The Renegade Writer

5 Ways to Deal with People Who Hate What You Write

womanupsetcomputerBy Linda Formichelli

You don’t write because you’re afraid of what other people will think. What if they hate your writing? What if they hate you?

A glance at the comments on, say, a Huffington Post article shows that readers have no compunction about letting writers know exactly what they think. And sometimes it ain’t pretty.

And then there’s the fear that you’ll offend someone by being, well, yourself in your writing.

I hear you. In the past few months, here’s what I’ve experienced:

  • A reader telling me I must have PMS.
  • Someone who left a 400-word comment complaining that he found two typos in my blog post. He let me know he envisioned me as a frazzled lady with messy hair who has trouble coping with her life.
  • A longtime reader accusing me of being a racist.
  • Someone who was upset that I used the word “sissy” in an email to my subscribers.
  • A woman who was perturbed that I was hosting a teleclass with three male guests.

I’m sure I’ve had other complaints, but these are the ones I remember from recent months.

Writers Aren’t the Only Ones


You may think writers are particularly vulnerable to getting complaints about their work. But even if you gave up your writing dreams and became a barista at Starbucks, someone, sometime, would hate what you do — and let you know.

Of course, you don’t pour yourself into a skinny iced caramel latte the way you do into your articles, short stories, or blog posts. When someone criticizes the foam on your drink, you get over it. When someone criticizes your writing — ouch.

If you push through the fear and get your writing out there, I guarantee that eventually you’ll piss someone off. So what do you do about it?

Dealing with People Who Complain: 5 Ways


Here are some of the tactics I use when faced with an angry reader or even a troll.

1. Set phasers to “Ignore.”

If you’re talking about trolls who smear your blog or an article you wrote with über-nasty comments, the best thing you can do is ignore them. It hurts, but remember, some people will hate on anything. If you don’t respond, they’ll soon move on to the next victim.

2. Explain without apology.

But when someone emails you an anti-fan letter, or lets you know they’re upset with something you wrote?

Most commonly, I write a short note explaining myself without apology. (This is assuming I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong. If I make a mistake, I do apologize.) If the reader accepts that, all is good.

But sometimes, the reader is still not appeased or has another nit to pick. In that case, I hit Delete. There’s just no making some people happy — and the truth is, your job as a writer is not to make everyone happy.

Instead of working your butt off to please someone who’s unhappy with you, pour your energy into thrilling the ones who love you.

3. Kill them with kindness.

Even if I’m about to explode over something a reader has said to me, I don’t spew my anger on them. I complain to my husband and my friends and get it out of my system so I can deal with the reader without going ballistic.

Saying “Thanks so much for sharing your insights!” to an unhappy reader defuses them — whereas if you come at them with teeth bared, you’re in for a downward spiral.

4. Laugh it off.

I still remember when Diana’s and my book The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success first came out, and we gleefully posted a glowing Publishers Weekly review on a writers’ forum.

One woman in the forum blasted us over the idea of the book and went on to say we shouldn’t be proud that PW called the book “upbeat and exceptionally informative” because, hey, why do books by women always have to be upbeat? Why can’t we just be serious?

I was crushed (this was our first book — my baby!) and thought up all kinds of replies to put this woman in her place. But then Diana took over. Her response? “I guess you won’t be wanting the Renegade Writer mug, then.”

Diana’s response was perfect. It defused the situation, showed the poster we weren’t going to let her comment affect us, and kept us from wasting time arguing with a single crabby writer.

5. Buck your genes.

We’re genetically wired to seek out and pay attention to threats in our environment, which means we often ignore positive circumstances.

I fall into this trap — I let one negative review or snippy email ruin my hour, even though I have dozens of great reviews and get tons of nice emails from readers. For example, the post by the woman who wasn’t thrilled with our Publishers Weekly review was surrounded by posts from people who were. Why didn’t I think of them instead?

It’s not easy to think about the many positives in your writing career when you come up against a single negative, but make an effort to do this when you find yourself faced with a troll or an angry reader. Let yourself get upset for a minute, complain to a friend — but then remember the editor who loved your article, the kind comment you got on a recent blog post, or the letter from a reader who was moved by your work.

How about you: Have you ever dealt with an angry reader, or even a troll? What did you do about it? Share your experiences and tips in the Comments below!

Nov 11, 2013 Freelance Writing, Motivation, Observations, Writing

54 Responses

  1. I’m especially a fan of #1 and #3.

    You “frazzled lady” you (ummm, not) :) LOL

    I guess some people just have this picture of you they can’t shake.

    Excellent post.

