30 harshest author-on-author insults

As every author knows, learning to get critiqued and getting used to reading bad reviews is all part of the job description. Developing a thick skin (and a good sense of humor) is probably one of the best things a writer can do for himself or herself.

I do believe writers can benefit from constructive criticism. After all, if everyone praises your work, you won’t grow much as an author.

But there’s another type of sweeping  criticism that’s simply not helpful. For me, it falls under the category of the old adage your mom taught you “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone, …”

A classic example for me includes Gore Vidal’s declaration that “… the three most dispiriting words in the English language are Joyce Carol Oates.”

Reading those types of criticism makes me cringe and  feel sorry for the author who pronounced them and wonder about his or her pettiness. It also causes me to reevaluate the author who hurled the insult – I may have enjoyed his work, but was it truly such a masterpiece?

That said, it doesn’t make it any less amusing to read the insults that have made it to the annals of history. The flavorwire.com site has compiled an amusing collection of the 30 harshest author on author insults .

In this list, an author I kind-of-like (Mark Twain)  skewers  an author I truly love (Jane Austen), saying  “… Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig [Austen] up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

See what I mean about cringing for the one hurling the insult?

Nevertheless, what goes around, comes around. William Faulkner, another author I love, had pretty harsh words to describe Mark Twain “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”


What do you think, writers? Could these authors have internalized a bit more diplomacy in discussing their peers? Or is it all part of their oversized personalities? Do you have any favorite author-on-author insults? Or have you received particularly harsh comments that goes beyond literary criticism?


  1. Melinda Dozier on September 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Great post! Critiques are hard to take…be it big or small. This is why I get so worked up when others degrade EL James for her Grey series. Who are these people who insult her and what gives them the right? even if youre not a fan, theres a diplomatic way of giving crits. My fave? Keep your mouth closed. Now as for author bashing other authors…Woah! Dont wanna go there!

  2. Lanise Brown on September 5, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Some of the insults were pretty funny. The one from Mark Twain on Jane Austen really made me laugh! I think critique is one thing and an insult is entirely another. People can give constructive criticism without tearing another person’s work apart. Although, I’ve said a few harsh comments about some “classic” novels that would anger their authors, if they were alive. I guess authors can get carried away, and say things they would never want someone to say about their work. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. kimberlysullivan on September 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Great comments, Melinda and Lanise. Thanks! I’ve read scathing book reviews for books I quite enjoyed, but that doesn’t really bother me because it’s the job of the reviewer and, well, we all know it’s subjective. But I agree with Lanise that some authors can get carried away insulting other authors they don’t like…. but the flip side is that it leaves us these great comments to read and enjoy for generations.

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