Friday, 20 April 2012

Authors On Reviews: To Comment or Not To Comment?

When I saw this question mentioned on Reading Romances I knew it will spark an interesting discussion. I mean we all, whether we are readers, bloggers, or authors, have an opinion on this (especially after the numerous author meltdown incidents that occurred lately over Goodreads reviews and such). 

When I'm writing my reviews I am conscious that the author will be/could be reading it, which makes it quite hard for me when I somehow didn't connect with that specific book and I'm writing a "negative" review. I most certainly don't want to hurt the author's feelings, they spent months/years dreaming this story, but if for whatever reason this one book wasn't for me I want to be honest and tell readers that. Reviews are not judgements they are subjective opinions, they vary from people to people. I personally am interested in reading negative reviews IF the reviewer states their problems with the book, because that way I can decide if those are indeed things I would take issue with or to the contrary I don't mind them at all and having my curiosity piqued will try the novel.

I personally enjoy it when an author comments on my review, and some of the most unexpected surprises came from graceful polite and kind authors who commented on my negative reviews thanking me for my time (so far I've been lucky no meltdown or attacking comments *knocks on wood*) and once an author even accepted my criticisms saying she wished these were pointed out before release.

And now let me present you my guests: I went and asked some of my favourite authors for their opinion, because let's be honest we are all curious to hear what is the author's take: to comment or not to comment?

Carolyn Crane, author of the Disillusionists Trilogy:
I think most authors cringe when these blow-ups with authors commenting on negative reviews happen. I know I cringe!! No author should do that, and those kerfluffles make us all look like jerks.

As for commenting on positive reviews, that is so tricky. Part of me says, the reviewer took the time to read and write about my book--shouldn't I thank her? But then I think, if she didn't go out of her way to alert me to the review, maybe she doesn't want me to comment. And what if one of her blog readers wants to disagree with her positive review? Will the presence of my author comment chill the discussion? I don't want to chill discussion!

That's the stuff that runs through my mind, and why I tend to not even visit or read reviews unless somebody sends or tweets a link, and even then, I will never comment right on the review. I think the bottom line (and most authors get this) is that free and unhampered discussion of books, whether positive or negative, is a good thing for readers. And what's good for readers is good for writers.


Nadia Lee, author of (amongst others) Carnal Secrets and The Last Slayer:
Generally, I'd say no. The only exception would be to thank the reviewer for taking the time to review your book. In other cases, just be aware that people may find your input off-putting, if the review is neutral or not flattering and you're trying to "correct" the reviewer. Even if the review contains factual errors, you can still end up looking defensive.

If you really want to point out errors in the review, do so privately via email. Thank the reviewer again for the time she/he has taken to read your work and review it, and then gently point out whatever error is in the review and ask the reviewer if she/he would be willing to make changes. If it's stuff like mixing up character names, etc., probably it's not a big deal to point out. But if it's stuff like typos or grammatical errors, then maybe not, because it may come off as unnecessarily sarcastic -- "What do you know about good writing, you ignorant, no-spell-check-using plebeian?"

Overall, when in doubt just say nothing. Remember that reviews are for readers, not for writers.

Ruthie Knox, author of Ride with Me:
As a longtime reader who is quite new to the business of being a published author, I've had to rethink a lot of my attitudes toward book reviews. Whether I am comfortable with the idea or not -- and thus far, I really haven't had time to get comfortable with it -- the day my first book came out, I became an "author" in the eyes of my readers, and I can no longer respond to book discussions or participate in them simply as a reader. While an author's opinion may not carry more weight, it certainly carries a different *sort* of weight, and I find that I have to try to remain constantly aware of this as I participate in conversations about romance reading and writing online.

It can be hard to remember, because like so many people who write romance, I was a passionate reader first, and I remain one. Nonetheless, in listening in on conversations about the etiquette of author participation in review sites over recent months, one thing that's become clear to me is that authors' presence in these conversations makes a lot of readers uncomfortable. So as much as I'd love to leap right in and talk about books -- my books, my friends' books, other romance writers' books -- I'm much more likely these days to hold back. And when it comes to reviews of my own books, I refrain from commenting altogether.

Laura Bickle, author of the Anya Kalinzcyk and Oracle series (penned as Alayna Williams):
I try to say "thank you" if someone has taken the time to read and review my book on their blog. If I'm aware of the review, I want the person who read my work to know that what they did is appreciated - regardless of whether or not the book worked for them.

Linda Poitevin, author of the Grigori Legacy series:
When it comes to commenting on a review, absolutely not. Reviews are aimed at readers, not writers, and in my opinion the ensuing conversation in blog comments is a private one between the blogger and his/her followers. When it comes to thanking a reviewer, however, I do try to express my appreciation for their time and effort. Even if a review isn't a particularly positive one, the reviewer has still taken the time to read my book and share their thoughts...the least I can do is say thank you for that. I do so privately, though, either in the form of an email or a direct message on Twitter if the reviewer follows me. And I never, ever make a public comment on a negative review. Ever.