  2. #5 is so true – and I never really thought of biology as being part of the cause! But we are wired to zero in on the negative and it’s so unproductive.

  3. Dawn Witzke says:

    I knew it…all that white space should have been a clue. lol

    Seriously, some people just need to remove the stick that’s firmly imbedded in their backside. Ignoring them is probably the best route or just reply that you’ll take their comments under advisement. Then hit delete.

    I unfortunately like to mess with people like this. They don’t even realize that I’m purposely poking at them to see if their head will explode. It is a really bad habit that I should stop doing, but it’s fun.

    P.S. You have a typo in the first sentence. ;)

  4. I find that ignoring people like this is best. You are not succumbing to the hatred or sinking to their level. There will always be haters, no matter what. Remove yourself from the situation and let them hate each other!

    I loved Diana’s response. I literally LOLd.

  5. Lisa says:

    I can honestly say I enjoy negative comments from readers. I learned this approach from an old editor of mine who was also a good friend. He used to call me when he got hate mail. He’d actually gloat over it. He’d read it to me, saying, “Can you believe this? Listen to this one! This next one is awesome!” I asked him why he enjoyed negative comments so much (I couldn’t decide if he was a narcissist or just a glutton for punishment!). And he told me he just loved the fact that people were REACTING to what he wrote. He’d struck a chord. He was influencing them. They were talking about what he had to say. Isn’t that the whole point of writing? — to send a message that influences people, that makes them think and causes a reaction?

    So I adopted his mindset, and ever since then I love reader reactions — no matter how crazy or negative they are. They mean I’m making an impact!

    • That’s a good way of looking at it! Also, if you get negative reactions, it shows at least people are reading your stuff. Th eonly people who get no negative comments are the ones who aren’t writing. :)

  6. Great post, Linda. I LOVE Diana’s response! It’s so easy to get sucked into the spiral of defending oneself or focusing on that one negative response rather than the 20 positive comments before and after. Always good to be reminded that there’s “life beyond the trolls….”

  7. Cheryl Rhodes says:

    Actually some of those complaints are kind of funny – or maybe just the way you set them up makes them come across funny. I can’t really say that I’ve had anyone critical of my writing. Mostly I’m met with silence. Not sure how I’d handle it but I think I’d tend to ignore. Can’t please everyone all the time.

  8. Tina says:

    I use #1 and #3 in most cases. You’re right it isn’t worth engaging them in a battle.
    I’m like you, I tend to let one negative thing ruin an hour or even a day. I’ll have to take your advice and look at all the positives. :)

  9. Pam Houghton says:

    This is a great post, Linda, and something all writers have to remember. Not everyone will like your writing, and that’s a fact! I can have two people read the exact same thing; one will love it, the other will find lots to criticize. It’s often a matter of taste. I think of movies that critics LOVED but when I saw them, fell asleep! Or vice-versa…as a previous commenter noted, maybe just getting a reaction is the most important thing. Even if that means you’ve pissed them off.

    • Yes! For example, my husband and I had three covers designed for our new e-book and shared them on the website he works for. Some people would LOVE one of them while someone else would have 100 reasons to hate it! You can’t please everyone.

  10. Jordan Clary says:

    I think no matter how much we try to insulate ourselves against negativity, it still hurts. Even if just a little bit. One of the things that has baffled me from time to time though is how someone can misread something, put their own spin on it. A while back I wrote about how losing a job was one of the best things that happened to me, that two years down the road I’m happier, more peaceful, in a better place than I’ve ever been. A woman responded how sorry she was about the hard times I’m going through. That life is just full of pain and difficulty, but to remember life always gets better before the dawn! Huh? I thought I WAS writing about the dawn.

  11. Too funny on #4 — I don’t remember that exchange or my response to it, but it *does* sound like something I would say.

    Linda knows this, but I don’t spend too much time agonizing over what people think, which may contribute to why we’ve got such a good, longstanding writing partnership. Even if people love my work, I don’t get worked up about it. It’s a bit like believing your own PR. It’s a trap if you get too wrapped up in what readers think of your work, good or bad. My gauge is, “Am I happy with this work, yes or no?” The worst feeling in the world is knowing that I could have done a better job; luckily, that’s under my control in most cases unlike the feelings and opinions of hoi polloi.

  12. […] 5 Ways to Deal With People Who Hate What You Write […]

  13. starwriter says:

    Hey Linda:

    I think what you do is great. As the unnamed subscriber, I did write to you about how I believed that with your savvy you could possibly select a better word than *sissy* to incite or motivate us writers.

