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How Should An Author Handle Negative Reviews?

There’s been some buzz in the blogosphere lately with how a couple of authors have handled negative reviews.

The first author to come unglued was Alice Hoffman. A reviewer for her hometown paper printed a negative review of her newest book, The Story Sisters. Most agree that she took her reaction too far when she posted the reviewer’s phone number and email address and asked people to “tell her what u think of snarky critics.” Now, I’m sure the review stung, but posting in a public forum someone’s name and email address and encouraging people to badger that person? That’s just not right.

alicehof

If you want to see the all the tweets Alice Hoffman tweeted, then check out this post from Gawker. You should also check out the post at GalleyCat.

Not even 24 hours after Alice Hoffman sent all these tweets, she deleted her account and apologized for her response, though she notably never publicly apologized to Roberta Stilman.

Then ANOTHER author left a comment on a reviewer’s personal blog after reading the review of his book in The New Times Book Review and wrote this:

I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.

This author was Alain de Botton, and Edward Champion interviewed Alain de Botton after he confirmed that Alain had, in fact, left that comment. Alain also guest posted on Edward Champion’s blog and talked about how to respond to critics.

(It should be noted that Alain de Botton publicly apologized for his actions and admitted he was in the wrong. Please do not lambaste him here, as he acted classy after realizing his mistake. Alice Hoffman, however…)

So I was thinking: How SHOULD an author respond to a negative review?

Some authors get Google Alerts for their books and their name, so they know when they are mentioned on the Internets. There are some authors, though, that don’t look at ANY reviews, positive or negative. They know how they would react to the negative reviews so they don’t bother with any of it.

Reviews can be hard to take, and venting about them anywhere but the Internet is okay in my book. I mean, Alice Hoffman deleted her Twitter account, but her tweets live on and can’t be undone even by deleting her account.

Can an author dialogue with a reviewer over a negative review?

Have you seen the site The Worst Review Ever? Authors submit their worst review ever (dur) and then answer stock questions and then people vote on how bad the review really was. I think many of the reviews aren’t that bad. At least one author has tried responding sarcastically, and she was chastised by others in the comments that she shouldn’t have acted so immature.

I’m not saying it’s easy to be an author and have to read negative reviews of your piece of art. Especially when reviewers and critics are not really on the same footing. Authors put themselves out there to be critiqued, but critiquing a reviewer over a negative review just sounds like sour grapes.

I don’t think there IS a way for an author to respond to a reviewer in a way that doesn’t make the author sound bitter. Oh, unless the author uses the old, “Thanks for reading my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t for you.” When reading a negative review, I’m sure THAT isn’t quite what the author would really like to say.

While discussing this on Twitter, one person asked why we hold authors to a higher standard of conduct than regular people. I don’t think we hold authors to any higher standard of conduct than anyone else. Bad behavior is bad behavior. Tweeting a person’s email and phone number and asking your friends to bombard them with “I don’t agree with you” isn’t okay for anyone.

I know it’s said that authors need to have a thick skin, but that’s obviously easier said than done. If someone was critiquing, say, ever blog post I wrote, I think I’d crawl under my covers and hide.

Authors, what do you think? How do you handle negative reviews?

Readers, how do you think authors should handle negative reviews? Have you seen an author handle a negative review gracefully? Or have you seen an author handle a negative review poorly?

Bloggers, how do you think you would react if someone was reviewing every blog post you wrote? And no, your readers are not reviewing every blog post you write. Just as not every reader an author has critiques their book. I’m talking about someone critiquing everything you write.

| Tags: , 47 comments »

47 Responses to “How Should An Author Handle Negative Reviews?”

  1. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    I think authors who are aware of their limits and don’t read reviews are some of the smartest people ever. Seriously it would be so easy to derive your worth from positive reviews and let negative reviews really get you down.
    If you consider that authors have their work critiqued (albeit by a gentler hand) every step of the way through editing, critique groups, etc. you’d think they’d be more prepared sometimes. 🙂

    When I organized BBAW last year, I had a few people who really blasted me for the way it went. In fact, almost anytime you do something, someone has an opinion about how it could be better or different. Elizabeth Law said on one of Read Roger’s posts that people always have an editorial comment to make about books.

    I think that’s what we have to understand and what authors would be wise to remember. People always think they could have done it better. 🙂

    [Reply]

  2. lenore

    Authors have the same reactions as the rest of us do when our hard work is criticized. And they have to have relatively thick skins to even make it through the publishing process (I know self-published authors often lash out at reviewers, but that´s another story). Of course we can expect them to curse and vent with their friends in the privacy of their own space. But we also expect them to be professional – which does not include publicly asking fans to carry out vendettas against their enemies. I know I will forever think differently about Alice Hoffman … much less inclined to support her and her work. Afraid maybe she might one day lash out at me.

