Sunday, October 26, 2014

Negative reviews: when authors attack

Needless to say, this is the sort of thing that no author should ever do:

As an author, I too would like to believe that my work will be universally loved and revered for its entertainment value as well as its literary merits. And why not? I wrote all of them, after all.

The fact of the matter, though, is that every book fails to work for at least some readers. As I browse though the Amazon ratings of some of my favorite novels, I invariably find that some readers hated my favorite books as much as I loved them.

For example, I don't see how any reader could fail to love Lonesome Dove, one of my all-time favorite novels. But as of this writing, Lonesome Dove as has accumulated twenty-three 1-star reviews. 

I should note that most people agree with me about Lonesome Dove; there are more than 700 5-star reviews. But could twenty-three people have believed that Lonesome Dove deserved only 1 star??? And what about the fifteen people who gave it only two stars?

Or what about Salem's Lot--the greatest vampire novel ever written? How could more than fifty Amazon readers have assigned Stephen King's best novel (in my opinion) only one or two stars?

Here's an opposite example: One hundred and sixty-eight readers gave Tom Clancy and Peter Telep's Against All Enemies only one star. I read the book and thought that it absolutely rocked. What's wrong with those 168 1-star reviewers...or, if you prefer, what's wrong with me?

The point here is that literary brilliance is often in the eye of the beholder. The Internet allows Joe and Jane Reader to have their say to a degree that would have been impossible twenty years ago. Sometimes that works to an individual author's advantage, other times it doesn't. 

But if you focus on your craft and strive to create compelling stories, then the 5-star reviews should balance out the bad ones over time. (Also...a few low-star reviews can actually lend credibility to the more laudatory ones, as evidence that the author didn't engage in astroturfing.)

Bottom line: An author's best course of action is almost always to make a policy of never responding to reviews at all--and especially the negative ones. (There are a very small number of exceptions--but these are rare enough to ignore for our purposes here.) 

In the Internet Age, writing books is not a good line of work for overly sensitive people.

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