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Is It Okay for Authors to Respond to Positive Reviews?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

This is a continuation of yesterday’s discussion about authors responding (sometimes in spectacularly horrible ways) to reviews/reviewers. As I’ve replied to your comments, and as I’ve taken part in discussions on other blogs about this situation, I’ve had a chance to think through additional scenarios and ideas generated by this that I hadn’t quite gotten to yet yesterday.

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Why Authors Should Seriously Consider NOT Replying to Positive Reviews

A lot of people around the blogosphere have said they don’t have a problem with authors responding to positive reviews (even with something as simple as a “thanks”). Here’s some of what I shared in the comments on yesterday’s post, along with additional thoughts an comments I’ve made elsewhere:

Even commenting on positive reviews is something that should be carefully considered and, if it seems like the right thing to do, done privately. Responding at all, whether to positive or negative reviews, sets up a false sense of expectation.

If you feel compelled to respond privately to a well-written review, then, yes, you can do that. Just be aware that it could set up an awkward situation in the future if the reviewer comes to expect something in return (to automatically receive free “review” copies of all of your future books, to be able to send you her own manuscript for you to critique, etc.) or then doesn’t feel like she can be honest in reviews of your future work because now there’s a personal relationship and she’s into that “genetic criticism” mode—not being able to separate you and your reaction to her first review from her reaction to the next thing of yours she reads. She may feel constrained from being able to post reviews about your future book(s) if she doesn’t like them (at all or as much) because she doesn’t want to offend or hurt you. And that may lead to her stopping reading your books altogether.

If an author responds to one or two positive reviews publicly, others will see that and may want in on the attention from the author and post reviews that may not actually be honest, they’re just trying to get the author’s attention and show that they have a “personal connection” with the author—after all, the author reads and comments on their reviews. Which, from an author’s perspective seems like a good thing—more positive reviews!

However, remember, Goodreads (or Amazon, or anywhere else that’s a public place to post reviews—like blogs) isn’t a place for authors’ egos to be stroked. It’s a place where real readers are supposed to post honest reviews of books for the sake of potential readers without the interference of the author. And if authors respond to one or two positive reviews—even just a “thanks”—but don’t respond to ALL positive reviews, those whom they don’t respond to are going to be disgruntled.

You may think that it’s okay, you don’t mind taking the time to respond to all of the positive reviews. But think about it logically—if you get 20 four- and five-star reviews on Amazon, 40 on Goodreads, a dozen or so on Barnes & Noble, several on other bookseller sites . . . when does it end? Sure, a lot of them are going to have been posted by the same people across several platforms. But that means that you’re not only going to have to post the same comment on the same user’s review across several sites (after all, you wouldn’t want someone else seeing that you haven’t responded to every positive review on whatever site it’s on) but it means you’re going to have to set aside several hours on a regular schedule to go to each of those sites individually and check for new reviews. Because once you start doing that, you really should continue it for the lifetime of that book (I still get new reviews occasionally of Stand-In Groom, my first book, which came out six and a half years ago).

Same goes with an author posting links to positive reviews (from sources other than professional review sites like Romantic Times or Publisher’s Weekly) that were not done as part of a previously agreed-upon promotional push (e.g., a scheduled blog tour). The author sets up the expectation that they’ll publicize ALL positive reviews and if they leave anyone out, the bloggers wonder, If they posted this person’s or that person’s blog review of their book, why didn’t they post mine? And then they accuse the author of favoritism or ignoring them, or whatever. This is one that I learned from personal experience when Stand-In Groom came out.

Conversely, if authors do what that Dylan guy did and blow up/attack a negative review, it will do what we’ve seen happen to him: a book that had an average rating of over 4 stars with a few dozen reviews now has a 1-star average because of all the negative attention his responses brought about. So then reviewers will leave incendiary reviews on ALL of the author’s books, whether they’ve read them or not, either because of the first reaction or to see if they can get another reaction like that.

Your Negative Reviews Are Ruining My Business!!!