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  3. King Rat

    Joe Abercrombie took exception to something I wrote about his second book. He wrote a longish item about it on his blog. As did Ulises Silva after I ripped the quality of his self-published book. I’m fine with it. I’ve had comments from non-authors who hated what I wrote about books they liked. I got called lazy by one commenter. I leave those comments up.

    If someone published my phone number, I might be a little irritated, but only if I was inundated with calls. I think Alice Hoffman went too far by doing that. If any of them want to published my email address though, it’s right on my web site. I’d prefer disagreements generally be left as comments so the content of their critique can be seen and critiqued.

    If you want to see people really get pissed at me, read the comments on my personal site after I revealed that a popular software author wasn’t playing by the rules.

    But otherwise, I think it’s okay to disagree vehemently and/or publicly with me. I don’t think an author should be judged poorly because he/she responds. I’ve said it multiple times, I’m a cranky guy on the internet. I’m surprised when anyone reads what I write about a book.

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  4. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

    I think the problem is that everyone has a different taste in books. We are not all going to love the same ones, so even the best books in the world are going to pick up negative reviews. Authors shouldn’t take this personally, but realise that we can’t all be their biggest fans. As long as the review is written carefully and is not abusive even a negative review can have a beneficial effect – I have had several direct book sales through seemingly negative reviews on my blog.

    I also publish my reviews on Amazon and have come under fire there sometimes. I don’t take it personally, as I realise some people are just VERY passionate about their favourite authors.

    [Reply]

  5. Raych

    I take everything personally, which is dumb for obvious reasons (even those lolcatzy anonymous barrages on my Twilight reviews make me a die a little inside) but I know that going in, and I reap my own consequences.

    I feel like authors should have someone filtering their reviews for them and only sending them the positive ones unless they’re in it for the constructive criticism. If someone chronically reviewed my blog I probably wouldn’t read it (see above about dying inside) because I feel like I have a unique style that some people just aren’t going to like, and they don’t have to read.

    You’re totally right re: sour grapes. When I don’t like a book BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE IT, having the author come on and explain, even in the nicest way possible, why I SHOULD have liked it isn’t going to change a thing. De gustibus non disputandum, am I right? ::crickets::

    This is such tricky business. We are writers writing about other writers’ writing.

    [Reply]

  6. Nicole

    Speaking as a writer, reader, and blogger:

    I don’t believe authors should respond to negative reviews at all. Period. It doesn’t matter how tactfully they broach the subject; to me, it always looks a bit arrogant and childish.

    Authors are privileged in having the chance to put their work out there for the public to read. It is a choice. No one forces them to do it. In return, it is their responsibility to accept whatever people have to say about it.

    And let me add that as a writer myself, I have incredibly thin skin. I’m terribly insecure about my own work, I long for positive reinforcement, and I find criticism devastating. Therefore, I’m highly sensitive to the power reviewers can wield and the pain they can cause. I find it sad that not all reviewers take that power seriously or wield it responsibly.

    But it’s the reviewer’s job to critique the author’s work. Not the other way around.

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  7. Renay

    I once posted a review and had the author come tell me how wrong I was about the book. Basically, “you read it wrong!” It was pretty special, but on the other hand we had a nice e-mail conversation where maybe they decided to think about my feminist critique of their work. It was my first time dealing with an author one on one after a negative review…and I LIKED the book overall, if that tells you anything. Sometimes I think authors should evaluate whether or not they’re going to turn into jerks if they read a negative review, and if so, just stay away.

    I’ve been posting fanfiction so long that I’ve gotten used to people criticizing me on their journals or making fun of me because they disagree with whatever I’ve written. It really doesn’t bother me that much, I’m fairly apathetic about it. I realize the divide between fanfiction posted on the tubes and a published book are a little different, but the solution remains the same: if you can’t handle criticism (and it took me years to be able to on my fiction), avoid it from strangers. So I guess the answer to your question about how I would feel if people were pulling apart my posts to critique them is: good damn luck, because they’re SO LONG and I care about -500%. I’ve been blogging since 2001 and written over one million words. I’m so far past caring about unrequested critique. I kind of want to give all these authors who care so much some cake and a button that says “APATHY IS IN!”

    I also read that blog about the worst reviews, and I have seen so many reviews that I might have written. Apparently, according to that blog I am a big meanie and make authors cry into their pillows at night. XD

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  8. lena

    I think by being a blogger you’re putting yourself and your opinions out there to be viewed and critiqued. That being said, if you haven’t got a tough skin, you shouldn’t put yourself up on the chopping block. I write my blog for myself. I want to come back and read what I thought about certain books. If someone else likes it. Great. If someone hates it and rants about it on their blog… well… *shrug.* I think as an author, especially someone like Alice Hoffman, should really have developed that tough skin by now. So ONE person who just happens to write reviews didn’t like it. Someone else will.

