Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Responding to a Negative Review

Okay, if you've self-published, we've all heard, NEVER EVER respond to a negative review. And as someone who's gotten more than her fair share, I never did. I was lucky enough to get reviews in the first place so I just figured any review was better than none. And it's true for the most part. People who buy books, look at reviews as a gauge. First it's the reviews, then it's the price.* (more on this phenomenon next week, because it's a fascinating topic.)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a review that was more like a rant and picked apart every single thing I did wrong in my stories. Now, I don't claim to be the next Jane Austen, and my critique partners don't read Regency romance (except mine and I like it that way) so the things the reviewer picked apart were - I hate to admit - dead on.

(Truthfully, this review had my blood pressure through the roof because she also claimed I didn't do enough research. OMG this tore me up inside. I have spent countless hours on research.)

These were not editing mistakes, or typos, or formatting, these mistakes were within the context of the story that Regency writers should know. (Which I did, but chose to ignore because, well, actually there are too many excuses to list. Suffice it to say, I wanted to write my books MY way and not be like everybody else.) Which I will never do again.

That being said, I decided to tackle the monumental task of rewriting all of my novellas. It's not so much using "find and replace", it's the task of rereading every single word and changing what needs to be changed. I spent three 12-hour days doing this. Because as you know, once you revise, then you have to republish.

(And if you want to know what's actually involved in that enterprise, take a look at my Anne Gallagher blog, because I've spelled it out quite concisely. For those of you who are thinking about self-publishing, you might want to read this because it will tell you that you really really really need to make sure you have an excellent copy to publish on the first go-round.)

For those of you who have a publisher behind you, you know what it means to have copy edits and galleys, and other revisions you need to do to get the book perfect before anyone sees a word of it. For a self-publisher (on a budget) I rely on my critique partners. I have one for grammar and punctuation, one for overall story content, and one I rely on as a copy editor. As I have stated, they are totally made of awesome and I wouldn't change them for the world.

Anyway, I revised all the stories. Then I republished them. Then I wrote a disclaimer and tacked that up front and center on my Amazon author page as well as the book pages and into every single book I revised.

To My Readers ~

In writing any kind of book, research is needed. In writing an historical romance novel, research is critical. In all my books, I have done exhaustive study into the era known as the Regency Period. I strive to make the historical facts I intersperse throughout my stories interesting for you. That I sometimes take liberties with those facts is my right as an author, because, after all, this is fiction.

That said, I do not hold strictly to the more formal aspect of addressing titled characters with their proper designation. Nor do I firmly adhere to other elements of the period – clothing, food, rank, or architecture. For some purists of the genre, they find this unacceptable. I find it makes for easier reading. However, I try to keep as much to the era as possible.

My books are meant to entertain and written with that purpose in mind. I hope you like them for what they are – and what they are intended to be. An enjoyable diversion from your everyday lives.

Now, because I thought this was kind of a drastic measure, (this review was hurting my sales, and no one is going to mess with my sales) I wrote to one of the leading professionals in the business to see if this was a stupid idea or not. She said it was a ballsy move, but thought it might work. "Try it and see what happens" was the response. (I also spoke with a few other friends and they agreed.) What could it hurt.

I also decided to "comment" to the reviewer and tell her what I'd done. Another thing you should NEVER EVER do. And she responded kindly, and said that she didn't mean to rant about it, but it was driving her crazy. Which, when I read some big authors out of New York, the stuff they throw in their books makes me fling them across the room. So I know how she feels.

I'm trying my best to put out a quality product. That said, in this new publishing world, with the ability to revise and republish, hey why not. New readers come along every single day. And if I can snag a few more fans, then 36 hours work to rewrite them is a drop in the bucket.

And some of you may ask, "Well, why didn't you put out a quality product in the FIRST place?" And my answer is -- I thought I had. I don't know about you, but after reading a manuscript 10,000 times, the only thing I want to do when I get it back from my critters is make the changes and upload it. I'm sick of looking at it and I want to move on.

When I first saw this review, I thought seriously (for about an hour) to write to you all and ask for your help, either writing your own reviews and posting them, or clicking on the "does this review help you" button at the bottom of the review and saying no. But that's just childish. I mean, yeah, this review was devastating, but I'm not in high school anymore. I can fight my own battles.

