Authors: If you can’t take the heat, stay the hell away from your book’s reviews

by Suw on January 7, 2012

Today I stumbled across a blog post by KB/KT Grant about how authors who can’t handle negative reviews should really stay away from reading them, and certainly shouldn’t throw a hissy fit about any criticism they get. I hadn’t previously seen any of the examples of authorial meltdown that Grant refers to, but she is absolutely correct to say that writers should never, ever respond badly to reviews. Not in public. Not in private. Not ever.

Negative reviews are part and parcel of putting stuff out there, and if you can’t handle reading them you should ignore all reviews all the time. It’s really that simple.

But whilst Grant says that sites like Goodreads are for readers, not for authors…

At no time in Goodreads’ mission statement does it state that their site is for authors to promote their books

…and whilst that might be true of their mission statement, when signed in to the site as an author it is very, very clear that Goodreads does indeed think that the site is for authors to promote their books. On my author dashboard it says:

Check the stats for your books and giveaways, and learn more about how to promote your books on Goodreads.

That’s right up at the top of the page. In the sidebar, it says:

Learn more about how to promote your books with special tools on Goodreads.

Clearly, Goodreads does want bring authors and readers together. And there’s a risk in that, for both parties: Readers risk learning that a particular author is a moron and authors risk being harangued by moronic readers, for it is an undeniable truth that both moronic authors and moronic readers exist.

But you just have to get over it and move on.

I also think that reviews, even negative ones, can be really useful for authors, if they have the maturity to read them with both an open mind and a pinch of salt. A review is one person’s opinion and it may well be that that person is a douche. It may also be that your book really does suck, or that you really did mess up the ending, or that your characterisation isn’t as crisp as it should be. The truth to be found in negative reviews varies from ‘all of it’ to ‘none of it’, and only if you are honest with yourself as to the potential for flaws in your work will you be able learn something from them.

It’s also important to know when to ignore criticism. I have had one person criticise (not in a review, but in a comment on G+) Argleton, but they also told me that they had read only half the book. I had hoped that they would finish it and then either stand by their point or let me know that actually they now thought their initial assessment to be incorrect. They didn’t, which rather robbed their criticism of validity.

But these days, authors cannot completely escape contact with readers, particularly as authors both new and mid-list have to do a lot of their own promotion and a lot of that work is done online and in social media.

I personally believe that we should not even try to avoid contact (although if you’re wildly successful you will have to limit it simply because of scale: you simply cannot spend the time that would be required to reply to everyone). Even I, as an almost entirely unknown author, get people saying hello on Twitter because they have read or are about to read Argleton. I always try to reply politely, although as with all things digital sometimes I miss messages. But if someone were to say something negative, I would either respond gracefully, ignore it, or block them, depending on the nature of the message.

And that’s the key thing to remember. As authors, we do have some agency here. We choose who to follow on Twitter and who to block. We choose whose comments to allow on our blog, and whose to block. And if someone posts an abusive review on Amazon (as opposed to one that is simply negative), we can choose to report it and let Amazon deal with it. And the rest we can choose to ignore.

There’s something always Darwinian about the kind of stupidity Grant describes. If an author is going to wig out at their readers, then it is going to come back to bite them on the arse in the form of “Do Not Read” notices, more negative reviews, and the rapid creation of very bad reputations. Authors at any stage of their career except ‘already wildly successful’ will do themselves irreparable harm by such ill-considered actions because, by all accounts, publishers and agents do have a tendency to notice these sorts of things. Freaking out over a bad review isn’t just bad for one’s blood pressure, it’s also bad for one’s career.

As they say, Karma’s a bitch.

rashbre January 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm

It’s interesting reading your experiences related to launching a book and figuring out the social promotion as well.

I launched my first novel about two years ago and have thought about ‘the moves’ associated with publicity and awareness. Mine was a side project in any case and I feel I’ve had to learn the ropes as I go along. Its also become more apparent for the need to have more than one book out to help the credentials.

Its also a question of finding the time to do the other promo things – which when the novel writing is something of a sideline can be difficult to squeeze in.

Anyway – good luck with your endeavour and I’ve just downloaded Argleton to Kindle – expect me to drop some comments int Amazon in due course.

Suw January 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Hi Rashbre! I totally understand about the time issues when writing isn’t your full-time gig. I had really hoped that this was going to be the year where it could become at least 50% of my time, but a recent development with a key client might have scotched that, dammit. So it does mean that I have to balance Argleton promotion with writing the next novelette and it can be hard. I had hoped to have the first draft of the next one, working title ‘Queen of the May’, done before Christmas but, well, Christmas got in the way. (Ought to be writing it now, but got distracted by volcanos… tsk tsk.)

Thanks very much for taking a punt on Argleton! I do hope you like it!

Mr Koh January 11, 2012 at 7:10 am

When things get rough, go shopping instead. Peace.

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