E.L. James and the difference between bad reviews and bad people

Originally published July 2015

E.L. James had a bad day.


As part of promotion for her latest effort, “Grey,” James reportedly took part today in a Twitter Q&A, #AskELJames. I can’t speak to the specifics because I didn’t take part—but I read several stories about how the event quickly went downhill as people Tweeted their disdain and snark in amongst some honest-to-goodness questions about her portrayal of BDSM in her “Fifty Shades” series.

The Twitter bashing continued as more people complained about being banned by James for their commentary. I’m of two minds about this. It doesn’t say much for an author’s constitution when snark and bad reviews are fodder for banning commenters. That said, authors (or anyone, really) aren’t required to put up with someone’s crap.

And to be honest, authors catch a lot of it. From Goodreads to Amazon, there is a special variety of nastiness bred from online trolls that seek to do nothing but trash someone’s work.

I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t offer honest assessments of the arts—I’ve said more than once that E.L. James’ work is, in my opinion, not my favorite. And the concept of romanticizing bad BDSM is worthy of debate. Unfortunately, it seems that debate devolves into outright attack, and whether you like her work or not, it’s still her work—her effort, her toil and trouble. There’s something to be said about the concept of respectful back-and-forth.

Trolls like these remind me of that Episode of “Seinfeld,” when Toby heckles Jerry:


I have a friend that has written several well-liked “chick-lit” books—she’s good at it, has an established following and works hard to create interesting stories. Are they for everyone? No. But there’s a difference between an honest negative review, like this:

“I couldn’t decide if the book was supposed to a romance novel, an adventure novel, a personal memoir, or what. The dialogue was pedantic and the story took forever to get going. If this is supposed to be a “romance” novel, then maybe it’s a good one, but I don’t like that genre so take that into consideration.”

And just being an ass, like this:

“Oh my goodness! Someone shoot me please!!! I actually bought a disgusting, soppy, mills & Boone disguised as a thriller! Ughhhh! Biggest waste of $5 I ever spent. I got the sample and there was no indication of the absolute drivel this book would become by chapter 8. I made it to chapter 11 before I had to stop or find a spew bucket!”

Reallllly? Shoot you? The biggest waste of $5 you ever spent? Doubt it. And as an aside, this reviewer also trashed Dean Koontz and Liane Moriarty, so my friend is in good company.

The point, however small, is this. What does it say about you when your opinion or review becomes less about what you think about the work and more about the person behind it? The zinger? The burn?

I’m occasionally asked what I do when I read something that’s just plain bad. Simple—In most cases, I just don’t review it. Life’s too short to waste words on something I wouldn’t recommend to a friend, so I don’t. And until I write a book someday, I certainly am not going to knock someone else’s effort.

And as for E.L.? I’m sure she’s sleeping just fine tonight.

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