Authors should never expect a guaranteed review or a positive review. Reviewers are under no obligation to review works on a specific timeline.
The Relationship Between Reviewers and Authors, Publishers, and Publicists
Appropriate conduct prevents unnecessary conflict.
I know who Siskel and Ebert are. I haven’t a clue who John Simon is, but he felt the need to attack their positive review of Star Wars: A New Hope. Now, I’m sure plenty of movie buffs do know who Simon is, but that isn’t the point.
The point is, two reviewers liked the movie. Another reviewer didn’t. He could have written his own review outlining his points. Instead, he caused controversy by calling Siskel and Ebert childish and making it personal.
It’s fine if you disagree with a review. You’re allowed to have your opinion, and the other reviewer is allowed to have theirs. It stops being a rational discussion when you start calling people names.
I’ve made the mistake of venting about something I disagreed with publicly. It was easy to see one’s blog as a place to chat with friends, forgetting that you never know who’s lurking in the shadows. I think it’s still easy for many people to do that on social media, which is why authors should create private spaces where they can discuss issues with other industry professionals. It’s okay to be upset when you get a bad review. What you do, however, could affect your ability to secure future reviews.
Retaliating against a reviewer is unprofessional. Attacking reviewers you disagree with on SM also waves a big red flag to other reviewers. You’re telling reviewers you’ll do that to them if you don’t like their review. You will lose reviewers who won’t consider your works if you engage in that type of behavior repeatedly.
Yes, some reviews are silly. Yes, some reviews suggest the person hasn’t even read the book. When those reviews are on Amazon, you can report them. And if they look silly to you, there’s a good chance they’ll look silly to everyone else. Deal with review trolls privately and professionally, and vent in your DMs.
Reviewers should commit to assessing the story and refrain from personal attacks or commentary about things outside the author’s control. Reviewers should write honest reviews, even if that means talking about the parts of the story that didn’t work for them. Reviewers should also add a disclaimer if they have any potential conflict of interest that could affect how readers interpret their reviews.
Reviewers should also avoid tagging authors when they write negative reviews. Bottom line: if you’re a reviewer tagging an author with a link to a negative review, you’re either asking for a response or trying to make the author feel bad. Either way, you’re being
a jerk unprofessional.
Publicists are in a delicate position.
Some publicists review books released by presses that employ them. I’m not a fan of this choice because the working relationship between the publicist and the publisher makes this a paid review, and it’s very different to be paid for a review by a party who clearly wants positive commentary because they stand to profit from the promotion. Readers should always be informed if a review is a paid review. While it’s obvious columnists in the NY Times are paid to write their reviews, it’s not always immediately apparent that there’s a working relationship between someone who posts a review on Goodreads and the press (or the author, because some authors do hire their own publicists).
While I’m not fond of this option myself, I suggest publicists include a disclaimer about their relationship with the author or press. This also allows for clarification if the publicist’s duties have a limited scope. Suppose a publicist handles the publisher’s social media accounts and writes their press releases, but has no involvement with seeking reviews for their books. There may be no conflict of interest in this case, but people aware of their professional relationship with the press may assume there is a conflict of interest.
Transparency prevents people from making assumptions and protects the reviewer’s integrity in situations like this, particularly if the publicist chooses to review some works in their free time.
Everyone needs to be mindful of mob mentality.
Social media makes it possible for reviews to incite attacks. Sometimes, those attacks are directed at the author or publisher, and sometimes, the attacks are directed at reviewers.
Controversy is click bait, and we all know it generates interest. However, I’m not convinced controversy is good for publishing in the long term. Between election controversies and the coronavirus, people are burnt out, and many don’t have the energy for unnecessary battles. There are legitimate publishing issues to stand our ground on, such as racism and sexism and bigotry and lack of opportunity driving editors and agents out of the industry in record numbers.
We don’t need to look for more battles to fight than we already have.
Some people have large social media followings, and they can galvanize followers, even without meaning to. One only needs to do a Twitter and Goodreads search for Silk Fire to see what happens when a rabid fanbase clashes with outspoken opponents. While some reviewers were bullied into removing reviews, others were so enraged by the author’s alleged social media conduct that they wrote detailed, negative reviews about the book, causing its ranking to plummet on Goodreads.
Bottom line: Goodreads is for readers. Authors asking fans to attack reviewers is bad form. Anyone asking people to attack reviewers is bad form. Note: this is not the same as reporting a review with factual errors or personal attacks against the author. There’s a mechanism for reporting problematic reviews. If a reviewer attacks the author instead of reviewing the book you can report the review. Authors shouldn’t encourage their followers to attack reviews they disagree with unless they’re actual attacks on the author or contain egregious errors. And when that happens, it doesn’t have to be public. It should be addressed through the reporting system first.
There should be a moat and a minefield between industry professionals and reviewers.
Once upon a time, it was easier to maintain professional distance between industry professionals and reviewers. People weren’t under a microscope before social media in the way that they are now. I remember when I started writing fiction and attending book events. I told my best friend I was going to hear an author speak and explained the event. She said, “Wow, I didn’t even know they had things like that for authors.”
That was in the aughts, people. Less than 20 years ago.
Social media’s broken down barriers between reviewers and readers and authors. This can be incredible when it allows you to engage with a favorite author and learn about their writing process or find out they have a new book coming out, but it can be awful when weaponized.
Now, I had my first newspaper column when I was 13 and I studied journalism in college. I was trained to write reviews. I was a reviewer before I wasn an author, but I’m going to say this as an author.
Even if a review gets technical information about your book wrong, try not to engage publicly. Authors should not engage if at all possible. Publishers should not engage publicly. Publicists should not engage publicly.
