Thursday, January 09, 2014

keeping your mouth shut

Like many authors, I had a great laugh at these videos of children's authors reading their harsh online reviews. However, a couple days later I was looking up Ellen Oh's book Prophecy on Goodreads and found myself reading this, an example of how online readers show their ire when authors respond to negative reviews.

And honestly, I do understand that, to a point. When a book is published, it no longer belongs to the author. It becomes the reader's book and its their experience which an author has no right to criticize. The big unwritten rule when it comes to reviews when you are an author seems to be KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Personally, if I can help it, I try just to not read reviews (though I'd be lying if I said I didn't read reviews at all, though).

Sometimes I wonder, though, what they expect from us. Once and a while, I'll get an e-mail from an irritated or even angry reader who wants to know what I meant by this or that, and I never know how to respond. Just as the reading experience belongs to them, the writing experience belongs to us.  Every author I know has written their book to the best of their ability and I've always assumed that readers take it on faith that authors are not out to create books to annoy them. But, perhaps, they just want that agreement acknowledged. So, most of the time, I usually respond, "I'm sorry your reading experience was not what I intended." However, sometimes, I think the best course of action is to follow the rule and keep my mouth shut. What do you think?


Bennett Madison said...

I have a system that I've found to be effective for handling complaints and/or criticisms from readers.

When I receive a complaint directly, I forward it to my personal assistant/alter-ego, Annika Golden, who replies to the reader with a form he/she can print out and complete in order to register his/her displeasure in a detailed and specific way. This form-- when returned to Annika via USPS in a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with a copy of the receipt for the purchase of the book-- is then sent to an internal committee that evaluates its relative merits and votes on whether the complaint will be approved. (Only a simple majority is needed for approval.)

If the committee votes to approve the complaint, he/she is sent an Amazon gift certificate equal to the cost of the book. A brief summary of the complaint is then sent to me-- with my editor CC'ed-- so that it can be taken into account for all future projects.

It was complicated to get it all set up, and it can be somewhat costly when there are major problems with a book, but I think it was worth it! I find that this system empowers readers without any need for me to get involved at all.

Bennett Madison said...

Note-- I do not yet have a mechanism for handling reader complaints filed via social media, although I've asked Annika to look into it and put together a report on the feasibility of such a thing.

Meghan McCarthy said...

I always keep my mouth shut... unless the reader writes something that is un-factual. I did one of those videos. The person criticized my book as being for kids. Um... Perhaps they should have looked at the age range! Also, I've noticed that readers will give a book one star because they never received the book. That is NOT the place for that kind of comment! You write to amazon! Geez. And I also got a bad review from a librarian in SLJ who said a fact was wrong in a book when it wasn't. I feel that when you're dealing with nonfiction you do have a right to defend yourself when you have the proof and facts to back it up. It's not the same as an opinion.

Meghan McCarthy said...
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