Sit down and prepare for a story, everyone. It’s a somewhat lengthy story of Twitter, an author and his wife behaving inappropriately, one of the saddest emails I’ve ever read, an iceberg ready to sink a book’s ship when it’s only just set sail, and more links to tweets and images than you can shake a stick at. They’re all necessary evils so I can tell the story in its entirety.
In late April, I read Firecracker by David Iserson, It sounded like it would be a really fun book when I received an email about it and I ran to NetGalley in a hurry to request it. I didn’t have any fun reading it. This is the same review you’ll find on Amazon and Goodreads, plus or minus some formatting and maybe some cursing. Amazon is strict about that, so I’ve either got to write curse-free reviews or edit them out.
While venting on Twitter as reviewers on Twitter sometimes do, I was surprised to see David Iserson himself tweet me. That surprise turned to discomfort in about a second and a half because of what he said. Unless a book is written by a company, a computer, a cat, or something other than a human, I’m aware it’s human beings that write books. He didn’t need to take it as an insult because authors are not their books. An insult on the latter isn’t automatically an insult on the former. I didn’t have the patience to explain this to him, so this is how I responded. He deleted his tweet shortly thereafter.
Also shortly thereafter, a woman named Allis Markham followed me on Twitter. Having no idea who she was and a little suspicious, I did a Google search on her name. Oh, she’s Iserson’s wife. Feeling even more uncomfortable, I blocked them both on Twitter and that was the end of it. Shortly thereafter, I gave up on Firecracker. Whether or not he’d tweeted me, I would have given up on the novel at the same point and given it an almost identical review. This needs to be made clear.
Until May 16, Firecracker‘s release date.
As a good publisher does, the Penguin Teen Twitter account pimped out his book a lot that day. Being the ridiculous woman I am and too lazy to unfollow them for a bit, I made a few tweets in jest, like this one and this one (yes, the second is gibberish. I meant it when I said I’m ridiculous). With all that marketing from Penguin Teen going on, I remembered to post my review for the book on Amazon on its release date the way I often forget to for other books.
According to timestamps, my review of Firecracker went live on Amazon at 1:53 PM after approval. At 3:55 PM, I received this email and knew from the moment a notification popped up on my screen that this was going nowhere good because I recognized the sender’s name: Allis Markham.
You listed your email address on Birth of a New Witch (mentioned at the top if your review) so I hope you don’t mind me writing to you.
My husband is the author, David Iserson. Obviously I’m very proud that he wrote his first book, a passion project of his and today we’re celebrating it’s release.
As there aren’t many reviews in Amazon, yours was hard to miss. Especially since we were already taken a bit aback by your strong reaction throughout social media already. Yes, people do take the time to search reviews, tweets, blog mentions, etc about themselves. Im sure that’s part of why you take the time to write them.
And, as you probably remember, he tweeted back to you. Honestly, it was the hostility in your tweets plus sheer number of your tweets caused him try to let you know there’s a person behind those pages. I’m sorry you took his reaching out as an affront, but again, these are public forums and he maybe thought that was typical to do.
So, you might see how your review on amazon today feels a bit spiteful. Especially because you did not finish the book. I just wanted you to know maybe a little something from the authors’ side of things. I don’t expect you to take things down or apologize or anything like that. (In fact, you might be offended that I wrote to you and then tweet/blog/etc about me writing to you and then post this email. Which is of course, you’re right to do.)
At the end of the day, its a comedy book, a character piece and maybe a bit dark. I like that Astrid isn’t your typical female protagonist. She’s a bit of an ‘anti’ and that’s interesting to me. But, It’s not your taste and I can respect that. No problem. You have a right to your opinion –and to express it online. But, I do want you to know that there is a person behind this book and its not some big company just churning out books. That person is my husband, David.
So, I’m wishing you the best. I’m assuming you’re a writer and i hope that you might think about how you’d like people to treat your writing. Yes, bad reviews will happen, but perhaps not being pursued by the same one is reasonable.
I hope you read this message in the thoughtful and kind tone in which it was intended. You are more than welcomed to write me back as well. I do hope to hear from you.
There are so many problems with her line of thinking that I could dissect this email line-by-line. There are only a few key points I want to respond to, though.
1. My status updates, reviews, tweets, etc. are not written for the publishers and authors in any part even when I receive a book for review from them. All the above are made to entertain consumers, inform consumers, and give me an outlet. If it’s a book I received for review, sending it to the publisher or letting the author know I loved their book (this is the only case in which I directly bring my review of a book to the author’s attention) is just another step.
2. If he’s really going to Google himself all the time and she’ll let him do it, they both need to learn to let the negative stuff slide. Most authors know how to do this and that’s why situations like this are still an anomaly. Sure, they seem really common, but compare the number of authors who start/get involved in drama to the number of authors who publish a book in the same year and it becomes a small percentage.
3. Here are all the tweets from the duration of my reading experience that reference the author’s name, his book’s title, or are close enough to either of the previous that it’s obvious what I’m talking about: GR autotweet 1 GR autotweet 2 GR autotweet 3 GR autotweet 4 Vent tweet 1 Vent tweet 2 Vent tweet 3 Iserson’s tweet my response GR autotweet 5/convo with friend GR autotweet 6 Review autotweet
You can judge for yourself if they’re hostile. Cut out the autotweets Goodreads does for me and there aren’t that many. If they’re also counting the ones where I obliquely reference the book but don’t mention it by name, they’re paying a terrifying and unnecessary amount of attention to my Twitter feed.
4. Spiteful? Er, no. I make a small reference to the author making me uncomfortable and mention it in a status update, true. My review would have been almost identical had he not tweeted me and it still would have been a one-star review due to flat characters, Astrid’s over-the-top antics, and poor pacing and plotting.
5. It’s my right to not finish a book if I hate it and it’s stressing me out. It seems reviewers can’t win on this point because we’ve got people whining at us that we should just stop reading a book if we hate it so much and then other people whining at us because we didn’t finish the book and should have. I do what best for me in that situation, whether it’s finishing an awful book so I can make sure everyone has the full story or not finishing it because I can’t take it anymore and my desire to keep going is killed by my stress levels.
6. Her feeling that I’d blog, tweet, etc. about this email sounds like her common sense telling her this was a bad idea. My common sense said something similar to me when the temptation to respond to her email arose. I listened. She didn’t.
When I got this, I was angry. Really, really fucking angry. After seeing a few key words and phrases, I got too angry to read the email fully until I sat outside and read a book for an hour or two. Now I’m just sad. Iserson and Markham both need an education in how to interact with reviewers on social media platforms, how to handle reviews, and how publishing works in general. I want to respect that she understands I have the right to my opinion, but emailing me at all cancels that out. Defending her husband’s book, saying my review seems a little spiteful, and saying my tweets came off as hostile because there were so many and they were so angry isn’t how someone says I have the right to my opinion.
As much as I hated Firecracker, I hope Markham’s actions aren’t the iceberg to Iserson’s Titanic and sink his book when it only just came out yesterday. From the look of the email, she acted of her own volition when she emailed me. If it turns out her husband egged her on, I’ll be angry at him again, but I still don’t want his book to fail because of this fiasco. I wish them the best in learning how to handle negative reviews and comments on Firecracker with grace.