Diva Chat: Authors and Bad Reviews
What happens when authors and reviewers mud sling.
In light of the rising backlash against negative reviews, I asked my fellow Divas to answer a few questions.
- What are the unwritten rules of engagement between authors and reviewers?
- Is it okay for authors to go on the offensive and attack those reviewers who provide a negative review (regardless of whether it’s constructive criticism or not)?
- What effects do you predict this type of behavior will have on the careers of writers who fight back?
The business of publishing a book goes hand in hand with reviews, whether for critical acclaim or constructive criticism. You need one to promote the other. So what are a few of the unwritten rules between the author and the reviewer?
- Both sides need to be realistic. To expect that all reviews will glow and sing the author’s praises is unrealistic. And to expect every book to be a Pulitzer Prize winning book is over the top too.
- In order to encourage readers to give honest reviews, there is an expectation of no backlash for an honest critical review.
- Both sides should exercise good judgment and tact.
We’ve all seen the Jerry Springers of the book review business. These are the reviewers who entertain with creative (not constructive) criticism and are more interested in increasing the number of votes their reviews get on book reseller or review sites. If they can engage the author in an argument in a public forum, it means more votes for their review. The best way to deal with these reviewers is to change the channel and ignore the reviewer and their review.
But what if a review is an honest opinion that points out the flaws or an author feels like a review is unjustified criticism? It’s a matter of opinion. Simply stated… For an author, a book represents countless hours of writing and honing their words. It’s a personal expression of the author. For the reader turned reviewer, a book is a product for purchase that promises to entertain. What’s important is that the book delivers and is worth the purchase.
Is it okay for authors to retaliate for a bad review? For the gawkers, it’s great to watch the drama unfold. Rational adults turn to juvenile antics, and each side is backed with supporters declaring each action a triumph. But who has the responsibility to bring an end to this type of behavior?
Ultimately the responsibility belongs to the author.
Now, before you gather the peasants and the pitchforks, consider a few things. Publishing a book and putting it up for sale comes down to one simple thing. Business. I know it’s all about the creative process, but when you get down to the details of what you’re doing, it comes down to business. You are in the business of writing for entertainment value. Period. Creativeness aside. Any reaction you have builds your brand as an author. This includes the positive and the negative. And while you may think you’re helping other beleaguered authors by putting reviewers in their place, you should consider everyone who saw your nasty tweet or rant on Facebook. They just might skip your book the next time they make a purchase.
Is one bad review going to ruin your career as an author? No. And not everyone will like your book. I repeat, not everyone will like your book.
My advice to all authors is to turn the other cheek. It’s an oldie but goodie. But consider this, how many times have you seen Stephen King or James Patterson engage in a mudslinging battle with a reviewer who didn’t like one of their books? They don’t do it because they’ve worked hard at the business of publishing and building their brand as an author.
In a word… No. It’s NOT okay for authors to personally attack those reviewers who have provided a negative review, regardless of whether that review was constructive or not. When you put your work out there for readers to buy it, you ask them to review it. I’ve seen authors go so far as beg readers to review. And everyone gives lip service to an ‘honest opinion’ until it doesn’t match their own. Why is the assumption that every reader will love every book?
Is a negative review fun? Nope, it sucks. Criticism of any kind is hard to deal with. But it’s part of the process. Hopefully a negative review includes something helpful an author can take away as a learning experience. Even if that lesson is simply the ability to rise above the negative. But more and more often, this is not the case. There’s this new trend of responding to the reviewer as if the review is a forum for debate. Worse yet, reviewers are bashed and called names. It’s one thing to disagree with a review; everyone’s done that. It’s quite another to call someone’s opinion wrong.
I tend to read negative reviews before positive ones when researching a book to read for pleasure. Why? Because I’m pretty certain the one- and two-star reviews are honest.
And that’s not saying the five-star reviews aren’t honest, but they may not be exactly accurate. Every author has friends and family who will—rightfully so—come and leave great reviews. But I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money on something that’s been edited poorly or has a weak story line, for example. So I look for those comments when reading reviews. And when I see comments left for reviewers by the same user, name-calling and bashing their opinions, it’s hard to respect the process much less the users.
Personally, I’ve stopped reviewing anything I’d rate less than three stars. I’ve known fellow editors and readers who’ve been harassed because of less-than-stellar reviews left on Amazon or Goodreads—reviews with constructive comments, of course. We are editors, after all. It’s what we do. If an editor were to offer me free advice about my writing, I’d probably take it with great thanks, even if the criticism was painful to hear.
