In one of the writers’ groups I frequent, a newly self-published author (Author #1) complained another group member, aka Author #2, left her a negative, 1-star review out of spite as well as gave her own book a 5-star review. The negative review makes clear that Author #2 did not read Author #1’s book.
The original post hit several points of author etiquette:
- Spiteful reviews are not merited.
- Leaving positive reviews on one’s own book is tacky and bad form, not to mention against Amazon’s policies.
- Engaging in a smear campaign against another author, by name, is also considered bad form.
- It’s bad form to response to reader reviews.
However, I was intrigued, especially after someone else commented that the spiteful review did indeed have some merit. I looked up the book and used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to judge for myself. My impression wasn’t favorable. I responded to that person who commented earlier.
Author #1 took exception to my comment. The exchange went downhill from there.
Perhaps I was wrong in responding as I did and broke my own rules for author etiquette. However, I do think Author #1 was being unnecessarily sensitive and failed to read for comprehension. She simply reacted to a critical opinion of her book.
The thing is, when you post something in a public forum, then anyone may respond and say whatever he or she wants. It’s not their responsibility to ensure you like it or that it doesn’t offend you. When an author receives feedback that, yes, there is some merit to that spiteful review lambasting the book for banal writing and poor punctuation and grammar, then it behooves that author to politely request assistance and ask for examples to show him or her how the content could be improved. That may range from a corrected sentence or two (e.g., for copy editing) to a full sample edit of up to 1,000 words (e.g., line editing). Author #1 didn’t ask for examples; she went on the offensive.
(At the time of writing this blog, Author #1 hasn’t responded to my last comment. I doubt she will.)
Oh, well, even if Author #1 had asked me to edit her next manuscript, I would politely decline the opportunity. This is the type of author who cannot endure even the mildest of criticism. She’d be a truly difficult client, and I don’t work with difficult clients.
I welcome criticism of my books. I may not agree with a reader’s point, but I will consider it when writing the next book. Criticism offers insight into reader expectations, likes, and dislikes. It’s valuable. I also learned the hard way not to respond to reviews.
Sometimes, observing author etiquette is easier said than done.