* * * (Opinions can change, seems mine may have on this topic.)
Funny how coincidence works.
Hugh Howey (who wrote the super-popular Wool series) posted an article on his site about responding to reviewers. In it he discusses how he was chided by a reviewer for commenting on reviews of his own books. He says the general idea seems that one should never comment on a review of his or her book, good or bad, period.
Hugh, however, had a memorable experience with a fan as a result of engaging his reviewers. He’s all for it now.
Here’s where the coincidence comes in.
When I received my first review I strugged with the same decision, to comment or not to comment. An interview with John Locke actually convinced me that I should. My thinking was this: most big-time writers seem to live in ivory towers, above and beyond the legions of plebes for which they write. I didn’t want to be unattainable; I wanted to be a reader’s writer. So I decided that I would respond to all reviews. I figured if someone felt strongly enough to leave a review, good or bad, then they deserve my attention, so long as I reasonably have time to give it.
Into the Badlands has generally been receiving good reviews. A month or so ago, however, the book received a scathing two-star review. Of course I thanked the reviewer for their honesty and mentioned that I hoped they would like my upcoming novel better.
Just last week a reviewer commented on a review I wrote for The Old Man and the Wasteland. She liked my review and decided to look me up, in the process discovering I was a writer. She saw the bad review for my book and saw my response. She appreciated that I didn’t attack the reviewer and that I was very kind in all my responses to reviewers. Based mostly on this, she decided to buy a copy of my book and subsequently left me a review of her own. In fact, I was the first self-published writer she’s ever read.
So responding to readers actually earned me a new one. Pretty cool.
I’ve had conversations with other reviewers as well, one expressing surprise that I would even respond to him. I think doing so impresses upon our readers that we care about them. After all, with no readers there are no sales. With no readers we’re only writing for ourselves. Without our audience, we’re just talking to the walls. In the end, it’s a symbiotic relationship and we should always remember that.
Here’s my take. I think it’s just fine and dandy to comment on reviews. But if you do, take the high road. Be respectful, keeping in mind that we learn from negative feedback. We learn from constructive criticism. And, even if the reviewer has nothing valuable to say, we still learn by professionally handling that criticism. Sure, there are exceptions, as is the case with spam or deliberately damaging reviews by fake reviewers. What I’m talking about here are genuine reviews, both good and bad, by real people. Real readers.
So by responding to reader reviews I think we take an extra step toward building loyal fans, readers who will buy our future books. After all, a following is built one reader at a time, so I think it’s worth taking the time to recognize them. As long as we do this in a professional manner I think the benefits outweigh the risks.