Characters must be "treated well, even in fiction."
Fiction is subjective. You're supposed to have an opinion, and we've always aimed to inspire a reaction in readers, whether positive or negative. We don't want to publish a long list of meh titles, or to have you close a book and say, "that was pretty much very okay." So I understand when a reader might think, this just isn't for me.
You can dislike a book for all manner of reasons, and oftentimes I get, too, that rejection can be tough to phrase. You might say, "X, Y, or Z didn't sit right with me," when really you were being gentle in your rejection because it was the whole she-bang that felt off.
This spring, I did hear of a response to one of our titles that reminded me of an episode from a couple years back when we published a book called Seven Days in Rio by Francis Levy. It's a satirical novel about a sex tourist who is waylaid at a psychoanalytic conference in Rio de Janeiro.
A reporter for Brazil's major daily newspaper, O Globo, read a favorable review at Chuck Palahniuk's The Cult website, and then asked Brazilian government officials what they thought of the book. These officials said they were demanding an apology for the book's publication from the U.S. Embassy, and were quoted as saying that Brazilians must be "treated well, even in fiction."
That was a surreal couple of weeks. (Right up there with that time a famous actor threatened to sue us for applying his own stated artistic philosophy.) You can read an article at Publishers Weekly that quotes me as saying, “I feel like I’m living in an Onion headline,” which I believe sums it up nicely.
Of course the idea that characters "must be treated well, even in fiction" is an absurd sentiment that most of us would scoff at. Literature is supposed to take chances, otherwise nothing is at stake. It reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein that I love, which you can find on classroom motivational posters around the world: "A ship is always safe at the shore but that is not what it is built for."