When You Wish Upon a Star, You Get the Pointy End (Part 1): Why Authors Should ALWAYS Respond To Negative Reviews

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By the time the manager of the New York City Grand Hyatt found me, I was hyperventilating with rage. “I just want to warn you,” I said through gritted teeth, “that I’m really pissed, and I’m probably going to end up using every curse word I know and improvise a few more as I go.” As I ranted, the manager’s face was a mask of dispassion. I wrapped up my laundry list of complaints, crossed my arms, and waited. Finally, he said…nothing. The two of us stood there “un-budged,” eyeballing each other like the Zax in the Dr. Seuss poem (except that unlike “the prairie of Prax,” the Hyatt was comfortably air-conditioned).

Finally, disgusted with him, the bell hop, New York City, and myself for wasting $299/night, I stalked off, vowing, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” No, wait, sorry—that was someone else. Someone else said that.

Anyway, as I stomped off to the elevator, I vowed that I would never again stay at the Grand Hyatt—or any other Hyatt for that matter! If the hotel had been a novel, I would have rated it like this: 

Did our interaction actually start like this, you ask? Short answer: Yes. Did this showdown actually end like this, with the hotel manager doing a Weekend at Bernie’s impression? Well…

If you’re at all familiar with my blogs, you know that I’m now going to parallel park that thought and get down to business (though it might appear to the untrained eye that I’m making a three-point turn and burning rubber in the opposite direction). I’ve heard it dozens of times, from authors to agents to editors to PR folks—all with decades of publishing experience under their belts. Delivered in a tone of absolute certainty, it’s generally followed by grave nods of agreement all ‘round. It is one of publishing’s most dearly held pearls of conventional wisdom:

Never respond to reader reviews. NEVER.

“I respond to reviews all the time,” I say, whenever the topic comes up. After a pause, someone will clarify: “Well, of course you should respond to good reviews, just not the bad ones.” My go-to reply: “Are you kidding me? I comment on good reviews every once in a while, but as soon as I find out that I’ve gotten a bad review, I stop whatever I’m doing and run to my computer like my ass is on fire. The faster you respond, the better.” Cue expressions of incredulity and/or pity, well-meant, illustrative anecdotes, even a cautionary tale or two, including at least one of the following:

  • “Authors are sensitive people. They don’t like anyone telling them that ‘their baby’s ugly.’” Perhaps best illustrated by indie-published author Jacqueline Howett ‘s ill-advised outburst over what she perceived to be an unfair review of her novel The Greek Seaman, a breakdown so irresistibly entertaining that it went viral, leaving her with enough bad PR to fill the hole to China she’d dug for herself.
  • “Authors should write books and not offer opinions.” On anything, apparently, as evidenced by the reader backlash leveled at New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston after his unfortunate “Wal-Mart mentality” comment—outrage that came in the form of hundreds of scathing 1-star reviews of his novels.
  • “Review pages are for readers speaking to other readers, not to authors.” According to this school of thought, readers will be so alarmed upon learning that an author is an actual, living, breathing human being, that any response from her (no matter how benign) would oblige the reader to reach for smelling salts, effectively putting the kibosh on any future discussion in that forum.

This kind of thinking perpetuates the idea that an author’s sole purpose is to park himself behind a keyboard in a dimly lit room, only rarely venturing out into the Sunlit Lands, and then only long enough to lob his newest novel over the fence. Ideally, said author would be bustled as quickly as possible back to his Lair of Creativity before his body’s sudden, desperate attempt to manufacture vitamin D made the poor, pasty fellow lose consciousness.

Listen, authors: I get it, okay? I have firsthand knowledge (many times over) of “the final push”—those agonizing days and weeks as you near “The End” when you’re not eating, sleeping, or bathing (illustrated nicely by this recent text from my friend, Graham Brown, as his deadline loomed: “Looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Not talking to a volleyball yet, but that can’t be far off.”) If you’re a guy, this is the closest you’ll ever get to experiencing childbirth.

However, unless you’re planning to donate your tome to an origami club, I’m guessing that you’ll be offering it for sale. I’m further assuming you’d like to sell lots of books—MORE each month, in fact! In that case, once you type “The End,” it’s absolutely critical that you do two things immediately:

  1. Stop thinking like an author and start thinking like a businessperson.
  2. Stop thinking of online reviewers as “readers” and start thinking of them as customers.

Consider this thought from Patricio Robles piece “How Do You Handle Feedback?” on Econsultancy.com: “[T]he opinions of paying customers (or potential customers you attempt to sell to) should be treated like gold, even if the feedback feels like lead.” Or this from Michel Stefan’s, et al, “Making the Most of Customer Complaints” in The Wall Street Journal: “…it’s crucial for companies to realize that the way they handle customer complaints is every bit as important as trying to provide great service in the first place.” Authors are consumers too, so this advice seems so obvious, so benign, because neither Robles nor Stefan are specifically referring to selling books. But with just a few, choice word substitutions…

  • The reviews of paying readers (or potential readers you attempt to sell to) should be treated like gold, even if the criticism feels like lead.
  • …it’s crucial for authors to realize that the way they handle negative reader reviews is every bit as important as writing a good novel in the first place.

