Sunday, 13 February 2011

How NOT to respond to negative reviews...

I'm lucky. I've written a handful of negative reviews and, in general, the reaction from the authors in question has been professional and favourable.

Not all authors, however, follow the same principles...

Sylvia Massara decided to take a different approach. Here it is, as taken from her website BEFORE SHE DECIDED TO CHANGE THE ORIGINAL POST:

Today I want to raise a very delicate topic: the unprofessional reviewer.

As authors, we must all take the good with the bad. We cannot expect to get excellent reviews every time we write something. We must expect that from time to time we will receive a bad review.

Recently, this happened to me. I received a couple of what I would call "trashy" reviews, and for a while I felt bad. But then I went and read some of the reviews written on a large number of best selling authors' books and found that they, too, received plenty of bad reviews. These authors, who are now making millions, received heaps of bad reviews--but of course the good reviews far outweighed the bad ones. Luckily, this was also the case with me. So why did I allow these couple of reviews get to me?

Well, for starters, the reviewers were not professional. They were not objective in what they had to say. I found their comments to be subjective and sometimes downright malicious. Two such blogs that have set themselves up as reviewers of books are "The Book Binge" and "Chick Lit Plus". Now, I don't expect everybody to like my books, but what really gets me is when amateur reviewers use words like "predictable" and "one dimensional", but they don't quantify this. They don't back up their comments with facts.

So what do they mean? Your guess is as good as mine. For instance, how can a romance novel not be predictable? Boy meets girl, there are obstacles that keep them apart, then boy and girl overcome obstacles and they get together and live happily ever after. Of course, it's predictable!That's what romance stories are all about. Would these reviewers rather that we killed off someone in order to make the romance "unpredictable"? If so, go and review a thriller or suspense romance.

This is why I am warning authors to beware of this kind of reviewer. When you offer your book to be reviewed, first take the time to check out the reviewer. Have a read of some of the reviews they wrote in the past. See if they trashed someone else. Make sure they back up their reviews with facts and objective criticism. I learned my lesson the hard way and didn't do my research first, as I should have done.

Oftentimes, the people who set up these kinds of blogs have never written a thing in their lives, except maybe a grocery list. Most are avid readers who think they are qualified to review someone else's work. So it's very sad when they go about damaging the image of upcoming small press and indie authors with the rubbish they write.

My message to them is this: if you cannot write an objective review and back up what you say, then don't write anything at all. And next time you use the words "predictable" or "one dimensional" try to quantify what you mean--that is, if you are able to write about it. Please bear in mind that writers work very hard at their craft and the last thing they need is a smartass who makes subjective comments because they don't know how to do anything else.

Finally, I will leave my fellow authors with this wonderful quote by Stephen King. Someone told me this not so long ago and it really helped: "You cannot write something that will please all readers, therefore write to please yourself" (or words to that effect. LOL). Thank you, Mr. King. And I wish for all the hardworking authors who read this blog that one day, just like you, we'll be laughing all the way to the bank with our huge royalty checks despite the flak we copped from those unprofessional book reviewers.

Comments on this blog are invited. If you are a reviewer and you think that you have been criticized unjustly, welcome to the club. Now you know how us hardworking authors feel :-)

Yep, she just went there... Called out actual blogs and everything, because they'd given her negative reviews.

I just want to offer my sincere thanks to all those authors who have been extremely supportive of my books reviews, especially where negative points are concerned. I like to try and stay professional, and I'm glad y'all are too. Just to say: I won't be touching Sylvia Massara's books with a bargepole now - THAT'S what a post like the above achieves.


  1. Very interesting. I may not be a "professional reviewer", but I do know what I like when I read a book. I think this author should not be offering her books up for review since it seems she does not care what the reviewers opinion is, she only wants a good review.

  2. Wow. Classy.

    Negative reviews are part of the business. It's something that all artists have to learn to live with. Not everyone will like everything, and that's something she admits herself. But to go that far into backbiting and sniping at people who don't like her work..?

    The thing about reviews is that they're a mix of subjective and objective. To say only objective things about a book would basically be to write a summary of it. Reviews, though? They consist of whether a person liked the book, why they liked it or disliked it, their opinions on subject matter and characterization and everything else contained within the pages.

