Battleground Literature: Authors and Reviews

Most authors have heard it at least once before: Don't respond to reviews of your book.

Yet, all of our lives, we've been taught to thank people for their time, to thank them when they have done us a favor, and to thank them for their effort. Not responding to reviews goes against this very basic teaching, the standard etiquette most of us have grown up with. By not even saying thank you, it comes across as authors are ungrateful for the time spent on a book review.

If you must thank them, use two words and two words alone: “Thank you.”

If you must thank one person, thank them all. Even if they give you a 1* review where they loved nothing about your book. Say “Thank you” and nothing else. If you can't thank that person who chewed apart your precious book, don't thank anyone at all.

Professionalism and pride are two different things. Having pride in your professionalism is something you should cherish. It isn't about your high stars. It isn't about proving your reviewer wrong. Professionalism isn't about showing favoritism to those who say nice things about you. That makes you look extremely petty if you say something polite to someone who was nice to you, and you ignore the person who spent as much time on your review but didn't like your book.

Believe it or not, stuff like that is noticed.

Professionalism is knowing when to keep your mouth shut, when to smile, and when to say, “Thank you.”

Have a little pride in yourself as a professional, and even when you want to rip someone for not understanding your brilliance, take the high road. Say nothing.

Professionalism is also being consistent, polite, and not turning on someone just because you don't agree with what they said about your book.

Suck it up, Buttercup. Someone didn't like your book. So what?

Being a professional is knowing when not to say something. It isn't a matter of “if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all” but rather a case of understanding that reviews are business only. Your job is done. You have written a book. Your job, as an author, is to write a new book. It isn't to go back to your old book and nail on those who read it. Yes, your job is to sell your book, but have a little professional pride. Turn and walk away. The reviews on your book, your cover art, and your characters aren't about you. 

Go ahead and look at your reviews, but in order to be a professional, it's necessary to understand that reviews don't belong to you — they aren't for you. They never were for you. They're for the readers. They're for people wanting to buy your book.

Reviews are a way for others to judge your work and help others decide if your book is right for them.

Reviews are not for the author. They are for the reader. They are for the consumer. They are for the buyer. They're for the lover of books.

Reviews aren't your reference tool to to find out if your book needs edited. You should have done that before publishing your book. Reviews aren't your tool to find out things about your writing. Sure, you might learn something from reading your reviews. I hope that is the case. I hope you learn what your audience craves. I hope you walk away having learned something.

If you need help with your story to make it better, hire an editor. Find people willing to critique your book. A critique is given to unpublished works not for sale. A review is a business tool.

But, consider this: If someone is leaving a review of your book, it is because you asked them for their hard-earned money. You asked them for their time.

They've paid for the right to leave you a review — even if you're giving your book away for free. If someone (like me) criticizes your cover art and it doesn't turn into a sale, you were asking me for money or my time, and I have the right to have an opinion. The freedom of speech even lets me say my opinion. So what? You've learned something about your audience. Maybe you've even learned about the people you've turned away from becoming your audience. Maybe you'll even have walked away with a better sense of the reality of the business world.

Customers aren't necessarily nice people. You may be a brilliant and wonderful person, but if you put a bad cover on a good book, this will reflect poorly on your book. They may not bother looking at the sample, despite the fact you may have a wonderful book hidden between the covers. You may be a brilliant and wonderful person, but if you put out a bad book, people will comment on it. They'll review it. They'll talk about it. It might even become the butt-end of a joke.

Your job, as an author, is to sit down, shut up, and deal with it. Learn from your mistake.

Your job is not to hunt down the reviewers, curse them for their ‘poor manners' or ‘incorrect opinions' or even degrade them for their thoughts and reviews. Your job is not to glare at them or badmouth them in public. Your job is to sit there, choose to read it or not. Frankly, you don't need to read or acknowledge your reviews at all. Move on. Go work on your next book.

If your reviews are that bad, and you feel the need to ‘make right' — hire that editor you didn't hire the first time around for your second book. If you feel that bad about the quality of the book, offer to give away the new (and edited) book for free for purchasers of the original book. Just ask for a proof of purchase, even if it is a picture of the book on their kindle or e-reader with them. Some readers will be burned by the first bad book, but some might take you up on it.

There are ways to move on and learn from your mistakes.

What you can't do is take back the nasty things you've said to reviewers. You don't have to take back what you didn't say, though. Silence is golden. An author's silence is even more special.

No one is going to think poorly of you if you don't acknowledge your reviews. Frankly, as a reviewer, I don't really want to hear a single peep out of the author. I'm not reviewing the book for them.

Even with friends I review, a simple “Thank you” is all I want. Period. I don't want to know what the author felt about my review.

Reviews are a business matter. Get used to the idea. Reviews aren't there to stroke your ego. They aren't there to make you feel good or bad about yourself. Get over yourself, and accept that the reviews aren't about you.

However, what responding to a review can do is ruin your reputation.

Consider that, and consider that carefully. In the world of writing, your reputation can make or break you. Your reputation is what will help you sell more books. An author with a known reputation of being a jerk to their readers isn't someone that encourages more sales. It isn't someone people respect. Sure, sometimes a book so bad everyone wants to read it just to see how bad it is does come along. I know more than a few people who bought 50 Shades of Gray for that reason.

