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And by “us” I mean reviewers.
Of course, people have said things like that before – Book Riot published an article six years ago that says pretty much the same thing. But that was six years ago, and I really don’t think anything has improved since then. So I’m here to say it again: Out of love for God, writers don’t respond to reviewers.
I’ve been reviewing every single book I’ve read (both on Goodreads and on my blog) since I was 18. I’m by no means some kind of one-star troll: my average Goodreads rating is actually 3.26, which suggests I’m pretty much in the thick of it. But if I don’t like a book, I’m not afraid to say exactly why. And that has brought me the occasional irritating interactions over the past three years, with certain writers choosing to send me abusive messages personally (or recruit their friends to do so on their behalf). Many of them were motivated by what I’ll name Author’s Mistake # 1: I think it’s a reviewer’s job to say only good things so that people will buy your book.
Reviews do not exist to encourage other readers to pick up a book. I mean, sure, when someone has left a glowing review, a nice consequence is that their friends will likely be interested in it. But many people just check to keep a personal record of what they liked or disliked without expecting it to affect others. They have the right to say negative things about a book if that’s their opinion … and considering that opinions are subjective, there is almost no way for an author to disagree factually.
Nor should the authors suffer from the conviction that a series of 5-star ratings is the only possible route to a book’s success. There are plenty of bestsellers out there that have all of the 100 most popular Goodreads reviews tearing them to pieces.
Often times, reviewers already have enough to engage other readers as well. Writers should really make an effort to be more professional so that they can differentiate themselves from their more aggressive fans. I have had many readers pointing Vitriol right at me for starring a book with a star that they love. But at the end of the day, they’re just other readers. I don’t care if I get serious comments from them. But when the actual writer complains, things get 60% more ridiculous. I don’t expect professionalism from other readers, but from the author? Absolutely. Can you imagine how wild it would be if you checked out a kettle on Amazon and Philips passionately railed about how you hurt their livelihood?
I’ve had writers counter by arguing that they put their hearts and souls into their work and love the way they can interact with readers in person. They are rejected as “business” by any view of the letter. I don’t want to sound like a callous capitalist here, but let’s be realistic. It doesn’t matter how much “soul” the publishing industry has compared to law or banking. When a reader has spent their hard-earned disposable income on a poor quality product, it is their absolute right to tell other people about it. Even if that is in the language, the author contradicts. When another Book Riot writer said that authors don’t owe us books, they were absolutely right. However, some writers seem to have failed to notice that readers don’t owe you positive reviews. The only thing a reader owes an author is a legal method of downloading. what comes next is irrelevant.
That brings us to Author mistake # 2, One of the most fundamental mistakes a writer can make: to merge a book with itself. If you are a writer reading this and you are just taking one thing out of my article, please let it be. Someone who criticizes your book is not criticizing you. Just like if someone doesn’t like your brownies, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. Your books are not your children. This is a common metaphor that I see everywhere that I think dangerously undermines the line between person and product. I write things myself: I’m a moderately popular fanfiction writer. I’ve received my fair share of negative reviews. But it’s entirely possible for someone to say they don’t like my writing style or my ideas for action without it being a personal attack. And if you know reading reviews isn’t good for you, don’t. It really is that simple – I know a lot of writers who don’t read their reviews for that very reason.
Even when a writer doesn’t interact directly with the reviewer, sometimes their behavior can be so incredibly unprofessional that it still affects them badly. I’ve seen writers publicly insult reviewers on various social media platforms, and it happened to me. This is Author’s mistake # 3: speaking about a reviewer in public. You might think that there is no way the reviewer will see your Facebook post cutting them off, but you should pretend they can. When a reviewer sees the post, there is always an excellent chance they will post your comments on their reviews.
Perhaps now you would like to challenge me by reminding me of the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad advertising. Maybe a writer doesn’t care what kind of advertising he gets? But – in the book world at least – I believe this is only true up to a point. Yes, one reviewer might plan a book for “too much sex,” and that will make another reader buy it right away. However, when a reviewer announces the fact that a writer followed them up to give his or her honest opinion, people are much less willing to reward that behavior. I’ve personally had people tell me that they will stop buying certain author books just because I’ve published the things they said to or about me. Writers run a business, and consumers are rarely afraid to move their money elsewhere if they don’t agree with how a company is doing. So it is really in an author’s best interests not to deal with a reviewer in any way, even if you disagree with what they said.
But what if you get a positive review? Here it gets a little more ambiguous. In my opinion, Angel Lawson and Samantha Rue, two co-authors who restored my trust in indie writers a little, provided the perfect model. (So far I’ve talked about indie writers, and it’s true that writer-reviewer relationship issues are usually confined to the indie world. Indie writers often don’t have professional publicists working with them, so that’s what they think perhaps that they should deal with criticism in person. They are also more concerned about the impact a negative review could have on sales, so they take steps to disprove the review. However, traditionally published authors may also be in the trap advised to deal with reviewers – see what happened to Sarah Dessen).
Back to Angel and Samantha. A few months ago I reviewed her book, Lords of Pain, which is very good by the way, and I recommend it if you are interested in dark romance at all. I gave it four stars and mixed criticism with praise as I usually do. The next day I wrote a message to Angel on Facebook asking if I could get an ARC for the sequel. I provided a link to my review to demonstrate that I had read the first book. She responded with an agreement stating that she and Samantha had already seen and enjoyed my review.
Here is the key to that interaction. Although they had read my review and could see that I liked the book, they gave no sign of it until I approached them. Not even a thank you comment on my review that writers have asked many times. Sure, they say, a simple thank you for a positive comment is harmless? Supposedly yes. Many reviewers would still prefer not to be contacted at all, as it can be uncomfortable to know that a writer is reading your words. The next time you review them, you’ll feel more pressure to be positive because (believe it or not) reviewers generally don’t enjoy tearing books to pieces. We want to look like nice people too, especially when we know a writer sees what we’re saying. However, checking is more about being honest than being nice. This is not to say that we should be intentionally cruel, and we should definitely not make any personal comments about the author. Ultimately, however, any way a reviewer wants to express his or her opinion on a book is valid.
So, Author Rule # 4: Never contact an examiner unless they contact you first. Even if they said they love your books. Caution should be exercised here – some reviewers don’t mind, others absolutely. Conversely, it doesn’t bother reviewers not to be contacted. It’s a no-brainer.
I think I’ve thought about it long enough so I’ll leave it there. If you are a writer, please think about it the next time you get the urge to respond to a negative review. If you are a reader … hope I didn’t put you off the review! The vast majority of the writers are lovely. But as the saying goes, one bad apple spoils the bunch. There are reviewers who have completely stopped the review due to bad experiences with authors. So seriously, authors: Please don’t talk to us.