    To say that most bookbloggers have never written anything in their lives and believe themselves qualified to critique the work of others is just galling. Maybe most bookbloggers don't also write, but a good number of them do. And even if they don't, it doesn't mean that they can't tell good from bad, entertaining from boring, realistic from unrealistic. These are the people who write for, Sylvia Massara! The readers whose opinions drive your book sales up or down! It's insulting for you to blatantly say that most people who set up book review blogs are avid readers who mistakenly think they have the right to an opinion.

    Yeah, if I were the kind to read romance novels, that author would just have been crossed off the list. Most writers outgrow that attitude by the time they're in their late teens and start to get serious about the work.

  3. I have to agree, I won't be touching this authors books if that is how they feel about reviewers because I think a good majority of us spend at least some of our time reading books from our own shelves or do it as a labor of love rather than as a job.

    I like to speculate that the review the author is ranting about is one that can be seen on Amazon.

    Reviews, by their very nature, contain opinions.

  4. I just have to wonder about this. She's self-published, and I see this from time to time from self-published authors. Or to put it another way, non-professionally published authors.

    I think it is maybe there their problems lie. They have a 100% self-made product (,with the exception of those who have paid for editorial services,)so they can't separate their product from themselves.

    I expect to see more of this, as more and more people get drawn in by the illusion that publishing your manuscript electronically makes it as valid as one that has gone through an agent/publisher-process, and is available in a bookstore.

    For myself, I wouldn't read a book that was self-published by an author who wasn't known to me beforehand. And I think that she should be lucky that she has gotten book-bloggers to even look at it.

    Another interesting thing to see on her website, is if you go to the "Tudor Writing" tab.
    She's running a service for authors who seem to do the services that are usually (, at least mostly,) done by publishers. I think that explains her "Authors Helping Authors" site...
    -Or maybe I'm just a cynic.

  5. Maybe I'm not getting it but I don't really see that much wrong with what she's saying. Perhaps the way she is getting it across is a little... abrasive?

    She seems to be suggesting that by all means criticize the book(s) but try and back it up with some examples rather than trotting out lazy review cliches and leaving it at that.

  6. @arkib
    I read the reviews, and they did back it up. So at least it was un-called for to call those reviews out. And she could have written a very similar blog post without mentioning blogs by name.

    And anyway, she contacted the blogs and asked them if they were interested in reviewing. So she obviously had no problem with how they were reviewing books before they gave a negative review of her book.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. When I first read Massara's post (linked through someone on Twitter - sorry, I can't remember who it was!), there were a handful of comments on there. None of them were inflammatory or aggressive. Later the same day, the same Tweeter linked again and pointed out that there were no longer any comments...

    So much for "Comments on this blog are invited"... This isn't very professional, either. She has added to the post that "harassment is not tolerated" on her site - so why not just delete the 'harassing' comments? Why all of them? Not exactly a good way to open debate on the issue, or allow others to contribute. (Thank you Amanda for filling in, in this respect!)

  9. I read 186 comments from Google cache...Non were harassment, as she gave as the reason for removing them. -Well i think that was her reason, she states:

    "PLEASE NOTE: All comments have been deleted from this post. Unfortunately, some comments were sent to people who had nothing to do with this particular post. Harassment is not tolerated by AHA."

    -So it could be she just does not tolerate people discussing her post in her comments. Which I find strange, because I think that is the whole point of having comments.

  10. I wouldn't have found much wrong with calling out specific blogs if she had provided links and specific examples of their alleged transgressions. As it stands, her post seems to commit the same sins she accuses those unprofessional bloggers of.

    I was also going to write some stuff about the inherent subjectivity of fiction reviews, but Tea and Tomes beat me to it.

    @arkib: What she's saying sounds reasonable except for two things: 1) she throws around the word "objective" when she really means "supported by examples," and 2) only the second blog she mentions actually fails to provide examples. She appears to have lumped the first blog in with the second only because the negative review ticked her off.

    @weirdmage: I think you're onto something. In fact, I wonder if the novel may have been autobiographical, judging from Massara's harsh reaction to the Book Binge review, which seems to mostly be about the reviewer's feeling that the main character's actions are implausible.

  11. Not that she handled it well, but I do have some empathy for the author. If she is self-published, she did hand-select the reviewers and the review copies did come out of her own pocket. She's doing her own marketing & publicity and probably feels a little betrayed. Or, at the very least, shocked that she didn't get a routine "this book is good" endorsement from the blogs.

