On criticism and social cues

Finally, I got a book review.

Jeff, I’m about halfway through your BABWTR book, and I’m not sure I can finish it. Your attitude on pace and disparaging road running is exactly why people like me don’t go to group runs, are terrified to join the trail community, and don’t dare call ourselves runners. Your flippant words on running are tough to comprehend. I hope you find ways to be more inviting and understanding.

Maybe not the review I was hoping for.  In truth, this isn’t a review, it’s part of an email I received from a guy named Pete. Here’s the actual review:


At least he gave me three stars. My favorite part about being a writer is what happens after the writing is published. I like connecting with readers. And as a reader, I like connecting with writers. I do this on WordPress daily, and I often do it after I finish a novel. I’ve only left a few reviews on Amazon, but I’ve emailed, Facebooked and Tweeted at writers dozens of times. Usually, they write back. Their response is typically an answer to whatever question I posed, or thanking me for the praise I’ve heaped upon them. And then I message back.

And silence. I’ve gone too far. I’ve become annoying. Or creepy. I’ve learned that people aren’t that excited about corresponding with strangers. But I do it anyway.

I’ve written two books. I’m not going to post links to them here because I’m sick of promoting them, but at the end of each book I say something like “I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line” and I give my email address. I’ve only received emails twice. And one of those times was Pete. When I envisioned readers contacting me, I was thinking praise, possibly looking for clarification, or maybe just to start a conversation. I wasn’t looking for criticism.

I’m not sure if he expected it or even wanted it, but I responded to Pete’s email. I felt it necessary to explain myself to him and let him know to expect a shift in my attitude later in the book. And it’s true, a few years ago, I found a medication for my Tourette Syndrome symptoms. Besides lessening the unwanted sounds and motions that characterize the disorder, the medicine removed most of my obsessive thoughts… the thoughts that fuel the obnoxious attitude that set Pete off in the first place. Everything written post medication has smoother edges, a more measured tone.

Pete wrote me back acknowledging that the book lightened up. He even apologized for commenting before finishing the book. Since he wrote to me twice, I thought we should be friends, So I wrote to him again. Not for any particular reason, just to continue our conversation. In real life, a complaint I’ve received sporadically–and flagellated myself with repeatedly–is that my shyness around people prevents me from carrying on a conversation. With email, social media and on blog comments, I have the opposite problem. I miss those social cues that guide interaction. I never know when to stop.

Pete shut down our conversation after that, “Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate your candor and response. Best to you!” A phrase I read as Don’t write back! I’m done with you. And then he posted that crap review.

6 thoughts on “On criticism and social cues

  1. I really enjoyed your book. It is true, your personality shines through – which it SHOULD. This is your book. I had read your blog for a long time, I read your first book, Fragments (which I also enjoyed). I really enjoyed this book because it was YOUR focus on running. I am a road runner as well. Trail running isn’t my fave. I don’t like when I go for a 5AM group run and someone decides to push the pace (unless it’s me :-)). Overall, I think people aren’t always going to relate. I enjoy reading about other runners even if their story is different than mine. Because running is a topic I enjoy. I really liked learning how Tourette’s affected your running – and how you felt around others in a race. It was really eye opening. And I get what you mean about the emailing. As the author, I would feel the obligation to not have the end conversation be on me. But the decision to respond again is still very ambiguous. Overall, I think your book is you and like your essays on your blog and in Fragments – it is very good. And it is about your quest to be Bad Ass and journey through running. Very enjoyable running read. I am sorry that I never thought to leave a review. I will work one up – the book deserves one.


  2. Thanks Robin. I promise I wasn’t fishing for a review. This exchange has been on my mind for a week, I thought it deserved some fleshing out. A funny aspect of the whole thing is that he praised my writing (which is probably the most important thing to me). Unfortunately, he also thought I was a jerk.


  3. I’m with you on the poor internet social skills. I open up too quickly for people, and almost always want to be friends with everyone. Actually, I have those same tendencies in person which some can see as friendly. I just seem them as painfully uncomfortable because a lot of the times people dont really want to be best friends within ten minutes.

    I agree with Robyn that your personality shines through in your writing, and it’s part of what keeps your blog on a very small list of my email subscriptions.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Did you hear about the whole thing with Kathleen Hale? I just read about it the other day, and I’m just now reading your entry here (which I love). This is what I read about Kathleen Hale:


    Maybe people don’t stop replying because you’re annoying or creepy. Maybe it’s just that they don’t want the whole world attacking them via Twitter because something they said came off wrong. Everything people say is so scrutinized now, and there is so much piling on of negativity. Maybe they just don’t have the time or energy to censor themselves enough to say what they want to say while also protecting their ‘brand.’

    Or maybe I’m just projecting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yikes! I’m going to check out the crazy stalker book. It sounds like something I’d like. After I got that bad review, I seriously considered replying to it on Goodreads. Hi reasons for not liking the book might be the exact reason someone else *loves* the book, but he added no contextfor the reader to make the decision. It’s definitely made me a more careful reviewer. A bad review I left since then explained exactly what I thought was wrong with the book. Being a memiorist is tricky, You feel like you’ve exposed yourself by publishing and every cross word feels like a cheap shot. I think I’ll use the Kathleen Hale story as a cautionary tale. I could totally see myself get embroiled in a similar mess.


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