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  9. stacy

    I think the best way for a writer to handle a negative review is to ignore it. Nothing good can come out even addressing it.

    As for my blog, well, if you don’t like it, the content or the quality, then you shouldn’t read it. And if you’re not reading it you won’t have any reason to complain about it. I don’t like reviewers who only talk about the positive of a book. Not all books are great and should not be reviewed as such.

    I am surprised at Alice Hoffman. She is a successful enough author to be able to take a little criticism.

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  10. Becky

    You would hope that however you handle criticism would be productive, rather than destructive. However, I get it that people feel really connected to what they write. In fact, as a teacher who taught college writing and high school English for many years, I get that people connect their very selves to what they put down on the page. No matter how much you try to reinforce that you’re trying to help along the “editing” process, people still feel a need to explain their writing, rather than understand that editing really is about closing the gaps of misunderstanding that would cause someone to criticize you in the first place.

    Having said that about writing, I TRY to see criticism as a reflection of gaps I left in my writing. I hate bad behavior though! People should be thoughtful critics, with the idea of adding to the dialogue or improving what’s out there, not destroying any discussion! If a critique comes along not because of the writing, but because of the opinions expressed, then that’s another story! Everyone is entitled to their opinion. How do you tell someone their opinion is wrong–you simply say you don’t agree! I don’t mind if someone disagrees with my opinions/tastes, but I think I really would have a pretty sour taste in my mouth if they attacked me for them. I might respond, in short, but not entertain their attacks if invalidated. Disagree with me, but give me reasons that I can acknowledge as thoughtful in some way!

    In light of all that’s happened, I hope that from the negativity comes good things. I think this discussion will start to help that happen. Thanks!

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  11. mortimus clay

    The word, ‘criticism” comes from the Greek, “crito” which simply means, “to judge”. Judgments can take the form of praise (a very precious thing) or condemnation (what we risk in our quest for praise).

    I break criticism down into categories: ideological — if my work affirms your view of the world then you’re inclined to like it, and if not, no matter how excellent it is technically, you’re inclined to pan it. I should not only accept such, I should relish it. It means you got it! Second, taste. “De gustibus” as was mentioned — right? If you write mawkish, introspective, goop and I like action, well — again — I’m inclined to pan it. That applies to maters of prose too — and anything where we can truly attribute a judgment to taste. Some folks just don’t like my stuff. I can live with that.

    Where criticism is truly helpful for an author is with the technical stuff. If I have tried to accomplish something — and have failed — I want to know about it so I can develop my craft. That’s where I really want to interact with the reviewer. If I can learn something — the reviewer has given me a precious gift — and for free too! If it costs me a few sales, it is worth it. (Of course, my work has never been judged in the New York Times!)

    Concerning the stuff mentioned here relating to authors and their peevishness — really bad form. Vindictiveness never garners respect. A gracious response to criticism can at least give one a chance to be heard again.

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  12. Aunt Becky

    Now, I’m a blogger, and recently, I’ve gotten popular enough to start getting some real hateful comments. Nothing out of the ordinary–although being called a stupid bitch isn’t exactly….mature or insightful–but now I’ve noticed that I’ve been turned into a product in the minds of many readers. As in, when I do not provide the humorous stories I normally do, or if I dare to have a bad day, someone will pop up, tell me I suck and that they’re never going to read me again.

    It doesn’t really bother me because at least 80% of the time, they just have gotten me completely wrong. They read 4 paragraphs, nothing else, and publicly tried to humiliate me for it. I don’t know, see, usually I find it kind of funny that they assume I am a monkey here only for their amusement.

    Blogger as product, huh. Thems be the breaks. Truthfully, it’s pretty flattering. Honestly.

    And as for authors, I guess it’s natural to feel defensive about their work. It sucks to find out that someone is publicly panning their stuff and I can see the desire to go on the defense. I guess I feel like often saying nothing is the best reaction you can have. It makes you look more elegant and refined if you accept that not everyone will like you and that opinions are like as*holes. Everybody’s got one.

    Usually, it’s not personal.

    (unless you’re being called a stupid bitch. Then it is quite personal)

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  13. Steph

    I agree it’s tricky dealing with negative reviews, but it seems like the authors that make the news when they respond are the ones who make the “fight” personal. As you said, many authors seem to overreact to what they perceive are scathing reviews, when in fact, they tend to be reviews that simply aren’t effusive with praise. I think very few professional (and even very few book blog reviews) are unilaterally negative; certainly professional reviewers tend to focus on what they thought were strengths as well as failings of whatever they review, and I think that is the way a review needs to be. But it always seems tacky and does the author no favors to respond by belittling the critic as a person or their suitability to write the review in the first place. The more I think about it the more I think authors should really say nothing, because it’s not like we expect them to say they agree with a reviewer if someone found the dialogue contrived or the characters stereotyped. What author would want to believe that of their work? There’s really nothing for them to say except that they disagree, which given their position is kind of obvious.