    Buried in her rant, there was a good point about checking out the blogs before you ask them to review - something all the more important, I suppose, if you're looking for rubber-stamp approval and have limited copies to burn.

    And (sadly, in this case) I'm also pretty sure she's got the same right to review a review, as the reviewer did to review her book. Maybe she just needs more review-reviewing practice.

  12. There's an inherent dishonesty in the whole "authors helping authors" concept. Many of the comments on the original review were from other indie/self-published authors trying to pump up the book. There are several groups like that on Goodreads, the basic idea being, you review my book, I'll review yours.

  13. It does seem to me, though, that the gender of the author often has a direct relationship to the amount of fuss made about their criticism of a review.

    Female writers can't take criticism and need to develop thicker skins. Male writers, on the other hand, are just making fair comment on their reviews.

  14. If she is self-published then she has already pissed her money away on printing a piece of shit that no one will buy. So she should be used to the concept of being out of pocket. I certainly don't have empathy just because she doesn't understand publishing, marketing, reviewing or the internet.

  15. Hmm. She's self-published (as others have said), so I wouldn't really pay too much attention to her. There are plenty of self-published authors that appear to have a giant chip on their shoulders. Special snowflake syndrome, mostly.

    @Stephen Theaker: with regards to your second comment, have I missed something there? If that was supposed to be a witty comment I'm afraid you left the punchline off.

  16. Sorry, Anonymous, not sure what you're getting at - maybe you misread my post?

    I wasn't expressing my views as to the differences between female and male writers, but illustrating the way in which the reaction to the same behaviour (complaining about reviews) sometimes seems to differ according to the gender of the writer who is complaining.

    When men complain about reviews it's much more likely to be portrayed in positive terms. Male writers are said to be standing up for themselves, exercising their right to reply, setting people straight, and so on.

  17. Okay, that author is FUUUUNY. What a dumbass. Okay, she is about as unprofessional as it gets. Let's break down what she said that is bullshit:

    A. Romance books have to be the same basic layout every time....oh my god...really? This lady calls herself an author? The whole point here would be trying to come up with something new or unique in said genre. The romance genre doesn't have to be cliched.

    B. The fact that she says she should have "done her research" on the blogs beforehand. Looking to see if they'd done other negative reviews. Wow lady....way to try to tailor the reviews for your book by avoiding people who might not like it, or might dare to be ...gasp...subjective.

    C. The whole dis-allowance of subjectivity by her. AKA "don't read my book unless you aren't going to share your opinion and will be instead wholly technical"....I'm not writing a bloody textbook here lady. If your book doesn't affect me on some emotional level (WHETHER IT IS GOOD OR BAD EMOTIONAL!) then why the hell should I review it? In my reviews I always try to give reasons why I say things (AKA back them up), but if I say someone is "one dimensional"...I think that's kind of self-explanatory.

    I agree with Weirdmage as well that this seems to be a self-published author's issue...simply for the fact that she likely shopped this book around to many publishers...all of which obviously turned her down...and this has made her super jaded about people saying bad stuff about her work. Sorry lady, but that's part of the industry.

    The class this lady represents in her latter stuff...changing the original post, disabling comments simply the funniest thing ever.

    If Sylvia Massara ever sees this: Bravo! That is how you self destruct and torpedo your career. Bloggers won't touch your books now....and to be honest, as a self-published author...they SHOULD have been your bread and butter...and instead you treated them like crap. That's a fairly bad mistake lady...cause guess what...WE ALL TALK TO ONE ANOTHER and SOCIAL NETWORK WITH ONE ANOTHER.

    Haha, what a putz.

    Thanks for the post Amanda! What a great chuckle for a Sunday morning.

  18. Without defending this particular author (I think she's pretty indefensible), there is a certain amount of reactionary wagon-circling here.

    It is a little dangerous that WE ALL TALK TO ONE ANOTHER and SOCIAL NETWORK WITH ONE ANOTHER because then we start instinctively defending one another against authors - who have a right to defend their own work. Ms. Massara might be wrong in this case, but what if she weren't? What I'm seeing is that bloggers need to learn how to take criticism too.

    And to everyone that immediately disregarded her complaint because she's self-published? Really?