How high are your hackles now? C’mon, somebody’s got to be sputtering invective-laced dissent at their computer screen right now. Just why is it so hard for authors to accept a customer service concept that’s universal in every other industry? Because while it’s true that business concepts can generally be applied to anything from beer to blankets to books, for an author (especially a traditionally published author), “the customer” can be a moving target on the long road to the bookshelf. Agents, editors, marketing directors, PR folks, bookstores, libraries, distributors—you’re out to please them, so they’re sorta like customers, right? Wrong. And confusion on this point will definitely not serve you well, so I’ll make it easy for you:

Customer = Reader

If you mosey over to Amazon and take a peek at the The Frog Prince or Sleeping Beautyyou’ll find that, on average, 86% of Amazon reviews for The Frog Prince and Sleeping Beauty are in the 4-star/5-star range (out of 78 and 47 reviews, respectively as of this writing). But that’s not to say that I haven’t received negative reviews blistering enough to ignite dry brush. Here’s a quick taste of some of the best of the worst–two of which will be explored in more detail and expanded upon in posts to follow:
 “The writers [sic] use of the words retard, retarded, socially retarded and mentally retarded were all used within the first chapter. I have a 3 year old daughter with downs syndrome [sic], I find her repeated use of these very hurtful words extremely tasteless.”
“…the story line of actually meeting a pseudo prince in Denver is embarrassing, at most… I lived in Denver for 5 years and I find the descriptions of the restaurants, bars to be a bit well… bizarre.”

“…when I saw the title Sleeping Beauty WAKES UP, I bought it, thinking it was a sequel. Now, I’m beginning to realize that I’ve been duped by Mz Lothlorien and I don’t like it.”

“I hated this book! Boring story, stupid plot, and the characters were flat. Do not waste your money!”

 

Of course, you won’t actually find any of these reviews there now—at least, not exactly, and not with the 1-star ratings they were originally given. Why? Because when I got my first 1-star review back in 2010, I didn’t close my eyes, “wish upon a star,” and hope it would all go away. Frankly, I was appalled—not at the reader, or the content of her review, but by the fact that someone had paid money for my work, disliked it enough to write a negative review, and I was keeping their money! I don’t know about you, but if I was on the paying end of that raw deal, it would leave a taste in my mouth worse than chewing on a bad peanut.

So I took action.

I responded to every bad review I got, even if I had to do deep breathing, sleep on it, or wait a few days until my head was in a better place. (I responded to good reviews too, but there are only so many ways to write “I’m glad you thought my book was so awesome” before you kinda/sorta start to feel like a suck-up.)

Would you be surprised if I told you that every negative review I’ve responded to that resulted in a dialogue [this is key] with the reader ended with them 1) deleting their review altogether; 2) amending their review with more favorable language; 3) Increasing their rating at least one “star,” but more typically by two, three, or even four?

In fact, never has my attempt to reach out to a reader resulted in a negative outcome. Deafening silence, sure, but never negativity. What kind of “author voodoo” did I cast on these unhappy readers that turned them into happy, review-revising fans? In my next post “When You Wish Upon A Star, You Get the Pointy End: The Dos and Don’ts of Responding to Negative Reviews,” I will explain the whys of the “dos and don’ts” for authors considering responding to their negative reviews. In Case Study #1 and #2, I will describe—in painful, mortifying detail—two of the worst reviews I’ve ever received, the often heated communication from readers that followed (although the “heat” was one-sided and never came from me), and the final outcome.

Oh, and that hotel manager from the Grand Hyatt? After I nearly bit his head off in the lobby that unfortunate afternoon, he comped my room, gave me a $200 bar credit, and sent wine, fruit, and cheese up to the room every day for the rest of my stay.  Of course, with all that alcohol the rest of the week was a little on the hazy side, but when I checked out that Sunday, my review of the Grand Hyatt had changed to this:

[Many people posted here or emailed me expressing curiosity about what exactly happened at the Hyatt that caused me to become so angry (and for them, in turn, to respond in the way that they did). On 6/22 I blogged about the incident here.]

Read Part 2 of “When You Wish Upon A Star, You Get the Pointy End: The Dos and Don’ts of Responding to Negative Reviews.”
Read Part 3 of “When You Wish Upon A Star, You Get the Pointy End: Author-Reader Case Study #1.”
Read Part 4 of “When You Wish Upon A Star, You Get the Pointy End: Author-Reader Case Study #2.”

Elle Lothlorien

About Elle Lothlorien

A “military brat,” Elle Lothlorien was born in Germany and spent her childhood in such far-flung places as Puerto Rico, Charleston, S.C., Italy, and Washington D.C. Sadly, the only language she ever became semi-fluent in is English. Elle’s first two self-published romantic comedies, THE FROG PRINCE and SLEEPING BEAUTY went on to become Amazon bestsellers. She is considered a “reluctant expert” on the business of electronic, independent publishing (also called “indie-publishing”), and frequently writes and speaks on the topic. Elle lives in Denver, Colorado. She keeps two dachshunds around the house to provide comic relief. Find out more about her and her books by going to her website, or by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

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45 thoughts on “When You Wish Upon a Star, You Get the Pointy End (Part 1): Why Authors Should ALWAYS Respond To Negative Reviews

  1. Interesting perspective that goes against that generally propagated, but then again I think that’s a great thing in our recent \versus\ environment. Too often the old saws get handed down without people really discussing them. So I’m glad you opened a discussion up.

    I tend to at least thank reviewers, where appropriate (i.e., if they engage me on my site, or via Facebook comment), but I’m less inclined to comment on any reviews on, say, Amazon or Goodreads. Being a businessman myself, I appreciate your reasoning behind engaging customers (which is absolutely exactly what it is, and well done there), but I think the problem becomes that there’s a difference between reviewing a restaurant and reviewing a book; the former is an establishment, the latter an experience.

