A Folder Called ‘Bollocks’ – Why Authors Should NEVER Respond to Reviews

Regular readers of my blog may recall I celebrated the much anticipated landing of my first one star review as an author, with a light-hearted blog post and a nod to fellow authors to try not to take them too seriously.

In the last month I have seen a few knee-jerk reactions to scathing reviews and am almost always saddened, especially when I find one very talented author I greatly respect saying, ‘I just feel like giving up’. But today I began to read this response to a book review from an author on Goodreads, and found I couldn’t read on. To say it felt like watching car crash TV was an understatement.

The first and most obvious thing that occurs to me here is how the author has succeeded in spending what must have been hours alienating a community of book lovers he will have spent hundreds more writer hours trying to reach – 131 of whom ended up liking the bad review even though I suspect many hadn’t read the book. But also, I mourn for the time lost when this author should have been doing what he clearly feels he was put on this earth to do – some actual novel writing.

I am now indoctrinated in to the world of book publication with a few bad reviews of my own. I say a few, because I haven’t counted and have stopped reading them, particularly on Goodreads, where I find they can be at their most brutal for almost all authors I have read and loved. I made a conscious decisions to quit doubting my ability to write when it became clear that the good reviews far outweighed the bad for my debut novel; only if the opposite had been true was I going to allow doubt to sink in. Only then would I question whether I was in the right vocation, which is just as well because I cannot imagine ever doing anything else. I don’t dwell on bad reviews because that would stop me from working and almost certainly stifle me creatively. I only recall my first on Amazon, for the fact that it was the first, and the last one I was gifted with on Amazon UK, because it stayed at the top of my reviews list for what felt like an age after being posted on the very day of the release of my paperback from my new publisher:

one star reviews

I don’t mind sharing it and have spared outing the writer by blanking out her name. It’s not important; nobody died and everyone is entitled to not like my book. I have very good friends and relatives who I know would not like, ‘The New Mrs D’, yet they remain good friends and the rest can’t do anything about being related to me. The review here only became a momentary annoyance for me because this was the day of my traditional publication. Would this person’s thoughts affect my sales? My livelihood? With hindsight though, I think not.

There is always going to be the understandable worry that in trashing your work the reviewer has affected your business and, more annoyingly, without a second thought. It can also be painful to know someone hated your book – not you, remember, your book – enough to feel the need to try and put everyone off buying it. Okay, it hurts. So if you need to, take a few seconds to acknowledge that then move on. But don’t respond. Don’t, don’t… just don’t.

Writing is a business and vendors on sites like Amazon, Google+ and Trip Advisor are always answering bad reviews, because it is considered good for business for them to state their side of the story. If an author does so, it is up for sharing across social media and blogs as a lesson to us all. So think of this from the point of view as a consumer.

As an occasional frequenter of hotels, I would worry about bad reviews but feel heartened to see the hotelier acknowledge the complaint, accept its relevance or explain how it may have been inaccurate and suggest ways forward for change and improvement. As a reader, I have pretty much decided on whether or not I’m going to buy a book after a recommendation, reading the blurb and briefly glancing at the ratio of good reviews to bad. One ‘this is tripe’ among sixty ‘I loved it’ comments isn’t going to stop me visiting Paypal for another ‘buy it now’ trip. (Nobody tell my husband, okay?)

I have thought this way about reviews since day one of my decision to publish, but I understand more than ever why no author should go down the road of responding to reviews after reading the Goodreads thread above today, which is why I have brought the incident to my blog, not as a seasoned pro with twenty published novels, but as a new writer looking in, sucking in my cheeks like a plumber about to give you a very large quote for your leaky boiler and saying, ‘ooh no, don’t go there. Please.’.

Read it and weep. Answering bad reviews is a waste of your valuable, creative time and readers are always telling us they are rarely swayed from buying a book by the appearance of a couple of stinking reviews.