  19. I have been fortunate enough to read quite a few self-published novels and of those precisely one has been any good at all. And that was by Jim Monroe, a previously published author who decided to set up his own independent press. So I think it is 99% certain a self-published book is going to be a steaming pile of shit. It is 100% the author is going to be unaware of this and instead will be a paranoid, unprofessional whiner with a vastly over-inflated sense of their skills, taste and judgement.

    I'm not really sure what point you are trying to make, Jared - she is obviously wrong but she might not have been wrong so even if she is wrong we should pretend she wasn't wrong?

  20. Yeah, I'm with Martin. Jared what is your point?

    My statement about social networking is completely inarguable, rock solid, fact of life on the interwebs dude. We, as bloggers, accept that and treat a poor statement or comment on our blogs either in stride or we defend it. Otherwise, I think we are all fairly well aware that if we get nasty about something towards someone....then they will get nasty back....that life brother. This lady decided it was a smart idea to not only respond in a childish way to neg reviews, but went so far as to make a post about it. sorry, she deserves the wagons circling IMHO.

    In one post she managed to throw a spear into her own career, and the wound will fester before it heals.

  21. @Scott & Martin: My point did get a little lost in there. Let me try again. Pretending for a second this is a blog post called "How not to respond to negative reviews..." one of the things we could discuss would be HOW to respond to negative reviews. What SHOULD an author do? Especially a self-published one, who won't have publicists/editors/minions to respond for him or her? Do authors have a right to comment on reviews of their own work? Etc.

    But, admittedly, I missed the point entirely, and what we're really here to do is agree that this particular author fucked up. So... "SHE IS MADE OF FAIL. SHE IS A POOP. I WILL START BUYING ROMANCE BOOKS JUST SO I CAN BUY ALL THE ONES THAT ARENT HERS".

    Thanks for clearing that up for me, guys. I feel like I've contributed productively now.

  22. @Jared: I don't think anyone's complaining about the fact that she publicly disagreed with somebody's review. It's the fact that she resorted to personal insults when there were no personal insults in the reviews (just lots of snark about the contents of the books). Well, that and this idea she has that there's some "objective" way that people are supposed to experience her books that leaves no room for personal emotional reactions.

    The fact that she's dumb enough to bite the one hand that might feed her and trigger the Streisand effect is just funny icing on the cake.

    And I say this as someone who will never be mistaken for a "professional reviewer" and thus has neither a dog in this fight nor a wagon to circle.

  23. @KR (and everyone else): I actually really regret the snarkiness of the above - sorry about the Monday grumps. Not necessary or particularly mature.

    I just think that - rather than piling on to the author's rather pathetic failure - there's an interesting area about what she could've done. Were I an author in those shoes, I'd feel pretty helpless. She absolutely did the wrong thing, but what was the right thing?

  24. Jared, I appreciate all your comments on this topic because you are trying to show the other side of the argument which is more fair than just slamming the author.

    If I had been the author I would have written a blog post collecting together various reviews - positive and negative - and commented on what was most helpful within them for an author trying to get better. I would then had addressed the fact that, as long as negative reviews are objective, they can be the most use to an author. If she had done that, she would have sounded gracious, would have encouraged people to look at both positive and negative reviews of her book and built a favourable relationship with bloggers. This relationship won't guarantee good reviews but will hopefully make the blogger more likely to pick up future books by same author.

  25. In this spirit of constructive criticism, I think there are two main principles to remember when addressing criticism:

    1. Talk about the criticism, not the critic. If you sling insults at the reviewer, the whole debate turns into poo-flinging contest that benefits nobody. However, if you respond to, say, criticisms of a character by talking about how you perceived the character as you were writing the book, you create the opportunity for a dialogue about why the critics see things differently than you do. This kind of dialogue gives you a better chance of determining whether the difference of opinion is a quirk of the individual critics or a problem with the way you communicated a point in your work.

    2.Lead by Example. If you want to hold yourself out as a professional in a wasteland of crude amateurs, display the qualities you think a professional should have. This is hard because it seems unfair that commmenters and bloggers can be as snarky as they want to be while you have to remain above the fray, but in the long run, it serves you better than just venting about things you don't like on the internet.

  26. Commenting late to this, but yes, this was a Bad Idea by the author. I went and read the review at The Book Binge that she had an issue with and it was fair in my opinion. It did not bash her book. So this makes her look like she's overreacting on top of whatever you may think about her calling a reviewer unprofessional. Then she went in and edited her post AND deleted all the comments! All I can say is: wow.