Should Authors Comment on Reviews?

Taleist has a nice posting asking the question: Should You Comment on Amazon Reviews?

My books’ pages on Amazon aren’t my pages, and readers don’t go there to find me. In my opinion readers should be able to browse a bookshop without bumping into authors fussing and preening next to their books; thanking kind reviewers and gently pointing out errors in less good reviews.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder about my decision in the case of the factual errors. I’d hate to think someone wasn’t reading my book because they read something untrue.

Personally, I’ve come pretty close.  I’ve drafted comments on Amazon saying everything I wanted to say in response and then didn’t press publish.  It just didn’t sit right.  Even if I’m 100% correct, it still feels petty – and it will look defensive no matter what, because a reader has no idea if you’re right or not, he or she can just see that you’re not strong enough to not let things get under your skin.  This could have a bad reflection on your writing on the whole.

Certainly there are times when it’s warranted – when it’s a troll out to sabotage your work.  Factual inaccuracies are also an issue. But for the everyday review, it might not be the best idea.

But oh how I’ve wanted to.  A recent review of my novel said, “The fascination with rape is disturbing.”  This makes me seem like an incredible creep.  And I had no idea what he was talking about.  I actually did a search for the word “rape” in my novel and it’s only mentioned four times.  There’s not even a scene where there’s a rape, it’s just used as metaphor for when someone feels violated.  It’s arguable if that’s a good metaphor or not, but four times does not make a “fascination.” This seems more one person’s subjective issue than a widespread problem.  If it’s mentioned over and over again in different reviews, then that’s something – but one lone review doesn’t tell a prospective buyer that this is indeed an issue with the book.

I wrote a comment more or less addressing what I wrote above, but I didn’t publish it.  It just seemed to add a layer to the creepiness.  But how I’ve dreamed of another reader writing the comment: what are you talking about??? Perhaps that time will come.

Writing Your Own Review

This leads to another issue: the writer-written review.  There’s a controversial post on the Independent Publishing Magazine saying that this is something writers could think about doing.

The easiest way to get reviews for your book is to create fake profiles and then review it yourself. (You’ll be sure to get a 5 star rating!) However, many authors don’t feel right about doing this. The next best way to get reviews for your book is to ask friends and family to read it and to post a review. They’ll be likely to give you a favorable review, but you won’t have to coach them on what to write.

Emily Veinglory responds:

Okay, so posting fake reviews is “best,” and getting your mother to do it is the next best?

I feel like I’ve been naive.  I just didn’t think most writers would have the gall to do this.  Or it’s being done by writers whose books are so bad that they have no choice but to write their own reviews.  But it’s likely a widespread problem. It should go without saying: don’t do this.

Similarly, there may be writers out there who are commenting on bad reviews with a fake non-author account.  This basically amounts to the same thing.  It’s fraudulent – no matter how tempting it might be.

There are some readers who might like an author getting involved – it depends on the reader. So long as you’re not overly defensive, there is a way to pull it off.  Personally, I like to see commenting unfold organically. Even saying “Thanks for the review!” on a good review seems – perhaps – kind of desperate.  In the long run, if a bunch of strangers are commenting on reviews, it is far more persuasive than anything an author could say.

  • The only thing worse than an author writing their own review is having family and friends do it. For an author to offer any kind of judgment of their own work, including “corrections” for reviewers, smacks of amateurism, as well as desperation.

  • Doug Lucas

    If the review or comment is positive, yes you should.
    I write books as a hobby and am always surprised and amazed when someone takes the time to not only read but comment on something I’ve done. Whatever happened to common courtesy? I’m new at this and don’t plan on writing ever being much more than a hobby. But I would like to continue to appreciate people who are kind to me.
    As for corrections, why bother? you are either dead wrong or dead right and a few times—-maybe somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. If you’re right, you’re not going to change anyone’s mind. If you’re wrong, eat your ego and thank the person for reading what you wrote.

  • Hi Henry
    many thanks for addressing something I have often wondered about. If someone writes to me personally about something I’ve written, of course, I thank them but it does seem wrong somehow to be interfering in a public forum, especially when you’ve not been invited. Regards asking friends and family if they’d mind to writing a review of a book, I see nothing wrong with that if they genuinely like what we have written. However, and maybe I don’t have the right friends or have the wrong kind of family, in my experience, someone may love your book, doesn’t mena they will. because no matter how much some of the aforesaid praise my writing, many will not write a review of it on Amazon or elsewhere, either they feel shy, or ill qualified, even intimidated. I

  • Many thanks for addressing something I have often wondered about. If someone writes to me personally about something I’ve written, of course, I thank them, but it does seem wrong somehow to be interfering in a public forum, especially when you’ve not been invited. Regards asking friends and family if they’d mind writing a review of our books, I see nothing wrong with that if they genuinely like what we have written. However, and maybe I don’t have the right friends or have the wrong kind of family, it’s not that easy to get someone to write a review of a book, even when they say they love it. People can be shy or simply don’t feel qualified enough to share what they think through the written word, and that’s fine. Thanks again for an interesting post.

