Last week I read a post by an author who responds to every negative review she gets. I know! Pretty much everyone agrees that’s a no-no, something which she acknowledges in the post. But I appreciated that her arguments were thoughtful and well-meaning and, judging by her numbers, that strategy has clearly worked well for her.
The post is definitely worth a read: When You Wish Upon a Star, You Get the Pointy End: Why Authors Should ALWAYS Respond To Negative Reviews. It was so well written that it took me a couple of days to articulate why my stance is unchanged.
The premise of her argument is that an author is a business and, though we may make mistakes, our goal should be complete customer satisfaction. Therefore we should respond to complaints, presumably apologetically, and attempt to rectify the problem if possible. The problem is… if my goal were 100% customer satisfaction I would never even publish my book.
My book has promiscuity. It has violence. There is swearing and criminal activity. It has poverty and a single mother. It has prostitution (not by the single mother, but close).
There is NO CHANCE that it won’t offend…God, a lot of people.
Any book I could write where I hoped to please everyone wouldn’t be any good at all. I would whitewash every important meaningful poignant thing in order to attempt that, and then there really wouldn’t be a point to publishing it. If I’m not offending someone, then I’m not moving or inspiring (or arousing, since this is erotica) anyone.
I’m not saying she can’t do it. Her success speaks volumes, but I know my writing (and subject matter) is love it or hate it. This is why thinking of myself as a traditional business doesn’t work for me. A 1-star isn’t necessarily a failure, but leaving a reader unaffected would be.
I think authors are in the business of product development. Our customers are agents and publishers. Yes, ultimately we need readers to buy and like our books, but that won’t mean anything unless we sell first to publishers. THEN AGAIN, the author in the post is self-published. Maybe a self-published author is in the customer service business… though I’m not sure that would be an improvement, if so.
Artists don’t go to museums and see how their work is liked by patrons, offering refunds for the price of admission if it wasn’t. Directors don’t stand outside movie theaters and check that patrons liked the movie. Roller coaster designers don’t stand by the exits, making sure every person liked it or their money back. If it were anyone’s job to poll customers for satisfaction, it would be the intermediary. The museum curator, the theater owner, the amusement park operator – not the creator.
In the case of books, Amazon and Barnes & Noble already dispense refunds on request, but not authors. As a consumer, I’m not sure I want them to. I guess I’ve always felt I was paying for the experience. When it’s good it’s good and when it’s bad it’s bad, but when it makes me think I never regret it.