To Respond Or Not To Respond (To Reviews)

That is the question.

When my first novel was published, I decided I would not respond to on-line reviews, ever. I believed bloggers should be free to say whatever they wanted about a book, and I thought they might feel inhibited if they knew the author was reading their review. Obviously, if a review of my book was negative, I would never, ever argue about it with the reviewer. That would be pathetic and rude. But if the review was positive, wouldn’t it be sycophantic and stalker-ish for me to leave gushing thanks in the comments?

This policy was easy to follow for my first book, because a) there weren’t that many book bloggers around then, and b) hardly anyone read my first book, let alone reviewed it. (Poor Rage of Sheep. She’s like the plain, nerdy girl who gets ignored in favour of her younger, prettier and more charming sister.)

Guercino - La Sibilla Persica
The author wonders whether or not she should respond to that one-star review on Goodreads
Anyway, things are a bit different now. The YA blogosphere is enormous, and growing every day, so lots more reviewers are on-line. I’m now published outside Australia, which means I have more readers and more reviewers. I’ve actually met some bloggers who’ve reviewed my books (and of course, they all turn out to be super-nice people, as well as having excellent taste in books), and personal connections always complicate matters. I have my own blog, too, and sometimes (okay, not that often) I comment on strangers’ blogs about other topics – so if they subsequently mention one of my books, they’ll probably suspect that I will read their opinion at some stage. Occasionally, mutual friends also draw my attention to a blogger’s post featuring one of my books. And it’s not only reviews – sometimes, one of my books gets mentioned in a ‘favourite books of the year’ post, and I feel even more guilty about not saying a huge thank you to the blogger.

So, what should I do? It would be polite to say, “Thank you very much; I am so pleased you enjoyed the book” whenever anyone posts a positive review and I get to hear about it. But if I did that, I’d have to comment on EVERY blog post that mentions my book, otherwise people would say, “How rude! She commented on X’s blog, but completely ignored my post!” And, of course, sometimes I don’t see reviews until weeks after they’ve been posted; sometimes I don’t ever find out about them.

See how it would be easier to stick with my original policy? But then, sometimes bloggers post such wonderfully insightful and/or hilarious comments about my books that I can’t help wanting to contact them, simply because they sound like the sort of people I’d like to get to know. For example, this librarian, who recently blogged about A Brief History of Montmaray:

“OMG MICHELLE COOPER HIJACKED MY TEENAGED BRAIN! A castle! Nazis! Ghosts! Crazy people! British nobility! NON-British nobility! NOT true love! Diary format! The only thing she left out was sym– wait, she DID include sympathetic socialists. THERE WERE EVEN SYMPATHETIC SOCIALISTS! Who IS this Michelle Cooper person, and HOW IS SHE DOING THIS?!”

Actually, I was laughing too much to comment in any coherent way on that particular post. And it was published last year, and I only read it today, so, kind of weird to comment now, anyway.

I know some bloggers love having authors visit their blogs. But I’m sure just as many bloggers hate the idea of an author butting in on their frank book conversations with friends. (Yes, I know if it’s on the internet, it’s out there for public scrutiny. But I still regard blogs as someone’s personal space.)

So, for the moment, I am sticking with my original policy of not responding to on-line reviews. (Of course, if people e-mail me with their thoughts on my books, I always reply, usually with gushing thanks. And the same thing goes if I meet readers in Real Life.) In the meantime, I’d like to say an enormous THANK YOU to any blogger who’s ever posted a nice comment about one of my books. It really is very encouraging and flattering and all-round awesome for an author to read that sort of thing. And to bloggers who didn’t like one of my books: I respect your right to your own opinion, thanks for giving the book a try, and sorry it didn’t turn out to be your cup of tea. (I make an exception to this for the homophobic librarian who was disgusted by A Brief History of Montmaray because it contained non-heterosexual characters. I don’t respect her opinion. Although, of course, I defend her right to publish her thoughts on her own blog, just as I defend my right to pull faces at her behind her back.)

Authors Seanan McGuire and Sarah Rees Brennan have posted sensibly and eloquently about this issue. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

6 thoughts on “To Respond Or Not To Respond (To Reviews)”

  1. Hi Michelle… interesting dilemma. I think it best to ignore reviews which ‘don’t get’ your work (although I’m happy to quote a certain review in the SMH 10 years ago which said teenagers would find my book ‘Mahalia’ as ‘interesting as a pile of wet nappies.’ – thus both putting down the book and stereotyping ‘teenagers’ in one fell swoop.) – if I found it online I’d probably draw people’s attention to it on my blog, as it is so extreme (and turned out to be so wrong). Oh, and you might also be interested to hear that I’m no J.D Salinger.

    And if I get a really good review online – especially ones that are well-written and insightful- I make a link to my blog – why not? – it spreads the good review around. I’ve done this a few times and the bloggers were very happy I’d dropped by. After all, it’s a good way to connect with yr audience, and why are we blogging, after all?

    1. Thanks, Jo, that’s very helpful and sensible advice. I don’t have any problem dealing with my negative reviews, and really, there aren’t that many – most people only post about a book when they liked it.

      What you say about how the aim of blogging is to connect with people is spot on, and exactly why I started blogging, but I have to keep reminding myself of this! In fact, it’s one of my resolutions this year, to comment more on other people’s blogs. My natural tendency is to think, ‘Why would they care what I have to think? They don’t even know me’ – when of course, I love it when new people comment on MY blog!

  2. So, is it proper to respond to a post in which an author quotes your review and wonders if it’s proper to respond to it? 😀

    Someone just pointed this post out to me today, and coincidentally I am in the middle of FitzOsbornes in Exile right now (and also loving it). I am glad my review made you happy! It really was shocking how much of my List of Supposedly Unrelated Things I Liked to Read/Write About When I was Fifteen made it into Montmaray.

    And I would be among the bloggers who wouldn’t have minded an author popping over to say hello on a review. Though I often feel like maybe the people I talk about would be annoyed by ME for not knowing what I’m talking about. But if they LIKE what I say, I’m glad to hear it!

    1. And is it proper for an author to respond to a comment that is a response to a . . . Oh, dear, this is getting complicated, isn’t it?

      Anyway, a big THANK YOU for your review, rockinlibrarian! Clearly, our fifteen-year-old selves would have been kindred spirits!

      1. 😀

        I just finished FitzOsbornes in Exile last night, and now can’t wait for book 3! This time around I’m thinking less about how I need to send it back to my younger self and more about how I need to get more ADULTS reading the series, because truly, the won’t-go-in-the-YA-section folks are missing out here.

        1. Thanks, rockinlibrarian!

          The won’t-go-in-the-YA-section folks are missing out on lots of great books, aren’t they? Poor things. Imagine not getting to read David Levithan and Melina Marchetta and M.T. Anderson and Jaclyn Moriarty and so on, just because their books have ‘YA’ written on the spine.

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