Thursday, May 27, 2021

Dear O'Abby: Can I really not respond to reviews?

Dear O'Abby,

I'm confused about the various pieces of advice I've read about whether or not to engage with reviewers who review my books.

I know to never reply to a negative because if you feed a troll a hundred more trolls will appear. But what about receiving good reviews?  We can't say thank you because then it'd be like we only acknowledge the behavior we want to see (which is glowing reviews)?

But there's negative because someone doesn't like your book and has legit feelings. And then there's negative because they are a "Karen" and just wanna yell at someone and today it's this author. Like one guy didn't like my book. Okay. His review included "I only read the first paragraph." I mean... you judged the whole book on one paragraph and wrote a review longer than the amount you read. Okay... yeah, I'm not gonna respond to that. 

But also, what about reference books? If someone writes a question in the review, a legit question that could have been in the book but wasn't. As a reference author, am I supposed to ignore that? Or is it acceptable to answer then?

And who the fridge came up with this moral ethical standard that authors are never allowed to reply to reviews or comments?



Dear Baffled,

I feel your pain.  This is such a grey area and it seems like everywhere you look there's conflicting advice.

You're right when you say never to engage with reviewers who leave negative reviews.  It never goes well.  Even if you are not being defensive, the mere act of communicating with a reviewer can be seen as defensive, whether in public or privately.  So let the bad reviews lie, even if they say stuff that is obviously wrong or mis-construed.  It may hurt, but it's best to just set them aside and move on.  Even if you feel like the entire world is piling on you for a stupid little mistake you weren't even aware you made and which people who haven't even read your book are railing about.  Grit your teet hand move on.

Some writers claim never to read reviews at all because it's better for their mental health.  If you find yourself obsessing over a bad review and feeling tempted to respond to the reviewer, you may need to set this kind of boundary for yourself.

Some reviewers think they are doing you a favour by tagging you when they post their reviews and this makes it even harder to ignore the bad ones, the ignorant ones or the just plain mean ones.

But what about good ones?  To be honest, I don't see a whole lot of harm in thanking a reviewer for a great review, but I would probably not do it publicly.  I work really hard to get reviews for my books and once I get ARCs, I spend weeks and weeks reaching out to book bloggers and other reviewers to try and get them to review my work.  On average, I probably get 2-3 reviews from every 50 or so emails, so when I get a good review I like to go back to the reviewer saying something generic like, "I'm so glad you enjoyed it".

By that token, if I get bad review from someone I reached out to, I will often reply to them too, saying thank you for taking the time to read the book.  I just never reference the review or anything they said in it, even if I disagree wholeheartedly with what they have said.  No point opening up that can of worms!

But the point is, all this is happening behind the scenes.  I never respond to reviewers on Goodreads or Amazon or on their blogs.  I might re-post a good review or quote a section of it on that book's page on my website with a link to the full review, but I don't comment on the review in a public forum.  And I'm always polite and never argue with a reviewer's opinion.

In terms of answering a question raised in a review of a reference book, that's trickier.  I would probably still advise not engaging with the reviewer in public, but if the question is a good one and something you feel needs addressing, you could reach out directly to the reviewer to answer it. Just remember that there is always a chance that this conversation may not go as well as you hoped and things could spiral out of your control if the reviewer decides to take your private correspondence public.

So while it probably is best practice not to respond publicly to any review, I don't think the publishing police are going to cancel you for a private "thanks" email you might send.  But that's just my opinion and based on my own experience.  If other authors out there have different experiences, please tell us in the comments.

X O'Abby

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