    If a particular meal is bad at a restaurant, knowing so might be helpful to the restaurant because they might be able to improve the meal for other diners (or you, should you return). But a novel is a more singular experience, and reading two different novels even by the same author could very well be akin to dining at two different restaurants. Neil Gaiman’s work is like that, to some degree; a few of his novels are so different from each other you might expect they were written by different authors if you didn’t know better.

    When I commented on this post via Twitter, DBW noted that you had actually rewritten one of your books’ endings to appease readers. I don’t see that mentioned in the post, but I seem to recall having read it elsewhere. I know I’ve seen your name before (well done on all your success, by the way). Going by that information prompts another thought, though, and an analogy to Bioware and its Mass Effect series. A lot of Bioware’s customers were disappointed by the game trilogy’s ending, and BW has indicated it plans to release new downloadable content to \clarify\ the ending (or something like that).

    I bring this up because my thought was that novels are experiences, not establishments, and writers can use the comments in a negative review to improve the next book, the next time out, but the current book less so. Your experience (and Bioware’s) of revising a novel’s ending would contradict that, but I wonder where that ends, in terms of when do you stop revising it and re-releasing it, how do you decide which negative reviews to take into account when revising, and when do you move on from one book and begin the next?

    Great discussion prompt, though. Cheers.

  2. Thanks, Will, for all your great comments.

    You can read more about the “alternate ending” I wrote for my novel SLEEPING BEAUTY here (http://alturl.com/b4b5c) and here (http://alturl.com/yham2), but yes—I did actually respond to reader views and revise the novel. It was a customer service AND a strategic marketing/business decision, as I figured it would probably get some media coverage since I’d never heard of anyone doing it before…and I was right! Because they’re two standalone novels, many readers end up reading (and paying for) both.

    I’d originally included a few of the reviews that referred to reader’s dissatisfaction over the ending of SLEEPING BEAUTY, but the post was already getting to be a little War and Peace, so I cut them. I will pull them back in for the “case study” post next week, but here are two of them (both 3-star reviews):

    “I LOVED Davin’s character. I didn’t care for Brendan at all…”

    “I LOVED Davin. I hated Brendan…I wanted him out of the story.”

    I think you’ll see from the USA Today interview that I don’t respond in this way to every reader demand, otherwise there’d be a sequel to THE FROG PRINCE out there already. As a businessperson, it’s critical that authors understand, especially now, that they must always be working on their next book, as illustrated in this piece “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, A Book A Year is Slacking” in The New York Times (http://alturl.com/kqozp). (On that note, my next novel RAPUNZEL comes out in July.)

    “The customer is always right” is a saying we’re all familiar with, but I’m not sure I agree with it so much once you do one of my much beloved, strategic word replacements: “The reader is always right.” [Insert gasps of disbelief here.]

    But I can tell you this: My readers WERE right!

    SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES UP! (the alternate ending version of SLEEPING BEAUTY) is the book I should have written the first time around, the more honest ending I would have written if I hadn’t put up such a fight with myself because I thought rom-com readers who had loved the lighthearted romp that was THE FROG PRINCE would shit their pants if the heroine ended up with her gay brother’s boyfriend. (Seriously, it sounds waaaaay left field, but when you read the novel you “get it.”) When readers ask which book they should read, I always recommend WAKES UP! over SLEEPING BEAUTY.

    Honestly, I think that if an author’s not jazzed about revising their work in response to reader feedback, they’re just never going to complete it. It’s hard enough to write a novel in the first place when you love the story, you know?

  3. This is a wonderful article, and is sure to give many writers heart! My own first novel, Gentlemen’s Game, has garnered enthusiastic reviews and some really bad ones. I understand that the nature of the book is controversial and I expected mixed reviews, but what has surprised me is that so many readers are so uninformed about what makes a good book and what a writer’s responsibility to the reader is. Because my story is not a feel-good uplifting story, I get beat up. I had one reviewer – this is someone who fancies himself as a reviewer rather than mere reader – tell me that he only gave three stars because he likes to escape when he reads, and mine depressed him. What that had to do with the quality of the writing is beyond me. The other amazing thing is that readers are offended by the morality of a character and so readily assume I share the morality of that character!

    I want to agree with your point that defending yourself – within limits – is not without merit. My experience is also that I have had great feedback when approaching someone about a negative review. In each of the few cases in which I have felt strongly enough to approach the reviewer, I was met with a “thank you for contacting me” and a clarifying conversation at the least. In the long run, I have to believe that I am sowing seeds for having a good rep as a human being, and in each case the reviewer claimed to be looking forward to the next book.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience! “In each of the few cases in which I have felt strongly enough to approach the reviewer, I was met with a ‘thank you for contacting me’ and a clarifying conversation at the least.”

      YES! That’s it exactly! Even if you part without agreeing (and I have had that happen too), you can still have a civilized exchange with a person whose only fault was not liking your book. Hardly a capital offense. There’s no way you can write a book to please everyone, and I am never offended when someone doesn’t enjoy my novels. I simply want them to know that I hear them, and to acknowledge the valid points in their critique (if they offer any critique other than “I hated this book!” That’s a little harder to work with.). :-)

  4. Well, since you punctuate your point with anecdotal evidence, let me offer my own: any time an author has responded to my or my friends’ critical reviews, the author came out looking like an ass.

    Maybe you have a talent for intimidating or shaming reviewers into adding more stars to their rating, I can’t say, but I really don’t think it’s a practice worth encouraging. 99% of authors, when commenting on critical reviews of their work, just make a bad situation worse. A one-star review is much, much less damning than a less than gracious author response to that review.