    Now, if an author is going to respond, I think the best way to do that is either to shoot the reviewer a PRIVATE email, or I suppose it’s their prerogative to post something on their blog/website if they have such a venue. I think Twitter is the wrong forum, and certainly posting things on the reviewer’s own site is not a great idea in my mind. But really, I understand they want to air their grievances and defend themselves, but it seems most authors veer into the abusive and petulant when they do this and wind up giving the “negative” review more publicity than it probably would have gotten in the first place, and they also tend to look like they’re simply poor sports.

    I think it’s critical that reviewers of ALL kinds feel free to publish their honest and critical opinions of books, otherwise there’s no point in reviewing them. It’s true that not every book will be to every person’s tastes, but I think most people read reviews with that in mind, and most reviewers who are seeking to review and not solely recommend books (because these are two different things) know this too. Some publications have “positive review” only policies, and I wonder whether authors would prefer to have a slightly less than wonderful review or to have no review (i.e., no publicity) at all? If you insist that only positive reviews of your book are published, then you accept that you will have fewer reviews written or are perhaps demanding that people will be dishonest in their appraisal. As a reader, I prefer a balanced and measured review since if a reviewer mentions something was a weakness, I can often adjust my expectations and consequently enjoy the book more than I might have otherwise if I’d only read over-the-top praise.

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  14. Jenny

    I don’t know that I have anything much to add here – I think it is largely a question of de gustibus – but this just reminded me of that time Anne Rice totally lost her shit on Amazon. Does anyone remember that? In the end I think authors’ responding negatively to negative critics nearly always makes them look undignified. Cf. Anne Rice Amazon.com incident. 😛

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  15. natalie @ book, line, and sinker

    i wanted to read the review of hoffman’s new book to see just what got her knickers in such a twist. it turns out that the review isn’t remotely snarky, in my opinion. it is less than fawning, but the reviewer did include some positives along with the critiques.

    maybe hoffman has a long-standing issue with this woman? whatever the case may be, she made herself look petty, unhinged, and immature with the tweeting.

    as for my reviews and writing…i don’t directly attack authors in my reviews nor do i criticize them on a personal level. i try to balance good with the bad without just retelling the story.

    [Reply]

  16. Kiki

    Ad a reader and reviewer, I am very disappointed in Alice Hoffman’s response. I usually like her work, but hearing that she lashed at a reader/reviewer in such an awful way really turns me off to buying her work.

    Personally, I have had a friend of an author who I criticized in a review go after me. But I feel pretty safe there, and the book was truly bad enough and the author unknown enough for it not really to matter much to me. (I particpate in the Amazon Vine program–free books and ARCs in exchange for active reviewing. Gotta love it.)

    Ted bell is an author who has really made some enemies in much the same way as Alice has now, I suppose. He vattacked some people who didn’t love his latest book (Tsar or whatever it may have been) and his behavior is definitely enough for me to remember when I am at my job in the BOOKSTORE! I really don’t forget about stuff–fake memoirs, insulting reviewers etc. And I have to admit, I have some pretty regular customers who come in and ask me for advice on good reads. Rarely does someone who knows me leave without a book in their hand for purchase. Sure, maybe it is only a few books–but it won’t be the offenders books.

    If you are putting yourself out there and making big money on your books like Alice (who has movies made out of a few of her books), you’ve got a publsihing contract, you should:

    A–get some thinker skin, and
    B–consider yourself blessed and lucky to be published at all!

    Just my measly 2 cents. What the heck do I know?

    [Reply]

  17. sarah pekkanen

    Oh, I could talk about this subject all day long. Great question, Trish! This issue seems to rear its head from time to time — most recently, Tess Gerritsen got tangled up in a mess when she wrote, tongue in cheek, about wanting to hunt down negative Amazon reviewers of her book. Things escalated, and Tess eventually quit blogging for a time because so much negativity was swirling around.
    Personally, I agree with everyone that Alice H. went way too far and that as a seasoned novelist, she should expect some bad reviews mixed in with the good. I mean, this isn’t her first time at the dance, right?
    As an author with my debut out early next year, I won’t pretend I’m not nervous about negative reviews. It’s one thing to get constructive criticism — that stuff I LOVE; it helps me improve as a writer — but some bad reviews do seem to feel almost personal. It happened to me once when I was blogging on a D.C. listserve, and someone who didn’t appreciate my post called me a “terrible parent.” Wow. That was a shocker. Other readers piled on and attacked the woman back, and she never responded again. I so appreciated the support of other parents on the listserve — but isn’t it funny how you can quote verbatim the negative things someone says about you (or your writing) but the compliments kind of go by in a blur?
    Personally, I put something on Facebook a while back about hating the ending of a popular book. People asked me for the book’s title, and I was initially reluctant to give it — when I finally did, I made sure to note I thought the book was really well-written, but the ending didn’t work for me. Just my humble opinion. I guess that’s where I draw the line — respectful critiques are fine, attacks are not.

