Novelist fails to handle lukewarm review gracefully, to say the least

Brett Michael Dykes
National Affairs Reporter
The Cutline

British novelist Jacqueline Howett has become the latest author to publicly shame herself on the Internet over a bad review. We've seen it before in people who write books for a living, a notoriously sensitive lot: Alice Hoffman famously let loose a tirade on Twitter after receiving a less than glowing writeup in the Boston Globe in 2009--going so far as to publish the reviewer's phone number and calling on her fans to flame the critic.

It's been theorized that book authors--traditionally subject to criticism in print only as frequently as their books are published -- don't develop the thick skin of writers in other media, where criticism is more frequent and accessible. But now, the Internet exposes even infrequent novelists to the analysis of anyone with an opinion, a computer and an online connection. Authors can, in turn, react to these opinions, for all the world to see.

And that's just what Howett did, with great venom and vigor, offended that the reviewer of her latest title, "The Greek Seaman," on the "Big Al's Books and Pals" blog took issue with some aspects of the novel, particularly numerous spelling and grammar errors. Though overall, it's worth noting, "Big Al" deemed the book "interesting and compelling."

"My Amazon readers/reviewers give it 5 stars and 4 stars and they say they really enjoyed The Greek Seaman and thought it was well written," Howett wrote before pasting in a selection of favorable Amazon reader reviews in the comments. "Maybe its[sic] just my style and being English is what you don't get."

Additionally, Howett blasted Big Al for downloading the wrong version of the book, one that wasn't fully edited, disregarding the fact that the quality of the manuscript read by a reviewer is something typically charged to the publisher, the author, or a PR person--not the reviewer him or herself.

"My writing is just fine," Howett whined. "You did not download the fresh copy. ... you did not. No way!"

In somewhat hilarious fashion, the site's readers rushed to Big Al's defense, calling out Howett's response as childish.

"Authors do NOT dictate to reviewers which copy to review," wrote one anonymous commenter. "And then when it is all said and done, you do NOT attack the reviewer. It reeks of a lack of professionalism."

Another commenter scolded, "Your behaviour is atrocious. You act like a child when your macaroni painting isn't worthy to sit in the Louvre."

To which Howett replied, "You are a big rat and a snake with poisenous [sic] venom."

Perhaps only validating Big Al's original charges of spelling errors--a far lesser criticism of Howett than the ones her defensive-author rant brought on.

(Cover of "The Greek Seamen" via Amazon.com)