    • I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve received unkind responses from an author simply for posting a review (good or bad). Getting a reader to change their review for the better is NOT the goal of acknowledging their comments, critiques, or opinions. The Hyatt manager didn’t intimidate me or shame me after I told him what a terrible experience I’d had. He simply listened, acknowledged what I’d said, and did what he could to make it right.

      And since you’ve anticipated one of the items on my list of Dos and Dont’s, I will say that simply BEING GRACIOUS is the key.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  5. You’re making people uncomfortable and you don’t even know it.

    1. Someone doesn’t enjoy your book.

    2. You come in and they feel guilty once they discover you’re a real person.

    3. They change their rating, though they still enjoyed the book the exact same amount.

    4. Uncomfortable.

    • Hi, Stacy. Thanks so much for posting a response. Let me preface my reply by saying that I’ve been mulling this topic over in my head for quite some time, and I’ll admit that I wondered the same thing myself (whether or not I was making readers “uncomfortable”).

      So I asked a few of them.

      I’d like to save the bulk of the examples for the 2nd half of the blog next week, but the answer below is from a reader who posted a 3-star review and had, quite frankly, very valid points in her critique.

      Reader: “I know that I was a bit anxious when I realized “someone” had responded. I didn’t pay attention to whom it was, if it even actually indicated the poster’s name; however, when I finished reading about the first sentence, I glanced up and realized, “Holy (expletive)! This is the AUTHOR herself.” Then I had to settle down and read the response again. I thought you had a gracious comment, and you seemed genuinely interested in bettering your book. I wasn’t insulted or hurt – or any negative emotion – that you replied.”

      And to be honest, the only reason I know that some of the reviewers have changed their review (from 1-star to 3 stars, for example) is because neither of my rom-coms have had a lot of “bad” reviews (knock on wood), so when I see the 1-star or 2-star reviews suddenly drop in number, I look through the reviews to see what’s happened. Often the reader will post an “update” to their review to explain why they’ve changed it, and it’s usually something along the lines of “the author listened to me.”

      Getting a reader to change their review for the better is NOT the goal of responding. “Making it right” is the motivation. But just like I plan to stay at the Grand Hyatt again in July, these same readers will email me (often months and months later) to tell me that they’ve purchased one of my other novels. Make it right, and you may see repeat customers. I believe that’s true for any business.

      • Having contact with you still doesn’t change what they originally thought of the book. Your influence on them is what causes them to change it.

        I think your “making it right” thing is an excuse. Some people don’t like some things. How can you make it right unless you give them back their time and money? I don’t see how talking to them makes the book better.

        • Thanks for your response, Stacy. I can’t give back the time, but I DO thank them for taking the time to post the review (even a bad one), because I understand that time is so valuable. I hope you’ll see part 2 of the blog later this week where I go into more detail on that point (the value of a reader’s time). And I actually HAVE explained to readers how to get a refund, and have often refunded the money myself if they were unable to obtain a refund through Amazon. Again, I will provide examples. It was my intent to provide these examples in my original post, but it just got too long and I had to split it. I appreciate your comments and feedback and look forward to hearing from you again if you’re inclined to read the second part.

  6. It all rather depends on what you are replying to, and why you are replying. There is the now legendary incident concerning the two star review of a book in which the author not only harangued the reviewer, but hosed down all other commentators with a heavy dose of expletives. The criticism was mild, and entirely justified, the book in question was not ready for publishing, and the author’s demented, over-the-top response was like manna to the internet trolls. To put it bluntly, no book is ever going to be universally loved, there will always be someone who doesn’t get it. Going on line to defend it just makes you look defensive and that you might not believe in your own work. Only responding to positive reviews leaves the impression in the mind of the unconvinced reader that you are so in need of pats and praise that you will suck up to anyone who writes a good review. Even posting positive reviews on your website, BE SELECTIVE, use the ones with the most balanced arguments, not the ones that gush about how wonderful it is and how amazing you are. Please also remember that the internet is full of trolls. They love nothing more than to slam something and wait for a response. Feeding the trolls merely encourages them. All things considered, I would be strongly inclined to leave well alone. Post somewhere on your website that you are grateful for all reviews, and leave it at that.

  7. I wish somebody would comment on my e-books https://www.amazon.com/author/t.j.edison.and make some comment. They buy (download)them, read them and remain silent. Are they shocked and horrified that they have given hard-earned-cash for a load of illiteracy and are lost for words? Or are they so overwhelmed with the quality (I almost said excellence, but I thought better of it) of writing that they couldn’t find the correct words to express themselves. Well, maybe some day somebody will be brave or stupid enough to comment and give me one star.

    • Don’t be discouraged; I’ve sold over 20,000 books on Amazon, but received only 130 or so reviews on the site. That’s less than 1%! It just takes some time for reviews to start trickling in.

  8. The most recent example, I think, might even fit your plan. I read a romance novel with a heroine who used a prothetic limb. I panned the book as an offensive appropriation of disability. The author chimed in with an insipid \I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. RT gave it 4.5 stars. I have to take the good with the bad.\

    What’s the point of that? What does an author hope to do with a comment like that other than to make me feel guilty for not liking her book? And in this particular case, isn’t \I’m sorry it didn’t work for you\ dismissive in light of the problematic disability themes? As a person with a disability, it sure felt like a \Simmer down, everyone else liked it just fine. You’re being oversensitive.\

    Since I’m the proud owner of a forceful personality and am particularly active in the online romance community, I wasn’t shamed or intimidated in the least and sent that author away with her tail between her legs. What if someone less self-assured wrote that review and got that response? From all the time I spend online, I know authors are mere mortals and share the same internet but other, more casual readers, aren’t prepared for that. An author response intimidates them, often into silence. They feel like they’ve been caught talking behind someone’s back and now are in trouble. They don’t feel any differently, but now they don’t feel it’s safe to talk about books online anymore.