Yes, it is early days for me and no, I haven’t suffered the joys of a scathing public review yet. But I know this much: if and when that day arrives it will be because I made it to a place that was beyond my wildest imagination when I first set out to write a book. Maybe I might need to come back to this post to remind myself where my head was today when dealing with this. I think we all need a nudge from time to time because writing is hard and putting your work out publically feels beyond scary. But I want to write and if you’re still here this far down, I suspect you do too. Enjoy it as much as you can. Hell, why can’t we have some fun with our poor reviews? I even stuck one of my most cutting ones in the middle of a marketing video for a Kindle promotion I ran last year:

Think on, writer pals, think on. If I’ve learned anything in the five short years since I set out to chase my ambitions it’s this: With inordinate passion for writing comes inordinate rejection and criticism. If this succeeds in making you quit, then perhaps you’re not supposed to be a writer. And if you are supposed to be a writer, focus on the parts you love; all the things that bring you to your writing desk each day. And file every ill-thought out, scathing review you happen upon in a mental folder called, ‘bollocks’.

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43 thoughts on “A Folder Called ‘Bollocks’ – Why Authors Should NEVER Respond to Reviews”

    1. Hi Lucy, that’s really good to know, thank you. It’s an especially valuable thing to read before you publish. I admit to being afraid to open every blogger review as they arrived and I still feel the butterflies now. It’s hard but an inevitable part of the process for all. Go visit some reviews of your most favourite books and then you’ll know the old saying is true: ‘no two people ever read the same book’. Brace yourself but enjoy the ride! And the very best of luck with your book 🙂 x

      1. Thank you kindly, your encouragement is much appreciated. I read the link in your post – I am fairly confident I can stop short of being quite so difficult as that poor author there, he really doesn’t do himself any favours! I consider myself braced 🙂 All the very best x

  1. If you ever want a masterclass of how to destroy your reputation over the course of a few hours, this is it. As I read the comments I actually shouted “oh god, no” out loud.
    I really feel for the reviewer. No writer enjoys a one-star review but to respond in such a way is outrageous. It’s bullying, pure and simple. Yes, it would have been nicer if the reviewer had gone into a little more detail about exactly why she disliked the book but she ‘s under no obligation to do so and the author has no right to make those demands.
    I hope the author realises the mistake he’s made and publicly apologises to the reviewer. It would also be a good start to rebuilding his own reputation.

  2. Completely agree Dylan. Out of curiosity I did try to click the author’s profile link to find he left Goodreads. I’m not at all surprised. As you say, this must have taken a jaw-dropping amount of time. Very bad idea. My only hope is he simply realised his mistake in the end, hence the deletion of his account, because it did make me worry a bit for his state of mind.

    1. I think his GR membership was revoked because he violated their terms of service with his behaviour. The whole incident was tragic. I can only think this man is suffering from some sort of mental illness.

  3. I would automatically discount any “reviewer” who proclaims that he or she couldn’t get past the first few pages. That is a troll. In fact, authors who attract trolls might consider it a compliment, since these types are motivated mostly by jealousy.

    1. Oh that is kind, thank you very much. I do agree that it is quite brutal to review a book you admit to only reading a few pages of in this way, it isn’t something I would ever do myself. If I stopped reading so early on, (although I’m not sure I have ever stopped reading this early on!) it would usually be because I knew right away the book wasn’t for me and wouldn’t feel qualified to offer a review. It’s just one of those things I guess. But I’m lucky because this wasn’t an early review where I had few to look at for comparison. I confess this would have hurt a little then!

    1. Heaven’s above Terri, I just read your excellent post and am stunned to find the author has been spending MORE time doing this on Amazon too! I have no more words for this person, really!

  4. Great post. I couldn’t agree more. Another thing you need to think about is sometimes these ‘bad’ reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are in fact trolls. And their only motivation is to get an author to reply back. I love the hotel reference, and you can’t justify it, it just make sit worse.

