I had a really…interesting experience on Facebook this week. Here’s a brief (and not entirely accurate, either, because I’m using it as an illustration) summary:
Facebook Post: Authors, don’t respond to bad reviews.
Comment from former professional reviewer: Don’t even bother reading reviews because only 1 in 100 has merit.
My comment on the above comment: That’s not my experience.
So…should you read reviews? Should you engage with reviewers? Talk about a question that has as many answers as a proverbial dog has fleas. Let’s look at some different scenarios.
Scenario One: Terrible Review from the New York Times (or any other newspaper or magazine)
The last time I had a client get a bad Times review, it was hard to take it seriously, because the reviewer was so clearly biased. The author was, understandably and rightly, angry. It was completely unfair. It was a poor excuse for “journalism.” And it didn’t even have a good out-of-context pull-quote.
He really (really!) wanted to respond. Anyone would. But he didn’t.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure this was the right move. I mean, the review was bad. It was out there. It could have incited controversy that could have driven sales. Or, no matter how balanced and factual his response, his responding could have gone pear-shaped. So on balance, he was probably right not to respond.
Scenario Two: Dreadful One-Star Review on Amazon
I run into this one ALL the time. Should go to the trouble of tracking down and interacting with people who leave these reviews? Nope. Should you share them on social media? Maybe, but sparingly and only if they’re really funny. Should you lose sleep over them? Absolutely not.
There are cases where it is worth asking Amazon to remove these reviews. But—and this is important—if you make the request for a book you wrote, it will probably not be successful. I ask Amazon to remove reviews when, for example, they’re about a technology issue (“I couldn’t get the book to download!”), and I’ve never had Amazon do anything but remove them. I’ve also asked for reviews that are personal attacks on the author to be removed, with the same level of success.
I have not, however, ever asked Amazon to remove a review that is a genuine bad review. That is, the person read the book and is critical of it.
And that said: An author responding to a review like the above is a recipe for disaster, and only ends up making the review more visible. Walk away.
Scenario Two: Dreadful One-Star Review on Goodreads
Scenario Three: Bad Review from a Book Blogger
I think we can all agree that not everyone loves every book. When I don’t like a book, I stop reading. I don’t talk about books I didn’t enjoy. It keeps my life simpler.
But some book bloggers—quite a few of them—do publish tepid or negative reviews. And that’s their prerogative. Should you respond to them? Most of the time, no. If you do, for the love of reading, do it through an offline channel…and be polite.
All of this raises the question of whether authors should read reviews at all. I’ve never met one who didn’t. I never recommend spending your life reading through Amazon reviews, because your time would be better spent writing. But at the same time, I remember the first author (John Connolly) who left a nice comment on a review I wrote about one of his books, and I was thrilled.
I enjoy reading reviews—in newspapers, magazines, on blogs, and even on Amazon. I like hearing about other readers’ experiences of books. This has value to me. I don’t need a bunch of hoity-toity crap (that usually means absolutely nothing) in reviews for them to be worthwhile.
The second-best piece of advice my dad ever gave me was, “if you don’t have something nice to say, shut up.” Personally, I think this applies to both reviews and responses to them. Not every book is for every person. That’s fine. Variety is wonderful.
The best rule of thumb I can offer? It’s the same as in that original fb post: Authors, don’t respond to bad reviews. Read them or don’t—whatever is right for your personality and productivity—but if you read a bad one, just keep moseying on along.