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Why I Don't Respond to Reviews

Failing Grade on Homework

You wouldn’t think that “should I respond to a reader review?” would be a topic for discussion anymore, but it still comes up all the time on writers’ forums. There seems to be a movement now among some authors to go ahead and respond to readers’ comments on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., whether positively (“Thanks for the awesome review!”) or negatively (“If you don’t like books with sex in them, maybe you should choose your books more carefully.”) (OK, that last one I’ve thought about saying.)

Here’s why I don’t respond:

1) From a marketing standpoint: My author persona is my brand. I write feel-good books about decent people (well, except for the villains). Books that, I hope, make the world feel like a  nicer place, leave readers with a happy little glow. Acting in any way that isn’t in line with that, whether it’s a Facebook post, responding to reviews, whatever, diminishes my brand. People read my books as an escape. I can’t imagine that most readers would enjoy getting embroiled in, or even hearing about, my petty wars. Have I done it? Yes. (Facebook post, I mean.) Do I do it now? NO. Everyone makes mistakes. But I try not to keep making the same ones over and over.

Can (and do) some authors get away with it? Sure! An erotica author recently made some headlines, and some enemies too, with a very frank post about writing smut. This is someone, though, who writes kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall heroines in funny, all-the-way-to-the-limit erotica. She can put her opinion out there and give the middle finger to people who criticize her for it, and come out of that OK (in fact, the publicity turned out to be pretty good for her sales!). Because it fit her image.

People like Anne Rice and other big names who’ve got into it and taken flak for it–well, you really can’t compare, because they’re already hugely successful. These blips might create a little ding in their reputations with some readers, but it’s pretty hard to damage them significantly, because most readers don’t care, and they’ve already formed an opinion about that author anyway.

But I’ve been at this one year. I’ve been lucky enough to have been discovered by a few readers who are very active in the romance-reading community, and who talk about my books on various forums and provide that invaluable commodity, word of mouth. Those people tend to have book blogs and belong to lots of groups. And they also tend to be pretty passionate about what they see as badly behaving authors. If, instead of promoting me, they were slamming me? Well, it sure wouldn’t help me. And if I didn’t have those people, if I were at Ground Zero in terms of getting myself known? I wouldn’t want the first thing potential readers saw about me to be a negative interaction with somebody else, no matter how merited.

And yes, in my opinion responding is simply unprofessional. It makes you look like someone who spends her time checking reviews instead of writing books. I would like to project the image (even if it’s aspirational!) of somebody who is secure in her success and isn’t anxiously looking at what everyone said about her today.

On the other hand, interacting on Facebook, Twitter, my blog, via email, etc.? You betcha! I do that big-time. Those readers have literally signed up to interact with me, whereas a reviewer is giving her opinion to other readers. (If I choose to take something from that as well–or not–that’s up to me.)

2) From a logical standpoint. My negative reviews, while I disagree with them, aren’t truly abusive. If they were, I’d report them. But no. Sadly, they’re just responses from people who don’t like the way I write, at all, or didn’t like this book, at all, and want to tell other people so. They have a right to that opinion. And, much as I cringe at them, a few one-star reviews can legitimize your 5-stars, or let people know that there’s some controversy about a character, or ‘too much sex,” or whatever–things that can actually help sell your book.

3) From a personal standpoint. Some people enjoy combat, find it stimulating. I don’t. It hurts. And while I can use negative feelings in my work (I wrote a killer tearjerker scene the other night after a very unpleasant online encounter), I find that my supply of painful life experiences is pretty much fully adequate to fuel anything I’ll ever write. So for a sensitive plant like me, yes, the negative reviews hurt more and make me want to engage even more than for people with a thicker skin who can shrug off criticism. But engaging just prolongs the agony. Better for me to feel the pain of it, then let it go.

The goal for Year Two of my publishing career? Look at reviews once a week! My success rate so far? Umm . . . Improving!

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MJ Guidry
MJ Guidry
7 years ago

GOOD FOR YOU! I’ve seen other authors engage in this to their detriment and am glad that you have risen above it. Granted, everyone has a right to their own opinion, but lots of one-star reviews are because the reader just didn’t “get it” or it made no sense what they said. Or (sadly) they just seem to be a miserable person. (All they write are one-star reviews.) Your Point #3 is spot on. :)

Hang in there and know there is a bunch more of us who love your work.

Mary from Boise

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
7 years ago
Reply to  MJ Guidry

Thank you! But of course, it’s also simply that some people don’t like the story or the style. It’s very hard not to take that personally as an author, but there ya go–people are different. I left a 3-star review for the first Diana Gabaldon book (feel kinda bad about that since I’ve published myself), and haven’t read the others. I’m about the only one–EVERYONE loves those books! By the same token, I adored “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” and was dumbfounded by the people who gave that low ratings. Millions of books out there, something for every taste, mood, and… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
7 years ago

I personally LOVE your books and re-read them a lot! Thank-you very sincerely for providing me many hours of entertainment! I can hardly wait for the next book!

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
7 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

Thank you!

Kim
Kim
7 years ago

At RWA I went to a workshop led by Susan Elizabeth Philips and Jayne Ann Krentz and they said that they don’t really look at reviews unless it’s written by someone who actually knows how to write a critical literary review…ie not somebody on Amazon who doesn’t like the price of the book. Every reader is different and as long as you fulfill the promise you made, you’ve succeeded. I don’t like cowboy books and books with too much interaction with annoying pets drive me crazy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, just that it’s not for me.… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
7 years ago
Reply to  Kim

You make a great point. With the Internet, everyone can be a critic. I’m always surprised, myself, at how much analysis readers do, even of escapist fiction. I never thought much myself about things like “character development” or the plausibility of a plot twist until I started writing my own books. I just noticed whether the story caught me up and whether I, well, enjoyed it! But lots of people do, and that’s fine too. I have a ways to go to catch up with SEP and Jayne Ann Krentz (in more ways than one!), but I’m working on it.… Read more »

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