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  18. Beth F

    First, I didn’t read the comments because I wanted to state my own opinion first. I’ll go back and read them in a minute.

    Everyone — bloggers, authors, commenters — need to be aware that what they are saying on a blog is public. I think everything boils down to respect. If a negative review is respectful, the author should respond in a respectful way.

    If the blogger is mean or disrespectful (and I’ve seen it happen even when the blogger’s friends say “oh I don’t get the author’s reaction”), the author should take the high road and not respond or escalate the situation. If the author responds poorly, then the blogger should take the high road and let it go.

    Life is too short to spend time on cyber wars.

    I would not ban an author or a blogger for having a disrespectful or over-the-top reaction. We all overreact at some point in our lives; if we weren’t forgiven, then none of us would have a friend left.

    I’ve had authors thank me for constructive criticism, I’ve had authors just ignore my negative reviews. If you put your work out there (artist, dancer, musician, actor, writer), then you have to expect that someone will hate it.

    Before writing and before responding, pretend that the person (blogger or author) is standing right in front of you. What would you say to that person’s face?

    [Reply]

  19. Iloz Zoc

    As a reviewer for books and movies on my blog, I’ve received some nasty responses to some of my critiques (by readers and originators of the work). On the other hand, I’ve read some pretty nasty reviews by others; reviews that go beyond critical analysis of the work in question to become, in my summation, more like personal attacks, which are unnecessary and unprofessional. I’ll admit I am one for some cheeky wordplay in reviewing works I deem poorly executed, but I have never stooped low enough to swing below the belt in a mean-spirited way.

    So I’d say there are two sides of the coin here to look at. On one you have good critics who give negative (but constructive) reviews, which I think an author should read and learn from; on the other, you have critics who let personal feelings color their reviews to an extent where critical commentary gives way to diatribe, and no one benefits from the experience. In this case, I say ignore it and the person who wrote it.

    [Reply]

  20. Lahni

    Have you ever heard of the website ratemyteacher.com? Well, I have because I’m a teacher and I’m on it. It SUCKS! Many of the things kids write are unfair and they quite often misunderstand your reasoning for doing things. But, as a professional, I’ve learnt just to stay away from that site. I realize that as an author it might not be as easy to avoid reading reviews, but if you know it’s just going to eat at you if it’s negative then stay away. I don’t think it’s ever right for an author to respond in the way that your two examples have. As you said, in the privacy of their own home with friends, maybe they can spout off a little, but never in print and especially not on the internet!

    [Reply]

  21. Lazygal

    I’ve had authors respond to my reviews on GoodReads and on my review blog and, well, I don’t like it. It’s one thing for them to say “thanks for the review”, it’s another for them to tell me I’ve got it wrong or that I’m somehow a bad person because I didn’t love Love LOVE their work.

    Here’s another example of an author losing it, then repenting because of a wave of bad public commenting: http://j-kaye-book-blog.blogspot.com/2009/01/chris-grabenstein-negative-review.html

    [Reply]

  22. Jenners

    I think everyone — authors, bloggers, readers — need to behave with a certain amount of respect for each other. Obviously, you don’t like every book you read … but there is a nice way to write a negative review and a not-so-nice way. And authors certainly have the right to get upset but there nice and not-nice ways to communicate that. Basically, when it gets to the level of personal attacks, I think it has gone too far.

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  23. Petunia

    Positive response – I had one author who said she was sorry I hadn’t liked her book and that she had received lots of positive reviewed but that she supposed you can’t please everyone. I thought it very gracious.

    Negative response – Another author asked me to review his book and received a positive review from me but was upset that I stated that he was a psychotherapist whose short stories read like case studies. I wrote that to show that he knows whereof he speaks in his stories but he was highly offended. He compared himself to Freud and wanted to be considered a writer of fine literature. The thing is that most of the reviews I read about his collection wrote exactly the same thing, from blogs to newspaper reviews. His response to my review turned many readers off of his collection. I was later warned against reviewing for self-published authors because they have a reputation for inflated egos. His personal blog affirmed this to be the case for this particular author.

