Can I (An Author) Respond to Reviews?

Should Authors Respond to Reviews, EVER???

As I was scrolling through a certain social media site this morning, I ran across a posted article by BookRiot and entitled “Dear Authors: Don’t Respond to Goodreads Reviews.” Written by Brenna Clark Gray and originally published on July 10, 2015, this article discussed a certain author ‘going off’ on a reviewer. Using this as a basis for her opinion, Ms. Grey proceeded to conclude that authors should not respond to any reviews, good or bad, because even to say thank you is to intrude on the reviewers “reviewing space” which, apparently, could be compromised and their ability to write a completely honest review would fly out the window (I’m rephrasing here but I believe that was the basic gist of the paragraph.)

If you would like to read the article, click – here– to do so. I would also like to suggest that you go on to the Book Riot Facebook page – here – and find this post to read the comments. While a few seem horribly venomous and slightly under-educated about the idea, the comments really serve as a good cross-section of research for readers’ feelings on the subject.

The comments on that post were honestly what made me think more on this topic. The idea that an interaction with an author, no matter how respectful it is, could make someone uncomfortable is something I really had never thought of. As both an author and an avid reader, I’ve always nerded out at the littlest minute possibility that my writing heroes noticed my existence! But then again, I don’t believe that I ever told them they were stupid and uneducated, which some of the reviewers do on occasion.

So what answer have I come up with after pondering this question for a few hours? What has my reading and writing brain concluded? Well, in my semi-expert (in my own mind anyway) opinion: Go for it! Answer those reviews respectfully. But DO NOT ANSWER THEM IMMEDIATELY!

What I mean by this is not that you should look at an absolutely horrid 1-star review that gives no reasons for their loathing of your life’s work other than the idea that you were born without a brain and a chicken quite possibly transcribed your story, stew on it for a few hours, and then write a well worded, scathing, and absolutely equally horrid response insinuating that the reviewer is, in fact, living with the half brain donated by their family’s beloved pet donkey. No. That is, in fact, a very poor plan. Because however else I feel about Ms. Grey’s article, I 100% agree with the statement that no matter what the outcome, an author who responds in such a manner will be hurt by it.

Do NOT tell them how stupid they are. Someone who can’t spell basic words once reviewed a book of mine a trashed it. They claimed the book was rife with spelling and grammar mistakes and that it took away from the story. However, they rated it a 3 star and proceeded to state that they had bought the other two books and were currently reading the second (at the time). I wailed and went off about that for days. However, I did not respond (ok…I may have responded and then immediately deleted my response). That kind of back and forth will probably never do any good and even hollering about my degree in education, heavy on English and Music would only serve to make me look worse.

So what, then, do I mean? If we can’t respond to the uglies, what can we do? We can cry, scream, cuddle those stuffed animals saved from our childhood that we swear are only there to inspire our next great children’s book…and then we can move on to other reviews. The reviews that include reasons for the low rating, questions about areas in the book that confused them, or even glowing recommendations. These are something that might provide for a GOOD interaction with our readers. For these, I would suggest reading them multiple times, letting the questions or comments simmer, and then writing out a respectful response that asks for more detail about where/what their complaint pertains to in the story or answering their questions. If you cannot do this in a respectful, kind manner then DO NOT RESPOND AT ALL! However, if you can respond appropriately, this can lead them to connect with you on other sites, possibly even garnering recommendations or new readers.

Additionally, if they have specifically commented on something they enjoyed about your story responding with a little information about that segment, a little behind-the-scenes backstory, can create a bit of a bond between reader and author. It gives them a peek into your process and allows for a respectful and friendly back and forth. This can also lead to them recommending you to their friends, following you on social media, and possibly even becoming a new reader buddy.

You must use your best judgement though! Please, please don’t force yourself to respond to people if you don’t feel like it. Some people say that authors should put their work out into the world and never look back, letting their ‘baby’ fly on alone. I don’t believe that those people have ever spent what feels like an eternity writing, re-writing, editing, revising, sending out, reading rejection letters, formatting, and printing pieces of their souls. I could be wrong about that though. It is all a matter of personal opinion. This post, as pretty much everything else I write, is my own opinion.

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Please use self-control and self-policing here. Our goal is not to scare readers or make a bad name for ourselves, it is to help ourselves grow as authors. If you do not feel comfortable responding to reviewers or feel as though you would be nasty to them, then please don’t force yourself to respond on my account! Remember, you can usually also send a private message to the reviewer if you would like to quietly and without fanfare ask for specifics from their reviews. That can sometimes be the best option. IF you do ask for their specifics in order to look it back over, please consider also sending them a note that you’ve revised that section or asking them read the possible revisions so that you know if it works better in the new format or wording. You may have just located a new Beta reader with fresh eyes for your work.

Have any thoughts on this topic?? Can’t wait to hear from you!! Until then, may you be blessed with great reviews and fabulous bursts of inspiration.