    1. Thank you, yes I have (I suspect) been a victim of the troll review. One day I tweeted how thrilled I was to have across the board 5 star reviews on the Amazon.com site. Within minutes of posting it, a one star, single line review appeared saying ‘one star. Would give less if I could’. Real review? I think not. I leave them to it. 🙂

    2. Thank you, yes I have (I suspect) been a victim of the troll review. One day I tweeted how thrilled I was to have across the board 5 star reviews on the Amazon.com site. Within minutes of posting a one star, single line review appeared saying ‘one star. Would give less if I could’. Real review? I think not. I leave them to it. 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Romance Done Write and commented:
    A great post for authors new and old. What happens when you get that bad review? I couldn’t agree more with Heather, don’t reply. It sucks, but keep in mind there are trolls out there trying to instigate a retaliation. And absolutely loved her hotel reference – you can’t really explain away the things a bad reviewer hated about your book, in essence it’s just bad business. Check it out!

  6. You ponder some interesting questions here. As a writer, I would be upset to get low reviews but I am also fortunate in that when I have had a bad review, the criticisms have been fair and I’ve taken it on board. I haven’t always agreed with their interpretation.

    As a reader (and someone who writes a lot of reviews), a review that says “what a load of tripe” and nothing else, I would completely disregard. It tells me nothing – even if it was the only review on the GR or Amazon page. I’m sure I am not the only one who would put no stock in such a review.

    1. Thank you. There is another angle which I might approach if I had a lot of clearly well-thought out bad reviews and that might be to look for the common elements to then decide whether I’d want to consider these in future writing. But I wouldn’t do it unless I accepted it as a fair point. At the end of the day, a reasonable person would realise that every reader is different and, as I read in a comment on this GR incident elsewhere today, ‘wouldn’t make a choice not to read purely on the advice of a stranger’. 🙂

  7. Reblogged this on brittneysahin and commented:
    Great read for authors. Although I have yet to publish, I do not always go by reviews for books/movies- especially because tastes vary! So I hope that a couple negative reviews would not discourage an author- or someone from buying. Honestly, now that I pretty much just read ebooks- I download the sample. If I love the sample I buy & that is how I judge a book for myself.
    Enjoy the post!

  8. I noticed that link on twitter yesterday and it seems as though everyone is talking about it. Someone was wondering if it was done for publicity (his responses I mean) but surely not.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences Heather and I’m looking forward to reading your book 🙂 Will review too

  9. Ouch! That poor man’s tirade was embarrassing to read. He really needs to lighten up and not take reviews personally. We all know what a blow it is to get a bad review, but there are better ways of dealing with it – like your book trailer, Heather, which I loved.

    1. Thank you Susan! I have swung between feeling sorry and then despairing for him, particularly after finding out he has done this on Amazon too. Madness. Thank you also for your kind comments re the trailer 🙂

  10. Nice post. Sorry you had to deal with a poor review, but then again, they somewhat help. Well, not the lousy thing the person left on Amazon for you. But many people will see that and move on because she didn’t go into detail.

    It’s tough getting poor reviews. I can understand an author wanting to respond, but it doesn’t do any good especially on Goodreads. I received a 1-star without a review, which bothered me. I would have rather them said something than nothing at all. I even received a drive-by 1-star, which I contacted Goodreads about and they removed it. Once in a discussion, I mentioned the war between authors and readers, the drive-by 1-star, and reviews based off the samples. Damn, you would have thought I killed a puppy. People started commenting about that there was no war, and suck it up, and blah blah blah, they have the right to say what they want. And about reviews from samples. I stopped commenting on the thread, while posters continued to put words into my mouth. They wanted me to argue with them. I’ve learned there is no point debating ANYTHING with ANYONE on the internet. It’s useless.

