Dealing with Bad Reviews

TJ Klune wrote an excellent blog post on Love Bytes last week. Apparently, a bunch of readers and reviewers were saying that TJ Klunes hates women because of how some of his characters use the word vagina as a put-down. They tagged him in their reviews so he’d see them. TJ claimed that he himself was not misogynistic and that it was just slang. But did he get into a fight with them?

Nope.*

He put it so well, I’m just going to repost his best paragraph:

When an author writes a book, puts said book up for sale, and has people buy said book with their money/credit/whatever, the book no longer belongs to the author. It belongs to the person who bought it, and they are allowed to have whatever opinion they want, even if you think it’s the wrong one. There is nothing you can do to change reactions to your words printed on the page. And if you insist on pursuing these opinions, there’s nothing that says you can’t use legitimate criticism to make your next work better.

Because we live in a time of blogs and social media, authors and readers are closer than ever. Which is great because we can form personal connections with our fans, but also can suck because we can just as easily see who hates our books. It’s hard not to look in the age of Google. I once stumbled upon a Twitter chain between two people about my book, and it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows.

Everyone's a critic. Get used to it.
Everyone’s a critic. Get used to it.

But writers should never engage with negative reviews, or even positive reviews. Those reviews aren’t for us.  They are for other potential readers. I actually felt a little bad for finding that Twitter chat. Even though it was my book, it wasn’t any of my business. It’s futile to think you can convince somebody why they “didn’t get” your book. It’s like thinking you can change someone’s political opinion through a Facebook comment chain. There’s no one right way to read a book. We bring our own backgrounds and experiences and opinions to what we read.

Reviews tell you more about the reader than about the book. 

You’d be surprised how many writers have trouble with bad reviews. I remember going to a bookstore panel with a bunch of YA authors, many of them authors of successful books, and they went off on teen bloggers and the Goodreads community. They called GR one of the circles of hell. I understand people taking reviews personally and that nobody likes a bad review, but it felt unprofessional. People are paying honest, hard-earned money to buy your book. (And many of these authors were very well-compensated by their publishers) They should have the right to give their honest opinion. To go after a reviewer made them seem small in that moment.

It gets dicier when reviewers claim an author is sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. That’s our reputation. If only readers could understand that we do not endorse every word that comes out of our characters’ mouths. But still, like TJ says, do not engage. Because the second you respond directly to the allegation, you give it legitimacy. Think of the “birther” movement that dogged President Obama. They were seen as a fringe group…until the President held a press conference showing his full birth certificate. That made their claims legitimate. If TJ hadn’t written this post, then most readers probably wouldn’t have known about the misogyny claims.

I believe in moving forward. If your work is criticized as being sexist, racist, etc., and it’s really affecting you, then work on fixing it for future books. That shows you’ve listened. Being defensive about a book that’s already been published doesn’t work. The internet is written in ink. Those criticisms won’t magically disappear because you gave a response, no matter how thoughtful. You can’t change opinions. What’s done is done. The only thing you control is your next book.

I try not to read reviews, but sometimes I can’t help myself. And yes, it stings when I stumble on a bad review, but that’s my problem. I’ve learned that getting any type of reaction out of a reader is a success. That means they’ve engaged with your book and characters enough to have an opinion, good or bad. The worst review is indifference. 

In other words, don’t be mad when people are talking about you. Be scared when they stop.**

 

*Well, almost nope because he did still write a blog post about it.

** I think Paris Hilton said this, but I can’t find the source. Maybe it’s for the best.

Sound off, Outsiders. Do you feel authors have a right to respond to their negative reviews?

 

photo credit: John and Jesper via photopin (license)