Now, I also know, what I've done might not help you. Some people are going to leave bad reviews no matter what you write. One 2 star reviewer of mine insisted I wasn't anything like Mary Balogh. Yeah, and? I'm not her and don't write like her, nor will I ever write like her. I'm me. Other 2 star reviewers have complained my novellas are too short, that they should be turned into novels. Uh, no. They're called novellas for a reason. And then I have the people who say "same old same old, boy meets girl, they fall in love, so what..." Makes me want to scream, "Well why did you buy it if you KNOW how it's going to end?" So, you have to take the good with the bad. But the upside to this post is, if I didn't respond to this reviewer, I never would have gotten the stories revised and who knows how many other readers I'd have lost because of a few simple mistakes.

So, the old "rule" of not responding to negative reviews, in my case anyway, worked. I think. I hope. I pray.

Tell me -- What do you do about negative reviews? Do you go back in and change your stories? Or do you just leave them the way they are and hope for the best -- because they're YOUR stories and no one is going to tell you how to write? (I dealt with this anguish as well. It was not pretty to admit I dropped the ball.)

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013


Laura Pauling said...

I'll be honest. I don't think there's anything wrong with voting down negatives view and saying yes to positive ones. Most business don't plaster their complaints on the front page of their website for a reason--that doesn't mean they don't get them!

Lynn Proctor said...

as one who doesn't play by the rules, i love your idea :)

Anne Gallagher said...

Laura -- True enough, but somehow it just felt wrong for me to ask.

Lynn -- Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

As long as you were gracious and professional in responding I see no problem with it. And I believe we writers can learn a lot from reviews, especially the bad ones. None of us have written a perfect book.

J.B. Chicoine said...

I got a 1-star rating on Goodreads from someone who has only 2 books listed--mine and some other book titled UNCHARTED! I figured she bought the wrong book, got mad and gave me 1 star, and no review (she probably didn't even read my UNCHARTED). Even though it brought my overall rating down, I ignored it.

That said, in you case, I think you acted prudently and it paid off. I admire that you are humble enough to admit where you erred and are so willing to go back and improve the stories! That for me as a reader would raise your esteem in my eyes. As a fellow writer, I admire your proactive approach to your craft.

Linda G. said...

I can't go back and change a thing, so I'm stuck with what's there. I've never responded to a negative review (tempting though it can be at times *grin*) because I don't think it would help in my particular case. I'm glad your reasonable and measured response is working for you, though. :)

The reviews that really drive me crazy are the ones that contain spoilers. I hate it when some reviewer reveals an important plot point without even labeling it as a spoiler. Grrr.

Sarah Ahiers said...

obviously i've never gotten a negative review, since i'm not published. I'm slightly worried they might devastate me. I may not be able to read them

Anne Gallagher said...

Karen -- How true. I don't even think New York produces a "perfect" book these days. Which is sad for those authors. They have no recourse if their book appears less than.

Bridget -- Thank you for the lovely compliments. I think as I grow older I'm not afraid to admit my mistakes. And pox on your 1 star reviewer.

Linda -- When your rights revert back to you, IF there was something you wanted to change, I'm sure you could. Especially if you've changed the direction of the characters as I've done. And yes, spoilers suck big time.

Sarah -- Even though authors tell you all the time NOT to read them, you do. You can't help it. It's the inner child in us that wants to make sure we've done a good job.

Cheree Smith said...

I think you have acted very professionally in not responding. I have seen some authors reputations get ruined because they become tangled in ugly conversations with reviewers over negative reviews. But, everyone (even books on the best seller list) receive negative reviews because not everyone will like the same book.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

John Locke says that all a negative review says is that the reviewer is not your target audience: their loss. But you know how egotistical he is! :-)

A reviewer of THE RIVAL chastised me for it having other books starring Victor Standish before it. In the very title is A NEW CHAPTER in THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH.

It only has 3 reviews so it did indeed hurt sales. But as authors we can only try to put out a quality product and hope readers appreciate our efforts.

I am sorry that the negative review cost you so much money and extra effort.

I believe responding as a reasonable professional is perfectly fine. :-)

Anne R. Allen said...