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  24. Trin

    I had written a very honest, yet negative, review of a book I recently read http://trinsnook.blogspot.com/2009/06/living-in-rear-view-mirror.html The author emailed me, rather than commenting and we had a very nice and understanding conversation about her book, her subject matter and my questions about it. She was gracious and accepted my opinion for just that, an opinion. She responded with “After reading your review it seems that the book fell short in answering personal questions for you so I thought I would reach out. If there are any questions you want to ask, I’d be happy to answer them for you.” and “Obviously my preference is higher ratings, but I respect that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and their own feelings about the book and I have no hard feelings toward you. After all, that’s why I wrote it for people to form their own opinions. You as a person are more important than what you can say for me in a review.”

    If anyone exemplifies how an author should handle a negative review I believe it is Kim Vasquez.

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  25. Missy

    I wonder if authors realize how much they are damaging their reputations when they respond to negative reviews with their own inflammatory comments. It seems that some are quick to anger, and speak before they think. I am sure they do not realize that once their words are spoken in anger, they are forever embedded in the minds of their readers. We are all human and some of us are more susceptible to having a “short fuse”. However, I feel that authors who cannot handle constructive criticism or hard core snarky reviews should just steer clear of those reviews – period. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Some people just voice THEIR opinions a little ruder and louder than others. If a reviewer is going to bash a book publicly, they are no better that the author bashing the reviewer publicly.

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  26. Jeanne

    I think as most of us get older, we get better able to rein in the writer’s ego. Since my professional writing is non-fiction, I’ve always been able to use humility to defuse criticism (saying “I must not have expressed that well since you were able to misconstrue it”). Even for fiction writers, a little humility can go a long way.

    [Reply]

  27. Sunday Salon : Blogging Observations and Books « The Infinite Shelf

    […] How should authors handle negative reviews? Discuss it at Hey Lady! Watcha Readin? […]

  28. Britt, Book Habitue

    I posted a negative review not that long ago and the author commented on it. He didn’t understand my confusion because he was marketing the book to teens– but my (gally) copy said “juvenily fiction” on it. We ended up having a dialogue and since my copy was a gally he was able to clear some things up.

    In the end, I appreciated it, because basically I read a rough draft. (Which he was VERY apologetic about. He was having problems with the publisher.) My review was honest about what I read, but what I read is not what ended up on shelves. So I was glad to have the discussion.

    I also posted a not-so-positive review recently where I said that while I personally didn’t really like it, I could tell it was well written. The author commented that he really appreciated that.

    I think, though, concerning the first senario, that if what I had read had been the finished product, I wouldn’t have appreciated the comments from the author.

    (The “you read it wrong” comment reminded me of college Criticism and Analysis class. The professor actually handed back all our papers and said, “You’re all wrong. Go do it again.” I hated that class. Books are too subjective for that kind of attitude.)

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  29. Rebecca

    I wrote about this same subject, too, after author Robin D. Gill left me a, well, crazy comment about my negative review of his book. And I was not even snarky in it.

    Disturbing New Trend?

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  30. Nish

    I would expect authors to accept scathing reviews of their books with good grace. After all, plenty of others in different professions do (actors, directors,).

    I also don’t agree that the writer should not read negative reviews. How will an author grow and develop, if he/she does not accept criticism gracefully and with some degree of introspection?

    Guaranteed there are some reviewers who are pretty vitriolic, but the best thing in those situations is to take the higher road and ignore the review…

    btw, some book reviews in my blog here: http://nishitak.wordpress.com

    Let me know what you think of them

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  31. Caty

    I think the sensible thing to do with a bad review is to ask yourself whether the criticism is constructive? If it is, weigh it up and see whether you think there might be anything helpful there or whether it’s just a difference of opinion. If it’s not constructive, if it’s personal, ignore it. Easier said than done, of course, because it all hurts, but taking everything to heart will just mess you up.

    My rules of thumb in reviews include: would I say this to the author if they were stood in front of me? Have I explained WHY I think this and backed it up? Is this something that it is important for someone considering reading this book to know? And I try to follow the maxim, ‘if in doubt, leave it out’. I don’t always get it right, but I do always *try* to be fair.

    (If I was getting critiqued on every blog post I wrote, I would either develop a much thicker hide or give up completely.

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  32. Biblibio

    I wonder if authors should specifically respond to criticism. That is, to a direct blow. There’s a general issue with author feedback on the internet but responding angrily and immaturely to someone who disagreed with you cannot be justified by saying, “But the critic wrote a mean review!” It’s still a differing opinion on the internet and should be handled the same as anything else – with tact, politeness and a level head.

    As a reader, I feel every opinion regarding a book should be viewed as constructive. An author cannot always receive brilliant praise from every reader. It simply isn’t possible. As a reader, I pick apart books not to spite the author, but so that the author might learn from it and avoid such mistakes in the future. To see an author respond like a whiny kid to someone’s suggestion that they are not perfect (and maybe are just a little less than good too) is disappointing to me – I should hope authors understand that and give it greater importance above their ego.

