Thursday, April 12, 2012

Authors and Negative Reviews

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed that the topic of reviewers, authors, and negative reviews comes up every so often. Mostly it comes up in the context of authors (or aspiring authors) writing reviews and the ethics and problems that come up.

But today I want to talk about something else, and that is the more widespread issue of authors responding (or not responding) to negative reviews.

As a reviewer and a reader, there are some books I don't like. There are books (though not many, thankfully) that I hate. There are plenty of books I don't care enough about to finish. I'm hones in my reviews and if I don't like something, I'll talk about it. I don't usually rant or get too personal/emotional (though I can think of an exception to this). I should also mention that I've never had an author personally get upset at me for a review of their book. I like to think that this is because my reviews are non-inflammatory, but the more realistic option is probably just that the authors I review critically/negatively either don't see my reviews or handle criticism well.

Authors, from a reviewer's POV, that negative review is not about you. It's not. It's about this book that they spent their time and money -- or if not their money, at least their time -- on and that disappointed them or annoyed them or, okay in some cases, even angered them. It's not about you, sitting behind your computer, writing this book that they didn't like.

It's easy for me to say that. I'm not an author.

But from my perspective, there are certain things you can and can't (or at least, shouldn't) do when you get a negative review.

Do not comment on it.

Do not write a blog post about it.

Do not tweet about it.

Because no matter how innocuous and "not mean" you think that comment/post/status update is, the reviewer or one of their friends or a potential reader is going to read it and think you're a little bit crazy maybe and definitely a lot unprofessional. There is no way for this to be a good thing. I know this because I've seen authors do it again and again, many of them having no idea the can of worms they're opening when they respond to or talk about a negative review online.

On the flip side, here's what you can do as an author.

You can cry. Or scream. Or whatever it is you do when you're sad or angry.

You can rant to your close friends, mother, spouse, or another trusted person.

You can decide that reviewer is stupid and ugly and you never liked them anyway. Just don't actually tell this to people. Keep your mean thoughts to yourself and those closest to you.

Additionally there's something else an author can do. I know that different reviewers have different thoughts about this, but if you really feel offended by something in a review -- if you honestly, honestly think the reviewer was attacking you and not your book, approaching them privately via email might not be the worst idea. But if you do this, choose your words carefully. It's one thing to say: I'm sure you didn't mean this personally, but what you said about my looks/beliefs/intelligence/family/whatever came across as personally offensive and saying something like: It's not nice to say [whatever it is they said]; that's not what a book review is supposed to be.

Again, different reviewers have different thoughts when it comes to this type of approach. Personally, I never mean to offend anybody and if I do, even if it's in a critical review that authors shouldn't comment on, I wouldn't be upset at this being brought to my attention. And I have a feeling that many other reviewers probably feel the same.

Reviewers and authors (and everyone!): what are your thoughts on an author responding to a negative review? Additionally, though I didn't discuss it in this post -- when do you think a review crosses the line between being critical of the book and being critical about the author? And is it okay for a reviewer to cross that line?


  1. I think you make some really good points here, Jordyn, and like you, I try to always focus my reviews on the content of the book and not on anything else.

    Somewhat related to the topic at hand, I did see a really well-constructed comment by an author on a critical review of his new book this week, and I thought he handled himself very well. He didn't try to defend his work at all, but thanked the reviewer for her honest opinion.

    1. That. Is. Awesome. I really don't mind well-constructed comments, as long as they don't try to "argue" against the review.

  2. Really good post. You're right -- it's not about the author. But as an author, sometimes it's difficult to separate yourself from the book.

  3. I think the author should pretty much keep their mouth shut (online) about the review unless the reviewer is attacking the author as a person.

    Reviews are NEVER for or about the author. They are always for the reader. The author is welcome to read the reviews of course because occasionally reviews can point out fixable problems with books. If they want to vent (which they should do) they should always do it offline.

    Great post!
    Alison at The Cheap Reader

  4. Great topic! As an author, I have responded with a "thanks" to positive reviews but heard from a few readers/reviewers that even doing that can cause problems. I still do it sometimes because I feel as though a reviewer puts a lot of time and effort into reading and writing about my book, and I like to let them know I appreciate their work. I responded once to a negative review with a thank you and said I realize that readers have different tastes but that he had listed the book as for a YA and adult audience when it is intended for ages 10 to 14. He actually made a correction.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion.

    Sheila Welch