As for long-term effects, I think backlash toward negative reviews will continue but the process will balance out, as most systems do over time. Readers will continue to leave honest reviews regardless of the reactions they receive because that’s what readers do. Hopefully thicker skins will prevail sooner rather than later and the tendency to react with anything less cordial than a ‘Thank you for reading’ will stop.
Well, to answer the first question, I must say always take the high road. Let me repeat that: take the high road. Never lash back. To coin a phrase, never let them see you sweat. Also, embrace free speech in all of its messy, rude glory. It is what allows you publish whatever you see fit and it is what allows others to voice their opinion about it, and while you have the right to retaliate, I do not recommend that you do so. And the reason you shouldn’t is because it makes you look like an ass. Sorry, but it’s true. When I see some long, whining post on social media, I just shake my head. If you need your readership to run to your rescue and to bolster you because some big meanie said something that may or may not be valid, then you are in the wrong industry. It’s time to stop being a princess and to start being an author. If there is a dragon to slay, do it yourself and quit trying to provoke some reader in shining armor to do it for you.
That said, I do think there is an instance when an author must speak up, and that is when a book is being maligned unfairly. If someone is posting reviews claiming your book has content that it doesn’t have, respond… politely.
Don’t feed the trolls, but do defend the integrity of your work.
So I said all of this to relate that I think relationships between authors and readers/reviewers should be professional and constructive. It is up to the authors to be the mature ones and to set an example of professionalism for their fellow writers. Who knows, a kind word from you may not only extinguish someone’s wrath, but it may just gain you a fan.
Ultimately, I believe authors who fight back publicly are just slitting their own throats. Marketing involves not only promoting your book but also yourself. Guard your persona with everything that you have. Can you bounce back from acting like an ass in public? Yes, I believe you can, but fans have long memories… really long.
So next time instead of ranting on a public forum for all the world to see, perhaps you should take a page out of Michael Crichton’s book and cast your most vocal critic as a nefarious villain with a very small penis… Just saying.
I have a book blog called The Flirty Reader, and I have come across an author or two who haven’t agreed with my reviews. And that’s perfectly fine. I welcome it, in fact. They can disagree until they’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t change what I found while reading their books. My reviews are honest, heavy on critique with a healthy amount of praise, but largely I will dissect the book and hope it benefits the author and they hopefully understand what I saw as a reader and an editor. I also try not to review books on my blog that I would give lower than three stars because I want to stay away from bashing or hurting the author’s sales.
I have found out through the year of blogging what kind of reviewer I want to be and that’s a classy one. I did, earlier on, feel that I could use humor, but my dry humor turned on me and hurt an author. So I stopped that. The last thing I want to do is break anyone’s spirit or make them feel like my reviews are bullying.
Usually authors, unhappy with my review, will come to me and privately talk about why I choose to critique in such a way. So far it has been very positive and I feel like I’m helping them out more than bringing them down because I found something wrong with their books and didn’t offer only praise because I wanted them to like me.
Are my reviews spot-on? Heck no! But that’s the thing; it’s my review and I will stand by it. When I hear that authors take to their own blogs and bash certain reviews or reviewers for legitimately leaving honest reviews (not bullying, but honest to God reviews that only hurt the ego of the author, not taking shots at them personally or professionally), I get a little eye-twitchy. Yes, I can understand they are upset and want to vent, but do it privately with other authors, your friends, family, your cat… Don’t do it in a public forum.
The only thing they’re accomplishing is turning the tables and being the one doing the bullying.
Reviewers and bloggers have a hard job as it is. We are taking authors’ books and deeply delving into every word, every character, and every detail they write. I love all the authors that have graciously come to me for honest reviews and thanked me. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but I still get scared when I leave a less than glowing review because I don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings no matter how nice or how close we are as friends. It’s an awful situation anyone can be in. But this is an industry in which you can’t get butthurt when your work is not liked by all audiences. If you do get butthurt, then you shouldn’t be a writer. Simple as that.
So long-term effects on authors? I don’t think it’s going to really change the mind of the mass of readers as a whole. Most readers don’t follow author’s blogs unless they are die-hard fans, so they will be shielded from their favorite author’s backlashes on reviews. Many avid fans, though, who do see these posts will either jump on the author’s bandwagon or turn up their noses at the lack of professionalism. So as an author, you have to ask, does your integrity matter more than venting about a bad review? Or does having your cheering squad to make you feel better do?
Authors that get the urge to bash reviews or reviews, I urge you to wait five minutes, go for a walk, take a shot, have some sex, whatever you do that can clear your anger, do it before you hit the publish button on your post. Staying classy is a better image than stooping down to the level you think your review or reviewer went for when they critiqued your book.
For advice on how the handle a bad review, check out Diva Jen’s article, “Dealing with a Negative Review.” Now it’s your turn. Tell us what you think!