    It’s as a reviewer, though, that I’m troubled by this issue most. A reviewer takes the time and effort to write a balanced opinion of a book, saying whether or not he/she liked it (and why). Assuming the reviewer is properly polite (which isn’t always the case but in these particular examples there was nothing out of the ordinary), the writer shouldn’t get insulted but should understand, “Aha. I made a mistake. How uncomfortable. I disagree, though, etc.” But to yell back? Not an option. To insult the reviewer who was merely presenting an opinion? Absolutely unacceptable.

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  33. Sadako

    Wow. Alice Hoffman sounds way too oversensitive to even be a writer.

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  34. Moni

    I recently read somewhere that venting is bad for us psychologically. If I remember correctly, it was an article regarding road rage, or something like that. I think, in general, this is true. I’m guilty of venting online. It is so easy to do. Too easy.

    I think that these authors need to just take a deep breath and avoid the computer when they read a bad review. Avoid the snap reaction at all cost, because it is never, ever good. I think that people absolutely have a right to their opinion, good or bad, about what they read and I hate the thought of psycho authors out there losing it if I don’t like their book. Writing, like any art, is very subjective. If one is going to be an author one has to realize this or they are going to be sorely disappointed.

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  35. Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books

    I haven’t had an author respond on my blog to a negative review. If one did, I would hope that I would take the high road and not get into a flame war.

    There have been several defensive comments left by readers on reviews of books that were pop culture hits but didn’t hit my “must read” list (i.e., THREE CUPS OF TEA, THE NECKLACE and THE SHACK). In each case I left the comments up and didn’t start the spiral of defending my position.

    Review/opinion/critique … if it’s written clearly with, perhaps, excerpted text to back up the claim, it boils down to an information exchange from me to readers of my blog. No malice is intended, simply sharing my opinion.

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  36. Kim L

    I hate to say it, but when you create something that you are emotionally invested in, you just have to develop a thick skin before sending it out into the world to be experienced by people. If you’re an actor, or an artist, or a writer, or a singer, you have to just get used to being criticized, sometimes unreasonably so. And I’m sorry, it is bad behavior to retaliate against a bad review, no matter what.

    As I blogger I cringe to think what someone who was critiquing every post were to say. I write so many half-assed thoughts on my blog because I’m just sick of thinking any more about it, and I certainly don’t think my posts would all hold up to criticism.

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  37. Mommy Wants Vodka » Blog Archive » If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Put It On The Internet

    […] asking you, honestly. My friend Trish wrote this about authors handling negative reviews, and I’ve been rolling this around in my brain since […]

  38. Meg Waite Clayton

    As an author, it helps me a lot to think of the books that I haven’t particularly cared for that have been very popular or are even widely regarded as classics. Not every book is for every reader. That having been said, I feel folks reviewing books in a public forum in almost any capacity would serve us all well to approach all books with some measure of respect. I also think the anonymity of the internet leaves authors exposed to posts about a book that may have little to do with the book itself and much to do with the mindset of the reviewer or even, sometimes, the relationship between the author and the reviewer, or some perceived relationship. As a starting point, I feel that if a reviewer is not willing to attach their real name to their thoughts, one ought to take anything the have to say with a serious grain of salt.

    Before my latest novel, The Wednesday Sisters, was published, Ballantine did a giveaway on LibraryThing and I did try to thank everyone that posted a review for that. So many early ones were good that I hadn’t much thought what I’d do when the inevitable negative ones came in. When a few did, I reverted to the thanks for reading, sorry it didn’t work better for you approach, as it seemed somehow ungracious to thank only those who gave me good reviews. I do appreciate any reader picking up my book.

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  39. Meg Waite Clayton

    And, I should have said, I really appreciate the efforts of bloggers to share their thoughts about books they’ve read. The buzz about The Wednesday Sisters certainly began in the blogosphere, and I am forever grateful.

    🙂

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  40. paula

    I think we live in a tough world. People are frustrated with their community, the nation and the world. We hear all about the end of the world to come and how we all contributed to it. No one seems to have the answer for world peace. So…this brings out the worst in people and we respond in kind with criticism to those we read and connect with the most. It’s sad in so many ways. What are we teaching the future generations? To be kind to others? No get them before they get you. Beware of others and protect all that is valuable to you. Look around, it isn’t just the internet but your neighborhoods, the schools and even your homes.

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  41. Lisamm

    Excellent post and conversation. I’m very surprised at Alice Hoffman’s immature reaction and unprofessional response to a negative opinion of her work. It’s one thing to discuss it with your friends, but to publicly call a reviewer out like that and post their phone number on Twitter seems a tad crazy.

