Online Feedback – The Double-Edged Sword

The subject of how to deal with online feedback, whether you’re receiving it or doling it out, has been the cause of much angst and excitement.

Won’t you please love me?

As writers who sell directly to our readers, we tend to live and die on the content of our reviews, articles about our work, social media posts praising or blasting our work, and so on. As is the case with any artist, we must have thick skin, for no matter how polished our work, we’ll never please everyone. When we put our work out there, we take on a rather schizophrenic mindset: on the front edge of our sword, we’re the star of the lead float in the parade; on the back edge, we’ve just awoken in the middle of Grand Central Station at rush hour—naked.

Taste is such an extraordinarily subjective thing; my 5-star item may well be your 3-star item. It’s reasonable for us to expect that if our work is worthy of 5 stars in the minds of some, it will nonetheless be worthy of much less in the eyes of others. I recently saw a bestselling book with 148 5-star reviews… and 13 1-star reviews! What? How is that possible? Frankly, it appears some people live to cut down other people’s work. I don’t understand living life that way, but it happens, especially in the anonymous internet age. I tend to discount those few 1s when there are so many 5s.

What really interested me about that bestseller, however, was its mix of ratings at the top: 148 5-star, 132 4-star, 76 3-star. (2-star and 1-star were minimal.) That mix makes clear the subjective nature of art. As artists, we can’t get all panicked and suicidal when a poor (or less than perfect) review pops up. It will happen. It’s inevitable. We cannot please everyone.

Some authors, in particular, are hesitant to post bad reviews—for any number of reasons. For one, they know first-hand how damaging a poor review can be. Second, they may fear retribution. This leads me to the next point.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap?

I watched with some interest recently a little war waged between 4 authors. There was some back and forth on the social media sites, and some nasty reviews flowing in multiple directions. It appears this all started because one author cut down another author’s work. Author #2 took exception, and decided to respond in kind. And the war was on.

I know of many people who have policies about reviewing that go something like this: if I can’t give it at least a 4-star rating, I won’t post anything at all.

Now, I don’t think any of us should be in the business of destroying other people’s dreams. Yet if their work really is substandard, and you can provide constructive feedback to point out the issues, would that not help the author in the long run? Well, yes… if the author accepts it as he should. On the other hand, you might just start an Author War.

This fear drives many people to say nothing at all, when some feedback might be helpful to the author. Furthermore, I think we perform a disservice to readers when we fail to tell then the truth about a substandard book. And who is more important to us authors than our readers?

I try to be honest at all times, but I must admit that I too am selective about when I’ll post a generally negative review. If I see real potential in the piece, if only the author will tackle certain developmental needs, I’ll try to indicate such. On the other hand, if I encounter a piece that makes clear the author should never even consider quitting his day job, I let it go. (Really, what’s the point?)

I love good books. Period. And the more the merrier. Yet a sea of bad books does make it a tad more difficult for the good books to get noticed. The gems will win out in the end, but it may take some real time and effort. It’s made more difficult when people refuse to post poor reviews for books deserving of a low rating. Ah, the dilemma.

Do you have a policy about reviewing?

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2 responses to “Online Feedback – The Double-Edged Sword

  1. Great post Lane,
    I think as storytellers it’s very important to remember our purpose – it is to tell the story. We have no control of how our readers will receive those stories. Perhaps they will love it, perhaps they will think it a bland and tasteless sludge, worse perhaps they will want to rip it to pieces. But our readers shall have their say – it’s their right simply because they pay to read our stories. The thing is, it’s not our job to judge our readers, or to question their opinions. We can take the harsh criticism, swallow with a spoonful of sugar, take it on board and check to see if the critique is valid. As the creator of your masterpiece you can disagree but my suggestion is: keep all disagreements to yourself. Carry yourself with dignity and your readers will respect you forever…

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