The Time When an Author Responded to a Bad Review: And It Worked.

For the rest of us normal mortals: DO NOT DO THIS! No, I mean it. EVER. I see your fingers twitching towards that keyboard. DON’T.

watching you

It’s the fastest way to make yourself look like a terrible person, no matter what a review says about your book.

In light of recent events concerning an author who straight-up stalked a reviewer that had disliked her book, this seems like a good time to drag out and re-state my position on this issue. The ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books also outlined the whole situation very well here.

Think of your writing as a gift.

You wrap it up, taking forever to make the corners crease perfectly, using those little lines to measure everything to within 1/4 centimeter. You think hard about how to give the perfect gift. You spend an ungodly amount of time selecting gorgeous wrapping paper, the shiniest bow, the perfect accessories to make it a Pinterest worthy present. Then, you put that gift out there. You give it to your readers.

Once it is in their hands, the gift is given.

I can’t state this statement enough. The gift is given. It is not yours, anymore. Yes, you put all the effort into making it but that part is over now. You made the gift. What they do with it is up to them. And you have no part in someone else’s opinion.

If they chose to take the thing you made and dislike it? Well, that’s how it works and there is literally not one thing you can do about it.

One of the golden rules (besides Death To All Adverbs and Never Write In Passive Voice) is: Never Engage With A Bad Review. Just don’t. Do not defend yourself. This is not a situation which calls for defense, or offense, or any other kind of fence. No fencing.

Logic has no place in opinions.

Okay? They don’t care how hard you worked or what your justification is for the parts they don’t like. Imagine if you went to a fancy restaurant and the chef made a plate of pasta and you happen to really dislike Parmesan. You are free to dislike Parmesan cheese. Logically, other people enjoy and even love the taste of that particular cheese, but your opinion is, you do not.

What would you do if you ordered a new plate, without the nasty toe cheese, and the Chef came out of the kitchen to yell at you for not liking the food? And then followed you around the restaurant poking into all your past orders and your dietary preferences and your personal information in an effort to convince your tongue how wrong it is to dislike their choice of seasoning. Not fun. Not in any way going to change your mind about the Parmesan. Actually pretty freaky and scary, right? You’d never go back to the restaurant, that’s for sure.

Let’s repeat: Once your book is written and out in the world, you have no part in the conversation about it. NONE.

This is my official opinion on book reviews, and I will stick to it. Yes, I know it hurts. God, bad reviews hurt like a rock flood scraping your skin away down to the bone. I get it. The urge to explain and justify is so strong. I know the feeling. But, authors, your feelings have nothing to do with how someone felt reading your book. Sorry, but the two have nothing in common. Your having an opinion does not negate someone else’s. It’s just how opinions work.

This might be your reaction to my official opinion.

In the whole sorry history of books and their bad reviews, an author has defended their work successfully once (that I know of). This lady is the only example I’ve seen engage with a bad review, and she had special circumstances that you and I cannot hope to duplicate. Read and laugh, but don’t do this yourself.

Background: Author Carla Cassidy wrote a Harlequin Presents book called, and I’m not joking, Pregnesia. The wonderful women over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books reviewed her book with a hilarious list about how it was so awful it had actually rounded the curve to awesome.

The list review is pretty funny, and worth a read, you can find it here. Basic plot: a pregnant woman has amnesia (Pregnesia, get it??!) and is being guarded from the people who want to kill her by a special forces type dude. Love ensues.

The author got wind of her tongue-in-cheek review and checked it out. She replied thus:



Why does this work? Number 1: the review was written with humor. There’s a good chance if someone writes with humor they will appreciate humor in return, although it’s not always a sure bet. In this case, it worked.

Number 2: Carla Cassidy does not try to tell the reviewer all the ways they were wrong/unfair/didn’t get it. She just accepts the fact that her book is kinda silly and moves on. She doesn’t try to take their opinion away from them.

Number 3: any publicity is better than no publicity. This made me snort-laugh, because it’s so brutally true.

Number 4: She takes the funny stuff from the review and runs with it, making it both appropriate and self-deprecating at the same time.

