Reviews – How should an author react?

It is said that there are two types of author – those that read their reviews and those that don’t.

“Don’t ever read your reviews. If they’re good, you’ll get complacent. If they’re bad, you won’t be able to write for a day.”

Others, like me, are too curious. We have to know what readers think of our work. Yes, it can be distracting. Yes, it can drive you crazy. But … it’s free market research. And, as long as you avoid the pitfalls, it’s informative.

Pitfalls? Oh yes, dear author, there are pits out there awaiting the unwary. The biggest pit – sometimes named ‘Anne Rice fell in here’ – is ‘the need to respond.’ Ask any experienced author about this and they will tell you, ‘never respond to a review.’ Read and walk away. Even if there are glaring factual errors. Even if a simple one line response would clear up the obvious misconception. Walk away. If you don’t, you risk being drawn into a public meltdown. We’ve all seen forum threads that descend into flame wars. One person’s innocuous remark is another person’s grievous insult. Posters start reading between the lines, answering insults they alone can see and, before you know it, everyone’s screaming at everyone else.

Walk away.

But…

What if the reviewer asks questions in their review? Questions you can answer. Like why did the hero behave that way on page 273? It was so out of character. You can explain that it wasn’t. You’d foreshadowed that event on pages 97 and 151.

One of the reasons BVC was created was to increase the communication between authors and readers. Discussions about books, the process of writing and the reasons behind choices made by authors can be both interesting and rewarding. Shouldn’t we be engaging with the reader more?

But is the review forum – be it at Amazon, Librarything or a blog – the place to do it. After all, it can be intimidating for the reader if, suddenly, there’s the author replying to their review.

Another thing for the author to remember is that reading a book is not a sterile process undertaken in a vacuum. Readers have expectations, interests, prejudices and a lifetime of experiences. We all do. And we bring them with us when we read a book. Sometimes a book can disappoint because it wasn’t what we expected. The cover said X and we were given Y. Or it touches on a subject we’re particularly fond of then switches to something else leaving us disappointed. Why couldn’t it have had more about AI? I loved those bits.

Remember, you can never please everyone.


Chris Dolley, who mainly attracts only good reviews, is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf .

Recently released from Book View Press: French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a  glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget  Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!

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Reviews – How should an author react? — 5 Comments

  1. As a writer and a reviewer, I’ve seen both sides of that fence. I think that straightforward explanations by the author to correct misunderstandings or shed light on a point are perfectly legitimate, regardless of forum. Telling the reviewer that s/he wrong because… (fill in the blank) is another story. Here’s a recent experience I had in the latter category:

    Jade Masks, Lead Balloons and Tin Ears
    http://www.starshipreckless.com/blog/?p=1959

  2. Hmm… Good point about not responding at the review site, even if you think it will be harmless, b/c it disrupts the reviewer’s sense of … safety, for lack of a better word. I hadn’t thought of that before, but I will try to now.

  3. Well, the reviewer’s biggest fear is not “getting” the book. As long as you don’t barge in there and tell them exactly that, I think it is entirely possible to comment on a review without starting a flame war. Whether it is wise is another matter. There are lots and lost of review sites out there. It can be a huge times sink.

    Personally, pretty much all of my interactions with authors responding to reviews I’ve written were positive even if it wasn’t a raving review. As for questions a book raises, if an author takes the time to answer them for me I feel honoured. Mark Charan Newton was kind enough to answer one for me a while back and I certainly saw two his characters differently after that. Reviewers also love links on author blogs, even if there is no specific comment on the review. Big boost in traffic, especially for the little ones.

  4. I have requested that the review site remove a small section of the review where the reviewer gave away the big plot twist at the end of one of my novels, and they did. Readers don’t like major spoilers any more than the writer does.

  5. Good advice. Hard to follow sometimes, but good advice. I recently read an Amazon review of one of my short stories — a free read, mind you–but it still rankled because the reviewer made some absolutely WRONG statements, and totally missed the point of the read, which was simply a fun look at an author’s relationship with her characters.

    I did resist the urge to point this out, but it was tough…

    Terry
    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery