I posted this to Facebook this past weekend;
I’m researching a long list of … fantasy and science fiction novels, so have spent this afternoon reading reviews. Ran across a lot of author responses, too, especially to negative reviews. No matter how kind and gracious those replies might appear, there’s almost invariably a note of annoyance, wounded pride, or “you just don’t get it”.
Even a counterattack or two.
Maybe authors ought to just let readers have their say.
Bite your tongue, grit your teeth, mutter under your breath, but don’t explain your intentions or what you really meant. Just let it be.
There’s a blog tour I participate in occasionally, promoting fantasy and science fiction, and authors will often follow the tour and weigh in on the conversation. It works best when they just say thanks for reading and talking about their books. Less successful are the author comments responding to the less-enamored reviews, because the responses can devolve into explaining why the reader is wrong or mistaken in his thinking, and why the author is right. Never makes the author look good, nor does it convince the reader to change his mind and give a shinier review.
Case in point from a few years back: an author response after my three-day review of a vampire novel. I’d like to post excerpts here, but without the whole review and the comments, it’d be difficult to keep the context.
One might argue it’s just the pool of authors I’ve been researching that suffers from the “I’m trying to be cool, but I’m really ticked off” malady.
But what if an author angered fellow writers due to his stance on an issue that has nothing to do with actual writing? And what if those angry, immature writers then left nasty reviews in order to harm not only the author’s reputation but his book sales, too?
Due to the nature of the discussion, if one can even call it that, I won’t post excerpts. However, click here for a sampling of such “reviews” — and some downright violent comments about harming or killing the author — and for the wildly weird, vitriolic, trippy discussion that follows.
In this case, the author absolutely must respond, because his life is threatened, as is his livelihood, by people who care more about some intramural squabbles than they do about telling the truth, protecting one’s brother in the craft, or conducting themselves with class, decency, or common sense.
And then, what if a rabid fan — not the author himself — objects to a review? Things get nasty.
A reviewer made the mistake of mentioning his/her profession (book editing) when reviewing a fantasy novel, and faced the wrath of a misguided, love-is-blind fan. For the complete context, including a final comment by the author, click here to visit the Amazon page. See if you detect excuses, justifications, and missing-the-point language in that thread. If you are bogged down in the fan’s dense paragraphs, just skip to the more cogent comments. Or read the author’s response at the end, which kinda connects to my original question about whether or not authors should respond to reviews.
There are other discussions floating around the ether about whether or not authors should provide reviews for other authors’ books (“What if I say something they don’t like, and then they give me a poor review in return?”), and whether or not poor reviews should be given at all (“My momma always said, ‘If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all’,” or “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”). People pat themselves on the back as being fair, balanced, and nice.
Yeah, you heard me.
Tell the truth.
You don’t have to be nasty about it, but if a book stinks, it stinks.
Telling the truth helps everyone, author and readers alike.
However, I would caution reviewers to ponder why they’re leaving a 1-star or 2-star review.
In the aforementioned research, I encountered a lot of low ratings simply because a book was written from a worldview (philosophical or religious perspective on the world) that differed from the reader’s. Some reviews were written on that basis alone, with no real discussion of the books’ contents, writing quality or style, plot development, etcetera.
Shame on the reviewers.
Yeah, I said it.
If the writing quality is poor; if the story is laden with backstory or description or just mundane nothings; if the dialogue is inane, childish, full of “duh” moments; if the characters never develop, or they behave unrealistically; if something’s legitimately wrong with the storytelling, say so.
If you don’t agree with the viewpoint but the writing’s good, say so.
If you agree with the viewpoint but the writing’s embarrassingly bad, say so.
If you loved the characters but hated the plot, say so.
If you totally got lost in the story but the characters were just meh, say so.
But don’t put down an author or a book for no better reason than
you’re having a bad day,
you don’t like his politics,
you’d rather have your stories religion-free,
you know her outside of writing and you dislike her,
you’re a rival in the biz,
someone else said they don’t like the book,
you don’t like the author’s lifestyle,
or any other non-writing-related or non-story-related reason.
Nastiness or niceness — just for the sake of nastiness or niceness — have no place in a good review.
And writers and fans should remember this crucial fact: A review is one reader’s opinion, observation, experience. That reader’s freedom to express his honest thoughts should not infringed. Otherwise, we’d all be subject to just one point of view on any particular book, which could be skewed however the publisher or the author desired, and therefore no truth would be told.
We have freedom of speech, not freedom from offense. Grow up. Get used to it.
You gain credibility by presenting a balanced review, and you serve the author as well as the potential audience by being honest.