    Those readers you responded to who said nothing back to you? I wouldn’t be so quick to declare \no harm done.\ At a guess, you made them feel uncomfortable about discussing your book online. If they read another of your books, and I doubt they would, they won’t review it now that they know you’re watching them so closely.

    What you’re encouraging is reader intimidation. I know you don’t see it that way and that your heart is in the right place, but that’s what the end result is. Responding to reader reviews has a chilling effect on discussion. If readers know that they’ll be called out for their reviews, they won’t write them anymore. Without negative reviews, positive reviews are devalued until they’re eventually meaningless.

    Leave reviewers alone. Critical reviews aren’t an author’s worst enemy. Obscurity is.

    • Thanks very much again for sharing your point of view. Although I respectfully disagree with you (and suspect that we will have to “agree to disagree” at this juncture), I am glad to have been able to offer you a forum to share a very different side of the debate. Consensus is dull, dialogue is vital!

  9. Oh, how we all love to be listened to! It validates our person-hood nicely (I know it freaking does for me)
    Elle, I haven’t given you a negative review on your books, but did get a nice reply, a ‘thanks for posting a review’ on VIRGIN. I’ve met you at one of your workshop and liked you before reading your books. It’s hard to be negative, even literar-ily, when you genuinely LIKE an author as a person.

    Doncha think?

    And likewise, if you DON\T like them personally for whatever reason, it’s easier to give them a thumbs-down on their book. Which I’ve also done, but not for childish ‘revenge.’ Well… it did sting a bit less to give her a 2-star since she’d been a real jerk to me in person (how I wish I were more like Jesus)

    Oh, how personal contact/interaction makes a difference — even in how much we like a BOOK. Or give it a good/bad review. I find it more painful to give the nice-author a low-star one, but still…I just can’t lie and give it more than I truly feel it deserves. Wouldn’t want a reader to not be honest about MY work, either.

    But when I do indie-pub my own, I don’t think I’ll reply to the general public’s reviews. I’d do a bad job of it, surely. If they really want to communicate with ME, they can contact me via my blog/website. IMO.

    That being said, I read the e-book of a very good friend, who asked me for ‘honest feedback and critique.’ AFTER publishing your work isn’t the best time to ask for a critique, but I did as she asked — it was hard, too, since the book still needed work content-wise and had many editing errors. I even paid for the book, but get this: my friend wanted to REFUND my money due to the quality of what she’d published.

    I refused the refund..but still. A good idea for customers who hate your book? Bad idea, IMO. It reminds me of buying a DVD movie, not liking it and trying to return it to the store. Yeah…don’t think so.

    Anyway, good article and thoughts.

    • Well how nice of you to say, Barb. Very kind indeed.

      ” It’s hard to be negative, even literar-ily, when you genuinely LIKE an author as a person. Doncha think?”
      Hmm…depends. If an author was asking me my opinion of their work, I would tell them the truth no matter how much I liked/disliked them. On the flip side, I’ve been on the receiving end of a one-star review from an author. Author, butcher, baker, candlestick maker…they’re customers who are unhappy with my product, and trying to “make it right” is how I choose to approach customer service.

      “A good idea for customers who hate your book? Bad idea, IMO.”
      I certainly disagree. Most people are honest, and are happy to pay for a quality product (whether it’s a curling iron or a novel). But being an author means running a business, and every person must decide for themselves what approach works best for their business!

      “But when I do indie-pub my own, I don’t think I’ll reply to the general public’s reviews. I’d do a bad job of it, surely.”
      If you already recognize that it’s not a good strategy for you, you’re ALREADY ahead of the game. It means you’ve given it some thought and are making a plan–a business plan if you will. This is smart because you’re going to be running one! Good for you for getting a head start. I wish you nothing but the best of luck!

  10. I think it depends, I received nothing but bad reviews from distributors and no response from reviewers I sent my first book too. yet every store(complete strangers) I self distributed to and customers by direct order had nothing but praises for my book. Should I spend time arguing with an industry that is obviously biased against me or just trench it out to the audiences I meet at conventions and online. I say the later, with no resentment to the standards the others have made up in their heads; that say; that shouldn’t sell no one should like that.

    • There’s really no easy way to know why some people like a book and others do not. Tune in to the second part of this post later this week, and I’ll explain why I think the “why” is often completely irrelevant!

  11. GREAT post. Hilarious. Relieved to know I’m not alone when it comes to the skipping showers routine. You made my day – and prompted me to close my mouth – which has been agape since stumbling upon a 1-star review of my baby a few days ago. Will definitely share this one.

    • “…which has been agape since stumbling upon a 1-star review of my baby a few days ago.”

      I understand, believe me! The first one always stings a little, no lie.

  12. So, you’re actually proud of harassing a reader who called you out for repeatedly using ableist language like “retarded” into giving you a better rating? I suggest you visit The R Word website to understand why you’re not the victim for using words like that so freely in your work.

