Don’t Do It! by Emily Winslow

It’s tempting, I know. But resist! Amazon is littered with the comments of authors defending themselves from negative reviews. Nothing good can come of such public displays of indignation.

I originally wrote this post linking to two examples of SPECTACULAR author tantrums prompted by negative reviews. It’s bad enough to respond in a moment of passion, but these were ongoing crusades fueled by delusion, entitlement, and paranoia. Some even involved threats, and organizing others against the reader/reviewer who dared to say something negative. (Often, it’s not even nasty reviews that inspire this; in at least one case, it was three stars and thoughtful disappointment that incited the brouhaha.)

At the last minute, I deleted the links and details, in the hope that the authors involved have come to understand their errors. I’m glad I haven’t yet humiliated myself on the internet. If it had been around for more of my life, I might well have; and, despite my supposed maturity, I may yet humiliate myself in the future. If I do, I hope it to eventually sink into the depths of google and not be quoted. If you’re really curious, google for “authors behaving badly” and variations (perhaps throwing in “amazon” or “bad review”). You will find many examples.

As I will soon be facing online reviews myself, I’ve been wondering if to respond in any circumstance. Of course I’ll not correct or chastise a bad review, or comment on Amazon reader reviews. But is it appropriate to show up in the comment trail of a positive or neutral blog review? Is it appropriate to say “thank you”?

In my own experience as a reader, I’ve enjoyed comment trails that become a back-and-forth discussion between readers. When the author shows up late in the game, with a good attitude, and maybe answers specific questions from the discussion, that’s all to the good.

What doesn’t work for me is when the author comments first or close to it. (Google Alerts, anyone?) There’s something about the author “being there” that puts a damper on reader discussion. It makes it a whole different atmosphere, a more formal one. So my thought is: Yes to leaving a positive, friendly comment, but only well after reader responses to the review have had their turn.

What do you think? Is that sensible? Or would you recommend another way?

FYI: I have JUST started a new blog, Emily Winslow Talks to Strangers, about the experience of crossing the line between unpublished and published. The first entries are all about different aspects of book promotion, what I think might be helpful, and links to all kinds of resources. Over time, I hope to see the opinions and experiences of others (readers and writers) added in the comments. I would love to hear what you have to say.

20 Replies to “Don’t Do It! by Emily Winslow”

  1. I agree that nothing good can ever come from commenting on negative or lukewarm or incorrect reviews. No matter how tempting it might be–and believe me, it’s tempting!–don’t do it.

    I think I know of one of the notorious examples you’re wise not to mention specifically. That was just awful, awful, awful. A train wreck. And the scary thing is, you could see the logic in this author’s initial choice to speak out–a reviewer was giving away the end of the book she spent years working on. But things quickly spun out of control and it got ugly. Part of being an author is taking your lumps. That’s just the way it is.

    As for blog conversations, or stops on an official “blog tour,” this is a bit more of a gray area. On the one hand, you don’t want to interfere with the conversation taking place. You want readers to feel free to express their actual opinions without fear of hurting your feelings. On the other hand, is it rude not to stop by when people have gone to the trouble of devoting time to your book? I don’t know. I like the waiting rule . . .

  2. This is such an interesting post! After all the years of research, of editing, of getting the writing just “right”, I thought I knew what to expect once my book debuted. What I discovered is that nothing prepares you for the fact that you are now a public commodity. That your words are out there for all to read and interpret as they wish. And this is after years of participating in crit circles where you are in the room while people rip your work to shreds– I thought I had already developed a tough skin!
    My advice — after four months “experience” would be to not get involved anywhere on the Internet. As the author you have done your part — you have written your story — and for better or worse you have to allow for the haters and the lovers and the people who are just somewhere in between.
    As far as the blog tours? I have NOT responded to any — I figure those forums are not for me to add my two cents — even if it’s just to say “thanks.” I have done that privately via e-mail – but not engaged in a public discussion… and that is what works for me. Good luck with everything– my advice is to enjoy this moment and keep writing!

  3. I’m with Robin. Don’t engage. When a blogger emails me a link, I always thank them via email. Or if I come across one on my own or via someone else, but I rarely leave a comment unless it’s someone I actually know. I’m about to embark on an eighteen day blog tour and this is how I plan to handle it. Link to it on my website on the day (or I might have a sidebar list) and email the author a thank-you.

  4. Love your new blog, Emily, and great post here too. Not getting involved (in online conversations about the book) seems sensible to me. I like what Robin says — as the author, I’ve done my part. Now, step back.

  5. Interesting! I agree that bad reviews should be kept in perspective, and that engaging is the worst possible reaction unless there’s a way to do so constructively and pleasantly. As for blog reviews, I love popping in and saying hi and thanks for the review- but that’s just what’s comfortable for me.

