What To Do With a Bad Review

I once stated that I thought it was possible to respond to a negative review in a positive way (see the first footnote of this post). I am now rethinking that theory. Here's what happened to an author I know.

(Names and most specifics have been wiped, just cuz I don't want things to get worse):

1. A Reviewer posted a bad review of the Author's book on a popular book site.
2. In the comments, Reviewer picked out a couple users who liked the book (and had little or no other activity on their accounts), suggesting these accounts were sock puppets -- created by the author to artificially boost the book's rating.
3. Reviewer's readers agreed and mocked Author for such "obvious" fake accounts.

Before I go on, I want us to stop and think about what we would do in this situation. Assume the review counts (the book hasn't actually come out yet, so any buzz might count). For myself, it is taking every ounce of strength to take the high road right now and get to my point, rather than argue about Internet Immaturity and Spurious Evidence.

Oops. Moving on . . .

4. Author left a comment in the review thread -- not to comment on the review itself, but to mention that none of the accounts were fake (one of the accounts was actually her daughter).
5. Author was told somewhat bitterly that Reviewer is entitled to write whatever she wants about the book (note again, though: Author said nothing about the review).
6. A couple of people who liked the book spoke up in Author's favor (some in the thread, some in their own reviews).
7. These people were accused of being trolls, sock puppets, or both.

Then things got worse.

Friends of Reviewers left multiple 1-star reviews after not reading the book. Hateful comments were left on the reviews of the "fake" accounts. At one point, Author thanked a different reviewer for reading the whole book and being impartial, at which point two commenters blasted her for "dictating" what makes a review fair or not.

It's like this particular group of people has experienced other authors acting badly and assume Author is doing the same thing. They've seen authors with fake accounts and assume that any suspicious account is, likewise, fake.

To user-reviewers then: This is not (always) the Bad Author you're looking for. Sometimes people mean what they say, with no other agenda. Best not to assume.

But this whole thing just proves to me why commenting on bad reviews -- or trying to prove anything on the internet at all -- is generally a bad idea. Authors, don't comment on negative reviews. Yes, there are thousands of user-reviewers who will act professionally, even toward authors whose books they don't like. But it's not worth risking the ire of those who will misinterpret everything you do.

Professor Internet is right: it's better to just chill out and eat a sandwich.

What do you think? Would you have stayed out of it? (I don't know if I would have). Is there a way to step into this without making things worse?

17 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

Nope. Things will automatically go down the tube as soon as number four occurs.

Even the tiniest misunderstand can and will blow up into a zompoc on the internet. After all, some people just want to watch the world burn.

But I'd love it if you emailed me the review. I'm always curious about these things.

Andre said...

Best to live by one of the main rules of the internet: "Don't feed the trolls".

Sarah said...

I think it's a must to stay out of it. As it always does, the mere introduction of an interaction with the author intensified the situation, when it might have subsided quietly otherwise. Not that it's fair, but ... life isn't fair. I hope the author is getting a lot of really constructive and positive support, though, because this situation sounds extremely frustrating.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Count me in the camp that there is absolutely no way for an author to engage something like this and have it come out good. As Andre says, the only thing to do is not feed the trolls. Being a rocket scientist, I think of it in terms of oxygen - a fire can't burn without it, and starving a fire of oxygen is really the only way to put it out. Otherwise it will consume everything in its path.

There are simply some people who live for controversy, and a whole lot more that like to watch a train wreck. There are a gazillion more that are wonderfully positive people on the internet (and in RL) - those are the people I engage and surround myself with.

Sarah Ahiers said...

This is why i have to stay away from certain places on the internet because i get worked into a rage-lather. It's also probably why i'm not going to be able to read negative reviews of any of my stuff. At least without having it vetted first by someone a bit more impartial.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I'm going to advise all my well-meaning friends and family to stay away from all bad reviews I ever get. I have to get published first, but I have no desire to feed trolls, or to even be remotely associated with them. It's nice to think that loyal fans would stand up for an author, but if it only leads to an escalation in trolliness, it becomes more frustrating that words can express.

This is an awful situation. It turns my stomach that there are such gangs of bullies on the internet. I don't expect a review site to be a love-fest for the author in question. I know everyone has a right to their opinion, whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. But is it too much to ask that the discussion at least stay on point and not devolve into personal attacks?

Angela Brown said...

