Friday, April 20, 2012

Should Authors Comment on Reviews?


Nats at Reading Romances posed an interesting question—Should authors comment on reviews? 

This subject interests me particularly because I write, as well as review. If a writer asks me to review their book, then I expect they’ll come by at some point and say thanks on the blog or do so privately. Either is fine with me, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this practice. 

When the review is not so favourable, I believe it’s in the writer’s best interest to be polite anyway, if he/she chooses to leave a comment on a blog. 

Not so long ago, one unfortunate writer asked a blogger to review her book and he pointed out—among other things—that the novel had a significant amount of grammatical errors. Instead of thanking the reviewer and moving on, the writer started an argument around the fact that the blogger must not have received the updated copy of the book. The end result was a thread of over three hundred comments because the writer kept responding to other bloggers’ opinion on the matter. The brouhaha went viral early and, of course, the writer soon felt the ire of some, who went on to leave one star reviews of the book. The writer had no choice but to eventually remove the story from Amazon. 

As a writer, I am passionate about the work I’ve bled and sweated over for years. Naturally, low ratings will sting, however, I don’t think it’s wise to do anything beyond expressing thanks for a review. After all, the person did take the time to read the book, when they could have been doing something else. Indulging in a war of words is usually an indication that a writer is not yet ready to be in the public’s eye.

The only line I’d draw here is that it’s more prudent to choose not to review a book, than to give it a low rating because it’s not a genre I usually read. Some reviewers do this, which is unfair to the writer. 

As a book blogger, I’m mindful of the time writers spend on each novel. With that in mind, I strive to be respectful in my reviews. I say what I like and what didn’t work for me. I refrain from saying what I think could have improved in a novel, since it isn’t my story. This formula seems to work, as to date I haven’t yet been blasted by a writer.  

What’s your take? Should writers comment on reviews of their books?

Please visit the other book bloggers on this hop.  

34 comments:

  1. Longtime follower, first time commentor. I agree with you, although I don't always thank reviewers. When I've requested the review I do include a thank you in my request.
    I hope I haven't offended any reviewers! I'm a newer author...is it customary for authors to thank each reviewer? Only those for which the author requested review?

    Your post has me asking some questions! :} Maybe I'll feature these questions in a post.

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    1. Hi, Nadja,
      I'm like you. If I know the reviewer, I'll definitely say thanks, but I don't leave comments on Amazon. I doubt you've offended reviewers, because in my experience, the people who thank me are those I have some kind of relationship with.

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  2. I wholeheartedly agree! Authors commenting on reviews tends to open a can of worms. I've actually had a writer get her friends to comment on my review of her book. How do I know? I watched the whole thing transpire on twitter, then the next thing I know, I have a response to my review on Amazon...

    I went on to write a blog post about it ( http://writebackwards.we3dements.com/wordpress/2012/01/13/should-writers-review-books/ ). I still have the burning question as to whether or not writers should review books. I am torn. I am honest and want to help people. But when you receive such negativity on what I feel is a tactful book review, I get discouraged.

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    1. Jamie,
      Thanks for commenting. I'll be nice and say it's immature to ask people to comment on a review that's been given. The fact that you took time to review is enough should mean something to the writer whose work you've read. I'll check out your post above.

      As to reviewing books, I don't see a conflict as a writer, because I was reading long before I started writing. As I said in my post, I don't say how I think books I read could be better as they aren't my work. I've gradually cut out my rating system as my gut tells me that I can still be honest without applying stars. Having intimate knowledge of the writing process, I feel weird about rating a work that way. I much prefer to say what was good and what didn't appeal to me.

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  3. I agree; especially if a writer requests a review from a blogger, and the blogger produces an honest review, a simple thank you is in order even if it's not the glowing recommendation s/he hoped for. Getting into a fight over it will only hurt the writer in the long run. Grace under fire is appreciated more by others than a sharp tongue.

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    1. Allan,
      It's so much less traumatic to say thanks and leave things be. The writer I mentioned lost it, used bad language and that killed her. I believe she'll probably have to put out anything else under a new name as she shot herself in the foot and other places I could mention.

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  4. I don't think there are any absolutes here. Personally I tend to refrain from replying to reviews left on Amazon, although once I politely suggested that someone put in a spoiler warning.

    Blogs are a little different. I think a thank you is always warranted. However, one should always take the high road. Never ever start an argument. We're supposed to be professionals here.

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    1. Oh, I have to reply to your comment about the spoiler warning.

