There’s good news for any author who’s ever received a horrible review of his book: bad news travels fast, and a new study Beihang University in China proves it. According to the report, angry or rage-filled posts on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, spread far more quickly and were shared more often than good news or uplifting posts. While the study did indicate that the high amount of traffic angry posts received could have been the result of politics–most of the angry posts that were shared virally had to do in some way with upset over various political situations in China, and therefore could have just had a captive audience to share them–researchers discovered that good news, disbelief, and sadness did not receive anywhere near the sharing activity that angry comments did.
But what does this mean for authors? It can mean, unfortunately, that news of bad reviews or harsh criticisms are more likely to gain traction than glowing praise, but if authors remember the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” it can at least soften the blow delivered by a spiteful or overly negative review.
In the case of the recent blow-up on Goodreads over allegations of targeted bullying, this kind of viral rage can also result in a backlash of support for the author. The news that author Lauren Howard was pulling the release of her debut novel over this kind of mob-mentality after she was virtually brutalized by some members of the Goodreads community resulted in an outpouring of support from authors and readers alike; had the news of the vicious attacks on her and on her book not been shared so readily–as the Beihang study indicates–many online community members may have never even heard of Howard or her novel.
The speed of travel for online negativity isn’t reserved for authors who choose to self-publish. While the reports of JK Rowling’s most recent title, A Cuckoo’s Calling, made headlines for a day or so, the posts and reviews of her not-well-received book prior to that one, A Casual Vacancy, went on for weeks, leading many to speculate that it was the reason she opted to publish under a pen name for her latest work.
While nothing can make a hurtful review feel less purposeful and vicious, at least authors can take some measure of comfort in the fact that the news of the review will spread more easily than a positive review, hopefully leading to an increase in fan base as potential readers share the venom via social media.