    • The reviewer also provided links (which I read) and we had a very positive exchange on the review forum and via email. In the end, we respectfully agreed to disagree on what fictional characters should/do say in works of literature. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  13. Wow, you’re actually proud that you emotionally blackmail people not only into changing their reviews to ease your bruised ego but that you bullied a hotel staff into giving you free things to shut up your diva fit? Ms. Lothlorien, you are EVERYTHING wrong with the modern literary market in one aggressively self-congratulatory package. That you always get your way so people will shut you up is not something for a grown woman to be proud of, let alone offer to others as the “proper” way to address constructive criticism from your customers.

    I’d say I’d boycott your books from this appalling article, but since it looks like nothing but chick-lit pap, it’s not something I’d recommend to anything but single-celled organsims. You’re an appalling excuse for a human being, let alone an author, and if the second part of this post is just as arrogant (and your dismissal of readers’ “whys” for disliking your prattle in your comments certainly seems to be), then I hope it effectively buries a career you neither understand nor deserve.

    • Yes, if chick-lit isn’t your cup of tea, you definitely won’t like my books (although I do have a thriller out as well). I certainly do not dismiss the reasons why readers do not like my novels–that’s the whole point of reading them! One can often improve the story or one’s craft from reading thoughtfully crafted reader reviews.

      Thanks very much for taking the time to post a response to the blog!

    • Mendia–

      If you disagree with the ideas presented above, by all means, take as much time and space on here as you want to explain why. Leave 100 comments if you like.

      I would urge you, however, not to leave comments that attack the author of the post. There is no reason to call Elle “an appalling excuse for a human being.”

      We’re not talking about murder here — we’re talking about responding to book reviews. Elle has a certain point of view and you have a different one, I gather. Please let’s keep debate basically confined to that parameter.

      Thanks for reading and participating in the discussion.

      Best,
      Jeremy Greenfield
      Editorial Director, Digital Book World

  14. Interesting article. I’m not really sure how I feel about this “technique”, but it is interesting to me. I’ve never gotten a reply from any author, so I’m surprised some actually do respond :)

    Anyways, I wanted to ask… Do you have any idea why the reviewers raised the number of stars after your response? I’m not trying to start an argument or anything, I’m genuinely curious. Because I’m not sure if an author’s response would actually change my opinion on their book. It might change my opinion on *them* but I can’t see what they would have to say to make me like the book more. Well, good for you though! :)

    • Hi Bara, thanks so much for your very good question “Do you have any idea why the reviewers raised the number of stars after your response?” My guess is the same reason why I plan to stay at the Grand Hyatt this July for Thrillerfest: oftentimes customers (no matter how angry they are or what the perceived offense is) just want to know that someone is LISTENING to them. Some readers have posted in their reviews why they changed the rating or the content, and it’s typically along the lines of: “The author listened to me, validated my complaints, accepted my criticism, and now I feel differently about the experience/product.”

      The fact that the product is a book and that the experience is reading the book doesn’t matter. Customer service is customer service. It’s how I choose to run my “business.” I don’t think it’s a matter of the reader “liking the book more,” just like I didn’t like my bad experience with the Hyatt any more even after the manager did what he could to make it right. I think it’s a simple matter of changing how you feel when you RECALL that negative experience. After I spoke to the manager, I felt decidedly less negative, and it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d sent fruit & cheese or ended the encounter there with an apology (but hey, I’m a mere mortal–who am I to turn down free alcohol?) :-)

      Really appreciate you taking the time to post a comment here!

  15. It’s an interesting perspective, but the bottom line is sometimes you get a negative review because the book just didn’t work for a reader. What didn’t work for READER A is probably going to work for READER B or READER D.

    Why bother chasing after those negative reviews to ‘establish a dialogue’ and hope they’ll delete or improve the review when you can be writing your next book, and improving your craft?

    Not to mention the fact that sometimes the negative reviews are the very thing that entices the next reader to buy.

    If you end up with nothing but glowing reviews or just… *meh* reviews, the reviews look white-washed. Which… kinda, IMO, is what you’ve been doing. You’re ‘altering’ the reader’s opinion, through dialogue.

  16. I think other authors might take your advice a little more seriously if you didn’t PLUG YOUR OWN BOOKS in your columns. Anecdotal evidence is fine, but don’t abuse the forum for your own gain.

    If I give a one-star rating or write a negative review, I seriously doubt there’s any way any author could charm me to upgrade it. My role as a reader and reviewer is to react and respond to the WORDS YOU WROTE, not to boost your ego.

    AUTHORS: Your books ARE NOT BABIES. Readers DON’T CARE how much time or sweat or tears you put into your \labor of love.\ If you feel compelled to share your birth story to garner sympathy, put it on your blog – NOT my review.

    • Thank you for your comment. Since DBW is typically read as a “business of digital publishing” blog, it’s not a very effective marketing tool for selling more novels. I use my own experiences as examples because they are the only publishing experiences I have, and I think personal experience feels more “true” to people than simply referring to someone else’s.

      It is difficult to “abuse the forum” as my blog drafts are reviewed by Digital BookWorld before they post. Since I was invited by DBW to blog regularly in the forum (it’s not openly available to all), I am free to choose a topic, but DBW may choose to accept or reject any post.

      I appreciate your comments, thanks for taking the time to post here!

  17. The problem with your hotel analogy is that a concierge or manager can do something to rectify your experience. You don’t have towels? He will have more sent. Your room is dirty? You can be comped and/or upgraded. Your meal was not satisfactory? A bar allowance might be given. Those are all things that can happen during your stay. A hotel is an evolving thing that grows and changes as each day passes.

