How NOT to Respond to a Bad Review

Today I set up a Twitter account. Mostly because I wanted to follow my daughter (17) but the minute she found out, she made me “unfollow” her. Her exact words were, “That’s creepy, Mom. Stop following me.”

So I did. The point of all of this is to show how I found out about a new e-book called The Greek Seaman, by Jacqueline Howett. While on the Twitter site, someone tweeted something about an author (Ms. Howett)  having a “meltdown” over a bad review. Never one to speed by a car wreck, I checked it out.

Wow. The author of that tweet was being nice. Meltdown? I’d say a full-blown fit.

BigAl’s Books and Pals is a blog dedicated to book reviews. Specifically,

“Book reviews, news, commentary, and other fun stuff for readers and authors with an emphasis on the Kindle world and independent authors.”
 
This is a direct quote from his About page. As of today, BigAl’s Books has 145 FaceBook fans, and 216 Twitter followers. Pretty small numbers comparatively speaking. He has reviewed a lot of books though, so I assume author’s seek him out, send in their submissions, cross their fingers, and hope for a good review.
  
So what’s an author to do if that review is, well, not so good? I’ve heard from many seasoned writers that the best course of action is to ignore it. I’ve even heard authors say to not read ANY of your reviews. “It messes with your head,”  they say.  “The good ones and the bad ones.”  By reading J. Howett’s comments following BigAl’s review, I can definitely say that, yeah, that review really messed with her head.
 
BigAl begins his review with a compliment. The book was “compelling and interesting.” But then he follows up by saying that the chances of someone making it to the end of the book are “pretty slim.” Why? The spelling and grammar errors. He states that there are so many of them it makes it difficult to get into the book. Readers are jarred into reality by Ms. Howett’s many errors. Ouch!
 
These comments hit home for me because, quite frankly, my grammar sucks. But I know that. I’m never shock when someone tells me they found a mistake. I quickly correct it, and then I thank them.
Ms. Howett’s response was swift and petty. I have to wonder if this is the first time anyone has told her she needs the help of an editor.
 
Her first comment to the reviewer states that HE read the wrong copy of the manuscript (in other words, It’s your fault). She then goes on to copy and past a few 4 and 5 star reviews from Amazon; which are soon discredited and called fakes by one of the  300 or so comments that followed her internet temper tantrum. (The post went up at 8am. By 6pm there were over 300 comments. Most of them–didn’t read them all–were not favorable to the author.)
 
The ones I did read stated that they would not buy the book because the author was acting like a child and was “very unprofessional.”  Double ouch!
And, no one was  talking about the book. No one was talking about the characters or the plot. They were all talking about the writer and her over-the-top reaction.
 
Ms. Howett took a bad situation and made it badder. (I know . . . couldn’t resist.)
So, what’s a writer to do?
 
While getting a bad review would not make the reviewer a bully, I would say that the best thing to do would be to follow the advice our parents gave us about school yard bullies. Ignore them. Say nothing. So instead of 300+ negative comments, tweets turning her “meltdown” into entertainment, and bloggers like me spreading the word, the review would have come and gone, without anyone really noticing. 
 
This is really sad. We all know how much energy and time it takes to write a novel.  I truly hope this author can recover from this sad fiasco. In addition to an editor, she should seriously consider hiring a publicist One that specializes in damage control.
 
Or in her second book, she could try this.
Have you ever received a negative review? How did you handle it? (Please, no confessions of anything illegal.)

Dodd’s, Borders & Fast-moving Trains

There use to be an independent bookstore in my neighborhood called Dodd’s. It was on 2nd street, a very trendy shopping area here. The store was always packed and it had all the trappings of an independent book seller: knowledgeable employees, a pretty good “We recommend” section, regular author readings and signings, plenty of books by local writers and that soft, musty smell only small bookstores seem to possess. It was a great place to either go and buy a book, or just spend an hour roaming the shelves. I loved it.

Then Border’s came to town, followed closely by Barnes & Nobel. I soon found myself going there instead of Dodd’s because, well, everyone else did. (Note: this was before I discovered the writer in me and my esteem of all things literary.) I loved the newness of it, the clean carpets, the fancy displays, the self-help kiosks, the Starbucks.

 When Dodd’s decided to close, it made the front page of our local paper. I read the article and felt a sharp pang of guilt when I came to a quote by the owner. It went something like this:

“We were doing okay until Border’s opened up.”

 I gulped and winced as the realization came to me: I KILLED DODD’S BOOKS!

Well, not me alone. There were plenty others who abandoned the old favorite for the new and shiny mega-store. But that didn’t make me feel any better, so I did what any guilt-laden capitalist would do. I went back to Dodd’s and bought books. Lots of them because my guilt was fueled by a 50% off sale.

Flash forward 15 years.

Borders Announces Bankruptcy

Unlike my guilt-ridden feelings over the independent bookstore, my reaction to this news was pretty indifferent. To say I was surprised would be an exaggeration. I shopped at Borders, bought many books there, and even used it as a reading, socializing and writing spot. But after a while, it just didn’t feel right. The corporate, we’re only here to make money atmosphere seemed to squash my muse, so I stopped going there regularly. Instead I found a few local coffee shops in town that I can write in, hang out, or meet with other writers. I either get my books on Amazon, or the library.

 Do I feel guilty about Borders closing? Not in the least. Yeah, folks losing their jobs and hundreds of empty buildings in cities does depress me, but as a writer, what worries me the most is how rapidly the book business is changing, a business I hope to soon be a part of. I imagine it will be like trying to jump onto a fast-moving train, and all signs indicate that the train will not be slowing down anytime soon.

After researching, talking to other writers, going to workshops, panel discussions and reading every “How to Get Published (or an Agent) article in P & W and Writers Digest, I’m pretty confused. Writers have too many choices. In the “old days” the steps seemed pretty clear: Write a fantastic manuscript, get an agent, get published. Of course there were exceptions, like Stephen King, but they were just that–exceptions.

But in the year 2011, has the exception now become the rule? Self-publishing has gained a lot of momentum from both new and established writers. Once called “vanity books,” self publishing now seems the brave and bold way to go.

 Brave, bold and, scary as hell. Building platforms, marketing, blogging, tweeting, FaceBook-ing, and everything else are all the things a self-published author must do—on their own. Those who don’t will surely get squashed under the rails and end up with cases of unsold books cluttering their living room. Even the E-book route is not guaranteed. No one likes clicking on to their site and seeing the “Books Sold” counter remain stubbornly in the double digits. And those, you know, where the ones your mother bought to give to her bridge club friends.

 So, here I am, like many of my friends, at a crucial point in our writerly journeys. To self-publish or not? To endure months, and months of queries and rejections. To have a publisher keep your manuscript for eight months (true story) only to return it with the sad news that they, just like Borders, are going out of business. “Good-luck placing your manuscript with another publisher.”

One thing the bankruptcy of Borders does not portend is the death of  books and readers who buy them. Experts have a lot of opinions as to why Borders failed, and most of them have nothing to do with the lack of book sales, and there are winners and losers  in this turn of events.

I want to be one of the winners. Although the chance of seeing my book on the shelves of the local Borders is now dead, I need to focus on the many other opportunities out there. [cliché warning] When one door closes, another door opens, and writers today have many, many doors to choose from. But deciding which is best for you, for your particular manuscript, that seems like the hardest part of it all. Maybe even harder than writing the damn book in the first place.