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  42. Marinka

    I totally agree with the “bad behavior is bad behavior” and Alice Hoffman’s behavior was atrocious. As was de Botton’s (and I’m not particularly swayed by apologies. Adults should realize that their intended acts have consequences).

    As to how authors should react to a negative review–IDK. Should they respond? Why do they need to have the last word? If the review is more along the lines of “what a snooze” and less “this is plagiarism”, why not just let it go? I think it’s understood that the author and her mother will disagree.

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  43. Laura Brodie

    As a brand new writer of fiction and memoir, I think writers who are starting out should welcome all reviews, positive and negative–anything to get the discussion started. Sometimes negative reviews are more interesting, if the reviewer has put some thought into it. I’m an English professor, and the best classes often come when students don’t like a book–you just have to get them beyond saying “this sucks” into serious comments about what does and doesn’t work in writing.

    I think I might have thicker skin than some younger authors, because as a forty-something mom of three, I’m so used to kids saying “I hate you!” along with the occasional “I love you,” that whatever a reviewer says just rolls off my weary back.

    As for famous authors with big egos, I find it crazy for them to respond at all to negative reviews. I would think their agents and editors would freak out, which is probably what happened in the two cases you mention. What a bad career move–what newspaper would want to review your next book if they knew you had attacked their reviewer?

    In general, American society has gotten too tolerant of angry, personal attacks–encouraged by reality TV, and the knee-jerk nature of Twitter and the internet. Speed of thought yields low- quality thought and regret. Or maybe I’m just a southerner who prefers civility.

    Laura Brodie

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  44. Callista

    I’m going to choose NOT to respond to the specific event that went down. I just wanted to let readers know that the June 2009 edition of Quill & Quire has an article at the back by Allan Levine about what to do when you get a negative review. He talks about getting a negative review in the Winnipeg Free Press, his hometown newspaper and was really angry. He says that:

    “Writing a rebuttal letter to the newspaper is an option, but it is not something I’ve ever done (on those rare occasions when I have received lousy reviews) or would suggest to any other author. First it draws attention to the negative review, contributing to further humiliation.”

    However he did “kvetch” to the Free Press’s book review editor. He also says this:

    “In short, authors, no matter how aggrieved they feel, should just shut up and take it.”

    I suggest anyone interested, especially other authors, check out the article.

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  45. The Kool-Aid Mom

    I’ve gotten a negative comment about a review I’ve written, and was glad for it. The worst that could happen happened (well, I guess not the WORST since they didn’t publish my phone number) and I could go on without worry after that.

    I’ve only ever written 2 really negative reviews, and I was very impressed with the author’s response to it. I really respected him afterwards. (The book was Katka, and the author is Stephen Meier)

    I don’t think author’s have to shut up and take it, but they could perhaps respond without being psychotic. Did you read all the comments Alain de Botton left on Crain’s blog? I imagine he was tired from all the touring and I respect that he apologized, but you don’t have to hit the “submit” button (or the “update” button in Hoffman’s case).

    The result of the different responses are this: I will definitely read Meier’s next book because I know he’s a decent guy and you can’t help but like him, but I’m debating just tossing the Hoffman book on my TBR pile back on BookMooch because she’s left a sour taste in my mouth. I wonder if her name will become a slang word for people who fly off the handle at the slightest criticism, like “Wow, I was just saying you needed to revamp that report, John, you don’t have to be such a Hoffman about it!”

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  46. Holly

    I don’t know that I have a lot to add. Everyone has said it so well. I had two authors respond to negative reviews. The first one was the first real negative review I did, and in hingsight, I probably could have been more positive. However, I thought the book was awful. http://2kidsandtiredbooks.blogspot.com/2008/10/chasing-diana.html
    The author responded and while she said she respected my opinion, it was clear that she was offended and thought I’d missed the point.

    The second one really bugged me, because I gave the publicist the option to not have a review at all (something I don’t normally do) and she said that as long as I could say some positive things, she’d still like the review. I think she gave the author the heads up. I thought I did a good job of being positive, even though I didn’t like it. However, the author responded as herself, and I suspect that several other comments were hers as well, just with a new profile. One of those in particular took great pains to say that I’d completely missed the point, and even took some cheap shots at another blogger who had agreed with my review. http://2kidsandtiredbooks.blogspot.com/2009/05/making-light-of-being-heavy.html

    I think that it is completely unrealistic for an author to expect that everyone will love and adore their book the way they do. We are all the sum of our life’s experiences and those experiences affect what we do, what we read and how we interpret. I love having author’s comment on my reviews, but if a review is negative, they need to have a thicker skin and realize that arguing isn’t going to make me like their book any better.

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  47. Holly

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