Last week, none other than Stephen King joined Twitter with this tweet: "On Twitter at last, and can't think of a thing to say. Some writer I turned out to be." There's no question readers and writers alike have a lot to celebrate about increased access to each other. At the same time, navigating that new relationship in a public online sphere isn't simple.
In this guest post, Jill Edmondson opens up about a tricky question for authors in a social media-driven marketplace for fiction.
Once upon a time—and by that I mean pre-Internet—it was fairly uncommon for an author to respond to a reviewer. The World Wide Web has changed the game, but it still seems that no one is sure of the rules. Should an author respond to reviews? Is it rude not to engage? Do readers and reviewers want to up the ante from the one-sided communication of a stand-alone review to a spirited discussion?
My knee-jerk reaction is to say very loudly that no, authors should not publically respond, particularly when the review is negative. A case in point is the mud-slinging that ensued after a blogger unfavourably reviewed Pandora by Anne Rice. Anne Rice linked the poor review to her Facebook fan page, and posted a comment inviting (inciting?) fans to respond to it. (See what happened next here.)
At last check, more than 800 people had posted replies on Ms. Rice’s Facebook wall. It would appear that Anne Rice fans are indeed very loyal; many of them trashed the reviewer, one of whom even went so far as to say to the reviewer: “I HOPE YOU GET HERPES” (now deleted), while others merely suggested the reviewer needs to be medicated.
Okay, so maybe that example is a bit extreme, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Not only did Rice’s fans come out in droves, there were a great many who criticised Anne Rice for siccing her fan base on the reviewer. Rice came off as petty and vindictive in what could only have been a losing proposition in the first place. The drama probably didn’t earn her many new fans.
But sometimes it’s very hard not to respond. There have been two occasions (different reviewers, different titles) where I would have welcomed an opportunity to sit down and have a beer with the reviewer. I would have loved to know more about their thoughts on my books. In the first case, I think the reviewer really missed the point, purpose and tone of my book. She seemed to find something in it that wasn’t there and apparently thought it was anti-feminist. Moi? Anti-feminist? I wasn’t necessarily upset by her review (3 stars), but I was a little confused, and, okay yeah, maybe a little bit verklempt.
In the other instance, the reviewer gave the book 3 stars, and did say some positive things, but but but... He resoundingly criticised one aspect of the book, calling it a clichéd plot device. What the reviewer didn’t know is that the very part he disliked was totally based on a real experience. Hmph.
Many authors say they don’t read any reviews of their works, and they often advise others not to read their own reviews either. While a bad or even a meh review can ruin your day, I think it’s foolish to ignore reviews all together. You can learn from them. You’ll find out what people liked or didn’t, and can keep that in mind as you write the next book. For example, one fucking reviewer said my first fucking book had too much fucking swearing in it. So, I fucking toned it down for the next fucking book. That was an easy enough thing to change, and if doing so makes others enjoy my books more, then it’s a win.
The urge to respond to favourable reviews is different, and for me it’s a bit sticky. I’d like to be able to claim that I never respond to reviews (and then at least that way no one will ever wonder why I ignored So-and-So negative). But when it comes to reviews in online milieu such as Amazon, Twitter or Goodreads where I can and do interact with readers, it seems rude to not publicly say “thank you,” or at least to click “like” on a review. But then I worry about optics. Might readers think the review was biased or influenced by me in some way? Who knows? I guess I’m just happy that some people feel strongly enough about my books to review them in the first place, and that’s good enough for me.
Jill Edmondson is the author of the Sasha Jackson mystery series. There’s a thin line between Jill and her sleuth Sasha, although Jill has never worked at a phone sex hotline, and Sasha isn’t a language geek. Jill enjoys bumming around any country where they speak a Latin-based language. She also loves head-banging rock concerts, ice cream, palm trees, and absolutely adores her two toothless Maltese dogs.
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