By Sue Ann Jaffarian
I'm going to address reader reviews only. When it comes to the professional reviews, such as those published in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal, etc., it goes without saying that most writers read those. My publisher even sends them to me to make sure I don't miss them, and I'm very thankful that, so far, they've been pretty darn positive, often even glowing.
Do I read reader reviews such as those posted on Amazon and Goodreads and other reader sites and blogs? Absolutely! Not obsessively, but from time to time I will check them out, even on my older books.
At one time or another, these reviews have made me smile, frown, laugh, growl and even scratch my butt with wonder at the human capacity for stupidity and misunderstanding. But I read them all. Sometimes, if I see a common, well thought-out, well stated critique showing up several times, I may consider revising that issue in future books. But if someone just says, "I hated it." "It's garbage." That's not much to go on and those get quickly dismissed. Sometimes I read a review and wonder if they got my book confused with another because the review doesn't make sense.
One of my favorite bad reviews was a reader warning people away from buying one of my books ("stay away no matter how much you may enjoy the author's other books"). It was my first vampire book, Murder In Vein. The reader was upset because it was darker, sexier and more violent than my other two series, which are funny and light. In her words, the book was "[b]loody, nasty, and totally unlikeable." Considering the book's cover and description made the content clear, I'm still puzzled why she expected different. She didn't trash my writing style or the plot. She was simply thrown off because it wasn't like my others and made her feelings known with a single star. ("I only gave the one star because there isn't apparently a way to give a book
ZERO stars.") I believe that bad review caused others to buy the book, not leave it behind. After all, words like "bloody" and "nasty" usually grab people's interest.
Do I ever respond to reviews? Sometimes, but rarely, and NEVER to the negative ones. One of the best ways to get people to hate you as an author is to pick on a reader/reviewer, even if you think that review was way off base. There are several incidences of authors behaving badly in the face of a review that they felt was unfair or wrong, but one of the most famous to date is indie author Jacqueline Howett's highly publicized and inappropriate fight with reviewer Big Al on Big Al's Books and Pals.
In 2011 Big Al reviewed Ms. Howett's book The Greek Seaman. He didn't trash it, but gave it an honest review not to Ms. Howett's liking. She then launched a scathing attack in the comments section of his book review blog that resulted in the review and her comments going viral. A lot of readers jumped in attacking Ms. Howett's book and her unprofessional behavior. In addition, readers took their complaints straight to the book's Amazon page where it received a massive number of bad reviews and comments, many quite vicious. (I just checked and The Greek Seaman is no longer posted on Amazon.)
By her behavior, Ms. Howett committed career suicide and she's not the first, nor the last, author to have done that. I highly doubt I'd ever go after a reviewer as Ms. Howett did. Reviewers are people with opinions. I'm a people and I have opinions, lots of them, and I expect other people to respect my opinions even when theirs don't align with mine. So it goes with my attitude about reviews and reviewers.
I read all reviews with the proverbial grain of salt. I'm interested in what people think of my work and am thrilled when they love it, but understand fully that none of us see the world or read books quite the same way. My work is not as bad as some reviewers would have you believe, and I'm not as brilliant as others would have you believe. It all balances out in the end. As a reader, you'll just have to form your own opinion.