Let It Go: On Indie Authors and Bad Reviews

An author I follow on Twitter recently posted about her positive experience responding to a Goodreads reviewer who didn’t like her book. My immediate thoughts went something like “OH GOD NO DON’T DO THIS EVER RUN AWAY.” It turns out that, in her case, she simply sent a note of recognition to the reviewer for what was a thoughtful and useful critique. However, it needs to be said that this is AN ADVANCED MOVE and should probably be avoided by all. Especially indie authors.

Why indie authors in particular? Well, the Self-Pubbed Author Behaving Badly has become something of a well-worn trope in bookish circles. Last month, indie author Dylan Saccoccio’s epic Goodreads rant went viral and sparked a fair amount of snark about indie author behaving unprofessionally. Mr. Saccoccio’s example is a case study in what not to do. His screed has since been deleted because Goodreads banned his account, but you can view the archived thread here. The following excerpt should give you an idea of how this went:

Do you have empathy? Do you know what it's like to make something for a living? Are you human? Or do you just look at other people like they're automatons that you can slander as though your actions don't manifest consequences? Trust this. Me confronting someone that defaces my work says nothing about me other than the fact that I address it when someone goes out of his/her way to do so. But you left a 1 Star review on someone's life's work, someone who is trying to warn people what's going on in this world so that they can protect themselves and help others, and think that is a moral action. 400,000 children go missing each year in the US alone. Do you know where they're going? Do you know who's behind it? Do you know why the media is silent about it? Do you know how much a person risks to confront the evil that's running amok in this world? YOU don't know right from wrong. And that's what a review like this says about the person that wrote it.

It continued to devolve as the author became increasingly unhinged.

You may be thinking “I would never be like him though, I just want to explain that the person who left a bad review didn’t understand my work.” I am willing to bet that’s precisely what Mr. Saccoccio thought he was doing. The simple truth is, as an author you are probably too close to your work to defend it in a reasoned and objective manner. Beyond that, the only people who come out of these exchanges looking bad are the authors. Every single time.

So, if you find yourself looking at a negative review and thinking you must respond, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Take a walk. Take a nap. Take a Xanax.
    Seriously, I think half of the examples of Authors Behaving Badly come right down to Authors Behaving Impulsively. There is nothing to be gained from an immediate, emotional reaction so give it some time and gauge if you still feel the same way.
  2. Remember you’re in good company.
    There is no accounting for taste. If you think you are the only author to get a negative review, think again. Even canonical works get their share of hate. Just look at this one-star Amazon review of The Grapes of Wrath:
    The Grapes of Wrath, a great masterpiece?
    This book was rather long and boring then adventerous and fun. I have read many books written by John Steinbeck such as: The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men and etc. If you want to read this book then go ahead but I would rather recommend Of Mice and Men or The Red Pony.
  3. Get proud.
    I know, this seems counterintuitive, but you need to remember that even a bad review is still a review. In fact, if you’ve racked up a few good reviews on a site like Amazon having a negative one in the mix can actually help you. Many readers these days are suspicious that an author has paid for all those stars, so this can actually lend an air of legitimacy. If your only review is negative, well… at least someone is reading your book!
  4. Remember it’s not personal.
    This is the biggest sticking point for most indie authors since they have managed most of the process themselves and tend to take any criticism of their work much more personally. You need to remember that your book is a product, not a manifestation of your soul (no matter how much it may feel like one.) You are not only making yourself look unprofessional—you’re making all indie authors look bad.
  5. Don’t respond.
    Even if you’ve considered points 1 through 4 and think you will comport yourself professionally, there is just nothing to gain by responding. Don’t do it. Ever. Trust me, you will thank me when Googling your name doesn’t return results like Dylan Saccoccio.
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