Tuesday, March 8, 2011
How not to respond to reviewers
The Author’s Big Mistake is responding defensively to criticism from reviewers (or worse, trying to sue them). But there’s another kind of mistake authors can make in this regard, and that’s reacting less than professionally when a reviewer declines to take a look at their books. It happened to me on a discussion board.
I mentioned that I’d once read and reviewed certain self- and vanity-published books, but hadn’t enjoyed most of them. In fact, I wasn’t even able to get through two of the books that were sent to me. So I decided not to review self-published books unless they were by an author I was familiar with or they had received fantastic professional reviews.
I didn’t think this decision was offensive, but here are some of the responses it got.
1. The guilt trip
“If you have a blanket policy against reading self-published books, you are not doing your job as a reviewer, and you are doing self-published authors a great wrong.”
The only job description of a reviewer is “Write as truthful as possible a review of whatever book you read”. It isn’t “read everything regardless of publisher”. And there are some review websites which will only look at self-published books – are those reviewers doing commercially published authors a great wrong?
There are far too many books out there for any one person to read them all, therefore most reviewers set standards. Some don’t read certain genres, some don’t want certain formats and so on, but it’s nothing personal against the authors.
2. The challenge
“I challenge you to try the first ten to twenty pages of any self-published book that someone recommends.”
I feel as though I’ve already taken this challenge once by reviewing some self-published books. And there are a lot of commercially published books I’d like to read, books which have been vetted by agents and/or editors. Shouldn’t I take the challenge with these books first?
Plus, I’ve visited many authors’ websites that didn’t provide excerpts (or didn’t subscribe to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature). Even the author giving me the challenge mentioned that “I do have a page and a half on my authorhouse.com site...but only that, they don't allow the 20 page challenge”. What to do under those circumstances?
Most of all, though, the only challenges I feel a need to respond to are the ones I set for myself.
3. The request for help
“Honest reviews help self-published authors improve.”
That depends on the author. If a writer went into self- or vanity-publishing, chances are they’re not accustomed to specific criticism of their work from agents or editors, and may not react well to that from reviewers. There are self-published writers who have editors and who accept critical feedback graciously, but I’ve also seen enough unpleasant reactions to make me cautious.
But even if every author behaved professionally under those circumstances, I could still not agree that reviewers are under an obligation to help any authors, no matter how they’re published. It’s nice if they do so, but it’s not the primary reason I read or review books.
4. The insult
“I guess broadening your horizons is not for you.”
Alas, this didn’t make me want to check out the writer’s book.
It’s best not to react this way when someone turns you down, even if you’re disappointed. I sometimes bend my policy for a polite and professional self-published author, but I have no reason to do so for an author who’s defensive or rude.