How NOT to use Twitter

>> Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Social networking lesson #1: do not say anything on Twitter or Facebook you don't want repeated in The New York Times.

From said publication:

The novelist Alice Hoffman caused a stir over the weekend when she used Twitter to strike back at a mixed review of her latest novel, “The Story Sisters.”

Reviewing the book for The Boston Globe on Sunday, Roberta Silman wrote: “This new novel lacks the spark of the earlier work. Its vision, characters, and even the prose seem tired.” In a series of Twitter posts, Ms. Hoffman fired back with her own opinion. “Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron,” she wrote. “How do some people get to review books? And give the plot away.” Ms. Hoffman also lambasted The Globe and went so far as to post Ms. Silman’s phone number and email, inviting fans to “Tell her what u think of snarky critics.”

By Monday, Hoffman had deleted her Twitter account and issued a classic "non-apology" through her publicist:

I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course I was dismayed by Roberta Silman's review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn't. I'm sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that's the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn't mean to hurt anyone and I'm truly sorry if I did.

Alice Hoffman

I think it's a bad policy for authors to respond to critics at all. I've defended things criticized in print here on the blog and in interviews (which is pushing it), but I've never responded directly to a reviewer or publication here or anywhere else. I just think there's no profit in it. Even if you're somewhat justified (as Carolyn Kellogg argues of Hoffman in The LA Times) you always come off as defensive and petulant. I'm reminded of the genius author who decided to post a snippy rebuttal to a kid who had given his book a bad review on her mom's blog. (I'll link when I can remember who it was or where I read that.) Greg found it. Here's the link.

What do you think? Should writers be able to respond to criticism of their work? Should they remain silent? If they do respond, what's the best arena for it?


scott neumyer June 30, 2009 at 1:37 PM  

I think she was fine in criticizing the review/reviewer, but she crossed the line when she publicly posted the reviewer's email addy and phone number. That's just insanity.

The best part though is that she ran away with her tail between her legs... Deleted her account... Like a big baby.

tanita davis June 30, 2009 at 1:38 PM  

I'm admittedly a dork, but I try not to read reviews at all. My editor sends me the ones she thinks I need to read, but I don't seek them out. I'm still too new at this to be blasé and even praise makes me nervous.

To my mind, Hoffman comes off as ego on crack. Surely Silman still has the right to be critical -- for which she is paid -- without being called a moron? And the phone number/email thing -- yikes. Ego. On. Crack. If she wanted to complain, she does have a blog, and she could have fired off her irritation there. I would be circumspect on my blog -- but that's me. A blog is allegedly your arena to speak your mind on your time with your rules. But not Twitter -- it's just too much like texting people, and you can't revise/edit/delete.

Sara Z. July 1, 2009 at 1:40 PM  

I think it's always a losing proposition for a writer to respond to critics, even if a review is totally unfair. I mean, if one wants, on one's blog, to say, "Some critics have said xyz, and I'd like to address this particular issue here blah blah blah," that's one thing. But I don't see how any good can come of responding to specific reviews or reviewers. Bottom line: why would you want to DRAW ATTENTION to criticism?

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