Last summer, I dealt with my very first negative review.
It was for the first book of my publishing company, a collection of flash fiction, and I had given the book away for free on LibraryThing in hopes of getting more reviews. Now, even though this was not my book in the sense that I did not write it, I did spend a lot of time working with the authors, and I was proud of them and the work they did. I also made sure the book went through the full publishing process: editing, layout, marketing…the works. And I personally invested hours of my time and more money than I’d like to admit to see the book come to fruition. In short, I thought it turned out well.
Unfortunately, one reviewer did not agree.
She gave it one star, and although seeing the one star initially felt like a punch to the gut, I was okay with it. My view is people are entitled to their own opinions, and not every book is for everyone. What bothered me about the review, however, was that it read more like a personal attack on the authors than a critique or review of the work. The original review (since revised–I’ll get to that in a bit), is still posted so I won’t bother reposting it here, but the word “masturbatory” was used.
Of course, I was upset. So I gave myself a day or two to calm down and mull it over, and then I decided to respond.
I had recently read Elle Lothlorien’s blog post on Digital Book World about how authors should always respond to negative reviews, and thought it was worth a shot. And I’m glad I reached out.
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in my message to the reviewer, but I did make sure it was professional and polite. I told her that I stood by my authors and that the book was properly vetted and edited. And then I said something along the lines of knowing that flash fiction is not for everyone, but I hoped she would give it a chance in the future, and that I wished she could give me some constructive criticism because her initial comments were not specific or anything I could use in the future.
I was surprised and touched by the reviewer’s reaction. I think once she reread her review with my comments in mind she became a bit embarrassed. She ended up revising her review (she kept the one-star, which again, is fine by me, especially now that there are constructive comments to back up her opinion), and months later, we are still in touch. Last week she asked me for suggestions on where to find flash fiction, so she could understand the genre better, and the other day she emailed me a link to a really interesting article she wrote about how reviewers should be well-versed in the topics they review.
Using our conversation as an example, she explained the importance of the publisher/author and reviewer relationship, and how having a dialogue can be helpful. Click here to read the article (scroll down to page 7).
I think she makes great points, and I feel I have to bring up one point in particular. In one of the paragraphs she wrote that reviewers shouldn’t have to share their reviews with the editors/publishers/authors/etc. ahead of time. And I agree. I don’t think publishers/authors/etc. should be able to demand a reviewer change their review. Again, I don’t remember what I said to her exactly, but I do truly believe it’s important for people to be able to share their opinions, even if I don’t agree with them. However, I think it’s also fair to ask for certain things. For example, for my self-published book I received a review that included a very big spoiler in the middle, so I asked the reviewer to include a *SPOILER ALERT* (and she did).
What I would like to see more from reviewers–and this applies more to non-professional reviewers who are probably reading indie books, because most professional reviewers already do this–is some sort of heads up that they’ve posted their review. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodReads–all the retailers and social websites–do not alert authors or indie publishers when there is a new review for their book. Yes, I do check for them regularly, but it’d be nice to hear from the people who are leaving comments. I think this would also help authors and reviewers have discussions, and keep both sides accountable and professional.
Anyway, I’m glad to have been able to have a discussion with one reviewer so far. It has been a great learning experience and I think it has helped me prepare for my personal journey into self-publishing. My skin is not as thick as I’d like it to be, yet, but I’m getting there.
UPDATE: I shared my blog post with the reviewer, and she had some really nice thoughts that I think could apply to more than just book reviewing and are worth sharing. She gave me her permission to post, so I’m including them below.
I think we often don’t consider how we affect others directly or indirectly. I wish I could apologize to the contributors of the anthology you gave me. Okay, so I didn’t like it, or I didn’t get it – but when I think about it, if something I had worked on, and loved, and edited, and submitted, and tossed out into the world got attacked like that – oh, I would have been hurt. And, I Iook around at our political landscape, at the way we tweet instead of talk or facebook instead of visit – and it’s everyone. We aren’t people to each other anymore, and it’s devastating. We’ve forgotten that the people on the “send to” list are really people, and we don’t consider that a missing comma or closing phrase can change the entire meaning of a message. Ironic that now that we type more than we talk, our writing skills are plummeting. Our ability to communicate and relate is vanishing….
As artists, people don’t have to like what we do, but it isn’t unreasonable to ask that people respect our work. Each work represents a piece of the author. It is personal. We try to pretend it isn’t, but it’s always personal, or we wouldn’t write, or sing, or dance, or act, or paint.
It’s a much more complex relationship than I ever realized. I have a great deal of respect for it now, much more than ever before.