Norse mythology tells us that trolls, both large and small, dwell in isolated mountains, rock, and caves. Such creatures live together, generally in mother-son, father-daughter relationships, and are rarely helpful or friendly. Over the past few years the word ‘troll’ has become familiar in our society, particularly to those of us who use the internet. Why is this so? Have the trolls clambered out of their holes in the mountains and come to live amongst us? It seems these may not be the trolls of Norse legend, but as we writers know, they can be equally nasty, often more so.
As an author, you may have had some experience of ‘trolling’. Doling out 1* reviews, for example, is one way in which a troll can indicate that he or she is out to get you. But how can you tell the difference between a genuine review, albeit vitriolic, and one that can be attributed to a troll? After all, when we publish a book we put it out there for general criticism … and let’s face it, not everyone is going to like our work, regardless of how good it may be. According to Wikipedia “trolling is a violation of the implicit rules of internet social spaces and is often done to inflame or invite conflict. It necessarily involves a value judgment made by one user about the value of another's contribution.” Wikipedia explains that reviewers are only trolling if motivated by malice, rather than simply ignorance or bias. A troll’s primary concern is not that of a constructive book reviewer who will usually comment on the overall quality of writing. The troll will review your book in such a way as to simply elicit an angry response. That’s how they get their kicks.
How then do you distinguish between genuine ‘poor’ reviews, and trolling? How can you be certain that straight-up malice is not the motivation? Often, you can’t, so bear this in mind when tempted to label a reviewer as a troll. Recently, I received a 1* review for a novel I self-published some time ago. It was the first time that this happened to me and I was shocked, not just by the 1*, but by the vitriolic way in which the review had been written. I no longer saw all the other great reviews I’d received for this same novel … all I could see was this vile review despoiling the top of my page. When I first read it, my immediate reaction was to respond with all guns blazing. In the end, thanks to advice from writer friends, I did not. However, one of my readers did, and the ‘reviewer’ came straight back with yet another nasty response. That can be the mark of a troll. Nonetheless, this ‘reviewer’ has a bone fide page on Amazon. Here I discovered I was not alone … other authors, both self-published and well-known traditionally published writers, had been treated to the same vitriol. Does that make this person a ‘troll’? I don’t honestly know.
If you’ve written, or tried to write a novel, you’ll be familiar with the hard work that goes into it. Often, years of research lie behind those pages. Good reviewers will be mindful of this when they come to review a book, regardless of whether or not they liked it, or discovered flaws. We can be constructive in our criticism, pointing out defects without resorting to vitriol. After all, what has the writer done to you?
The biggest question for authors then is how to respond to 1* reviews, particularly when written in a spiteful manner. The author, Dougie Brimson, writing for Goodreads, provides sound advice: “when someone posts something negative, be it about the story, the writing or even the grammar, whilst the natural instinct is to respond, it is imperative that you avoid the temptation and instead, bite the bullet and take it on the chin.” I saw what could happen when a reader responded to my 1* review. This simply invited more of the same. As Brimson continues, should you respond you may well “open yourself up to a world of pain” and “attacks can be very personal indeed.”
As soon as you put your work in the public domain, bad reviews are to be expected alongside good ones. You’ve put it out there after all, so you’ve got to be prepared for this. According to Wikipedia, Rule 14 of the internet states: ‘Do not argue with trolls … it means they win.’ So … Never respond. Let go and move on.
For more on trolling and 1* reviews see my blog on the She Voices website. Forthcoming, March … @ https://shevoices.net/voices/