Author Alice Hoffman has taken a beating for using Twitter as a bazooka to attack a reviewer of her latest book, “The Story Sisters.” She has since compounded that error by closing her Twitter account.
More about why this is a mistake shortly. First, some background. The Boston Globe published freelancer Roberta Silman’s lukewarm review of “The Story Sisters” on June 28. Shortly after, Hoffman responded angrily via Twitter, calling Silman “a moron” and questioning her credentials as a reviewer: “Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by [Anne] Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?”
Globe writers Mark Shanahan and Meredith Goldstein have since answered Hoffman’s question by pointing to Silman’s own career as a novelist and short story writer, which includes work published in The New Yorker. (Ouch.) The result? Hoffman’s rant, while understandable (all of us die a little when our work is criticized), looks childish. She has since apologized. Sort of.
“I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion,” Hoffman said in a statement to The New York Times. She also said that she “didn’t mean to hurt anyone” and that she understands that reviewers like Silman are “entitled to their opinions.” Hoffman’s Twitter account, @AliceHof, is no longer active.
So be it. Hoffman is an established author with nothing more to prove to reviewers or publishers and is moving on. We should too, taking with us three lessons as we go.
1. Think before you post. The “well, duh” lesson. Hoffman even cops to this truth in her apology. “Of course, I was dismayed by Roberta Silman’s review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn’t,” Hoffman wrote. (I’ve also acted rashly in posting to discussion boards and in replying to reader comments, so I sympathize.)
2. Remember that Twitter is conversational. Twitter is a digital petri dish, perfect for growing viral topic threads like Hoffman’s assault. Further conversation by way of re-tweets and replies was inevitable. Media coverage of the viral uprising was also inevitable. Yet Hoffman, who says her comments were “blown out of proportion,” seems to have been unprepared for the germy, digital sauna that she created.
3. Don’t quit Twitter! Once she quit, Hoffman lost the ability to converse with fans and foes alike on a grand scale and in her own words.
This last point is most important, and why I say in the headline that Hoffman blew it. Twitter is frustrating, often overwhelming, frequently underperforming, and one of the best tools ever invented for conversationally engaging People That Matter — regardless of where they may be in the world.
Please reconsider your decision to leave Twitter, Ms. Hoffman. The conversation about your work will go on with or without you. Why not be a part of it?
[Full disclosure: As of this writing, I owned shares of New York Times Co., parent company of both The New York Times and The Boston Globe. I’ve since sold.]
© Copyright 2009, Tim Beyers.