  6. Kind of you not to link to those brouhahas, Emily, and I think I know the ones you mean without looking.

    As a journalist, I learned you really can’t control reader reactions to your work. I would knock myself out on a difficult, complicated story, really turn myself inside out to be scrupulously accurate and absolutely fair — only to have people read it and come to conclusions far to left field of what I meant! And that’s with non-fiction! So reactions to fiction can go every which way, and really, no matter how much you explain or correct, you’ll never get them to budge, anyway.

    Before my first book came out, I wrote myself the worst review I could possibly imagine as a way of inoculating myself. It still smarted when that first stinker of a review came in (and BOY was it a doozy) but I was prepared for the insults.

    And anyway, the dread of the first bad review was worse than the fact of it. Isn’t that true of so many things? (Except maybe dental visits which are always just as dreadful as I imagine).

  7. As a book blogger, I can say we do love getting author comments when we loved the books. Often those comments get geeked out over and shared on Twitter, bringing more eyes to the review. Probably the best yardstick to determining whether or not you should comment is whether or not you want the review and your response to get more traction on Twitter and other social networks. I do agree with waiting until later in the day so as not to stifle any conversation, though. Email notes are always appreciated as well, of course. I have also had authors leave comments saying “thank you for the thoughtful review” (assuming it is one) on okay/good-not-great book reviews, which I appreciate, because it makes the author seem gracious.

  8. I never read Amazon reviews any more. This one guy kept insisting my books were like guidebooks on how to get high or commit suicide. Completely untrue, but engaging him only made him angrier, and believe me, he was an angry man. I only defended myself, never attacked back, but even that fed him. I blocked his comments and never went back.

    Every negative review hurts, especially reader reviews. Why open yourself up to that? They mean little in the long run. Build your readership by writing great books. Everyone won’t love everything you write. So what? If you love your books, and your readers love your books, isn’t that what really matters? And just BTW, the best advice I can give a writer is not to write for reviews or awards or in fear of would-be censors. Write the book you have to write, the one that speaks to your heart. And write for your readers.

  9. Tonya–Might we be in the same time zone (GMT)? Or are you an early riser?

    Kelly–Oh, I know the one you’re thinking of! Nope, I was linking to two other ones. Isn’t it sad that saying “author flipped out and threatened reviewer” could refer to *several* different occurrences??

    Robin, Joelle, Alicia–I see how a decision to not get involved at all would be freeing (and very professional).

    Sarah–Yeah, I have that impulse too. I like forging these little relationships, even just through acknowledgment and thanks. That’s why I thought waiting might avoid the downside of freezing the conversation, while still allowing for some contact. (Of course, once I’m four months in like Robin, I may well want out of the internet altogether!)

    Jen and Lenore–I’m glad you like hearing from authors!

    Kristina–I used to love dental visits, until I got braces. Tightening was *agony*

    Ellen–Scary guy!!

  10. While the internet has served me quite well, I often lament the day it was brought to light. There’s no such thing as privacy.

    I look forward to your blog Emily. Now pardon me while I google Authors Behaving Badly.

    Have a great week,


  11. Amy–So nice to “meet” another book blogger! Your site looks terrific.

    Greg–Yeah, you’ll be entertained by the google results for a while. You know what though? I’m amazed at how thoroughly some of my old friends and family members have managed to avoid being searchable. lots and lots of people really are ungoogleable. How did they do it??

  12. I love when authors email me thanking me for a positive review, but it always freaks me out because I wonder how many authors are stumbling on my negative reviews and having their feelings hurt. Honesty is my best policy, but I also live in terror or making people sad. Maybe no authors should read my site ever.

  13. I try to always comment on reviews of my book! I’ve been lucky enough not to come across any that are overwhelmingly negative, but I always like to say thank you to the blogger for taking time to spotlight my book. If a reviewer brings up an issue (sometimes plot questions), I tend to answer (if there’s an easy answer) or–more often–learn something from it and tell the reviewer as much.

    I’m not sure about squelching discussion because none of the reviews seem to invite debate.

    A decidedly negative review, I would leave alone, definitely.

  14. Raych–Not wanting to make people sad makes you a nice person 🙂 (And your sensitivity probably makes you a perceptive reviewer!)

    Katie and Jen–Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I like when an author comes in at the tail end and answers something. Probably a lot of sites don’t have conversational comments; the one I was thinking of was Dear Author. Nice romance discussion community over there…

  15. Lion, and tigers, and bloggers…Oh my! So very insightful, Emily. I am thankful for the helpful info on these issues. I know I’ll be running my own gauntlet soon, and am more than a bit daunted at the thought, but perhaps it will be a bit easier because you went first.
    Best, Allison

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