    I was/am not upset. That is not a way any describe me. I have provided a Wikipedia take on what the word sissy means. For me and many many other writers, subscribers, and readers the term *sissy* as used by you is offensive and unnecessary. No one hates you or what you write. I am also fairly sure that you don’t mean to speak to your subscribers, or name call us as outlined below.

    Peace,

    *Sissy*: is a pejorative term for a boy or man who violates or does not meet the standard male gender role. Generally, sissy implies a lack of courage, strength, coordination, testosterone, male libido, and stoicism, which have traditionally been important to the male role. A man might also be considered a sissy for being interested in traditionally feminine hobbies or employment (e.g., being fond of fashion), displaying effeminate behavior (e.g. using hair products or displaying limp wrists), being unathletic, or being homosexual.

  14. This is a great article! This is actually a topic I cover in my recently-released free video series “Practical Tips for Difficult Conversations.” I talked about how some people criticize my writing as being “too negative,” while others say it’s “too positive.” And still others love it and think it’s “just right” and really resonates with them.

    The takeaway? We are all different people, and not every style (or perspective) is a match for every other style (or perspective). Some people match well, and some people don’t match well. So when someone doesn’t like our style, we shouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, it kind of shows that there’s something unique about us – and it makes sense that not everyone would like it.

  15. Barb Johnson says:

    Wonderful article! I have been there. A few years ago I was writing a weekly article for the town newspaper. It was during a time of heated political stuff going on. Every time I inserted some political idea or two into the column, the hate comments came.

    People were able to comment on the newspaper website. In fact, sometimes they would start about 7 am when the paper published. The first negative comments bothered me for a little while. And then when my next article came out and I got over 250 comments, about half good and half bad, I realized I was doing fine. The bad comments were mainly objecting to my ideas, and not my writing. I was called a liar among other names. It was a great learning experience.

  16. Cinthia says:

    Great tips, Linda. Especially like Diana’s response about the mug. As a journalist I’ve learned to defuse negative comments, probably because I’m not as attached to what I write. But as an essayist and novelist, well, comments dig much deeper. A woman on Goodreads reviewed my novel with one word: “Ewwwww!!”
    Trust me, it stung, but then I realized that it was actually kind of funny. Not everyone will love what I write. Heck, not everyone will even like what I write (and what a boring world it would be it they did, eh?).
    I use this woman’s response whenever I’m in a funk. That “Ewwww!!” keeps me writing. It’s my motivation. It’s my “I’ll show her/them” prompt.
    But really, if you want to succeed as a writer, you have to develop thick skin, even if you don’t always comb your hair (too funny!).
    Cheers and happy writing,

  17. Sabriga says:

    Loved this post, and especially solutions #2 & #4. LOVE Diana’s response in #4! So witty :-) I’m so new (and erratic) to blogging, that I was this side of thrilled to get a negative comment by the famed Anonymous on one of my posts. Considered it a milestone, in fact, like getting rejection letters.

    At first I tried solution #2 and explained myself. But that didn’t seem to matter to Anonymous, who continued to post negative comments. Then I used #4, stating that Anon could continue to post whatever, but this would be my last response. Don’t know if Anon decided to quit because of my comment or their own satiation, but they didn’t post again.

    Either way, a benign learning experience that felt like just one more step on the path. Thanks for this great post (as always), Linda.

  18. Dear Linda,
    Thanks for your candor. These nuts-and-bolts articles give some of us newer writers a refreshing dose of reality.

    You’re right. We love to satisfy our readers, but let’s face it, we’re never going to please everyone. That’s life. For someone with a successful writing and mentoring career in high gear, who still manages to home school her kid, I’d say you’re doing just fine!

    Racist? You gotta wonder.

    One of the benefits of WordPress is we can go back in and correct errors. It’s heaven.

    Blessings,
    Rita

  19. Lisa says:

    This phenomenon has been happening since the dawn of the internet, on message boards, chatrooms, etc. Everyone’s style of arguing/criticizing seems to be heightened online, where there is much more anonymity. A few years back someone even made up a database of every internet “flame warrior” personality they had come across. (it’s pretty funny) http://www.flamewarriorsguide.com/
    Some of my favorites: ALLCAPS, Bliss Ninny, Blowhard, Crybaby

  20. […] 5 ways to deal with people who hate what you write [Renegade Writer] (via @freelancersu) […]

  21. Josh M. says:

    Hey, Linda-

    Thanks for this – very appropriate.

    My first real insult, and the best I’ve ever gotten, was “The writer is a shaved p—- in a pink frilly dress.”

    When you are insulted with style, it’s an honor.