Kait Nolan, author of the Mirus series and Red:
Conventional wisdom says not to respond to reviews. For the most part I hold with this. Reviews are for readers, not for the authors. But there are a few circumstances when I feel it's okay to break that rule. 

1) If the review makes statements that are just flat wrong. By which I don't mean you disagree with their interpretation but they get something seriously incorrect in the review. For example, I had one reviewer state that my paranormal romance novella Forsaken By Shadow was YA. It definitely is not, was never intended to be (the hero and heroine are about 30), so I politely responded with a correction. Another review mentioned that my YA novel Red was in present tense. Nope. It's not. So I made another polite "Just FYI..." response. 

2) If the review was awesome, it is always okay to make a polite thank you. Maybe this is the Southern in me, but I was always raised to be humble and say thank you for compliments, so if I get a particularly flattering review from a blogger, I usually will stop by to say thanks and how much I appreciate them taking the time to read my work. Beyond that, and most especially if it's a bad review, don't respond. Rail in private to your friends all you want, but never ever make a public response to a bad review.

Maybe I had it drilled into my head as a child, but I was always told to have good manners. And it honestly shocks me silly that some believe saying thank you is a bad thing. For me, I can’t imagine not telling someone I appreciate that they took the time to read my book, good or bad review. It just goes against everything I believe in.

Do I comment beyond that? NO WAY! Anyone is entitled to their opinion, reviews are so subjective, but that’s why I don’t go searching them out. I also tend to avoid reading the written reviews of three stars or under because my skin is really thin and I’m too darn sensitive to not let it get to me. However, when one pops up in my Google Alerts, I will always comment and say a simple thank you because it makes me feel good, too!

Laura Kaye, author of the Hearts of the Anemoi series (amongst others):
As an author, here’s my take on the question of whether to comment on reviews. If they’re negative? Never. Ever. Not even a little. Vent to a trusted friend if you have to, but never respond in any public forum or in any way that could be easily shared to a public forum. If they’re positive, here’s what I do: If the reviewer tweets me, emails me, or shares the review on my Facebook wall, I’ll post a “Thank you for reading and reviewing!” response and retweet or share. If the reviewer specifically engages me in the comment section of her blog, I’ll respond with a similar thank you message on her blog. Otherwise, I don’t comment. I will share the review on Facebook and Twitter, and I post excerpts of reviews on a dedicated page on my blog, but I don’t comment because I know many reviewers feel that reviews aren’t for the authors, they’re for the readers. Even so, I am hugely grateful to the bloggers and reviewers and know their work creates buzz and helps generate sales, so let me say here in this forum: THANK YOU REVIEWERS! *grins*

Gini Koch, author of the Kitty Katt/Alien series:
Just Say No

I come down, firmly, on the side of "never comment on your reviews". First off, I think if you comment on one review, you have to comment on EVERY review. Because each person took the time to do a review, and if you're saying "thanks", then they all deserve said thanks. I'm always on deadline. I don't have time to comment on every review. I barely have time to eat or sleep, let alone make witty, pithy, or defensive comments on every review out there.

Also, I feel that if you comment on the good reviews, well, then you have to comment on the bad ones, too. Try as I might, I'm just not a big enough person to say, "Thanks for your honest opinion" when someone's been particularly nasty about what they didn't care for in my deathless prose. It IS their opinion, and they're entitled to it, and, frankly, if I don't mention how nasty they are and bring attention to their declaration that my book has, single-handedly, brought about The End of Civilization As We Know It, the nasty will go away much sooner.

Lastly, there is literally no way for an author to "win" in any situation where an author is commenting on their own work. (Frankly, the less said about authors who give their own books positive, 5 star reviews, the better, so we'll leave them out of this conversation.) If someone wishes to be startin' somethin', then even a polite "thank you for your honest review" will give them an opening to attack you. And if you, the author, decide to defend or explain your position, then you've opened the floodgates and the fur is gonna fly all over the interwebs. And you know what? Never does the author come out looking good in those cases, even if the author has been completely and utterly logical, professional, and diplomatic.

As Abraham Lincoln said, it's better to be silent and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Thank you Ladies for taking the time for sharing your thoughts on this issue! 

So now we have it, what authors think on commenting on reviews. I don't think authors should refrain from commenting on reviews per se as a general rule, however commenting on negative reviews can snowball and be the most harmful to the author in the end. And a great middle way is as Linda suggested, thanking the reviewer privately via e-mail.

Now it's your turn, do tell us, what is your opinion, should authors comment on reviews or not? And why is that?

You can check out other bloggers' thoughts at the other blogs participating in the discussion:

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