Author behaving badly

Writers are just people. They just happen to be people other people may recognize if they saw their name. They’re people who open up their veins and pour out stories other people read and (hopefully) like. Granted when you put yourself out there publicly you might encounter problems your average Joe won’t ever encounter. But being a writer means you’re a public figure. As a public figure you should always be professional in a public forum.

So when Ken Jennings called my friend a name I was pretty angry. My friend had started reading Ken Jennings’ book and put it down after two paragraphs because Jennings called LEGO bricks Legos. He tweeted to Jennings. Jennings in a condescending tweet explained Americans call them Legos. My friend apologized, said he would keep reading and also said he was sorry if he touched a nerve. That is when Jennings, instead of being nice, resorted to name calling.

Some say my friend shouldn’t have tweeted to Jennings about something he felt was an error in the book. And I say why the heck not? When you’re a writer you open yourself up to critique and review. If someone had said the exact same thing on Amazon’s book page for the book would they have been called names? With companies striving to protect their trademarks I’m surprised his editor let it get through as Legos to begin with.

I stewed the rest of the weekend about whether I would write a blog post about this or not. In the end I decided to write the post because more and more authors are engaging with readers in a negative way. As an author I would NEVER call any of my readers names no matter what they said. Readers are entitled to their opinion. When you publish a book and put it out there you are opening yourself up to criticism and review. Yes, I know I already said that but it bears repeating. And if you don’t have a thick skin, can’t take the good with the bad, then you shouldn’t be doing it.

I know as writers our first instinct when someone says something bad about our book is to defend it or explain it. Maybe there was a good reason for you to do something the reader complained about. But as most writers know, you do not engage in that kind of dialogue with a reader. You thank them for their opinion and you move on. You don’t explain. You don’t condescend. You don’t start calling them names.

As writers we know we’re going to be reviewed. We know that if we get a bad review on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble or any site, we are not to engage. Just smile and move on. But what if your fan/reader tweeted at you on Twitter? Is it okay to explain and defend then? Or do you still just say thanks for the comments and move on? Is it ever okay to call a reader names?

Authors, is it ever okay to call a reader/fan names? Readers, if an author you liked called you names would you ever read their books again?

Until next time…


16 thoughts on “Author behaving badly

  1. Edie Ramer

    He really said that? Wow. Not a good idea. If I were your friend, I would stop reading his book immediately. I’m sure I’d tell people about it (as you did) and I’m guessing they would tell other people, etc. Usually, you want people to talk about you. But this kind of talk isn’t going to sell any books. I don’t know what he was thinking.

  2. Lynda Frazier

    I can’t believe he did that. As writers we struggle to put out a story that people will read, and like enough to tell ten friends. That’s how you build a fan club, ten friends at a time. He just lost a lot of friends/readers with just one sentence. I hope he feels it was worth it.

  3. Beverly Rowe

    Authors, being inately supersensitive 😉 …..are especially sensitive about their writing…..but c’mon, you can’t resort to juvenile name calling over something like a reader comment or question about your book. I wonder, does
    Mr. Jennings get all up-tight about reviews that are not totally positive? Need to work on getting your skin a little tougher, Ken.

    1. Cindy

      I would like to go see the reviews for his books to see if he’s commented on any of them.

  4. Calisa Selfridge

    As a new author it’s enough of a struggle to build that fan base. As an established author we’ve already earned that trust and respect that we will provide entertainment repeatedly, we will interact with those who pay for our books. That kind of interaction isn’t the way I’d go about it. I’m shocked every time I read or hear about such an act by an author. We owe those readers, not the other way around. As such it’s our job to make sure we know our craft and research proper brands if we plan to use them in our books because people out there DO know when we don’t research. No, we in America do not spell it Legos. Why cap at all if you don’t do it right? LEGOS.

  5. Ken Jennings

    The best thing about Twitter is that it actually puts tens or hundreds of thousands of people in personal contact with their favorite creators. The worst thing about Twitter is that it actually puts tens or hundreds of thousands of people in personal contact with their favorite creators.

    I just saw this blog post linked in my Twitter timeline, and thought I’d take five minutes to correct a few points, since Cindy stacked the deck here by selectively paraphrasing her friend’s side of the conversation and quoting mine. Since commenters have asked: I get sent factual corrections all the time, both right and wrong, and I respond promptly and politely to both–and gratefully, if it’s an actual mistake that no one else has caught yet. I’ve never written a rebuttal to a bad review. (Though I guess this blog comment is a sort-of violation of that policy!)

    But Cindy’s friend’s tweet wasn’t a correction or a review; it was (either cluelessly or deliberately) a snide put-down. Twitter newbies may not be aware of this, but to use someone’s handle in a tweet makes it a kind of personal message: it will show up immediately in your mentionee’s timeline. So Graham’s tweet was the on-line equivalent of seeking me out at a party just to say, with no greeting or lead-in whatsoever, “I couldn’t read more than two paragraphs of your book before putting it down! What a dumb mistake you made on page 2!” When I replied that “Legos” was exactly what I meant to say and, incidentally, that his Twitter etiquette needed work, he replied with a passive-aggressive non-apology of the “Sorry you were offended” school. “Boy, looks like I hit a nerve!” or something like that.

    If this happened to you at a party, sometimes you’d have the presence of mind to roll your eyes and walk away. (On Twitter, “blocking” the troll.) But every so often, in that situation, you’ll get fed up enough to tell the stranger they’re being insufferable. I’m not really interested in framing this as a writer-reader relationship; to me, it’s just a matter of common courtesy between two people. Act like a dick in your lone interaction with a total stranger and–spoiler warning!–he may conclude that you are, indeed, a dick.

