Monday, February 25, 2013

Advice to self-published romance authors on Kindle: dealing with bad reviews

One of the most frequent questions I see from authors is how to deal with negative comments from readers.

My own personal opinion on this is that the customer is always right. They are always right because they’re the one paying for the book. They’re the ones who paid to be entertained, so if they have a problem with the book, then that’s on me. It doesn’t matter if their complaints are factually accurate or not, it’s their money. If the comments were in the form of a review here on Goodreads or on Amazon, I would just ignore them. If they were on a discussion board and some reply was expected of me, I would probably try to keep it short, and simply apologize that they feel that way and let the readers who liked the book make my counterarguments for me. I can’t think of anything less professional than getting into a flame war with someone over their review. Even if I agreed with the author, I’d still kind of be shocked as a reader to see someone do that.

I personally haven’t received a negative review (note: that is not self-promotion or bragging, merely a sad testament to the low percentage of people who leave comments on books they read at all), but one of my sister’s books received a very low rating. While I completely disagree with the reader’s objections and to the personal attack, neither of us replied to it. At first, I worried that the 1 star rating would drive readers away, but surprisingly, the days after the comment was posted saw a surge in sales which I can’t explain in any other way. I think people saw the bad rating and it told them that people were actually reading the book, and that the other good ratings weren’t socks accounts, and decided to give it a try. So, in retrospect, I think the reader ended up doing her a favor. It still hurt her feelings, but it was a blessing in disguise.

If you aren’t an author, I don’t think you can understand what it’s like to anxiously check Goodreads and Amazon every day to see if a reader has left you a rating or comment. In many ways, writers work blind. We can’t watch the reader as they read it, and have no idea what parts they like or dislike unless they tell us. As such, authors are already emotionally hyped up. Add to this fact that I think most authors consider their books to be their babies, and passions can get the best of them when they think someone is criticizing their work. It can’t end well to attack a reader in response though. You really can’t argue with someone’s personal opinion of your book. I mean, what’s the counterargument to “your book was terrible”? “No, it wasn’t”? “You just don’t understand it”? “Shut up”? None of them is very persuasive, and all come off as conceited. Best to just listen to what they’re saying and see if it’s something you can work on in the future. A bad review is about the book. The worst that can happen is that someone won’t buy it as a result. If you turn it into an argument against the reader, then you’re making it about yourself, and the worst that can happen is that people won’t buy any of your books as a result, and tell their friends to do the same.

Now, if the reader forms their comments as a question to the author, then I don’t think it should be ignored. If the reader is genuinely asking for clarification or confirmation that the book has a certain theme or that a certain plot detail is what the reader thinks it is, then the author should comment in those circumstances. One of the main reasons for an author to be active online is to answer reader feedback.

I like to think that most readers are smart enough to only place stock in real reviews, and ignore ones which misconstrue the book or make personal attacks against the author though. All books have the occasional bad review (not even the Bible has a perfect rating on Amazon.) Consumers are pretty good at ignoring negativity which is clearly wrong or has an obvious ax to grind. Part of your job as an author is to accept criticism (even if it’s clearly wrong) and move on.

…Unless it’s about one of my books. If you don’t like my books, then you’re clearly an idiot and I’m fully within my rights as an author to tell you so, and then utterly dismiss your delusional ramblings. ;)


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