Responding to Feedback

Every writer is going to get negative feedback. It’s inevitable. Not everyone can love your work. I didn’t finish The Fault in Our Stars (please don’t stop reading). I have a friend who won’t even read The Hunger Games because she finds the subject matter so appalling. The Ender’s Game series has gotten criticism for the author’s political views. I’ve even heard rumors that there are people who don’t like Harry Potter (nasty lies, I’m sure – that’s just not possible).

You can’t make everyone happy, and trying will make you crazy. That’s beyond your control.

Why am I saying this? Because there’s one thing you can control, and that’s how you respond to negative feedback. I am an avid Yelp user. It’s extremely helpful to me, especially when traveling. I won’t automatically decide against a restaurant or store when I see a negative review. However, if I read the owner’s response and it’s nothing but incoherent ranting or insults aimed at the reviewer, I will. If that’s how you treat honest criticism, that doesn’t make me want to eat at your restaurant.

It’s the same thing with authors. There’s no need to respond to negative reviews. Unless it’s something like “Pages 2-50 were missing from my book” and “I’m so sorry! I’ll send you a fresh copy.,” resist the urge. If someone posts on Twitter they don’t like your book, ignore them, block them, thank them for a fresh viewpoint. With in-person feedback, obviously, it’s rude to just walk away without responding. But you don’t need to engage. If someone offers an opinion you don’t agree with, the only appropriate response is, “Thank you for the feedback.” Then you’re free to add, “Oh, look, a squirrel!” and escape to talk to someone else.

Don’t tell people who offer you an opinion that they’re wrong. If you get an email with suggestions you’re not sure about, don’t post on public media that some idiot just emailed you a lot of nonsense about your book. Reply or not, but keep your opinions private. Arguing with someone over whether they liked your book will never make them change their mind. Posting on social media that everyone who offers feedback can’t possibly understand your book isn’t going to get those people who change their minds. But it could make a lot of people who were thinking about buying your book decide to spend their money elsewhere.

This is even more important for unpublished authors. Don’t like the feedback? Fine. Don’t incorporate it. It floors me how often I see agents post that a querying author responded to a rejection by arguing with them. That’s never going to help. The writing community is small. Don’t burn your bridges. Agents who are thinking about signing you will google you and check your Twitter feeds first. So will editors. And prospective readers who are turned off by your online persona won’t care how good your books are.

Don’t argue. Don’t rant on your blog or on Twitter or Facebook. No author can win that battle, and it’s a lot easier to avoid losing face than to try to fix the damage later. Read the feedback, cry about it if it really hurts, rant and rave to your friends on the phone or in person if you must. But keep it off the internet. The internet is forever.

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