Number 5: it’s a book called Pregnesia and made for the sole purpose of funny reviews. It’s all done in good humor, and Carla doesn’t put forth the useless energy to change anyone’s mind.

She gave her gift and it turned out to be one of those novelty Christmas sweaters that are so ugly they’re perfect. Everyone had a good laugh, Carla might have sold a few more books because of it, and she has entered the halls of Internet legend as the only author to reply to a bad review and get away with it. Well done, Mrs. Cassidy, well done.

11 thoughts on “The Time When an Author Responded to a Bad Review: And It Worked.

  1. LOL she did do a good job with it. Weird thing is the reviews I’ve been attacked over by authors one was a glowing review and the other I had issues but still recommended the previous books (until the author attacked me that is). So yeah most should step away. Step away fast. lol

    1. That sounds almost like a dance move. Like a dab, but better, when you tell your author friends “step away!” and dance. LOL 🙂

  2. I think a lot depends on how one engages.
    If an author can honestly receive the criticism as feedback, and use it constructively to improve their writing, then all’s well.
    I think what trips up most writers is when they try to defend their story, to explain how/why the critic is wrong, which is impossible, since art is all about subjectivity.
    But I do agree that in most cases, it is best not to respond directly to negative remarks, since most will interpret any response as hostile, since most will probably expect hostility in response to their own hostile words.

    In many ways it reminds me of the improv concept of “yes and”.
    The improv actors consistently add to what others have established.
    They never try to contradict or dismantle what others have done, they only add to it, improving upon it, and validating their contribution in the process.

    1. The intent of engaging is critical, for sure. In most cases I think the engagement comes from a place of dismantling and not contributing, so it’s best just to stick to the rule of not engaging at all. I’m really curious as to the protocol for *good* reviews though. Is it okay to respond to those? Is a thanks appropriate? Or should authors stay out of those, too? I hear conflicting answers to this.

  3. Good post. I agree 100%. I have never replied to a bad review, even when I knew it was delivered by someone who likely didn’t even read my book. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost by getting into a back-and-forth discussion with a reader on Amazon or Goodreads. I can’t remember where I heard this, but think it’s true. Publishing a book is like casting a feather into the wind. Once you let it go, there’s little you can do to influence the direction it will take.

    1. Oh that’s the hardest! When you know nothing but spite motivated the review and it definitely wasn’t reading comprehension 🙁 But, of course, back-and-forth on the Internet will not cure spite. The feather image is a great metaphor, I like that!

  4. This is an awesome post! I understand that authors do spend a lot of time writing, but it also does not excuse criminal behavior or siccing your fans to attack that reviewer. Not everyone will love your book but then, there will be readers who will absolutely love your book! This author does have a history of criminal behavior but got away with it, though so she does pose a threat to others who might write a negative review of her future books. Gaaah

    I do write negative reviews. I’ve even written negative reviews on books by my favorite author(s), but that does not mean I won’t read them again!

    You gotta love those Harlequin Presents titles and plots, though.

    1. In a perfect world, authors would be free to do what they do and reviewers would be free to review like they want and it would all somehow work out. And there would definitely still be Harlequin Presents titles, lol.

  5. I absolutely love this post! As an avid reader and reviewer I can’t even imagine how I would feel, if authors started stalking me after a bad review. Yikes. With my unusual name it would probably take them about 10 minutes, to learn everything about me. Including where I live, my favourite food and where I went to school. Admittedly, it would be quite unpleasant if they suddenly started taking every opportunity to show me why they’re right, and how I’m definitely in the wrong.

    1. Just the bare fact of someone taking the time to search me out in the real world instead of online would be freaky! Much less active stalking 🙁 I’m definitely not on board with rewarding this type of behavior with a book deal. Nope, nope, nope.

      1. I couldn’t agree more, and I want to thank you. If it wasn’t for your post I might have never known about it. However, after reading your post – and clicking your reference links – I’m absolutely horrified. I cannot believe anyone would do such a thing, and I definitely don’t understand how she can profit from it. To say I’m disgusted is underplaying it!

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