    PS to Calisa Selfridge: nope, the Chicago Manual of Style (like other major style guides) prefers initial caps for trademarks, even in cases where the rights holders themselves use all-caps in-house. Glad I could help.

    1. Cindy

      What he said was he put it down after two paragraphs because his Grammar Nazi couldn’t get past Legos. After you explained about how Americans use the word he tweeted back that he would restart your book.

      I completely agree that the touching a nerve comment was a non-apology.

      If someone had said that to you at a party would you have called them names? Or would you have walked away?

      Graham bought your book because he loves maps and he “thought” you were cool. He no longer thinks that. I know neither of us would read any of your books now.

      And I find it amusing that you’re still calling him names. Whether you thought it was a writer-reader relationship or not doesn’t matter. That’s what Graham thought it was. And you NEVER call a reader names or insult them.

      I’m sure if LEGO executives read your book they would have a problem with you calling them Legos. They are Lego (LEGO) bricks or pieces. They aren’t Legos.

      As for the name you keep calling him, look in the mirror.

      1. Donna

        If someone had said that to you at a party would you have called them names? Or would you have walked away?

        Honestly? I think if this had happened a party, the rest of the room would be busy thinking what a jerk the guy was for saying that to someone’s face in the first place. Which is pretty much 99% of the problem with the internet.

        But it also doesn’t mean the answer is to call someone a dick. You just have to deal.

  6. Victoria Lamb

    This is an interesting post and highlights a difficult issue which never used to exist before online social networking came along. I’m a writer and I love it when people write fab reviews or say how much they liked my book. I click Like on Facebook and Goodreads, and tweet back on Twitter. But there’s no way I’m going to click Like on a one-line review which says something like ‘Hated this, didn’t finish it.’ So then the problem is, you see the author Liking all these great reviews on Goodreads and silently not Liking the one star variety. It feels uncomfortable and awkward. There are two options for the author here: applaud ALL reviews, even those which state they hated your book (ouch), or applaud none at all and withdraw from all contact with readers and fans. I can’t do either of those, I’m afraid, which means this issue will keep coming up time and again.

    The simple truth for authors is, some people will be truly horrible about your book online – perhaps even make some unfair and incorrect public statement based on a misunderstanding or basic hostility towards your book’s subject or even yourself as a writer – and you have to suck it up. But you don’t have to respond. It’s the hardest thing in the world when you’re frequently online, but sometimes it’s best to walk away from a negative review or comment without engaging.

    Thanks for this post!

  7. Synithia

    Hmmm. I can understand Ken’s frustration, but personally I wouldn’t have gone that far. Explaining the reason and moving on was enough.. Following up negative comments only makes the author look sensitive.

  8. Terri McMillan

    Amazing, the debated that started with building blocks. Regardless of whether or not Americans incorrectly call them Legos, name calling is childish and really tells the caliber of person you are dealing with. I spend my days speaking with Americans and Canadians that feel they have a case. Most often because our communication is via phone or email, they are very willing to stoop to name calling among other things. Things they would never do in a face to face communication. Surely, Graham would have introduced himself and the discussion would have taken a different path. Just as Ken would have behaved differently and would be able to see in Graham’s face that there was no ill will in his comment. Ken is the ultimate loser in this, as his is the name that will be remembered for misbehaving, and he has already lost readers.

  9. Terry Ross

    I remember my youth vividly. I recall visiting my favorite cousin, and after hours of running around outside, jumping off of large concrete walls using our jean jackets or even plastic grocery bags as parachutes we would be done with the outside physical world. Then we would go inside and inevitably play board games and eat peanut butter and pancake syrup sandwiches until our brains stopped producing useful brain signals, and instinct was the only thing keeping us alive. It was at this magical point that one of us would inevitably say “LETS PLAY LEGOS”. Ken Jennings, one of the smartest celebrity trivia players of our generations, did not use the term Legos with this same brain failing condition that I did. Nostalgia makes me want to defend Ken, even though Cindy’s points are all valid. Except the one which says that Ken is the super-sensitive author, when she is the one complaining about Ken making fun of ‘my friend’. It seems to me that Ken (according to your paraphrasing) has actually just stated that he ‘seems’ like a dick. Seeing as how Ken was actually offended at this point I think this was a much more restrained statement that should be expected.
    PS, Ken Jennings (if you read this): “initial caps for trademarks ” in programming is referred to Camel Casing or Pascal Casing. (now this is ironic… Ken states that using his name in Twitter and making a helpful observation constitutes a personal attack, but in a forum its just information. Additionally ironic, is I just provided Ken Jennings with trivial information). 😈 I need a PB&Syrup sandwich?!

  10. George Sandford

    Cindy, when being so critical, you might want to proof read your own posts.

    “Yes, I know already said that but it bears repeating.”

    I believe you meant:

    “Yes, I know I already said that but it bears repeating.”


    “And you NEVER call a reader a names or insult them”

    I’m not sure what you meant by this, perhaps: “And you NEVER call a reader ANY names or insult them” ?

    I’m curious, what exactly have you had published? I can’t find you on amazon and when I google you, only random meaningless tweets and blogs come up under your name.

    What exactly did you get out of attempting to make Jennings look stupid? Did it make you feel a little better about yourself?

    1. Cindy

      Hi George.

      Good catches! Fixed them.

      Actually I’m not published yet. But whether I have a book coming out tomorrow, next week, next year or never doesn’t make my belief any less right. In my opinion authors should never insult their readers or call them names.

      I wasn’t attempting to make anyone look stupid. I merely blogged about how wrong it is for authors to insult their readers.

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