Sunday, February 21, 2010


Henri Matisse - Mlle Matisse In A Scottish Plaid Coat, 1918, Mr. & Mrs. Albert Taubman Collection, Switzerland. I belong to a couple of Yahoo groups for cozy authors. One subject that’s been hot on the boards lately is the way some authors argue with their readers on (mostly) Amazon.

It’s almost like the social media phenomenon, which has resulted in a casual relationship with our readers via Facebook and Twitter, has gotten authors in the mood to fight back when a reader gives a negative review.

I think it’s a really bad idea.

Usually, if a reader doesn’t enjoy your book then they’re honestly writing a review of what they personally didn’t like. It’s almost a buyer-beware type post—a note to the reading community: “Hey, if you’re like me and you don’t like this particular thing in a novel, then you might not like this book either.”

Honest dialogue on your book should be happening.  You want people discussing your novel, good or bad. If people are talking about your book, then they’re reading it.

There is absolutely nothing gained, in my opinion, by trying to debate someone who doesn’t like your novel.  There are plenty of books that have been well-reviewed that I didn’t enjoy: maybe they were really graphically violent, or had lots of long, descriptive passages…whatever. People have a right to their opinion. Every book isn’t right for every reader.

And, yes, then you do have the other kind of reader.  They’re sometimes a little flaky. They might say things that don’t reflect an objective, professional-sounding review—they might even be downright mean.  They could say something really odd about how your book promotes a particular political bent (when it doesn’t) or that you had an environmental agenda or were anti-vegan, or whatever.

But these aren’t professional reviewers.  And they’re not expert readers/critics like book bloggers who review books daily.  They’re not writers who express themselves well. They’re regular readers.

And if you start arguing with these people about how your book doesn’t espouse any kind of an agenda, then you’re just going to look bad.  I can’t think of a time when it would be worth the author’s time to counterattack.

Because the reviewers will frequently write back to argue your points. And then you’ve pulled attention away from your book and made yourself look unprofessional to boot.

The worst case scenario is when an author really flips out…like Alice Hoffman did last year. She got so upset with a reviewer (and this was a professional newspaper reviewer) that she posted the critic’s phone number on Twitter and asked her readers to call the critic and complain about the negative review.

Of course authors feel very protective about their books. There’s so much of ourselves in every one of them, and we put many hours into books that can be read in a fraction of the time it took us to pen them.
I’ve seen quite a few authors jumping in to defend their novels.

But to me, when we enter into the fray, we’re drawing attention to the negative review, making ourselves look unprofessional, and certainly not convincing the reader to change their mind about the book.  What’s gained?