This is particularly true of reader reviews on sites such as Goodreads. It will always look like you’re punching down if you correct a reader publicly. It doesn’t matter if your protagonist’s name is Miranda Sue and they call them Melissa throughout their entire review. It doesn’t matter if they say the story’s set in Waterloo when it’s set in Westminster. Ignore the review.
If they say your book is about a couple of white supremacists and it’s about a gay couple trying to adopt a baby, then yes, you need to jump through some hoops to address that. Again, it’s best to do that privately.
I say this as an author who’s had reviews with factual errors. In one case, the reviewer kept tagging me on social media posts about the review, over and over, until I finally thanked them for the review. I bit my tongue so hard to keep from pointing out they got the location and some other details wrong, and didn’t say anything about the repeated tags. (It was a 4 star review, so it wasn’t negative, but I feel really awkward replying to reviews in any capacity … and the repeated tags made me feel they wanted a response. The entire thing was super stressful for me.)
Issues like this are what friends and DMs are for. Vent in private. Put the review on your dart board if you have to.
As long as the reviewer follows the review platform’s policies, don’t create a public conflict. (Again, Amazon does require reviewers to read the work they review, so if it’s clear someone hasn’t read the book you can report it through Amazon.)
Why am I so firm about not arguing with reviewers? Most of those reviews happen because someone asked the reviewer to read the book, and they chose to do it in their spare time. The reviewer didn’t have to read it or take the time to write their thoughts and post them. I can tell you right this minute, I have easily 200 books I could choose to read and review. Likely double that amount if I counted everything I’ve bought and haven’t read yet from the last two years. When I’m asked to review a book and do read and review it, it’s risen to the top of the TBR. I’m a slow reader. For example, We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal took a solid 14 hours for me to read. (I bought the book, in case you’re wondering, because I loved We Hunt the Flame.) My point is that when I choose to review a book, I’m dedicating a lot of personal time to the process (making notes while I read, which makes it take even longer) and if I’ve been asked to review the book, someone’s asking me to give up that time for their book instead of someone else’s.
I never promise a positive review. I always start off hoping I’ll write one. Every single book I read starts off with 4 stars. Sometimes, it rises to 5 stars because it’s superb. Other times, it stumbles and loses some stardust along the way. But I never pick up a book hoping it will be bad.
I want it to be great.
And I understand that’s true for a lot of other reviewers out there. Ultimately, their review is their opinion, and I have to respect that.
If a review gets crucial technical information wrong, it’s appropriate to contact the reviewer or the publication privately and provide information about the errors and ask for them to issue a correction. I do recommend taking time to reflect, getting a second opinion, drafting your email, and having someone else read your email before you initiate contact. In most cases, even if it’s a factual error, it isn’t worth addressing it. So a reviewer got the name of the location in my book wrong. Their review made it clear they read and liked my book. The location isn’t likely going to affect a reader’s decision to pick up the book, but a potential conflict with a reviewer or review site could cost reviews in the future. I’m not even saying the site or reviewer will be vindictive. I’m just saying that some people are nervous about reviewing already, and if they’re afraid they’ll offend you, they’re more likely to skip your books.
The focus for what’s become a short series took up residence inside my brain months ago, but I held off writing it. Why? Oh, some social media posts about reviews. I didn’t want anyone to misinterpret this as a subcolumn, so I held off.
The trouble is, every week it seems like there’s a new reviewing controversy. I can put this material out there and risk people thinking it’s about this author’s outburst or that author’s meltdown or the negative reviews for this or that book, or I could kill this miniseries. I decided to focus on my motivation for writing this and not worry about people’s assumptions.
Authors, publishers, readers, and reviewers all benefit from understanding some basic facts about reviews. I was trained to write reviews in college and was graded on my ability by journalists writing for Canadian publications such as The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s. At times, I’ve been a paid reviewer for publications. I also write casual reviews in my free time. The two are very different, but I think my background and perspective informs my thoughts about reviewing.
The pact that should exist.
Authors, publicists, and publishers and reviewers need each other. I appreciate the work bloggers and independent (unpaid) reviewers put into talking about books. I’m also aware that these reviewers are quitting in record numbers. Some have been prompted to leave because of attacks from authors and publishers. Others have personal matters consuming their time and energy. When an industry relies on unpaid commentary to promote material, it’s at the mercy of the fates.
Anyone who loves books and wants to see publishing thrive must protect these reviewers and respect their place in the industry. At the bare minimum, they should deal with any factual errors in reviews privately, and avoid public confrontations when they disagree with a review.
How can industry professionals support good reviewers?
Follow their social media feeds. Retweet and share their content to raise their profile and increase their readership. Drive traffic to reputable bloggers and review sites to ensure they continue to thrive. Without readers and industry support, many of the
How can you address legitimate issues with a review?
Find private contact information for the site hosting the review and communicate via email. Explain the error, but thank them for their coverage of the book and avoid any commentary about their opinion of your work. It’s not an opportunity to lecture them about why they’re wrong about something. It’s an opportunity to address the factual error and request a correction. If you can’t do that without causing conflict, have a trusted friend review your correspondence, or consider letting the issue go.
I’m not talking about reviews with factual errors, reviews containing racism/sexism/bigotry, or reviews that violate site policies. Those reviews should be reported through official channels.
I’ve repeated advice to avoid attacking reviewers. While a reviewer may or may not be a pro, an author/publicist/publisher is always involved in discussions of their works in a professional capacity, which is why there’s a different standard. Remember, as I noted before, you don’t have to send future arcs to a reviewer you don’t feel provides accurate or professional coverage.
However, anyone can buy your book and express an opinion, and that’s something the professionals in this industry have to learn to deal with.