Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How should writers respond to reviews?


Alice Hoffman’s recent, uh, response to a review made me think about writers and negative reviews, and there’s a question I’d like to ask anyone reading this.

We all know that the best response to a review is “Thank you”. Reacting to a negative review by becoming angry or defensive – or worse, trying to enlist fans or fellow authors against the reviewer – won’t change the fact that the reviewer didn’t like the book. It won’t produce good reviews to counteract the negative one. It’ll just establish the author as someone who behaves in a less than professional manner, someone who can’t take the heat.

But what’s the best response if a reviewer misunderstood something factual in the book, or made an error? As a very crude example, let’s say that your character does a firewalk, pacing barefoot over a layer of hot coals. A review says that this couldn’t happen without your character’s feet being burned.

In reality, though, people can do this and escape serious injury because the coals are covered by a thin layer of ash that doesn’t conduct heat. As long as the people are walking briskly, it doesn’t hurt them.

So, would you respond and mention this, or include a link to the information?

On a concluding note, yesterday I reviewed a novel printed by the infamous PublishAmerica, and my review was pretty blunt about the problems that an actual publisher should have corrected. The author responded to thank me and let me know he found the review helpful. That’s a classy, professional response, and I hope his next book does very well.

14 comments:

isaacespriu said...

Either with a brief thanks for their time, if i knew the reviewer or had requested the review, or not at all.

If the reviewer was someone i knew very well, i might, *might*, politely correct them with appropriate reference links/material, but even then, i'd be tempted to let it pass.

There's almost never anything to be gained by negative response to a review, even if the reviewer is clearly wrong.

Kami said...

I *might* respond in a private email, if I knew the reviewer personally, to correct a fact. Never publicly. I think that's a line that shouldn't be crossed by the author. Readers are a whole 'nother thing.

The readers will probably know what's factual. Let them do the talking. And if they don't? That would tell me that as an author I didn't establish the truth of an apparently little-known-fact in the story. My fault, not the reviewer's.

I say all this knowing how hard it is to get a tough review. I'm expecting a review of a short story I wrote any day now. We'll see if my resolve holds together. Eek! Mantras are good.

The story belongs to the readers now. The story belongs to the readers now ...

newadventuresinfantasyfiction said...

I'd just trust my readers to know that you can walk on embers and not get burnt.

Thanks for the Hoffman link. Very funny

isaacespriu said...

mmm -- for the record, when i said i *might* politely correct the reviewer, i meant in a private email/conversation. never in the public arena.

i have been asked questions as to why i've done things in published work (once so far) and replied in the same public forum it was raised in, but only to explain why i did what i did, not to say that what the other person suggested was wrong.

Maria Zannini said...

Generally when I read a review where I know the reviewer got something wrong in a book, I ignore it. Unfortunately, it usually leaves me with a poor impression of the reviewer. This is especially true when it comes to SF, a genre with a well defined doctrine of rules and tropes.

I probably would not correct the reviewer even if it were in my book. Much as I would like to set him right, I suspect it would probably smack of injured egos, both mine and his.

GunnerJ said...

I think it's possible to thank the reviewer for their time and commentary while also politely mentioning that she had missed the mark on a point of fact. I don't know if I would; if I knew the reviewer printed retractions or I knew her personally, I might. The important thing would not be to raise the issue as a complaint.

That Chick Over There said...

Great topic! I was thinking about this recently because I received a review that was full of incorrect information about the book. I have serious doubts that the reviewer even read it and it offered no advice as to what she felt I did wrong or how I could improve.

I emailed and said, simply, "Thank you for the review". I just felt that if they really didn't bother to read the book, my words would be wasted anyway.

spamwarrior said...

I think just a gracious email. I wouldn't do what Alice Hoffman did, that was just plain immature. I went to find her twitter this morning and it no longer exists... so...

Madison said...

If asked how I felt about a bad review, I wouldn't lie. I would say I'm disappointed, but you can't win them all, and the reviewer has a right to write whatever they thought about my book. I mean, that's what they do. Just because my work wasn't their cup of tea doesn't mean it's good. They are only doing their job and I would commend them for thier honesty. And thank them for thier time, especailly since they would have read something they didn't enjoy. When someone doesn't enjoy your work but reads it anyway, they deserve more thanks that those who say, "I read it all in one day! I just couldn't tear myself away!"

Anyway, that's my $0.02 :)

laughingwolf said...

some folk get so full of themselves it's appalling... hoffman is one

Marian said...

Thanks for the input, everyone!

Kami made an excellent point - if something doesn't come off as factual or realistic, perhaps the writer didn't make it clear and believable in the story.

Once a book or story is out there, it's out there. It's gone from under your wing. It stands or falls on its own merits, or what people believe those merits to be, and even if their perceptions don't match yours, you can't change that.

So even if they get something wrong, the best response would be not to say anything in public. Even if you're polite and in the right, as Maria said, it seems too much like the author trying to defend the work - and that never comes off well.

ralfast said...

Sadly I have a very thin skin plus a penchant for hunting down Trolls and scorching them. But putting someone phone number on the net.

Not just no but HELL NO!

That's practically putting a target on someone backs for any internet wacko to do their worse.

Not cool.

Of course I think the guys at Writing Excuses do a much better work dealing with negative reviews.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2009/06/28/writing-excuses-season-3-episode-5-how-to-take-criticism/

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

I think for me it would depend on the reviewer. If they misunderstood something and was clearly obnoxious in their post I'd probably not even bother making the effort. If someone said 'well I found this kind of hard to believe' I would respond privately if I could and keep that in mind to be aware of for next time. I'd never take it public, and really how many times have we not gotten something, only to go back later and the lightbulb goes on? Sometimes people just miss things, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the writer.

Barbara Martin said...

I write reviews on a variety of genres and with each book I try for the 'thoughtful' approach. There have been a few books that were difficult to review due to their content, one in particular where it wasn't as I had anticipated. With the topics I look at the different angles the review can approach and go from there. Each author is hoping that the reviews will go well in promoting their book, but there are some books that will leave a reviewer cold. That aspect can be handled politely in the review without making any harsh criticisms. Another reader might really like that particular book.