    A published book is not a hotel. If a book is to be compared to anything, I’d go with a cake. If I taste a cake and discover there was salt added instead of sugar, there’s nothing to be done about it. That cake is just not good. So when I talk about my feelings about that cake, I’m going to say I did not enjoy this cake. It was salty and not sweet. Perhaps the baker can say, here, try this cake and see if you like it and I will think it is delicious. I will say, why yes, this was clearly an issue with the one cake I tasted but this baker has talent and skill.

    Authors aren’t in the service industry. It’s not their job to compensate me if I don’t like their work because fundamentally, short of rewriting the ending or changing a character or reworking dialogue, there is nothing that can be done to fix any issues I saw and felt as a reader. I cannot be made to emotionally connect with a character who I found cold. I cannot be made to be intrigued by a plot that I find boring. I cannot be made to find dialogue funny or poignant. Readers are different people, and a joke that may work for some may not work for others. A joke one reader finds offensive may be quotable to another. A scene may make one reader cry and another roll their eyes.

    I have given one star reviews to books and I have given my reasons for how I feel. There is nothing an author can say that will make me change my reaction to a book. If I can’t find it between the covers or on its pages, it doesn’t exist for me. I might make a comment that the author seems like a very nice person, but that for xyz reasons, their book wasn’t for me. I am rating a book and not a person. I don’t want to change my review because that would defeat the point of expressing my opinion for other readers.

    I don’t think authors should have to live in a vacuum and ignore critiques of their work, but I also think responding to reviewers and encouraging them to change their reviews or ratings is, to put it frankly, wrong. The point of reviews is to see what other people think and how they’ve reacted. You find other reviewers who are similar in your opinions and so you can decide, I’ll wait for this as a paperback or maybe I’ll want to check it out from the library instead of buying it to put on my shelf. If authors are coming in and causing people to change their reviews because the reviewer decides they like the author, the entire reviewing system becomes pointless.

    I love the internet because it makes it easy for readers to interact with authors. It makes it easy to ask questions and to interact. But I think both sides have a tendency to take it too far. Reviewers need to remember what constructive criticism is and authors need to remember Dumbledore’s advice to Hagrid: if you’re holding out for universal popularity, you’re going to be in your hut for a very long time. But when authors are emailing readers for the express purpose of wanting them to change their review, that’s a problem for me, and a problem that is only going to create more problems.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think you make some very valid points! I must clarify by saying that I NEVER email readers (there is no contact information available via Amazon anyway, but I still wouldn’t do it if there were), I respond to reader reviews in an open forum available to everyone. In fact, Amazon gives you the tools via Author Central to read reviews and respond to them by organizing them all in one place. Of course, no author has to do this.

      I used the Hyatt example because staying at a hotel is an experience, the same way reading a novel is often an experience. It doesn’t change the way you feel about the incident that sparked you to complain in the first place (angry, embarrassed, disappointed), but it can change the way you feel about the overall experience–which often extends beyond your hotel stay or the moment you close the book.

      Again, very thoughtful comments. I appreciate you sharing with me, readers and other authors.

  18. It interests me to see how strong of a reaction people have against authors responding to reviews. I suppose I have a different perspective, but I didn’t know it was such an issue. I follow a lot of webcomics as well as read a lot of books, and in webcomics, the creator is usually very much a part of the community. They respond to comments on their pages, visit conventions to meet their readers, address concerns readers have, and sometimes revise the story when readers find errors or point out weaknesses in the story that the creator hadn’t noticed. It’s very similar to what you describe, Elle, and in no way does the webcomic creator chill the discussion. If anything, it encourages readers to make their opinion known, because they know they will be heard. I suppose people could argue it’s a very different medium, but I’m not sure it is. I suspect a lot of the difference is that reader engagement has been present in webcomics since day one, and it’s only recent in this instance. My hope is that it’s just adjustment to a new reality that we’re seeing, because when both parties adjust to it, the dialog can be really valuable.

  19. Thank you for this essay. I am an amateur reviewer. I sometimes write very nasty reviews but I don’t criticize the author, just the book. In my humble opinion a ‘good’, constructive negative review (and I STRIVE to write such) is a god-sent gift to an author. Your family and friends won’t tell you, after all, that your books suck, your characters are cardboard thin and your plot lacks any logic or coherence. A good reviewer will. In my very humble and completely unprofessional opinion if more authors dealt with negative reviews in such a well-thought-out, sensible way the publishing world would be a much happier place, full of better books.

  20. I’m not convinced.

    I think it’s a LOUSY idea to respond to negative reviews, but for different reasons that you’ve cited.

    First, for someone to buy your book, it isn’t essential that they like you. But they shouldn’t *dislike* you either. Human beings are not robots, and most people can’t just compartmentalize their feelings about the author out of their evaluation of the book. If we have a positive impression of an author, fine. We’re predisposed to like their work, and as an author certainly that’s what I’m hoping to achieve through social media interactions. But that’s not essential. If a reader has zero impression of me one way or the other–as is most likely the case when someone stumbles across my book on Amazon or whatever–they can evaluate the book without other bias, and that’s fine. But if somebody thinks I’m an ass, it’s going to be much harder for them to click \buy it now\ even if they *love* the description of the book.

    Second, when you respond to negative reviews, the odds are much, much higher that you’ll create a negative impression about yourself than the reverse. The chances of coming across like a thin-skinned, defensive prima-donna greatly outweigh the odds that a potential reader is going read the response and somehow come away feeling better about you. It’s just playing with fire.

