Ask Amy: Don't hide, don't respond to negative reviews

Tribune Media ServicesJuly 31, 2013 

Dear Amy: I recently published my first book. Although it is fiction, a lot of the events and characters are based on my real life experiences and the main character is based on me (though her actions are very different from mine).

I wrote the book under a pen name because I was afraid of negative feedback, but I told a few friends who I thought I could trust.

One of these friends, however, does not like the way I portrayed a character that I loosely based on her.

 Instead of coming to me with her concerns (in a phone call or an email) she has written an online review that is more of a personal attack on me than a review of my book.

She has accused me of "viciously attacking" her, of "not being over my jealousy of her," and "needing counseling."

None of this is true. I used to feel jealous of her, but the jealousy my fictional character has is much exaggerated from what I actually felt.

How can I convey to her that while this fictional character shares many of her attributes, it is not her?

My editor says that I shouldn't have to defend my work and that I should not respond and risk my reputation as a writer. I am, however, sad that I may have lost, and definitely damaged, this friendship. What, if anything, would be the best way to approach her? — Writer

Dear Writer: Writing under a pen name because you are "afraid of negative feedback" is cowardly.

Negative feedback is one of many risks you take as a writer and until you can truly claim ownership of your work (no matter what name you use), you will be on the run — creatively, anyway.

I agree with your editor. Your work stands on its own, and I assure you that you will never win an online spitting war with a reader. Engaging will only draw attention to the issue, and unless this would generate interest in your book (or sales) I suggest you leave it alone. If her review is nothing but a personal attack you should contact the site administrator and discuss having the post removed.

If you have something actual to apologize for, you should do so bravely — and personally. You will not be able to repair this friendship, but it might make you feel better to convey: "This is a work of fiction based loosely on my own life and experiences. I'm sorry you take offense. None was intended. Thank you for reading my novel."

Dear Amy: I'm a single mom in a serious relationship with a guy for almost three years. He's very caring and honest. I know he loves me a lot. He loves my daughter, too.

The problem is that he lives with his parents one hour away, and we only see each other once a week (but we talk on the phone every day).

When we first met, he made a promise to me that after a year, if our relationship works out, we will get married. After two years I asked him about marriage, and he said he's not ready. We didn't talk for a whole month after that.

He is from a different background and religion, and his family controls him.

His family doesn't know about me. He's too scared to tell his parents about us. What should I do? — N

Dear N: Allowing a man to deny your existence to his family is bad enough, but allowing him to deny your daughter's existence should stir an important maternal instinct in you. This is not healthy.

After three years of waiting for marriage, you should know in your bones that your guy will never be ready.

Dear Amy: "Grammatically Correct Lady" wanted to correct her date's grammar.

 If anyone I was dating asked for permission to correct my grammar, this would be my answer:

"I'd be happy to work on improving my grammar, but it would be improper for me to date my teacher. So let's leave that job to someone else." — Jon in New York

Dear Jon: Nice!

(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamytribune.com. You can also follow her on Twitter askingamy or "like" her on Facebook. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.) 

 

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