In the interest of promoting a climate in which readers feel free to review frankly with no fear of reprisal or secret passive-aggressive hostility, here’s my position on reviews, as well as on some related issues.
The short version:
- I don’t ever look at Amazon or Goodreads reviews unless a reader emails me with a link to her/his review.
- I don’t google myself, and currently I don’t use Google Alerts.
- I believe negative reviews are a crucial part of a healthy Romanceland ecosystem. This includes:
- snark-filled reviews
- simple “thumbs down” reviews that don’t elaborate on the flaws
- lengthy reviews that employ critical theory
- reviews with and without .gifs
- negative reviews of my own books
- I don’t use a street team (I’m uncomfortable with even the more benign incarnations) and I doubt I have the kind of fan base that could be mobilized to attack reviewers. But in case I’m wrong about that, Fans of mine, please know that I don’t ever want you attacking people for leaving me negative reviews.
The long version:
This might be long enough that I need to break it up into more than one post. We’ll start, anyway, with the evolution of my position on reading reviews, and with it, my gradual understanding/appreciation of the concept of author-free spaces.
So. Once, in the primordial dawn of my career as a published author, I commented on a reader’s review. It was fairly innocuous as these things go – it was a very nice review, and I, not yet grasping that not everyone who loves your book wants to be your new best friend, bounced into that space and said something about liking the review.
This wasn’t the first time I’d interacted with this reader – we’d exchanged emails over the logistics of a giveaway she’d entered, and then I’d seen somewhere (twitter?) that she’d liked the book, and I’d said something to her about that, and so by this time I suspect I came off as flat-out creepy and stalkerish. Her reply to my comment on the review was perfectly polite, but it was obvious I’d made her uncomfortable, and I hate making people uncomfortable, so I decided to never again comment on, or like, a reader’s review. (I know there are readers who appreciate getting “likes,” but I’d rather risk disappointing them than risk making the other kind of reader feel like their author-free space has been ickily intruded on.)
Similarly, when my first book got reviewed at All About Romance, they emailed me to let me know, and also included a link to the discussion thread for my book. There was a discussion thread for my book! People had read A Lady Awakened, and had things to say about it, and a lot of people liked it very much! It was thrilling to read at first, but right around the time I got to the second page, it really sank in that these people were not expressing their opinions with me as the intended audience, and that in fact they’d probably be creeped out if they knew I was looming over the conversation like some obsessive, validation-craving Big Brother.
I quit reading the Lady Awakened discussion thread, and, when A Gentleman Undone came out some months later and AAR emailed me to let me know that book had a thread too, I never looked at it. In general I just feel better about myself if I keep out of those spaces; plus by avoiding the Amazon and Goodreads reviews, I also avoid the possibility of flipping out and having a high-visibility meltdown over a bad review. Wins all the way around.
Gradually I’ve cut back on my reading of blog reviews as well. I used Google Alerts in the beginning, and was Alerted to some tremendously gratifying reviews. I’m still grateful to have seen them, and even more grateful to have been led to some wonderful blogs I might not otherwise have discovered.
But I’d heard a lot from other writers about how avoiding all reviews was beneficial to their sanity, so around the beginning of last year I turned off my Google Alerts. And I haven’t really missed them, nor have I felt like seeking out reviews. I’ll still read one if a reader emails me with a link, or occasionally if one hits my radar on social media. But otherwise I tend to stay away from reviews or discussions of my books, and it seems to work pretty well for now.
I suppose I could have omitted the last six paragraphs and skipped straight to telling you that I support your right to leave me bad reviews. But there might be readers for whom “I’m not likely to even know you left me a bad review” makes a better assurance than “I promise I won’t hold your bad review against you,” and I want those readers, as well as the ones to whom candor comes more easily, to feel free to review frankly.
Okay, I’m over 800 words so I’ll cut this off here. In my next post I’ll finish up with thoughts on bad reviews and also talk a little bit about street teams and maybe some related subjects.