I have to say that I'm in Camp "Don't respond". Not just for bad reviews. I had to apply this same idea to a site where we could put up samples for others to offer a crit. I got plenty of feedback, some nice, some straight to the vest but only one that chapped my hide. The critter rambled on and on about me not being the next JK Rowling and nothing to do with my story, which had to do with a young girl being transported from Manhattan to a realm of dragon riders and sorcery. Not sure where the person got the idea I was trying to be the next Rowling. I reported the person to the site owners, letting them know they may want to review that person's other crits and working within site guidelines, but refused to feed that person's venomous-ness with a response directly from me.

S.P. Bowers said...

With people like that, people who always see things the way they want there is no way to respond and not make it worse. The only way to win that game is not to play. Just walk away. You'll be happy you did.

Myrna Foster said...

Oh. Dear. I can't even read reviews for books I like on Goodreads. There are so many wackos, and sometimes I'm not sure they read the same book that I did.

Melodie Wright said...

I'm with you, Adam. No response is the best. I watched this unfold from the sidelines biting my nails for this author. It taught me a lot about the pitfalls of debut-authorhood...and also the meaning of 'troll' and 'sock puppet' which were helpful additions to my vocab. ;)

Jessica Silva said...

I saw Reviewers treat different Author horribly because of the whole "drama" surrounding the reviewer-author relationship that's all up in fire right now. IDK what to think of it. it seriously took everything I had to keep quiet about it. what it boils down to is... there is no "truth" on the internet. no one cares what the true story is, they just care about whatever they think is right. "no response" works but it's really just the moral high-ground. it's not a win or lose situation. but there really isn't anything ELSE that can be done, and that's what really pissed me off about the situation I mentioned. I wanted to say something, but whatever I said would've made it worse, so I COULD NOT say a single thing. I'm not sure I find it fair that Reviewers can have a voice, but Authors can't have that same privilege without messing things up even more. it sucks, but I don't think there's anything else that can be done, you know? *pulls out hair*

sally apokedak said...

this is so sad. But I say authors should never respond to unreasonable reviewers. And how reasonable can a person be who is assuming things with no evidence whatsoever? Obviously the reviewer has super powers that enable her to know who signed up for accounts and the author's secret motives. The author is never going to win in that situation.

Adam Heine said...

That is exactly how I feel, Jessica. I wanna say, "Oh, you're bullies? Let's take this outside," but on the internet? What's the point?

maine character said...

There was a study done not long ago that showed that when provided reliable information that disproves someone's opinion, those people only cling even more to their delusions. Meaning you can't do anything to get them to accept the truth. We've sure seen it enough in politics.

Sadly, as everyone's said, the only thing one can do is accept their opinion for what it is. I totally get how the author was only trying to clarify, and did it honorably, and my heart goes out to them, but that just doesn't work with these people.

Michael Horvath said...

Reviews are just opinions and opinions are not facts. There are plenty of things I don't like but that does not make them bad. They are just not for me. This attitude isn't commonplace (in my opinion-see how that works? lol)

But that said, I would just leave all reviews alone because i would just be asking for trouble. And you know how people like drama.

linda said...

Ugh, I saw that incident! I was surprised to find, as I read the thread, that those reviewers had no evidence whatsoever that the author was the one behind the alleged sock-puppet accounts (I had been linked to that review by what I consider a usually reliable source). I can understand the "don't respond" sentiment, but for me I appreciated that in this particular case the author spoke up for herself without commenting on the review. In my opinion, she came off in a better light than the reviewers did.

But I'm not sure if responding made things better or worse for the author, overall. In most cases I'd say it's a bad idea to respond to negative reviews, but in this case she wasn't exactly responding to a negative review -- she was responding to an accusation about her actions on Goodreads in the comments of a review. Not sure if it's quite the same. I thought she handled it well, but I didn't know about the "impartial" comment. That part is a bit unfortunate.

I've heard that it's actually a good idea not to respond to ANY reviews, positive or negative, as some reviewers may be weirded out by author presence on their reviews.

Navigating social media as an author must be so difficult. Sometimes I miss the days when I chose random books at the library and didn't know (or want to know) anything about the authors who wrote them. I just want to read and decide for myself if I like the book or not.

Matt Heppe said...

So hard to resist replying! But you have to. The chances your perfectly rational response will accomplish anything is minimal. And the opportunity for disaster is too great.

Is there a single book out there without a bad review? I doubt it. It was hard, but I accepted my first bad review and let it slide. It happens to everyone and is a part of doing business.