What to do? Professionalism and public image–reviews

9 Jun

This is not, by any means, a new topic around blogland. It’s been discussed ad nauseam in many places and by readers and writers alike. (I’ll even add a nifty list of links to previous conversations at the bottom of this post, for those who just got here) However, given a recent example of loud, unprofessional and childish behaviour from yet another author, it seems that the topic has not yet been exhausted.

So let’s recap, shall we?

Good promotion should cost as little as possible and result in the highest number of actual sales possible.

Reviews from readers who bought the book themselves are free promotion for the author—which definitely falls into the ‘good promotion’ definition above. Regardless of the actual tone or grade of the review, it puts the book’s title and the author’s name out there for other readers to become aware of. Name recognition, in other words. If I know your book exists, if I know your name, it’s more likely that I’ll at least check out the back blurb of a book with your name on it than that of a dozen other writers whose names I don’t recognize, when I’m looking over the book aisle in the grocery store.

Many blog readers will read a review wherein the reviewer didn’t like the book, but because they, the readers, know the reviewer’s tastes and how they mesh or differ from their own, they will buy that book. Many of those potential sales, though, can be lost when the author feels the need to publicly explain how the reviewer didn’t like the book because she “didn’t get what the author was doing.”

It may be true, at least from the author’s point of view, but it is also irrelevant. The reviewer didn’t like the book, she explained why, she moved on.

Seriously, there is no need whatsoever to tell her that she didn’t get the book—or the author’s voice, or whatever it is—because she’s stupid. Or shallow. Or too afraid to read outside her comfort zone. Or whatever the condescending and insulting remark du jour may be.

Because, whether any of those remarks is true or not, will not change the fact that the reviewer didn’t. like. That. One. Book.

She may have liked other books by that author in the past. She may look forward to future books by that author. She just didn’t like that one book. It is not open to debate. “Explaining” the book to that reader won’t make that reader like it

So, what to do in the face of non-glowing, rather blah, or outright horrid reviews that slash your book into confetti?

In all three cases, authors should remember this: A bad or negative review is nothing but the opinion of the person writing it. Further, it is about the book being reviewed, not the author of the book. Repeat: it’s about the book, not the author, and it’s one person’s opinion, nothing more.

But, what to do then in the face of a reviewer who crosses the line from reviewing the book into attacking the author?

Remember where you, author, are vs where the reviewer is, career-wise. Readers’ bottom lines ain’t affected by their occasional outbursts, their bad language, their choice of pictures or icons or what have you. Authors’ bottom lines can be affected by the same behaviour—and more often than not, the effect is negative.

What to do then?

You could leave a short comment, “Thank you for taking the time to read and review my book.” Perhaps add, “I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you, perhaps you’ll give (insert plug for the next one) a chance.”

Or, if your blood is boiling, you simply don’t post, you don’t comment. You don’t react (at least publicly—you can always call your mother, sister, best friend, and curse the reviewer to the bottom circle of hell in private). Through all this, though, remember that it is not about you. This person doesn’t know you—even if she is inferring all sorts of unsavory or negative things about you from her reading of your book, she still doesn’t know you.

She can’t hurt you—unless you let her. And she can’t hurt your book sales or your writing career unless you forget that. So, don’t forget it, don’t give in to the anger and the hurt, and don’t play into the hands of an agent provocateur.

Remember, keeping your cool is one of the hallmarks of professionalism, in any field.

What not to do, under any circumstances: do not argue the point. No amount of explaining—no matter how calm or civil or polite—what you meant to convey will change the reader’s opinion of the book, but it may very well leave her thinking that you are calling her slow for not getting you.

Insulting readers who took the time to read a book and write a review, however non-glowing or even outright negative, is a very very very bad idea. It is BAD public relations—in caps—because it may very well alienate future readers. It also creates negative name recognition—as in, “I’ll never buy book by …”

Readers are people, and people tend to have reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally long memories for bad behaviour and negative publicity. Added to this, there’s this little thing about the internet: it never forgets. Between Google cache and screen caps, anything and everything you put out there remains out there, forever and a day, amen.

An author indulging in a temper tantrum in her own blog, livejournal, yahoo group, or whatever, may come to her senses and be able to delete as much of the evidence as possible—but she won’t be able to control other people’s actions (repeat after me: screen caps).

An author indulging in a temper tantrum in someone else’s blog—say oh, a readers’ blog—will have absolutely no control over whatever she spewed while in the throes of emotion. Her words, with her name (or her IP number if she chooses to post anonymously), will be there for as long as the blog owner wishes them to be. And of course, also subject to screen caps.

There’s more, of course.

What happens when the reviewer got the book for free? As a giveaway sponsored by the author, or as an ARC specifically to create advance buzz for the book’s release. Shouldn’t the reviewer have some gratitude? some consideration for the author, and therefore write a good/positive review no matter what? Shouldn’t the author be able to express her displeasure if the reviewer fails to comply with this?

First… I’m sure the vast majority of readers are grateful and happy to receive free books—I know I am. And most reviewers I’ve come across online are happy to devote time out of their own lives to share their love for books and reading, and so they write reviews about both books they have and books they haven’t enjoyed. But a free book not a positive review makes—and authors need to accept that it is the prerogative of the reader, whether she paid for it or not, to like or dislike their book.

Furthermore, when an author sends his or her book to a reader for a review, he or she should be prepared to receive that reader’s honest opinion of the book. It will not always be what the author would like to hear, it may be horrible—or it may be amazing and glowing and beyond the author’s wildest expectations. It is still that one person’s opinion of the book, nothing more, nothing less.

If the author knows himself incapable of keeping his cool without reacting to less than glowing reviews, he should most definitely refrain from giving away free books in any way—giveaways, contests, ARCs, what have you—because no book will be adored by every single reader, and the possibility exists that that free book will end up in the hands of that one reader who doesn’t get what the big deal is.

Authors, accept it. Move on. Don’t make public asshats of yourselves.

Your target may be momentarily bewildered, perhaps hurt, perhaps angered, by your diatribes and over reaction, but otherwise all you are gaining is a negative reputation among those who may have become your readers, had you but kept quiet.

Look, guys, I’m just one person, it’s just one sale—but whereas I will recommend authors who behave professionally to people whose tastes I know those books will fit, I will not ever mention the name of an author behaving like an asshat, even if I know that someone else would like their writing voice. Sorry, I’m petty that way.

And I’m convinced I’m not the only one either.

And further, the asshattery? It doesn’t even have to be directed at me, it’s enough when it’s directed at readers in general.

And I’m petty enough that I won’t name the asshat authors here—not giving them extra Google hits. Anyone interested can dig around and figure out what and who prompted this (though the topic has been in my head for a while).

A final note: All the authors that I’ve reviewed so far have been extremely professional in their behaviour, regardless of what grade I’ve given the books or what I’ve written in my review. It can be done.

links, in alphabetical order (or as close to it as I can get)

Ann Aguirre at her blog: Separation

emily veinglory at ERECsite

Holly at Book Binge

Julie Leto at Romancing the Blog

Lauren Dane at The Bradford Bunch

Robin at Dear Author

Shiloh Walker at Trivial Pursuits

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One Response to “What to do? Professionalism and public image–reviews”

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  1. Thinking time – why I blog, why I review | Her Hands, My Hands - 03/01/2015

    […] is saddest is that none of this is new–this discussion was already old as dirt back in June 2009. Dear Author has reported on authors threatening readers with legal action at least as far back as […]

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