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What Happens When You Take a “Bad” Review to Heart: The Case of Sarah Stusek

Getting a company to agree to publish and market your book can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Sarah Stusek’s case, she hit the goldmine when SparkPress decided to publish her debut novel, “Three Rivers,” loosely based on her teen years.

Unfortunately, she reacted negatively via TikTok after receiving a book review she didn’t deem acceptable. Here’s what to know about the situation and what lessons we can learn from it.

Who is Sarah Stusek?

Sarah Stusek is a commercial producer who has worked on hit TV shows like Veep and House of Cards. At the end of 2020, she directed a short film called By The Sea.”

With short films, television shows, and an array of commercial work, Stusek is no stranger to the media and has opened up about being a child star in her younger years. The latter experiences inspired her to write her debut novel, “Three Rivers,” about a teenage girl forced to attend a wilderness therapy camp.

What is Three Rivers About?

The story focuses on seventeen-year-old Stella, who was forcibly awakened by two strangers who flanked her bed in the middle of the night. Terrified by the sudden intrusion in her childhood bedroom, it didn’t take long for Stella to realize the culprits who hired these kidnappers.

Her parents.

Now forced to attend a wilderness therapy camp, Stella navigates the growing pains of adolescence in a seemingly otherworldly program, where she embarks on a journey of inner growth, maturity, and taking charge of her life.

Hailed as the Gen-Z’s Girl, Interrupted, Stusek doesn’t hold back Stella’s traumatic experiences as she is thrust into a new environment beyond her control.

The Sarah Stusek Situation:

Based on the short excerpt above, you can quickly tell that “Three Rivers” has all the makings of a remarkable young adult novel. With a compelling plot, interesting characters, and an eye-catching cover, Stusek’s debut novel was set to be released on September 13 this year.

However, recent news indicates that Stusek’s debut novel may be up in the air. The author courted controversy when GoodReads user Karleigh Kebartas posted a positive review of an advance copy of the book. GoodReads is a platform for readers who can research, recommend, and review books available.

According to Kebartas, while she praised the book’s powerful message and found it intriguing, the ending was “predictable” to her, and she then decided to give it a four-star grade out of five.

Stusek didn’t appreciate such a review. After posting a video on TikTok where she attacked the reviewer for not giving a perfect score, Kebartas edited her GoodReads review. They explained to visitors that the author was attacking her socially on TikTok.

Stusek didn’t appreciate the four-star review and responded by leaving a scathing reaction towards the reviewer, showcasing screenshots of her review, including her name and photo.

Despite hearing about Stusek’s reaction, Kebartas didn’t watch the author’s TikTok attack, knowing it would upset her. Nevertheless, she did ask the author to apologize for being unnecessarily mean.

Stusek’s video was immediately removed after receiving backlash from other TikTok users per TikTok’s community guidelines. Nevertheless, the author has made excuses for her behavior, even citing that she was an aspiring comedian and her attacks were a “joke.”

Stusek’s refusal to apologize gave many users a sour taste. As a result, many people who didn’t appreciate the author’s lack of professionalism went on GoodReads to rate the book one-star in retaliation. A few have even added some bittersweet commentary, stating that they would have loved the book had they not witnessed the author’s attitude.

GoodReads has prevented further people from reviewing the book, although some of the comments remained, including Kebartas’ review. So far, no one has GoodReads has confirmed nor denied freezing the “Three Rivers” page on its platform.

SparkPress, the publisher behind the book, tweeted that they have decided to part ways with a particular author. While names weren’t given out, it’s clear that the company was referring to Stusek, whose book is no longer available on the publisher’s official website.

Stusek eventually apologized to Kebartas via direct messaging on Instagram. In a voice memo, the author stated that she didn’t mean to appear aggressive while insisting that she was joking. She has also expressed regrets for hurting Kebartas, to which the latter expressed her appreciation for the author’s effort in reaching out.

Whether or not Stusek was genuinely joking is up in the air. The damage has been done, and while SparkPress no longer represents Stusek, the author states that she hopes the book will still be released in September under a different publisher.

Analyzing the Stusek Situation: What Can We Learn from the Sarah Stusek Situation

While internet drama has become typical in today’s modern age of outrage and clickbait, Stusek’s situation is relevant to authors in this new age and climate.

Back then, authors didn’t have to promote their books as much as they do now. As long as the publisher had a marketing team and people liked the book, authors didn’t need to showcase their personality or life stories for the whole world to see.

However, that isn’t the case anymore. With social media becoming a staple in both our personal and professional lives, it’s clear that the book marketing industry has shifted to another realm. The line between readers and authors has gradually diminished, and some writers have used this to their advantage, knowing that connecting to their audience is the only way they can make a name for themselves.

With this new style creating success stories like E.L. James and Colleen Hoover breaking records due to their dedicated fanbase, countless publishers want a slice of that success. Many publishers hope to shift some of that marketing responsibility to the authors, who now must navigate this heavily competitive and saturated market. Considering that most authors would like to be a bit “hands-off” with their work, this new marketing tactic may be overwhelming for some, especially those who prefer to keep their lives private.

In Stusek’s case, however, she has fully embraced the need for social media to market. As a professional who has worked in commercials and other media outlets, she knows that fostering a social media following is the key to success. Unfortunately, she made a colossal mistake courting controversy, alienating BookTok and casual readers who would’ve liked to read her book.

While we can’t wholly fault authors for being passionate about their work, there is still a line between taking things personally and professionally. While social media has helped authors reach out to their audiences in record time, there is still a fine line between sharing too much and being too distant. There is nothing wrong with interacting with your audience as an author. Still, it’s entirely different if you’re lashing out at them.

If you’re an aspiring author and you’ve received a review you didn’t like, sometimes the best thing to do is keep calm and continue.


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