      I typically leave spoilers out of my reviews so when I do have them, I clearly post that at the beginning and I go on to state WHY the spoilers are there. I reviewed a book, I had asked the publisher for it, and had some problems with a main characters behavior and issues with some of the subplots. Since they effected my enjoyment of the book, and the character's likability, I included spoilers relevant to those issues.

      The author messaged me on goodreads and asked me to REMOVE the spoilers. I was stunned. I did label and warn readers, I explained in my review why I was including them, and there were many other spoilers that I didn't include. I ended up NOT removing the spoilers. To be honest, I didn't think it was an appropriate request on her part. To be fair, she did it privately, via a message and my reply was the same.

      I'm still not sure on the etiquette of this situation; should she have asked? should I have complied? Thoughts?

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    2. I think that once you've included a warning that you have spoilers in the review then it's okay to keep them in there. Matter of fact, if I'm browsing reviews on a book those spoilers sometimes help me decide whether or not I'm gonna buy. I'm only guessing here, but I suppose the writer felt that you kind of giving away secrets which should be kept until the reader gets to that point in the story. I do think it's out of the ordinary to ask that they be removed. I also don't think I'd remove them if they helped to explain what I thought of the book and why.

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  5. Rick,
    Like you, I don't leave comments on anything posted on Amazon. You've shared some good advice! Thanks.

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  6. I seem to recall the heated exchange you refer to (although I felt so embarrassed for that author that I tried to forget it). I too got comments from an author who wanted to say all the errors I'd found in his book were due to my having a preliminary edition. Don't know about that. I had bought it on Amazon.

    Sometimes my reviews have been too gentle, because I know the author will see them and I can easily put myself in his shoes. But on the other hand, indie authors in general have an image problem caused by those who don't pay sufficient attention to the quality of their writing. It hurts all of us when, for example, librarians and professional reviewers generalize from past experience and refuse to consider indie-published books. It's in everybody's interests for errors to be pointed out so they don't become a habit.

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    1. So true. In the haste to publish, some writers neglect to spend time making their book into the best possible read it can be. So many times, I see reviews on Amazon that mention a host of errors. Now, no matter that the book might have been revised, those ratings that mention errors are permanent and hurt the writer. I never opt to buy books where reviewers complain about the errors.

      And yes, the indie community hurts when reviewers of a certain calibre refuse to consider books written by talented indie writers.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  7. Wow, not only did you do an amazing post, but the comments from your followers are great too.

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    1. Vanessa, I think I'm able to take a balanced approach because I belong on both sides of the fence and writers do pose some good arguments. :)

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  8. I would say thank you for reviews if I had sent a request for a review, but otherwise I don't. I've seen the backlash towards a few different authors and what seems like an innocent comment can quickly be turned around.

    On Goodreads a few months ago this was an issue, and there was one comment that stuck out. A reader/reviewer said that she didn't write reviews for the author, and that she feels watched and under the microscope when she knows the author is reading her review. The blogger part of me agrees. There are times when I know the author is going to read what I wrote, and I might not be a brutally honest as I would if I was reviewing someone like Stephen King (because despite my delusions of grandeur I don't he hits up my blog regularly).

    The other part of me, the author part, wants those 4 and 5 star reviews, but I'm tough enough to realize that sometimes the less than glowing reviews are where I'm going to learn something about my audience, and if I were to comment on them to say thank you it would be honest. Unfortunately some authors can't handle it and some reviewers are harsh and brutally honest, so I would say that the general rule should be to not comment.

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    1. Angela, thanks for stopping in. Something I find the world an interesting place because we are all so different. That said, I don't understand why people believe they have to be 'brutally honest'. I do criticize without being a 'balls breaker', but I guess to each his own.

      Knowing the amount of work that goes into a novel, I can't be anything but respectful when doing reviews. I won't pretty up something for a writer because I know they're going to read. As I noted before, even while talking about something that didn't work for me, I'm respectful about it. I think you're at a happy medium by saying thanks when you ask for a review.

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  9. Great blog post and great discussion - I wandered over here from Twitter, glad to have found your blog! Good insights from the commenters - I'm a debut author (releasing this summer) and this is definately an area I have a lot of tribulation about. Good suggestions on here that I will take to heart.