It seems to me like a lot of authors (especially indie/self-published, but a few traditionally published authors do it, too) have lost sight of whom Goodreads and other review sites are actually for (readers) and have come to see it as their own personal storefront/marketplace. So they see any 1- and 2-star (i.e., negative) reviews in the same light as a store owner showing up to open the doors first thing in the morning and seeing profanities and slurs spray painted all over the front of their building. So, yes, it’s understandable why so many authors (both trad and self/indie) get so upset over negative reviews on GR. But that still doesn’t make the explosions appropriate. Just entertaining for the rest of us.

When a restaurant does a substandard job with their food, there are several different places diners can go to post reviews. If the restaurateur is professional and wants to grow her business, she will see the feedback as a way to make improvements—whether it’s that her wait-staff needs to be retrained or the cooks need to lay off the salt or garlic (or add more) or that food needs to be hotter, colder, more seasonal or whatever. For them, the best way they can respond to these negative reviews is to grow from them—to rise above and do better and better and generate a whole bunch of positive reviews by giving the diners what they want—delicious food that fulfills the promise of the restaurant.

After all, you don’t want to be like these people, who couldn’t take advice from their patrons OR from professional chef/restaurateur Gordon Ramsay:

If you can’t take criticism, don’t put your product (whether a book or food) out for public consumption.

One of the problems that was revealed with the restaurant in the video above is that anytime anyone sent food back to the kitchen because it was under/overcooked, gross, not seasoned right, or not what was ordered, the food was just thrown away and the cook was never told anything was wrong—because if she did hear anything bad about her food, she instantly and publicly exploded at the customer for saying her food/cooking is bad. If she’d listened to the feedback, taken the criticism as a challenge to improve her cooking, and put out better product, this restaurant never would have been on Kitchen Nightmares.

While authors aren’t going to get the same type of instant feedback that a restaurant will (food being sent back to the kitchen and/or complaints about the server vs. compliments to the chef and a big tip), sites like Goodreads are where we get that feedback. Many people will tell you to never even read reviews. I think in the first few months after a book releases, you have to. You can’t write in a vacuum. And even if you work with critique partners in addition to your editor(s), you still need outside feedback. So read the reviews. Make notes on areas where the reviewers say you can improve. No, you can’t improve it in that particular book—that horse is already out of the barn and in the next county.

The best way to show gratitude to those people who post positive reviews (and to those who post constructively critical reviews), and to grow your business as an author, is to keep improving in your craft and keep writing great stories.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, June 11, 2015 10:27 pm

    Very well stated, Kaye. Thanks for clarifying this issue for us so well. I know it is a big help to me. 🙂

    Like

  2. Friday, June 12, 2015 12:22 am

    Well said.

    There are several ways for authors to acknowledge positive reviews – comment on blog posts, post the links on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, or retweet reviews you’re mentioned in.

    But responding to reviews on Amazon? No. You risk offending people if you don’t comment on their positive – and you risk offending even more people if you comment on a negative review.

    And one final plea from a reviewer: the most awkward comment is this one: “Thank you for your review. I’m sorry you didn’t like this book. Would you like to review my new book?”

    Ah, no.

    Like

    • Friday, June 12, 2015 7:43 am

      But as I mention in the post, Iola, where does it end when reposting, retweeting, etc., and how many people will get offended/be hurt if you accidentally miss posting or tweeting the link to their review? Again, as I said, I learned this lesson the hard way, by experience, when Stand-In Groom came out. It’s better not to do it at all than to set up a situation in which feelings are going to get hurt.

      Like

  3. Saturday, June 13, 2015 10:56 pm

    As a reader and reviewer I am happy not having comments on reviews I see it like you mentioned for readers. My pet hate is authors and their friends liking reviews just to try and get the books more notice on Goodreads. I have a couple of people who keep liking only certain reviews cos the authors are all connected in one way or another and at times I want to pull down my reviews because of this. If they like all reviews I would have no problem but to just choose certain ones (and they will do it to every review of that one book) to help friends annoys me. Goodreads is where readers often keep track of books read. I don’t mind an author saying thanks in and email if I have emailed to say how much I enjoyed their books or on my blog. I didn’t realise some reviewers would want to request a book cos they gave a good review to me that’s not right.
    I hope I am making sense I am not well at present so brain is a little fried.

    Like

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