Author & Publisher Strategies

How not to handle bad reviews, ever

Reviewers are the bane of writers’ existences, even when they are good reviewers they find something not to like about one’s work. So, it’s a good idea to engage the smart ones who want to be in dialogue with writers and ignore the bad reviewers and their bad reviews. Don’t do what Alice Hoffman did, according to AlleyCat.

Hoffman tweeted today in response to a Boston Globe review she did not like: “Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman [the freelancer who wrote the review]?”

She went on to tweet the reviewer’s email address and phone number and commented in another tweet that The New York Times Co. is selling The Boston Globe because it read its reviews and decided they were bad.  It looks petulant and is a losing proposition, because the argument moves away from the question of the book reviewed to the credentials of the reviewer.

Non-reviewers (that would be ordinary readers who have the guts to write and publish their opinion about a book) are often idiotic, but so are professional reviewers, even when they are established writers. Attacking an “amateur” reviewer is attacking the principle widely held that everyone is entitled to their opinion and now has the right to publish it. I write “widely held,” because Andrew Keen has written extensively about how amateurs ruin culture. Some people agree with Keen, though he forgets that all art begins as amateur endeavor.

No great book is universally welcomed as an accomplishment of genius. And reviewers have every right to dislike a book they took the time to read, because they are proxies for the reader, who must judge the review—and the book—for themselves.

It’s always easier to write a negative review than it is to write the book that received a poor review. Why, then, should the writer who put so much into the book rise to respond to a critic who spent a day or two with the book? Constructive engagement can add to the perceived worth of a book, but a vehement response like Hoffman’s is only going to take time away from positive promotion of her book.