There are so many different kinds of negative reviews. Some are just spiteful or trollish. Most are about the reviewer, not you or your book. "I thought this was a different book. I made a mistake, so I'm giving you one-star"--the kind JB mentioned above. Or "I hate romances and this one sux like all the rest." Never respond to reviews like that.

Then there are the superior ones "I've spent 25 years studying geology and the rock in chapter 3 could not have been granite. It must have been... whatever. They're showing off and there's no point in engaging them either.

But every so often, you get one that's actually helpful, even though it's said in a mean-spirited way like this one. I think you responded in a gracious way and by letting her know her suggestions helped, you showed a lot of class.

I had one of those reviews too. A guy said the story and characters were great, but he found 11 typos. We belong to the same Goodreads group, so I sent him a DM and asked about the errors. He kindly sent me a list. They were tiny things that my publisher's proofreader missed. I was grateful and glad I contacted him.

Unfortunately, ever since then he's been spamming me with excerpts from his book sent 3 times a day--apparently the reviews are a way of building his mailing list. So it didn't turn out to be such a great idea, but I'm still grateful for the proofreading he did.

Donna Hosie said...

A very ballsy move, but I agree with Karen. No one gets only five star reviews.

Good luck.

Anne Gallagher said...

Cheree -- I've seen those reviews as well. It was hard for me to decide what to do, but I knew I had to do somehting.

Roland -- Sometimes I wonder why people even leave the reviews they do. I have one that I swear they were drunk when they wrote it. Makes no sense at all. Oh well, hopefully they get buried.

Anne -- Thanks for saying I'm gracious. lol. Haven't been called that before. I'm sorry that guy turned out to be a toad for you. But at least you got some good from it.

Donna -- No, I never expected to get all 5 stars, that would just be foolish to even think that. But I was never going to let the ranter get the better of me. What she said just wasn't fair and I wasn't going to take it.

Maria Zannini said...

Unless someone sends me the review, I no longer read them.

In the early days I would hang on to every word, but then I realized, the book is done. I did the best I could and in MY style. If it disappoints someone, than I was not the author for them.

Re: your reviewer
There are some people (especially with historicals and SF) who will be sticklers for accuracy.

I'm not so fussy about historicals, but I am with SF because so much rides on accurate technology and scientific fact.

DL Hammons said...

I think maybe your in a unique situation, where a reviewer questions historical accuracy and not writing ability. I commend the tact you took! :)

Anne Gallagher said...

Maria -- I guess I haven't gotten used to the idea that I'm actually published yet, even though it's been over a year. I still want to see what people think. Good or bad. and yes, in historicals, I find I have way too many sticklers.

Don -- Thanks. I couldn't not do anything, you know. And I guess it was well worth my effort to change them because she did recant, and left me an extra star in all her reviews.

Nicki Elson said...

Oh, Anne, I'm sorry you've been going through all of that. Going through the edits sounds like it was definitely worth the effort - I think for your own personal peace of mind than anything. I'm glad to hear the reviewer was kind in her response. They seem to forget there's another person on the end of that. You've once again proven that every rule is made to be broken - even responding to negative reviews.

Liza said...

I could go on and on here...received a critical comment on a magazine essay I wrote. That comment is still visible online, whereas all the lovely complimentary letters and emails I received are not. A friend was disappointed in my "review" and I had to make sure that he knew to look at it within the big picture...made sure he knew how many people liked what I wrote regardless of that pesky thing that lives online. So here's my point. I strongly prefer to stick to my Mother's maxim: "If you don't have anything nice to say [online] don't say anything at all. Now, with that said, sounds like you turned the whole thing into a lesson and took steps to improve. That turns the situation into a positive and for that you should be commended.

Anne R. Allen said...

I just wanted to add that the guy I thought was spamming me apologized and said he did not mean to send those emails--he put me on the wrong list. So our encounter has been entirely friendly. He actually expected me to contact him and had very carefully noted down the locations of the typos. He says he does it to give back for a free book. So the rule of never contacting a reviewer isn't always true. (But he did give me a generous 4 stars. If it had been a 1-star, I wouldn't have contacted him.)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What can I say, kid? You've got a lotta class. I think your actions were absolutely the best way to go. Good for you!