In early July, Daisy Buchanan was enjoying a sunny Saturday morning pottering around her home—then she reached for her phone. She opened Instagram and saw the words “review,” “mediocre,” and “irritating”; she immediately felt hot. “My body started to process it before my brain did,” Buchanan says. Tears sprang into her eyes. Buchanan, a 37-year-old author based in Kent, England, was reading a negative review of one of her books. But she hadn’t sought it out with an ill-advised name or title search—the reader had, in effect, sent it straight to her. They had tagged her in their post.
Around the same time, a few miles away in London, Lex Croucher was already having a bad day when their phone buzzed. It was a two-paragraph, one-star review of one of the 30-year-old’s books, and it essentially said there was “nothing to like” about Croucher’s work. In the past, both Buchanan and Croucher have placed pleas on social media: Say what you like about my work, but please, please, please don’t @ me when you do.
Readers and reviewers have never been more able to get their voices heard. The rise of Bookstagram and more recently BookTok have enabled bibliophiles to share recommendations, point out plot holes, and discuss fan theories on an unprecedented scale. Yet writers want you to know that it’s one thing to tell the world that you don’t like a book, and another thing entirely to tell its author.
Or is it? Is this not, after all, our brave new world? Shouldn’t authors suck it up and accept that tagging is part of the job—and actually, isn’t it really helpful to read constructive criticism? Sometimes writers need to hear the critiques of their work, especially if readers find it problematic. In that sense, isn’t tagging almost a kind thing to do? Buchanan, author of romance novels Insatiable and Careering, says absolutely not.
“I’m more than aware that there are valid criticisms to make of my work,” she says, “But at the moment I’m trying to write a book a year. I’m in the middle of a fairly painful third draft, so when I read an angry review of the book I finished two years ago, it really throws me creatively.” Though she says she’s “embarrassed” to admit it, Buchanan has now used various security and privacy settings to minimize how taggable she is on Instagram.
Anna James, 35-year-old London-based author of the children’s series Pages & Co, says tagged reviews can be bad for readers, too. “Whether a review is positive or negative, it really shuts down any conversation if an author is tagged,” she says, arguing that tagging takes the focus away from readers and places it on the author. “A conversation online about a book cannot be open and useful for readers if an author is observing it all,” she says. (She clarifies she means when readers are discussing reviews and ratings, not when trying to chat to an author about their work.)