Monday, January 9, 2012

Commenting On Reviews: A Different Type of Author Intrusion

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Cease all MotionFor the last few weeks, I’ve been following a thread of posts with interest.

Roni Loren had a post on January 2, referencing a Dear Author post entitled “Is There Room on the Internet for Authorial Interaction?”

The Dear Author post referenced instances where writers had responded to reader criticisms in a post—and these weren’t the really defensive reactions that we’ve seen in the past, either. It was more of the author explaining her position on different characters, the book ending, etc. Although the post mentioned that sometimes this can really illuminate a discussion on a book, it also had the potential for trouble. Authors listed ways that kind of interaction could go wrong—especially that it could make the author look argumentative.

Another part of the post, was also critical of authors who thanked reviewers for reviews. This is where I really paid attention. Meljean Brook was quoted in the post as saying:

In general — unless the reviewer has notified the author directly about the presence of a review and invites a reply — I think that it’s best not to comment at all. We all know that many authors are online, seeking reviews of their work and looking in on discussions; there’s no need to tap the readers on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m here,” because it’s likely to have a chilling effect…and for good or bad, the best thing for an author is for readers to talk about her book. Why shut that down?

Roni Loren made me smile when she said:

Now, I'm southern. I say thank you for EVERYTHING. It's like a reflex. To think that my thank you may make someone uncomfortable kind of took me aback. When I say thank you, it's simply because I'm appreciative that the person took the time to read my book and to comment on it publicly (which is press--regardless of the content of the review.)

I'm Southern, too, and good manners have been ingrained in me long ago. When reviews of any kind--good or even lukewarm--came up in my Google Reader in the past, I thought about the potential ramifications...then I went ahead and politely made a comment on the blog, thanking the blogger for reading my book (and sometimes for the review...but mostly just for taking the time to read the mystery.) It didn’t seem polite not to acknowledge the review. We authors aren't in ivory towers, after all. If the reviewer wasn’t wild about the book, I just ignored that fact and still thanked her for reading the mystery.

But then, Roni had a guest post from writer and forum reader Amber Skye which made some excellent points. Excellent enough for me to completely change the way I treat reviews. I recommend that you read the whole post, but here’s the gist:

Amber Skye’s points:

Reviews are for readers. When authors respond to reviews, it can be disconcerting for readers on a variety of levels. When an author comments on a review that might have negative elements to it, the author’s comment might unintentionally come across as passive-aggressive or hurt.

A book is a product and consumers have a right to either praise, complain about, or even disagree on, the worth of the product.

The primary way that authors should interact with readers is through their books. Write more books and provide your readers with more stories if you really want to effectively communicate with readers.

Keeping this in mind, I came up with a new policy for my own interaction with reviewers online:

If I really, really feel the urge to be polite, I’ll email the blogger directly.

If the blogger shares the review on my Facebook wall (which sometimes happens), I'll comment on that Facebook post (but not on the blog post).

If the blogger and I have set up a special interview/post/review type promo thing, I'll of course thank the blogger in my interview or post for reading the book (regardless of the review and whether it was positive or negative). That's a different type of set-up…pre-planned promo.

If the blogger invites me to comment on a review, then I probably will…with caution.

If I’m invited to take part in a book chat online or a book club talk, I’ll do it but be especially careful to be very neutral during the discussion.

There’s part of me that still really wants to say thanks for reviews…but after reading some very valid reasons not to pop in uninvited on review sites, I think I’m just going to keep my distance.

How about you? What are your thoughts on author intrusion in the reader community?