    Third, in responsing to negative reviews you’re far more likely to create a negative impression of the *book* itself, than you are to convince anybody that the book is really all that great. Look, readers know that tastes are individual. Nobody expects everybody to have the same opinion of a book. I don’t look at an Amazon page for a book and reflexively click away if I see that the book has even one negative review on the ledger. But I do know that the book, as a product in the marketplace, has to *stand on its own*. Authors don’t have the opportunity to stand over readers shoulders while they read, in order to explain and justify the story. That’s why we have to write skillfully in the first place, so the story explains and justifies itself without our help. In like fashion, the book has to stand up for itself in readers’ estimation–earning whatever distribution of 1- and 5-star reviews it may happen to get–on its own merits. When I see an author trying to meddle in that process (as with Jacqueline Howett), it inevitably leaves a bad taste. That’s certainly not someone I want to be a party to on my own books!

    You want me to stop thinking like an author and start thinking like a businessman. That’s the one piece of solid advice in this article. Thinking as a businessman, I just can’t see how it is the least bit good for business to respond to negative reviews.

  21. Replying to both good and bad reviews is good customer service… if you’re in the customer service business. If you’re an author, your job is not to make people happy; your job is to write stories that some people will like and some people will not like. Replying to a bad review of your novel and saying something like, “I’m sorry you didn’t like my story, so here’s a complimentary free short story!” is not going to change that person’s opinion of your writing. You can’t please everyone.

    You can, however, be accessible; be available on Twitter and your other online presences to readers who do enjoy your work.

  22. I have removed some comments from this post as they were not additive and attacked the person expressing the ideas above and not the ideas themselves. We welcome spirited debate here at Digital Book World, but inappropriate language without good reason, racist comments, sexist comments or any comments I or others at Digital Book World think the community will find offensive will not be tolerated.

    Further, please don’t attack our bloggers. They’re brave for going out into the world and delivering their opinions. If you disagree with what they say, please don’t hesitate to chime in. If you dislike them as a person or feel the need to resort to personal attacks, I urge you not to comment. Those comments will be removed.

    • I only deleted a comment that directly attacked the author and used inappropriate language. Feel free to call the tactics “insane” and “immature” but please don’t call the author that and please refrain from using inappropriate language.

      Thanks!

    • So we have learned that this author can bully reviewers, but reviewers have to censor their comments to the author. One who uses the word “retard”, and encourages other writers to contact reviewers to change their rating based on an opinion of a book. Brilliant.

      • It’s pretty simple: Direct your comments at the ideas, not the author; use appropriate, respectful language; be professional. We make all of our bloggers agree to a set of similar guidelines. I respectfully ask that our commenters also adhere to some guidelines. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to refrain from calling bloggers names and using ad hominem attacks.

        Thanks.

  23. Great article. I will never, ever, EVER read your books, because I do not feel that my opinion should be belittled by you. I find it downright horrific that you bully readers into giving your book a higher rating. Then you take great pride that you can bully and belittle others into giving your book an unfair and biased rating. This is unprofessional.

  24. Ms Lothlorian, I fear you are looking at this situation through a very narrow window. The landscape is actual quite different than the one you paint, and I for one appear outside of your view.

    Why? Last year I DNF’d your book The Frog Prince about halfway through because I felt it was a painful and boring read. However, I was kind enough not to give it any stars nor a negative review on Goodreads, and I never posted a review on Amazon either. I simply categorized it on my Goodreads bookshelf as a DNF, and moved on to other books. Thanks to your article outlining how you openly intimidate reviewers into deleting or upgrading their reviews, I am seriously rethinking of adding a review with my HONEST opinion of that book.

    Once live, you can reply to my review all you want. However, your ‘author voodoo’ will not get you anywhere. Like Ridley and others who commented here, I am not intimidated by authors emotions, rants, or pleadings. My review are never about the author, just the book. I did not find The Frog Prince entertaining, romantic, or compelling. I found the heroine a ditz, and the story absurd. For me, it fell under ‘wall banger’ category. Sorry if you do not agree, but that is the beauty of having an opinion. It is mine, not yours. I was happy keeping my opinion to myself, but now I realize that was an unwise decision.

    You might find compassion and support among other authors, but I seriously doubt you will find it among the reader community. Your article summarizes that authors should intimate reviewers into deleting or upgrading their negative reviews, which is dirty politics in my opinion. You might find ‘author voodoo’ acceptable, but I find it insulting.

    I have written HUNDREDs of book review both at Amazon and Goodreads, and have built a large group of friends who also enjoy reading and reviewing romance novels. (I am currently ranked as a Goodreads ‘favorite reviewer’ with a current rank of #13, and an ‘all-time’ rank of #56 thanks to the many friends who follow my reviews.) I have had a few authors respond saying thank you, but so far not one has ever responded to a negative review. I think most authors understand it is not a wise thing to do, or maybe they are familiar with my profile enough to realize it would be a futile attempt.

    As far as asking readers their opinions, you have to realize that is not valid feedback, right? If a chef walked out into his restaurant and began surveying his diners, you know the feedback to whatever question he asks will be overwhelmingly positive. It doesn’t matter the question, as the intimidation factor will greatly hinder any honest feedback. I can point out many reader-to-reader threads where readers have voiced their dislike of authors approaching them with comments about their reviews, and they are more factual and credible in my opinion.

    As I stated from the beginning, I think you are looking at this situation through a narrow window – one that only sees other authors and maybe a few readers. Your advice to other authors is based on some flimsy examples and bad data gathering, so I hope they are wise enough to see the hills from the trees and not take your advice seriously.