Author to Author: On responding to reviews
No really. Don't.
You might be asking "Why? There has to be sometimes when it's okay to respond."
Unfortunately, the response to that is still No!
"What if I just thank them for an amazing review?" - No.
"What if they missed the point or didn't understand something in the book, surely it's okay to correct them." - No.
"What if ..." - No... just no. Always and forever no.
Reviewers help authors by reviewing their books because reviews help other reads know if they are more or less likely to enjoy your book. Reviews help the right readers find your books, but that's where it ends for authors. Reviewers review books for other readers far more then as a favor to us.
If you want to thank readers for taking their time to review, then post a broad sweeping thank you on your blog, your website, your facebook page, reader group, or whatever social media you're on. Thank all reviews in one sweeping post for their time and thoughtfulness.
"But, Ali," you might be asking, "What about good reviews? Can't we at least respond to those?"
Again, no. Not even to say thank you. While a few might welcome the thank you, that sentiment is not as common as you might hope.
Readers have voiced for years, that this makes them feel uncomfortable. It makes them feel like authors are following them—and not in the good, social media way. More like looking over their shoulder as they write their reviews, scrutinizing them. It can make a reviewer not feel free to be 100% honest or true to their thoughts and feelings.
I don't know about you, but I could be messaging my husband on messenger and if he was standing over my shoulder it would still bother me. And if you're thinking "Hey, that doesn't bother me, so it's okay if I do it." Think again. You're okay with it, but you don't know who isn't.
I totally get that sometimes some reviews can leave me scratching my head and wondering if they skipped a lot of important pages or read an entirely different book. (Both mine and other books I've read.) But regardless of how we feel about the content of reviews, readers are entitled to their opinions and comfort in posting.
If the above isn't a good enough reason to not respond to reviews, ever, then here's one more reason:
Reviews are for readers, not authors.
Regardless of our wish to have every reader who picks up our books feel nothing but love for our books, reviewers don't (or shouldn't) write reviews to boost an author's ego. They are to share how they personally experienced a book, what they loved, what they hated, anything they wish to share with other readers.
Sure, the more reviews a book has the better it is for the author, but that doesn't change the reason the reviews were written in the first place, or the main purpose of reviews.
Some people want all the love triangles, but others despise them. If a reviewer says "Ugh, another book with a love triangle! - 1 star" Another reader might say "Sweet!" then one click your book.
"Can I at least READ my reviews?"
Eh, it's up to you. Some say to NEVER read them, others say they will always read every single one. That's a personal decision. But if doing so only makes you want to respond, then I would suggest trying to avoid reading them.
However, if you do, screen shot the good ones for when you have an "everything I write is crap" day. If you read the negative reviews, either take it worth a grain of salt, or try to learn from it - even if you don't agree with it.
And yes, even if it's really harsh. If you can keep your personal feelings in check, then you can take those negative reviews and dig down to what, if any nuggets they might hold. If there a common theme? Head hopping, tense switching, wanting more character depth, etc? Those are things you can make a mental list to work on and strengthen your writing.
"I can't believe how bad the writing was because the characters were all shallow and I couldn't connect to any of them. They were all stupid, I didn't understand why they did any of the things they did." That kind of review can hurt, especially when you feel the opposite.
Or, "I was so confused during the entire book. I didn't know who was talking or thinking because of all the head hopping."
However, if you take that review and try to see what they meant (sans nastiness) and reread your book or parts of it through their eyes, you might be able to see the bits that made them feel that way. You might be able to find a weakness you didn't realize you had.
If a reader says that you only tell and they wanted to be shown. It could be a chance to brush up on the difference between show and tell, and figure out how to improve in that area. The same way you would with any critique.
That's not to say all negative reviews will have anything useful. Some are just downright mean spirited and coming from an ugly place. Those are ones you'll have to ignore.
If you read the reviews, try not to take them personally—I understand that can be hard to do, especially when they attack you as a person. Keep in mind that those attacks aren't about you at all, but about them. Glean what useful tidbits you can and ignore the rest. We should always be working to improve our craft, and sometimes readers can spot weaknesses friends and those who beta don't see.
If a review really upsets you—and it is okay if one does—don't blast them (even blotting out their name) on social media. (And DEFINITELY do not talk them!) Either vent to your significant other, parents, or a private message between you and a trusted friend and get your feelings out.
But above all, just remember that in the end:
Reviews are for readers, not authors.