    That said –

    I published an article on a major media site two years ago and a reader wrote a 500-word rant that was so full of misspellings and incomprehensible logic, followed by insults, that I wrote a response speaking “her” language, including all-caps, misspelling what she misspelled, and making every attempt to up the stupidity factor, all in the aid of making this person look like the ass she was/probably still is.

    Then I took a look at what I’d written and deleted it. As the person representing, at least in theory, the publication you’re being paid by, you have an obligation to keep it pro at all times, as delicious as it is to skewer someone in the heat of the moment.

    The person writing was obviously not too bright, and it’s really easy for those of us who are so facile with words that people pay us money to write them to run circles around a mouth-breathing, low-IQ jerk.

    At other times, I have just responded by agreeing with the person. “Yes, I suck, yes, I am a moron, yes, I should be fired, I don’t know why they keep me here.” It takes the wind out of their sails.

    Just “delete” and move on is my policy, though sometimes it takes me longer to get there than others.

    Here’s another point –

    When I write, I try to examine the work for any possible hook that could lead to a misunderstanding, resulting in a complaint. Language, style, content – just clean writing with little room for misinterpretation is my rule. Sometimes I don’t make it.

    Thanks again!

    Josh

    • Thanks for your insights, Josh! I’ve read that the best way to deal with anger is to write a nasty letter to the person you’re mad at — and then to delete it. Sounds like that’s what you did with the knuckle-dragging troll — and it worked! Or you can do what I do: Write the funny letter taking down the troll, and then send it to your best friend instead, just for a laugh.

  22. […] 5 Way To Deal With People Who Hate What You Write […]

  23. I put “set phasers to IGNORE” on my wall of awesome.

    Here’s what happens to me a lot – maybe because I write about math, and there are lots of Asperger spectrum people. I receive what I parse as a negative, critical comment or even snark or troll comment. I reply deadpan, just addressing the issue politely and completely ignoring the negativity. In the dialogue, it turns out the person wanted to be friendly, and to help!

  24. I know this is an old post, but I have to leave a comment even if it doesn’t get read because this topic hits so close to home. My first hate comments about my writing were by people I knew personally and considered to be “friends.” So I was hurt on multiple levels, 1) because it was my first hate comments, 2) because I felt like my friends betrayed me, and 3) it was one of my most vulnerable pieces of writing. But having survived that and continuing to find the courage to write about the controversial subject I’m so passionate about, I now accept it as an inevitable part of life. Either face the trolls or remain in obscurity.

  25. James Schiller says:

    Great article! It is true that whatever you do, not all people will have positive comments. You just have to acknowledge their opinions but make sure that what you won’t be affected by their negativity and continue on doing what you know is right.

    In my case as a realtor in Charleston SC real estate, I share a handful of information in my website and blogs not only about property showings but also events/activities in the said areas as well as answering my visitors queries about real estate related topics. I also encourage my visitors to share their own experiences about a particular subject discussed in my blog post.

    Some people don’t share the same sentiments I have on some subjects but I make sure to listen to their views and engage in a healthy and fruitful conversation.

    You have a very nice post. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Lynne says:

    Great post, as usual, Linda.

    Negative comments are no problem at all, after being responsible for replying to the emails and phone calls directed to a certain government department that is only slightly ahead of the IRS in popularity: the one that handles property assessment for tax purposes.

    Every call and email — no matter how rude or incoherent — was required to be answered politely within 24 hours, unless it was impossible to locate a return address or phone number. Coming up to new polite replies to emails that were composed entirely of expletives was a fun and interesting challenge.

    It also helps to keep a point-and-laugh file of the most outrageous comments.

    Cheers.

  27. Katya says:

    I use the first tip you listed — ignore. Just back away from the keyboard, and don’t give them the satisfaction of my response. Merited criticism is one thing, and I welcome that. But some people have no manners, and worse, they can’t sleep well at night if they don’t blast someone else during the day. I just move on :)

  28. […] writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit […]

  29. Chris Flees says:

    I learned a long time ago that you cannot please everyone. Even when your topic is not considered “controversial” others will have viewpoints that are “the polar opposite” from yours. Authors, Commentators, photographers, and Artists, due to their craft, are a few of the groups most susceptible to the opinions of others. As you stated the best policies are to realize that its not a personal physical attack, well at least most of the time, but rather an attack on the thought or position.

    If someone makes an obvious attack on the thought, just keep in mind they are rejecting the writing and not you. If the comment is an obvious personal attack on you, ignore it or if its in a blog post delete it. Only an ignorant individual would attack a writer for his position and an enlightened person can disagree with a position without making it personal.

  30. […] Awesome post: 5 Ways To Deal With People Who Hate What You Write […]

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