Responding To Criticism

Writers in particular seem to be interested in criticism, but the truth is, no matter what our profession we all are apt to face criticism in one form or another.

When I was a new teacher, I was so fearful of parent/teacher conferences — until I learned that most of the parents were just as fearful. Of what? I, that these parents would criticize the job I was doing as a teacher; they, that I would criticize their job as parents.

Of course there were also professional evaluations when an administrator would come into the classroom, observe, then meet with me later and give his assessment (read, critique) of my lesson. And there were the standardized tests we gave too. Ostensibly these measured the students’ progress from one year to the next, but guess who was responsible for their growth or lack thereof? 🙄

Other jobs have similar ways of measuring job performance, so why do some writers (see comments) have such a hard time taking criticism?

The topic came up recently on Mike Duran’s blog, not once but twice. And the author meltdown on Books and Pals ignited additional posts about bad reviews and author responses.

I suspect that part of the issue is how public author criticism is. I mean, when my administrator gave me a job performance evaluation, it was confidential. I got a copy and one went into my file, but from there, no one needed to know if I got a “five star” rating or a “one star.” 😉

Writers have no such confidentiality clause with reviewers. In fact, the point of the review is to publicize an opinion about a writer’s performance.

A reviewers opinion, of course, is not accurately equated with a supervisor’s assessment. In my situation, reviewers would be more closely aligned to my students’ opinions. Imagine if each of them posted on my classroom window what they thought of my lessons that day. Hmmm. 🙄

But a writer’s reviews serve a greater purpose than writer evaluation. They benefit readers because they inform. And they benefit writers because they promote in ways a writer can’t. Reviews on the Internet aren’t paid advertisement. They are one reader’s opinion (or in the case of a blog tour, one group of readers varying opinions).

Consequently, it seems a little baffling to me that a writer would respond in any way but with gratitude. Someone read their book. That in itself is something to be thankful for.

Lambasting the critiquer? I don’t see how that’s a good move under any circumstance.

Some writers answer that the right response is to ignore all reviews, even good ones. I don’t know what I think about commenting on Amazon, but on blogs and particularly in blog tours, I think an author that doesn’t comment is missing out on an opportunity to make a positive connection with a reader.

One author, definitely old school, said to comment on favorable reviews might illicit syrupy suck-up reviews in the future. Well, maybe that’s a risk worth taking. Because no comment could earn an author no review in the future.

I know it’s not always possible, but it seems to me, if a person has taken the time to read a book, write and post a blog review, the least the author can do is drop by with a simple thank you.

I actually learned that from Andy Sernovitz who wrote Word of Mouth Marketing. A couple years ago I won a free copy of his book and blogged about something I learned from it. True to the advice he gave in the book, he stopped by my site to say thank you for the mention. And that wasn’t even a full review.

In my opinion, authors would do well to take advantage of reviews by responding kindly and professionally. I’ve seen more than one blogger won over by such an approach.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. Becky, as you know, I’ve reviewed a lot of Christian fiction on my blog. I think I’m fair and reasonable. I did a post the other day which indicated I do three types of commentary on novels. Out of all the novels I’ve reviewed, maybe 10% of the authors responded. Pretty low percentage. Maybe 2% responded in a private email.

    I agree authors should respond as much as they’re able because other readers or potential readers like seeing/making connections with authors.

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  2. In one way, an accidental side effect of me giving “tough” reviews is I’m hopefully able to remember what it’s like on the reviewer’s side of the blog when I’m on the writer’s side of it. Though over here, I feel bad for not posting my better reviews on amazon, but I really hate giving star ratings to anything.

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  3. I recently gave a book I reviewed some criticism (constructive IMO) and had a response from the author — mostly positive. But on her blog she talked about another reviewer that had not liked her book at all! Thus ensued a discussion of whether reviews should be given if you don’t like a book. One commenter (another author) went as far as to say that if the book has received “rave” reviews and you don’t like it there is something wrong with you! I struggle with my reviews — “good” and “bad”. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or lead someone astray. So I guess I will just continue on and hope the reviews are taken with the good will they were given.

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  4. Here’s the thing with reviews from a writer’s perspective. The book is done. It’s not going to be changed just because somebody doesn’t like it or hates it or thinks it can be improved. An author friend of mine explained that reviews are really for readers–giving them an idea of the book to see if they want to take a chance on it.

    I don’t give a “formal” review to all the novels I read. I try to give the gist of all of them, definitely state if it’s not my genre preference/or why I’m not the right audience for the book. If I give a full review, I point out what I like or don’t like about the book but also let readers know that just because I don’t like it (if I don’t), there will be those who do.

    I think it’s imperative for those who choose to give opinions to realize the book is DONE. You don’t have to like it and you can state the reasons why, but you don’t get to “correct” it.

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  5. Andrea, I think you’ve made a good point all writers who have ever reviewed a book should remember.

    Nicole, I’ve also heard that reviews are for readers. That’s true, and yet I think there is still a “for writers” component. If we close our eyes to craft problems, we give a false idea that the writing is where it should be.

    And the fact is, only other writers will have an idea why a book isn’t working. Readers will know that something didn’t click with them, that they thought the book was somehow lacking. Writers should be able to see what that something was.

    Writers can ignore what we say if they choose to, or they can respond as Mike Duran said he did to a rejection letter by taking the negative to heart and using it to learn for next time.

    Beckie, I understand about not wanting to hurt writer’s feelings. I face that all the time with the blog tour. These are often authors I’ve had some kind of exchange with, perhaps even met at a conference. I don’t want to turn around and say something hurtful.

    At the same time, I feel that I have an obligation as a Christian to tell the truth in love. I’ve also learned from teaching, that there is always something good to say, about any work. Some positives are harder to find, but they are there. If nothing else, we can recognize all the hard work the author put into writing the book!

    In the same way, nothing obligates me to tell every bad thing I see in a book.

    Mostly, I want to give an accurate recommendation. If I say, His family and friends will love this one you know I think the book is a real loser! 😆

    Becky

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  6. Becky, thank you for this post about reviewing.

    In your experience, have you seen or read a lot of Christian authors responding in kind to reviewers? Do you think there is a large percentage who are doing so?

    I think the opportunity to represent Christ in a positive light would speak volumes to other brothers and sisters in Christ even the unsaved.

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