Since 2005, I’ve been dealing with the question of reviews. I was a new author back then, and I sweated and fretted every review that came in. Y’know something? I still do, though not as much as I did back then. The reviews came slowly–still do–maybe one every few weeks if I’m lucky. I struggled at first, not knowing how, or if, I should respond. Should I thank the reviewer? Should I answer questions posed in reviews (when is next release date, and so on)? I certainly knew better than to take issue with a reviewer publicly, even then. (I responded to a bad review only once. It was my first one-star, and it indicated that the reviewer was so dissatisfied that I offered to refund his purchase price. I was SO naive back then!)
Now I am most fortunate to have a publicist who looks at the reviews for me. But even before that most wondrous happening, I had stopped looking at my reviews. There are no doubt many on Amazon and Goodreads that I’ve never seen. It’s better that way, at least for me.
It wouldn’t have been a good idea in the beginning, as I learned heaps from the reviewers’ comments. Not all customer reviews are created equal, mind you…but some are incredibly helpful, especially when considered as a group. When the same criticism appears multiple times, you know there’s something there. You learn from it. I’ve seen enough reviews to know what’s “right” with my books, and what’s “wrong” with my books, which is why I’m relatively comfy with not looking at reviews any more. But helping the author to be a better writer is not why reviews exist.
I love a good review–it makes my day! There are some (usually 3-5 stars) that I treasure. Negative reviews hurt, and I have my share of legitimate ones, but they must be taken in stride. Then there are those meant to deliberately hurt/sabotage/damage the book, and those…well, words fail me on those. I’ve gotten them, too. Making the author feel good (or bad) is not why customer reviews exist, either.
Customer reviews exist to help customers–in this case, readers–find products they will appreciate and enjoy. They are meant to aid folks in spending their money wisely, avoiding products that are unlikely to satisfy. They are not meant to falsely promote an inferior product, nor to squelch competition. They should never be written to deceive. They should be relatively unbiased, honest, and voluntary–neither coerced nor compensated.
And how should authors respond to them? In my opinion, we shouldn’t. I used to thank reviewers and answer their questions, but I don’t now (though I am sorely tempted, because I DO appreciate the time, effort, and consideration that the review represents). But customer communities, in my opinion, should be free of any suggestion that authors may be lurking, ready to pounce. There should be no whiff of neediness or desperation. Readers should be allowed to express their opinions without interference from me–even if that interference is positive.
And as for taking issue with, arguing with, or castigating a reviewer–ummm, just DON’T DO IT. Seriously. Don’t. Nothing says “amateur” like a writer railing against a critic–even if that critic is a “troll”.
I know it’s hard. I once had my own troll…a self-published author who decided to bash not only my books, but several other authors at the same time. I must confess I was both hurt and bewildered by the attacks, but I didn’t respond. If I had responded, it would have branded me as an amateur. If I had responded, it would have brought satisfaction and renewed energy to my attacker. I’m so glad I didn’t.
Not every one-star is a troll. I have plenty of honest negative reviews. And, y’know what? So does every other “real” author on the planet! Perhaps we should be like Pinocchio–when we get enough legitimate negatives, we’ll be a “real boy”. We should embrace all reviews–good and bad–because we’re lucky to have them. We’re fortunate that our readers take the time to share their opinions with other customers, because that’s why customer reviews exist.
May the good outnumber the bad, and the stars shine brightly on your work. Best of luck!