professional critics giving a boost to sales. Even bad reviews could be beneficial: many an acclaimed author has received a critical mauling in the press, and seen their careers survive or even thrive as a result. Getting your work in to the review pages and on to the bestseller lists is far from easy however, and new writers often rely on word of mouth to build momentum.
Oscar Wilde quipped that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about, but that was before the invention of the Internet. Now more than ever, writers need to have thick skins. Modern technology provides limitless resources, not least access to multiple publishing platforms and the ability to communicate with fellow writers across the globe. But the democratisation of communication also means that everyone has an opinion, and anyone is now a potential critic.
Nowhere is this more evident – or entertaining – than in the alternative universe of one star reviews on Amazon. Search for any book, no matter how acclaimed, and there is sure to be a small but indignant group of detractors advising you that it is THE WORST BOOK OF ALL TIME. Many online reviews are composed almost entirely of hyperbole and typos, or written by people who clearly have not read the book they are trashing. Then there are those keyboard critics who seem to be genuinely disappointed or strangely aggrieved, and feel the need to vent their frustration online.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
“I hated this book! It is like a Victorian Keeping up with the Kardashians.”
The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
“The sheer boredom! This is what people at the time thought was exciting and spellbinding. Since Star Wars, this book is most definitely dated.”
Ulysses, by James Joyce
“Yes, ‘Ulysses’, we are told, is a work of genius; yes, it is multi-faceted and pregnant with meaning; true, it may even be a compendium of all Western Culture since Homer. But, let’s be honest: It’s as fun as reading a telephone directory!”
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
“My condolences to those of you who consider this book your life’s inspiration.”
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
“Every time I have to help a high-school student or college freshman slog through Madame Bovary, I find myself wondering why the assignment isn’t a violation of the Geneva Convention.”
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
“essentially the plot to ‘Jaws’”
The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
“I’ve read most of Faaulkners books and enjoyed them. Not this one. Eitther he had too much gin or I did not have enpugh.”
Some reviewers use satire to make a point, deftly skewering authors, readers, or society itself:
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
“What a terrible read. I couldn’t stand it for long, so I started skimming through the thing. Turns out the vampire in this book is an old guy, and he lives in a castle! What?! Any vampire fan knows that vampires roam the streets of upper middle class suburbia and high schools. Whoever this Bram Stoker guy is, it’s quite clear that he doesn’t know a thing on vampires, and his attempt to cash in on the vampire craze is indeed a failure.”
The Purple Revolution, The Year That Changed Everything, by Nigel Farage
“A story of lost love, betrayal, heartbreak and reconciliation set against the backdrop of one man’s epic crusade against car washes opened by eastern Europeans.”
“Once I put it down I just couldn’t pick it up again.”
Straightforward insults and satire aside, some reviews are downright bizarre, with Lord of the Flies in particular inspiring a lot of creative vitriol:
“If this book was a horse, I would shoot it!”
“In fact, if I had a time machine, I would first go and tame a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then, while riding my T-Rex, I would go and punch Mr. Golding in the face.
He deserves it.”
After a few hours spent wading through one star reviews, it becomes apparent that very few books or writers are immune to criticism. Anne Rice, the international bestselling author of Interview with the Vampire, launched a campaign last year against anonymous Amazon reviews, arguing that they damage reputations and threaten the livelihood of writers. Despite Rice’s efforts however, one star reviews persist. Fortunately, Rice still has many fans; Lord of the Flies continues to sell millions of copies and Fifty Shades of Grey which has over 2,000 hostile Amazon reviews, is still a bestseller.
So what should you do if your book is exposed to the critical eyes of the masses? Keep your chin up, and be thankful that T-Rexes no longer roam the planet. If the thought of subjecting your work to this type of scrutiny still fills you with anxiety, just pick up a copy of The Great Gatsby: apparently it’s “an excellent substitute for valium”.
(c) Selina Eagney
Selina Eagney is an emerging writer based in Galway who loves dogs, travelling, and binge watching TV shows. She is a previous winner of Eason’s Tiny Tall Tales competition, and has a Masters in American Literature from UCD, where her thesis explored depictions of ethics and morality in Donna Tartt’s novels. To date, she has neither written nor received any one star reviews on Amazon.