An Independent Novelist vs. Her Very First Critic

Many indie authors are just happy to get reviewed; not Jacqueline Howett

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Players: Jacqueline Howett, a self-published, UK-born novelist living in the US; reviewer 'Big Al,' of the blog BigAl's Books and Pals.

Opening Serve: Big Al's reviewed Howett's book, "The Greek Seaman," and though he referred to the story as "compelling and interesting," he complained that frequent "spelling and grammar errors" make it "difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant." Howett, unhappy with the criticism, took to the comments and accused Al of reading the wrong version of her book. The self-published author then proceeded to paste three additional reviews from readers who had been kinder to her work. "Maybe it was just my style and being English is what you don't get," she wrote. "Sorry it wasn't your cup of tea, but I think I'll stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks."

Return Volley: Big Al defended his review, dismissing the idea that Howett's Englishness was what interfered with his understanding of the book. Howett shot back, declaring, "my writing is just fine!" and demanding, "now get this review off here!" But the commenters soon piled on, such as Anonymous, who weighed in early: " blame the reviewer for not going and getting a different copy, dismiss his review, then post three more reviews from various places? Uh, can we say petty?" This set off a back and forth between Howett and a number of commenters on Al's side that has surpassed 300 comments in just one day.

What They Say They're Fighting About: Howett's argument here is that Al ignored her request to download a reformatted version of her book, making the negative points of his review unfair and deserving of deletion. Al and his supporters retort that it was the abundance of typos and misused grammar that made Howett's book a struggle to get through, not its format. And, as Book Geek, one of several bloggers who stumbled upon the spat, points out, "Overall this really wasn't that bad of a review." Blogger Shelley McKibbon agrees that Al's review was generous, noting that, "Having found and read a free sample of the first few chapters, I would describe the writing as trite at best, and I was given no reason to think the plot was going to be handled well enough to save the day."

Lesson Learned: How to instantly lose credibility as a respectable, independent writer. Howett, a self-described "author, poet and artist," is responsible for the publication and subsequent promotion of her novel. As such, one might sympathize with her sensitivity to negative reviews. That said, replying to accusations of poor grammar with comments like "that don't make sense" and "fuck off!" doesn't show much tolerance for criticism. Science fiction author Neil Gaiman advised all of his Twitter followers today: "If you ever have dreams of being a writer, please trust me & DON'T DO THIS," linking to Howett's review. New Zealand's International Institute of Modern Letters tweeted Howett's display as an example of "the perils of self publishing (they include a 300 plus comments thread)." And Comic SMBFZ suggested that "It's situations like these that are probably why self-publishers are largely ignored and considered unprofessional."

Who's Winning Now: Big Al. A quick peek at the latest Amazon customer reviews of "The Greek Seaman" show that her rant has spilled over from Big Al's Book Pals blog. "You can be sure I'll never read another book by this author again," wrote Amazon customer Sarah Bookseller after reading through the comment war.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.