I know, for me, when I don’t like a book, it stops pretty much right there. I could articulate why but I don’t feel the need to write the author and tell them so. At that point, reading ceases to be enjoyable and becomes work if I write and give a step by step analysis of why I did not enjoy the book… but I know others feel the need to do this. I guess my question is there any good/gracious way to respond to your audience when they do take the time to give their analysis? Or to the people that might’ve missed 5th grade.. that write the equivalent of “this sucks, I could’ve done better.”
I’m just curious…. you guys are the epitome of honesty and being open about the publishing business so I’m wondering how the responses are framed.. or if even any are given?
We seem to have strayed far away from safe topics of cute pugs and knitting. And now I’ll probably end up saying things that not everyone will like.
From the public’s point of view, there is only one rule that is true in every situation of author/reader interaction: everything is the author’s fault. Especially if the author is female. Guys get away with much more. They can cuss, they can have angry outbursts, but we, women, are expected to be “nice.” This disparity stems from the gender roles and stereotypes, which are the cornerstones of our society, and discussing them is an entirely different blog post.
Let me reiterate: if you are an author, everything is your fault.
Had I known this from the start, I probably would have limited my blogging from the onset. There is a reason why most bestseller and upper midlist authors either do not have a blog or blog on strictly promotional and neutral topics. No chance of a flame war this way.
(Which works nicely until someone calls you the “epitome of honesty.”)
There is a curious shift that occurs sometime around the publication of your first book. You stop being a person and become a representative of your books. For all intents and purposes, you are a business entity.
It’s a bit difficult to readjust, because you yourself haven’t changed. You’re still interacting with other people on person-to-person basis. I’ve been at this for a while, and I just got reminded of this fact yet again. There is a stupid game going around on Facebook, which involves posting ridiculous suggestive messages supposedly to promote cancer awareness. On my Facebook profile, in my basic information I state that I don’t wish to receive these messages. I lost my mother, my grandfather, my mother in law, her husband, and even my dog to cancer. I can’t bring myself to view it as cute and sexy and ask that people respect my wishes or I will unfriend them.
One day I received three messages in a row from different people. I sent each a simple one line reply, “Don’t send these to me again, or I will unfriend you.” Two people said, “Sorry, my bad,” and that was that. The third sent back a scorching reply. She said, that maybe I didn’t care to be polite to people who bought my books, and that she was outraged. I sent back a reply pointing out the information in my profile, and she replied yet again with an equally outraged message instructing me how I should have worded my request concluding with, “Well, you won’t have to worry about getting messages from me anymore!”
It didn’t matter that her careless message reminded me of a very difficult time in my life. It didn’t matter that it made me upset. It only mattered that her feelings were slightly hurt.
Look at the wording here: ‘people who bought my books’. To her I am not a person. I am a collection of books and entertaining status updates. She is defining our relationship in terms of me as the content provider and her as the consumer. And consumer is always right. I am supposed to make her feel good, not point out her thoughtlessness. My mistake was attempting a person-to-person interaction, while she was clearly on reader-to-author basis. (Facebook, unfortunately, blurs this line a bit.) As a representative of a business entity, I am not allowed to have my feelings hurt or to be angry. From her point of view, in this relationship, she holds all the cards, because she purchases the product I provide.
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the reviews. It’s tempting to view reviews of your books as a measure of your performance, almost as if books are tests and reviews are grades. But that’s not at all accurate. Reviews are not grades, they are consumer recommendations, aimed at other consumers. They express the reviewer’s opinion of the books.
An author may choose to read through the reviews to gauge reader reactions, but it must be repeated: these are consumer reviews rating a consumer experience. Anyone who has worked any time in the service or retail industry knows how subjective and individual such reviews are. To pick some examples out of the left field, some people rate books on Amazon at one star because their order arrived in damaged condition. Or because they ordered an item clearly marked as a graphic novel but they expected a hardback. Some have declared the book so bad that they burned it. Others reread it eight times and bought copies for all of their friends and now follow the imaginary character’s tweets.
The amount of beneficial information such reviews contain is limited. Their value to the author, as a professional seeking improvement, is primarily in statistical information: are the majority of the reviews negative or positive? What are the points most often brought up? And so on.
However, when the author as a professional reads these reviews, author as a person often gets really, really upset. Picture yourself sitting down at your job. Think of how stressful a performance review can be. Now imagine getting it from ten different people on the same day. It would drive you crazy. At the very least it would ruin your day. It will make you doubt yourself, your creativity, and your choice of career. You might come home to your spouse and ask them to feel sorry for you, because everybody hates you and you had a terrible day.
On the flip side of the coin, if the reviews are all glowing all the time, the author may start drinking his own Cool-Aid. Either way, a disaster.
The best, most sanity-preserving policy is not to read reviews. At least not too many or too often.
But some reviews can’t be avoided. Sometimes people demand direct attention and feedback. They’ve read the author’s book, they have written an analysis of their experience with the book, and they want to talk with the author about it. Or the author suffered a sudden bout of masochism and went to trawl blogs and Amazon for reviews. A response to positive reviews is easy enough to formulate. Thank you! But what about negative reviews, the ones that make you cringe? Equally easy. Say nothing. Say nothing, say nothing, say nothing.
But what if they said this unfair thing…
But they brought up a really good point…
If you argue with the review, you look unprofessional. You are a weakling who can’t take criticism.
If you agree with the review, you look unprofessional. You are sucking up in hopes of future positive reviews.
You can’t win. Remember the guiding principle: if you are an author, everything is your fault. You can’t show that you are emotionally hurt or angry. You are not a person. You are a representative of a brand. If you have to say something, if you just can’t help yourself, say, “Thank you.” You must find your inner customer service representative, smile, and say, “Thank you so much for taking the time to read the book.”
It is really, really difficult to find that customer service representative sometimes. So if you can’t trust yourself to smile and say thank you, say nothing.
Thank you or nothing. From the business point of view, there is no third choice. Nothing is better.
We all slip from time to time. I occasionally respond, maybe to one or two reviews a year, usually because they are factually incorrect like the review of Curran POV on Amazon that accused me of theft of readers’ money by offering a free book. Or if the narrative is misquoted – I view that as damaging. If the reviewer is someone I know personally, I might say more, but even then, I try to be careful with what I say. And occasionally some asshole gets my goat and I lose my shit. Bad day at the office. What are you going to do?
But in general, it is far best to not engage. Be gracious, smile, say, “I never did mind the little things,” in your head and walk away or type the reply that consists of one line, “Thank you so much for your review.”
Next up pugs and knitting. No more thought provoking, possible hate generating questions for a bit.