  • When reviews are in question I stand by this one:
    “It is not best that we should all think alike; it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races.”
    Mark Twain

  • I’m not at all surprised someone would suggest authors should create fake profiles and write 5-star “reader” reviews of their own books — since so many authors are already doing it. Can anybody explain why Amazon encourages that sort of thing by allowing so-called “readers” to write anything they please as a so-called “review” — even as it strictly discourages honest and professional reviews from reputable reviewing services the author has paid for? An author can post a maximum of five of the latter as “editorial” reviews — and only if the author has distilled them to 350 characters each!

  • When this topic comes up, I’m always reminded of those slanging matches N. Frank Daniels got into a few times over negative reviews of “Futureproof”. While Comment Wars between writer and reviewer can be highly amusing, the author usually comes off looking petty even if they’re right. So if someone’s made a comment along the lines of “the fascination with rape is disturbing” without providing any evidence of said fascination and why it disturbs, I think you’re best to let it slide … unless you’re going to insist that all positive reviewers meet the same evidentiary standard. You’re dealing with a strange and poorly expressed opinion. It’s an argument you’ll never win.

    But if someone makes a statement about the book (or about you) that’s factually incorrect, and you think it’s misleading in a way that could compromise your sales, I think you’re entitled to respond. It’s best to do this by contacting the reviewer directly, if you can. This gives them the chance to correct their review, and I think most will do this graciously. Many reviewers will be privately delighted that the author has read the review and bothered to contact them, and may even mention your e-mail in their update. If they don’t amend the review, then posting a corrective comment is fine. You’re not challenging their opinion. You’re correcting the facts, and even then only after giving them a chance to do it. Nothing petty about that.

    Also, it’s worth noting that negative reviews – even the fascination with rape’ kind – aren’t necessarily bad for business. Whenever I see a self-published title with a slew of three-sentence, 5-star reviews, and no negative reviews at all, I immediately suspect the family-and-friends network has been deployed and promptly ignore everything they have to say. Seeing a few negative, even hostile, reviews certainly piques my interest. It makes me think I might be reading some real coverage.

  • Brendan Cox

    After looking around Amazon for some new books to read, I’ve got used to the idea that a lot of the first few reviews of self-published books are going to be five stars and probably written by a friend or family member (or the author), and they tend not to be very useful, so I now mostly ignore them (the reviews that is, not always the book). For books that have a range of reviews, I’ve sometimes checked the one star reviews, but these are often one-sided as well. So I think the most useful to read are actually the reviews in the middle of the range, in which they’re more likely to tell you what they did and didn’t like about it.

    As for what this means for authors: fake a detailed three star review maybe? Really though, I think more and more potential readers try to decide for themselves whether they are likely to enjoy a book. Sure, there’s probably a lot who are swayed by a bunch of five star reviews, or single comments that say something bad about it, but that’ll be changing. If you find some average book with a lot of five stars reviews, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll find a one star review in there where a person says “I bought this because of all the great reviews but…” and that’s another person who is going to treat the user reviews with more caution. It will probably take a little longer for larger groups of people to treat the negative comments with the same caution, but I think the authors who don’t interfere with this process will benefit most when it does happen.

  • Brendan, I think you’re right. This is a process that readers will figure out. As a reader perusing reviews, I don’t pay much attention to the one-sentence reviews: “Best book I’ve ever read!” “Utter trash from beginning to end!” I do read with interest, though, the reviews that indicate the reviewer actually read the book and has something interesting to say about it, pro or con. As an author who is into writing for the long term and not for immediate fame and fortune, I think it best just to let it go.

  • Sylvia Burton

    I think absolutely, yes. Authors should monitor and comment on reviews. I don’t believe you necessarily need to react to the comments, but if there’s some question that needs answering, or someone is really quite dissatisfied with their purchase, a friendly note goes a long way. Plus, if you’re considering keeping on writing, perhaps some of the comments will be useful for future works.

    Here’s a great example of comment monitoring gone right: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/4581599/Author-flies-600-miles-on-Christmas-Day-to-hand-deliver-Amazon-book.html

    The textbook someone ordered was missing pages. The author saw this complaint and drove 600 miles on Christmas day to deliver a new copy. He even brought a hard and soft cover version with him, so the customer had a choice. That’s the kind of passion that successful authors have – they want to see people using and enjoying their work, and will stand behind it, no matter what. Kudos to Prof Fleisch.

  • It does seem to affect the ratings. Some people may not attach any value to the ratings. Others might. Just wondering whether there was a reason why authors may rate their own books aside from the obvious answer of why not.

  • Atonus L. Perry

    I havent commented on a response to a review, but I do often re-post good reviews on Facebook.

  • Atonus, there’s nothing wrong with that. We all do it.