Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Kathleen Hale: A Writer's Response to a Bad Review

A few days ago an article on the Guardian by a novelist named Kathleen Hale came out detailing an experience she had with and anonymous reviewer who left a one star review of her book on Goodreads. Once her book was out for the world (well, bloggers) to see, Hale decided to pay a visit to Goodreads to see what people thought. Although fellow authors had told her to avoid reading the reviews, the temptation was too great and it wasn’t long before things got heated.  

After an interaction on twitter where she was asking for book ideas, a blogger, who went by the name of Blythe Harris, tweeted Hale that she had a few ideas for her next book. This lead to Hale visiting the blogger’s one star review that she’d posted on Goodreads. In the review she gave her thoughts on the novel:

"F*** this," it said. "I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent."


Blythe went on to warn other readers that my characters were rape apologists and slut-shamers. She accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD. "I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I've read this year," she said, "maybe my life."

According to Hale, her book didn’t actually include the theme of rape and she felt the review was unfair. Some other commenters had apparently agreed with the blogger, and decided to lower their reviews. 

Just to note - Goodreads authors are given warnings on any bad reviews given on their books to discourage them from commenting on said reviews. If they want to comment they have to ignore this warning. This may be a response to the train of authors on sites such as STGRB who blacklist certain book bloggers for their notorious negative reviews.

So far it sounds like Blythe has been overly harsh. It’s important to give an honest review so that potential readers can make an informed decision on whether they want to buy the book. It seems to me that this blogger went beyond that. According to Hale she has a history of attacking people online who don’t agree with her opinions on books. That aside, we know that essentially when you put a book out there, it’s no longer your place to decide whether it’s good or not. There are going to be people who won’t like your book and you need to accept that. But Hale was far from finished here.

She engaged in what she refers so as ‘light stalking’ and kept an eye on Blythe’s social media accounts. You know, just to keep up to date.

This is where things get strange. Months later, when things had calmed down, Hale’s book was released and she was asked to do an interview for a book club. She got to pick a blogger to host it. Who better than Blythe Harris? This particular interview had a giveaway and so the book club forwarded her Blythe’s address. From here, Hale checked it out on Google maps and did an internet background check to find that Blythe Harris was in fact Judy Donofrio, a 46 year old woman rather than a 27 year old mother of two.

It looked as if I had been taken in by someone using a fake identity. I Gchatted Patricia (fellow author): “I think we’ve been catfished?

By definition, no. Blythe wasn't a character used to lure Hale into a relationship so no, she isn't a catfish. But Judy/Blythe is most certainly being stalked.

She rented a car to track Blythe down but before doing the deed, she needed some expert advice and consulted Catfish star Nev Schulman, who explained how the blogger may respond. It was time to hit the road. When she turned up at her house, Hale’s nerves got the best of her and she walked away leaving a book on her doorstep. This visit was later followed by Hale calling Judy at work where she denied the claims but did make herself look guilty.

To me it sounds as if Kathleen Hale is living in the fantasy of one of her own novels. You can't just turn up at a strangers house unannounced. That's creepy. So she wasn’t happy with a review? That’s fair enough. But this ‘light stalking’ went way too far and can’t be justified. I understand some bloggers need for anonymity online because some authors can get feisty when you criticize their book and this is a perfect example of why the right to stay mostly anonymous is so important. It seems that Blythe/Judy’s online persona gave her the ability to feel powerful over others without having to be accountable for her actions. She felt she could make or break a book with her review and had a large enough following that she could influence them to feel the same way.

Bad reviews are a part of the job. We've only seen one side of the story and the way Hale tells it, it seems like she feels she's the victim in this but she has most definitely crossed the line, essentially bullying another person. She should have left the review as it was and moved on. What she has done has done more harm to her and her book than a one star review could ever have done and now that she has publicly admitted to these events I can’t see how she’s going to recover any time soon. What disturbs me most that, she and many others don't seem to see a problem with what she did. They play it off as something that isn't a serious as it really is. I'm even more surprised that she was allowed to use the Guardian as a platform to share her story.

One thing to be learned from this is that this is a prime example of how not to respond to a negative review. On the bright side, if Hale is still looking, I think she’s got a great idea for her next novel.

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