    I think there is good and bad behavior on both sides. Some reviewers are malicious--they seem to forget there's a human being on the other end of the book, and maybe this person hasn't written the greatest book, but he/she may have worked very hard on that book and tearing him/her down as a person isn't going to help him/her improve, either. On the other hand, authors expecting everyone to adore their book, when clearly reading tastes are so subjective (personally, I wouldn't give you a penny for anything that Hemingway ever wrote, though he's considered one of the literary greats), is completely insane. And arguing with someone about their opinion is also nuts - I think those shoes are ugly. Well *I* don't and therefore you're nuts if you think that. Really? How does that at all sound like a reasonable conversation?! :-)

    I've been advised by other authors to not even read my reviews (good or bad) (many authors don't), which is also sad because, as someone else said in this thread, there might be things authors can learn from their reveiws. However, I expect it's soul crushing to wade through comments like "I wouldn't wipe my behind with this book" to get to those few nuggets of gold. I think it would go a long way to reducing the antagonism on both sides if bloggers would refrain from personalizing their criticisms and just stick to the book--rather than comments like "the author is clearly illiterate" focusing on things like "there are grammtical mistakes throughout. On the first page, there is an instance of 'your' instead of 'you're'..." etc.

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    1. Terri, thanks for stopping in. Yup, you said it right. There's good and bad behaviour on both sides. I'm a member of a writing network and at times, I've felt like I was raped after I got a review. The fact is, the reviewer pointed out things that made a lot of sense, but it is how the info. was conveyed that made it a painful experience. You're so right when you say we forget that a real, live human being is behind each book.

      At the other end of the spectrum, we writers have to thicken our skin because not everybody is gonna enjoy our writing. I write romantic suspense and had a local reader tell me he felt rushed throughout the whole experience. Clearly, it wasn't his type of book, but all I could do was accept the criticism in the spirit in which it was meant.

      Pity we don't have a crash course for writers to clue us in to what to expect once our book hits the market. :)

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  10. We seem to agree on what a writer should do if they make a request from a blogger. Thanks for stopping by.

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  11. I never, ever comment on a review. That's a reader's take and who am I to disagree? You can't please everybody and there are plenty of famous works I don't like.

    If you've asked someone to review, it's just manners to thank them, regardless of good, bad or ugly.

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    1. Yes. Short and to the point. Personally I don't mind a polite thank you as a comment; anything else runs the risk of starting a problem.

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    2. And there's no point arguing over a posted review. What's done is done.

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  12. I think once we put our work out there it belongs to the readers and we should stay out of it. Reviews, reader discussions, etc ... Unless we're called on to answer a question directly, nope. Some feel we shouldn't even say a thank you.

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    1. Hi, Mary,
      I mentioned a Jamaican saying today on someone else's blog. 'Manners carry you through the world.' I certainly won't say thanks on Amazon, but if I've asked for a review and I get it, then I'm obligated to thank the person for the time they spent on it. As evidenced by the blogs I visited today, bloggers thinks it's good manners and is an indication that the writer appreciates the reviewer's effort.

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  13. No one encourages that type of author behavior! As I explained at my blog: if you don't have something nice to comment about, don't comment at all!

    Thanks for participating =)

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    1. No problem, Nats, and thanks for dropping in.

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  14. Love this thought from M Pax: "I think once we put our work out there it belongs to the readers and we should stay out of it." Agree with that sentiment and also with the idea that even a "thank you" on Amazon may not be a good idea -- could come across as a needy writer who is hanging around just waiting for reviews. A personal thank you to someone we know is probably appropriate. Great topic!

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    1. Personal thank you's go a long way, especially if the writer has asked for the review. I stay away from commenting on Amazon. In fact, it never occurred to me that it's something that could be done. :)

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  15. This is a fascinating discussion. I am not yet at the point where I'm asking for reviews, but - from a the perspective of someone who reads reviews - I don't like it when the author chimes in. If it's to answer questions and they've been invited, then great! But other than that, I think that there should be a separation between authors and reviews. I want to be able to discuss a book honestly, but if I feel that the author is reading every word, then I usually won't bother to comment, even if my response is positive. I think that authors should thank the reviewer privately, maybe tweet out the link if they want to give the reviewer a shout-out, but stay out of the comment section.

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    1. Thanks for dropping in Stephanie. I'm in your corner with thanking a reviewer privately if the writer has asked for that review.

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  16. I haven't engaged in any verbal warfare, either as a writer or a reader/reviewer. I hope that when the time comes I'll be strong enough to just say "thank you for the review" and move on!

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    1. Smart move, Rachel. You can't go wrong that way.

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  17. I never even realised there was any controversy about authors posting comments until yesterday. If you want to laugh at an author who had the cheek to politely ask a reviewer to remove a spoiler on an, originally quite nice 4 star, Amazon review :P http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R1AR86U9TN240N/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B008SRISGU&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=

    P.s Yes, I'm the poor sap. :S

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