Remember, you can't take back what has been said. Think about this carefully. Epic author meltdowns is a thing, and there are many people who keep an eye out for it. It provides some free entertainment for some of us. I'll admit I've been among those highly amused by an epic meltdown. I'll be honest: Before I knew better, before someone told me how stupid it is to get mouthy with a critic, I've done my own version of an epic meltdown on someone who was trying to help me with my book. It wasn't a good moment for me, and I'm not proud of that. Fortunately, it was in a closed group, and it was a long, long time ago.

Something else to consider: Whenever an author responds to a review, it's often uncomfortable for the reviewer. Especially if the author is in the middle of an epic meltdown. Reviewers don't do it for the money, I promise you that. We do it because we love books. We want to see good books on the shelves. We want to enjoy every title we read. We want to find the next gem. We want to be the first person to notice just how good a book is, and share it with the rest of the world.

We also want to prevent people from investing their time in a bad book. Sometimes a book just isn't to my taste. Fine. When that happens, I do try to think of who might actually like the book. That makes a difference. It helps make a review useful.

Authors need to approach people for reviews. It's an unavoidable part of the business of writing. But, if you get a review from someone who you approached about writing a review, thank them, and say nothing more.

Your part in the review process is done. The review, and everything written in it, isn't for you. It's for your readers.

This leads me to an opinion of mine that might offend some people. This is just my stance, so, if you do this, don't feel too badly about it — while I don't like it, some people might.

It must be really exciting to get a 5* review. I get that. It means you're getting somewhere. It means someone has recognized you.

But, unless you showcase every review you get, good or bad, don't share it around. You're tooting your own horn. It's no different than asking your friends to buy your book over and over and over again. Sure, some promotion is necessary. But, when you promote your book and you share only the good reviews it really makes you look a bit petty in my eyes. If you want to showcase the cool reviews you've gotten, make a page on your website.

If you share all reviews you get, fine. A little quirky and a lot of horn tooting, but I can respect that. It's a balance thing. The good and the bad. I always notice when someone showcases awesome reviews they've gotten — especially when they go out of their way to grab a link to their amazon page. Then there are authors who really don't share many reviews at all — a one off thing? Fine, they're really happy about that review. I'm cool with that. I'm talking about those who share every review that is a 5* — and they do this frequently.

It's not exactly what I consider professional. It's like you're trying to show off how many stamps you've earned on your subway card. Sorry, I'm not impressed. If you want to impress me, do your thing. Write books. Let people know when your book releases. Contribute to the real conversation — don't just toot your horn.

If you want to impress me, have a little bit of professional pride. I'll say it again: Suck it up, Buttercup. Someone did/didn't like your book. So what?

Do us all a favor and learn to say nothing at all. Your readers will thank you for it, your reviewers will thank you for it, and you won't ruin your image.

Silence is golden, and does you no harm.

Leave a Comment:

7 comments
Heather Dudley says June 13, 2013

Far too many authors, big name authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton have become absolute laughingstocks because of epic blowouts over negative reviews. Neither were able to leave well enough alone, and their tender artistic personalities simply couldn’t cope with the criticism.

Never mind they’re both bestselling authors with careers most of us would kill to have.

No, they simply could not handle the idea that someone, somewhere was not fond of everything they ever wrote.

There are few things more amusing than watching someone completely prove themselves to be unprofessional asshats when they lose their heads over one person’s opinion. Call it schadenfreude, but it’s hilarious.

And it doesn’t drive sales. I will go ogle the funnies, but temper tantrums actually turn me off. An author could be the best ever, and this sort of behavior convinces me that they’re not worth reading anymore. I used to read both authors, but after their temper tantrums? I prefer to spend my money on authors who are less belligerent and convinced of their own speshul talent.

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    Paul Keene says June 13, 2013

    You touched on subject that bothers me–promoting the novel. As an author I understand I have to promote my work, but I can’t come to grips with in the face promotion that many authors take. Read my book, buy my book, best selling author, award winning author complete with amazon links over and over and over. As though this isn’t enough author sites are filled with repeated posts with titles and links, free today, etc. Overkill at its best. When I see this all over the social networks, my first thought is why aren’t they writing.

    Thank you for this blog entry. I love it.

    Reply
      RJBlain says June 13, 2013

      I agree with the over abundance of promotion — another post for another day, but I’ll definitely keep that in mind as something to talk about at length. It’s a very important discussion to have! :3

      Reply
Responding to reviews is like talking to the police | Matthew Graybosch says June 13, 2013

[…] Battleground Literature: Authors and Reviews | On Writing Most authors have heard it at least once before: Don’t respond to reviews of your book. Yet, all of our lives, we’ve been taught to thank people for their time, to thank them when they have done us a favor, and to thank them for their effort. Not responding to reviews goes against this very … […]

Reply
Tori Schindler says June 13, 2013

Since you mentioned promoting 5* reviews and promotion, I’m really tired in the romance genre everyone is an “award winning” author. Well, yes, it’s sort of hard not to be. There’s a contest in one RWA chapter or another every month you can enter for $25 and send in 25 pages for best kiss or best break up or whatever. Sooner or later you’re bound to win first, second or third place. It’s just a statistical probability. It doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s as bad as purchasing the reviews on Amazon or buying your way onto the NYT Best Seller’s list if you have the money.

Reply
    RJBlain says June 13, 2013

    They do the same thing in other genres, too — I completely agree. Really quite annoying. Award and bestseller mean nothing to mean anymore.

    Unless, of course, you mean a Hugo or a big-ticket award that actually requires talent, skill, and good writing to get. :3

    Reply
      Heather Dudley says June 16, 2013

      My kingdom for a Hugo.

      Seriously. I would kill for one. That’s one you can’t buy into.

      Reply
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