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My Thoughts (Once More) On Reviews/Reviewers

March 7, 2011

There is, once again, an explosion about reviews and just who they are meant for and whether an author has the right to respond to them. I swear, this discussion must come up once a month now! Authors are beginning to feel that they are stripped of their own opinions simply because they’re authors, other authors think everyone should just shut the hell up, and reviewers seem to still think they should be able to say whatever they want, however they want, and not be held accountable. *shakes head* It’s dizzying trying to keep up with all the comments and opinions.

I still am in the camp of authors have the right to react to reviews–be they positive or negative–so long as they do it with respect. Even if the reviewer is a complete jerk and eviscerates the author’s book cruelly, an author can still refute the review politely with their own comments. In this age of the internet, reviews are no longer just about the readers. In the interactive world of Amazon and Goodreads and blogs, authors are finding they have a voice. Admittedly, that voice can sometimes be shrill, rude, and in embarrassingly poor taste, but they do have a voice.

The basic debate boils down to: are reviews only for readers, and should the author have the right to comment on a review (be it positive or negative)?

There have been negative reviews I’ve wanted to comment on (most notably, one on Goodreads regarding Catalyst). I don’t, though, and this is not for a lack of me believing I have the right. I’m still a relatively new author. I don’t have quite the clout as other, more established authors. I also own my own press. It’s very, very important to me that I never appear to be an author behaving badly or a publisher stepping out of line. My livelihood depends on book sales, and I don’t want to alienate my readers or potential readers. I think the climate is changing, which is why so many authors are rumbling about their right to comment on reviews, but for now, I tend to think it best to keep my comments to the privacy of my inner circle.

I do, however, usually comment on all reviews by review blogs thanking them for taking the time to read my books whether the reviews are positive or negative. Some reviewers (like Kassa) I will engage with either on their blog or in private email, but I always try to keep those comments professional and neutral in tone. I feel that reviews are for readers and authors. Authors, if they are open to it, can take quite a lot away from a well thought out, thorough review. I usually don’t take anything away from a couple sentences other than if a reader enjoyed or didn’t enjoy my book, but a review with a couple paragraphs that say why something did or didn’t work… it’s invaluable feedback and helps an author grow. While reviewers have a certain duty to readers to review honestly, that duty also extends to authors who thrive on feedback (which is partly thanks to the rise of fanfiction and instant feedback from readers).

And, if an authors feels a review is unfair, contains erroneous information, or just isn’t quite right, it’s my opinion they have every right to comment about that review. They key is that they must do so with respect. Respect is something I’ve seen cast aside in the internet age where anonymity removes a great amount of accountability. Many reviewers/readers feel they can say whatever they want however they want without any recourse simply by saying it’s their opinion and they are entitled.

The road goes both ways, and an author is allowed their opinion and has just as much right to voice it. The position of being an author does not strip someone of their right to share their opinion, be it a review for a book, a response to a review for one of their own books, or a comment about a current issue circulating the blogs/discussion groups/forums. If a reader has the right to say anything they want in whatever manner they decide, then they must accept the responsibility and consequences of those words, just as an author must when they comment.

Should authors be able to comment on reviews and engage readers/reviewers? I fully believe so. Are reviews for authors? Not exclusively, but they are part of the audience and reviewers should not be surprised when an author comments on things. The key, and I will say this over and over, is always respect. Respect yourself, respect the reader, respect the reviewer, respect the author. If there is respect and professionalism, then dialog shouldn’t be a heinous breach of protocol but a welcomed chance to see from the other side of things.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 11:47 am

    Great post and it touches on the key aspect to the entire interaction: RESPECT! I believe a review can be honest but still respectful. I recently saw an author react in somewhat poor taste. The review was mediocre and the author felt the need to point out a definition of the genre to the reviewer. Now I could see where the author was coming from – he felt the reviewer missed “the point” of the book and didn’t understand the sub genre the book was aiming for. Unfortunately the comment comes across as knee jerk and snarky to me (and I have no particular horse in either the reviewer, the site, or the author). Especially so when the reviewer also understood the sub genre, but just didn’t think the book succeeded for them in that area.

    So again there is and always will be a perception component to everything. Factually I’ve sometimes gotten basic elements wrong (POV, I said first once and it was third or gotten the name wrong of one of the heros). Immediately authors wonder if the reviewer even READ the book and while I do understand that, I think these are honest mistakes. I can’t speak for everyone but I read so much details blur. I have to write the review within hours of finishing the book or those details may be harder to recall. Also another reason I take notes. I think it’s perfectly fine to call a reviewer out on those mistakes but the tone always tends to be snarky and condescending. As if the author has to “lower” themselves to get the facts right for the irresponsible reviewer.

    I can understand that feeling, even more so if the review is negative. But the tone is the key to everything. You can either convey respect and a neutral tone or you can convey impatience, anger, and disgust. Because the later appears so much more than the former, that’s why the general consensus is usually to stay quiet. I’ve no problems with authors commenting to me but again I find the minority are calm, intelligent, and neutral while the majority are knee jerk and fire off responses without careful thought. I’ve been blasted for a 4 star, very positive review (sometimes more so than even 1 star reviews).

    I’ve absolutely no doubt that there are just as many examples of reviewers being asshats as there are authors behaving badly. The key difference always comes down to reviewers generally aren’t making a cent off their reviews and additionally aren’t ever asking for money. Whereas authors are and do and thus must tread upon a “good name.” Everything they say will be seen through the reader perspective and may even be taken badly. No matter the author intentions, once it’s out there it’s up for interpretation and could be damaging. It’s a slippery slope and I get why authors just shut up and don’t get involved.

    Perception and intent are hardly the same beast and thus the downfall of many good intentioned comments.

  2. March 7, 2011 12:18 pm

    I agree that perception does play a key factor in everything. But, the only way to change a perception is to act in a responsible, respectful manner. Things can change, but not if everyone keeps telling each other to shut up or they’ll look like morons.

    I saw that particular author comment, and the mailing list it started out on. It was rude and snarky (maybe I see it more so because I saw the original mailing list comment). As soon as I saw the mailing list post, I winced, just knowing the author and his buddies/fans would descend on the post as well. That’s not respectful. The reviewer took the time to review it, and based on the review and the comments, I knew that was simply a book I wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

    Reviews are invaluable. I’m glad for the positive and negative ones. Negative ones can be as good as positive ones, quite honestly. There will be people who read it and agree, avoiding the book, but there will be people who read it and go, ‘OMG! That’s a book soooo for me!’. In fact, the reviewer who rated Catalyst poorly–after a discussion with another reader–came back and upped the rating as well as encouraged another reader to go ahead and get the book. Not every review is bad, and not every discussion is toxic. I think the key is to behave like adults.

    I know, big request, right? *chuckles*

    I’m trying to put myself out there more and become involved in some discussions. Visibility is a necessity for an author or a publisher, and that means engaging in discussions. Will some people view me negatively because of what I say? I’m sure of it. But I think, in the end, an author needs to weigh the pros and cons of where they open their mouths, and they should think long and hard before hitting the ‘send’ button.

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