    1. Oh absolutely. It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch, where a guy walks in to a room with another guy behind a desk & says, ‘Is this the right room for an argument?’ To which the man behind the desk replies, ‘NO IT ISN’T!’ Goodreads, Amazon & Book Clubs – definitely not the right ‘room’ for an author to have an argument 😀 Don’t apologise about my bad reviews, they’re the battle scars of trying 🙂 xxx

  11. I confess, rather timidly, that I have replied to two negative reviews. One because the reviewer raised an excellent point about how the book was listed and I needed a bit of clarification. So I thanked him, explained it wasn’t an angle I’d thought of and asked if he could expand a bit on what he meant. The other one was from someone who was upset that my series was four books instead of the intended three and complained that only the first two books were free and that he knew what this was, it was just a rip off with a story that never ended to make people buy books. On that one I explained that the story was resolved at the end of the fourth book and I’d be happy to send him a free copy if he got in touch. That one was more about letting other readers know that when I marketed it as a complete series I did actually mean that it was finished.
    T
    Thinking about it I replied to one more, too, from someone who had a free review copy and couldn’t get into it. She was terribly apologetic, so I told her she was allowed not to like it and thanked her for being honest because ‘honest’ was what I asked for.

    I never reply to ones where they plain didn’t like the book. 🙂

    1. I just think it is more energy than I have as a writer, to keep going back and to go over it all. There is a saying – I can’t remember who said it and my version isn’t exactly accurate – but it says something like, ‘you have to just put your best out there (into the universe) and let it be. You’ve handed it over. It’s no longer in your hands. Let the world do with it what it will.’ Replying, even helpfully in this case, to reviews just steals important writing time. I’m not the expert, but for me it’s like editing your book before it’s finished. Everytime you go back, you lost a day going forward xxx

      1. Yeh, I know what you mean. I just don’t like people to feel bad or cheated on my account. I hasten to add that these are very rare exceptions.

  12. That author seems a slightly scary man. You have great reviews for your book on Amazon.co.uk, even the few lower star ones are fairly neutral. You must be pleased to have so many 4 and 5 stars?

    1. Hi Denise, yes I am happy and feel very grateful when people take the trouble to leave a review. It is a wonderful thing to know I’ve made someone laugh, smile or think about the issues in a new way. That makes it all worthwhile and drives me forward with my writing. I can always appreciate when the humour or my writing style is not to someone’s taste, that is inevitable. But it’s best to only dwell on the positives x

  13. I had so much fun reading that writer’s comments! You’ve made my day. 🙂
    Obviously harsh criticisms are painful and I’m sure I’ll ache when I receive them in my turn but you definitely have the right attitude when it comes to it. Your book is out there, which to me sounds already like a dream, and it has great reviews. I’m looking forward to reading your book.
    The one bad review shouldn’t take an author down, and by no means make him feel compelled to describe himself as “a defender of humanity” like poor, vindictive Dylan.
    Great post! Thank you!

    1. Thank you Astrid! I am amazed you managed to read all Dylan’s comments, I was cringing too much I had to stop reading! Thank you for your kind comments re my book, I’m just very grateful for all the nice reviews people have taken the trouble to leave. They are the ones to concentrate on 🙂

  14. I have come to the conclusion that my work is not going to appeal to everyone…and that’s okay. There will be haters, no matter who you are. There will even be those who seem to revel in tearing an author’s work to shreds in what they refer to as a ‘review.’ However, an author cannot let this define them or redefine their genre. WE should all keep our heads up and write on.

  15. Wow, just read the Goodreads comments. That guy seriously shot himself in the foot. I get your message now stored for future reference. Jesus, that to’n’fro was brutal and a big shock of what ‘not’ to do if you get a downsized review. Woah.

  16. Great advice, a bollocks file, way to go! Some reviewers just seem to take pleasure in trashing writers which I think is really sad. The best advice is, as you say, to ignore unhelpful, and thoughtless criticism, continue to write and believe in yourself.

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