In the last few months, I have seen a lot of things about reviews float by on my social media. Some are about how to get more reviews. There’s not much I can help with there. Some authors are good at getting them, others of us are not. There doesn’t seem to be a secret recipe. Just be careful not to pester people too much for them as you may inadvertently turn off people who were fans. (Never pay for reviews. Never write your own fake reviews. Those things will always come back to haunt you eventually.)
Many of the things I have seen lately are from new authors asking about the right or wrong way to respond to reviews, especially poor or bad reviews.
I say poor or bad because there are two different kinds of bad reviews. One is a review that says your book/product/whatever is sub-par. The other is a poorly written review, whether it is in your favor or not.
Some authors want to know what to say when it is obvious that someone didn’t read their book. Things like “The only character I liked at all was the wizard” when you wrote a science fiction book and there were no wizards in it.
Some want to know how to respond to something like “I give this one star because I got it for free when I ordered a Bass-O-Matic® and they shipped it to me accidentally. They wouldn’t pay me a refund for it even though they gave it to me for free, so ONE STAR you cheap bastards!”
And some want to know how to respond to “I didn’t read or buy the book but I heard from my drunken uncle that his boss said that when they were in Greenland his wife heard from a bartender that the author eats asparagus farmed by slave children in Antarctica who can’t run away because they will freeze to death. I can’t support a person like that. Death to the author!”
Occasionally, someone wants to know how to thank someone else for a glowing review. (Too bad this can’t happen more often!)
Here is the best advice I can give as to how to respond to any of these situations, and probably most others you can come up with:
Now there are some people out there who absolutely thrive on the strife that responding to the reviews causes. They love the hostile interactions that will follow. They engage the trolls and rally their supporters behind them and march into battle, flags held high, earning a few more readers along the way, losing others. Solidifying some relationships, permanently losing others. It seems to give them a purpose in life beyond just writing. Maybe it’s the social aspect of it. I don’t know. I’m not one to judge much, but I know that’s not for me.
Are you seriously prepared to do that?
Because once you go down that road, there is no going back. Once you have a group of people who dislike you so much that all they want to do for fun is slander your name, stymie your publications, ruin your career, and generally enjoy trying to hurt your feelings by threatening you and/or your family and loved ones… Well, once that happens, there is no going back. You don’t get to call time-out or do-over. They will haunt you forever. You may get publicity out of it. You might get some sales out of it. Unless you are one of those people who thrive on it, it will eventually cost you a piece of your soul.
Really. It never ends. It’s you against Legion. You will eventually give up or go down fighting. So I strongly suggest you don’t do it.
But what about the nice people? The ones who said good things?
I’ve got one word for you on that:
Being a public figure is a very difficult thing. Trying to promote yourself while remaining neutral to all the BS in the world even more so. If you are going to pick sides on an issue, ANY issue, you’ve likely done so for life whether you wanted to or not. And switching sides makes you a traitor to those who had once been in your corner. You can never be Switzerland again.
Trying to be nice to people can be hard, too. Some will try to take as much as they can and will get angry when you won’t give any more. They can be angry over small things, like you won’t write them back anymore, or you won’t read their manuscript, or help them find an agent. Or they can make it huge, like you got a restraining order because you don’t want them at your door anymore. Ever read the book Misery? Ever wonder where Stephen King got the idea?
Now, not everyone is like this. These are extreme examples. But we currently live in an extreme world. Everyone wants to tout their latest favorite thing and get kudos for introducing more people to it. That thing could be you! But everyone also wants to publicly kick their latest favorite thing to hate and get everyone else to agree with them that it deserves to be hated. That thing could be you! If you somehow manage to make it into the public eye as a favorite thing, you WILL become someone’s latest favorite thing to hate. That’s just the way the world works right now.
We can all hope that will change. Maybe it will. But it’s not going away anytime soon.
So now that I’ve gone off on this tangential tirade on the current state of our society, how does this apply to responding to reviews?
Consider responding to reviews the “gateway drug”.
It won’t seem like a big deal. You’ll think that you will do it just this once, to this person you really feel the need to respond to. Only this once…
One of two things will happen. It will either blow up in your face and you’ll regret not taking my advice or it will go fine. If it goes fine, guess what? Six months from now, there will be another. And you’ll think to yourself, “It went fine last time. Maybe just once more…”
Don’t dip your toe in the water.
Let the reviews go. Let them be.
If you get a really bad one, like “I’ve never read one of her books and I never will! She’s a pedophillic Nazi who eats puppies and skins kittens. She needs to be killed, who’s going to help me?” Then you need to contact the websites and ask to have them taken down. Maybe contact a lawyer for lander, libel, or death threats. But NEVER engage back. You will lose in any kind of public confrontation. Even if you win, you will lose in the public eye. Once upon a time the world loved an underdog. Today the whole world thinks it is an underdog and they all want to crush someone down to make themselves feel powerful and in the moral right. Don’t give them the opening. They’ll find enough ways to get to your as it is.
Trust me on this.