Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Responding to reviews

Lately, there have been a few a lot of cases cropping up of the Author's Big Mistake, which is when an author steps up to defend his or her work online.  Leigh Fallon apparently wrote an email asking people to vote down the negative reviews, and upvote the positives, to reverse the possible stigma of a detailed and specific negative review.  According to online sources, the author confessed after the email was forwarded to the reviewer.  Julie Halpern posted a blog entry responding to a specific review.  She realized the mistake later, and deleted the post; though it can still be found by Google cache. A post on Goodreads by Jamie McGuire also got some criticism for skating awfully close to the Big Mistake line (it has also been edited over, and named no reviewers in particular).  These are not the biggest nor most spectacular examples of the Author's Big Mistake, but they are some of the most recent. [Editing to add 1/14/12] And, in an example that this is an ongoing problem and that people don't learn from others' mistakes, we have this review response (comment #270) from agent Elana Roth (who should know better!) and author Kiera Cass. There is also a good run-down of some other incidents here.

I'm not the first to have noticed one shouldn't respond to negative reviews, so my point is far from original (some links contain strong language)[Edit 1/19/12: And Publisher's Weekly has an article up now, too. The topic that keeps on giving . . .].  All I can give you to substantiate this piece of advice is the personal experience of a friend who was attacked for the review she posted on Goodreads. It happened years ago, but I'm being deliberately vague to keep from stirring things up again.  While it seems to have gone away, it cropped up briefly about 18 months after things had initially settled down.  My friend was attacked, harassed, and insulted for having posted a review which the writer thought would hurt her sales.  What hurt her sales, in the end, was the temper tantrum that assured she would never be picked up by a legitimate publisher, the book having been published by a vanity press in the first place.

Vanity presses, by the way, are a post for another time.

I've picked up on a few reasons why, as a prospective author, I should squelch the urge to ever post responses to reviews, should the subject ever come up:
  1. If it's online, it never goes away. Witness above where an author deleted her blog.  It's still accessible through Google cache, and screen-capped on several websites and blogs that document what is popularly called author wank.  People amused by online fights love author wank.  They think it's hilarious.
  2. It's unprofessional. A person receiving a performance review at work doesn't respond, unless the format allows it. Most write-up procedures allow for a review process, but employees aren't allowed to argue with the rules and standards.  Yelling at one's boss doesn't generally go over well. Telling a reviewer he or she is wrong is akin to jumping onto a boss's desk and declaring the rules too stupid to follow.
  3. Reviews are not for the author. Reviews are written so that other people who are thinking about picking the book up do, or don't. Sometimes it's to bond over what people liked about books, or what they didn't.  But reviews are, generally, for the readers, not for the people who wrote the book.
  4. It's all about perspective.  One person's negative review is another's glowing recommendation.  The reason why I hated one book I read last year was the exact reason why a lot of other readers adored it. Grace may post a review of a book she didn't like, and I may add it to my to-read list based on her review, because our tastes don't always mesh.  Failure to acknowledge that some reviews are about taste, and no one's reading tastes are wrong, is a foolish and immature mistake to make.  The world is a boring place when everyone around you shares the same tastes.
This is all moot for me, of course.  I have to submit for publication before I can even start to worry about reviews.  When that time comes, though, I think I'll have to ban myself from reading reviews entirely.  Considering a critique from my kind and gentle writing group friends leaves me a nervous wreck, I don't think I'd fare well against the temptation to post, "I'll do better next time!" to every critical comment.  It doesn't seem like a far stretch to go from that to, with a little boost of writing confidence, "Reading comprehension, much?"

I have some theories about the recent proliferation of wank, but they're just untested theories, and I don't think they add anything to the discussion.  All I know is, responding to negative reviews rarely reflects well on an author, and isn't a mistake I want to repeat.


  1. Thank you for this blog post!

    I wrote a bad review on my blog and got harassed by the author because he felt my review was unwarranted because everyone else thought it was awesome. He went so far to rate my blog on Top Mommy Blogs saying that I was "Humorless and willing to tear down people for no reason."

    It wasn't even on GeekMom, it was just my little blog so I'm not sure why I needed to be flamed in such a way.

    1. I would've mentioned it in the blog if I could've remembered any names, but an author recently posted, in response to a negative review, a series of copy-pastes of all the positive reviews he'd ever gotten. When called on it, he said he wasn't being a jerk, because he wasn't actually angry about it.

      To that I say, some people have different tastes, and one reviewer isn't wrong if he or she didn't like the book. The author, however, is VERY wrong to try to respond to it in any other way than to keep it to him- or herself. To say, privately and with no one listening, "Well, it's just one person's opinion" is one thing. But publicly throwing a tantrum, no matter the intent, is immature and unprofessional and will brand a person as being difficult to work with for a very, very long time.