Tuesday, May 31, 2022

How Dare You!


Terry, here with this week’s topic: Authors are told never to respond to bad reviews. Have you ever been tempted? How do you deal with negative comments? 

 When my first book came out, I read all the reviews, both professional and reader-driven. They were wonderful, and I was thrilled. But after a while I began to realize that there was nothing about them that helped me learn anything about my process. Occasionally I’d get an email giving me word that I needed to do something better. For example, one man wrote to me to tell me that in my second book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, I’d mentioned motorcycles and that I needed to add some information. I resisted replying that if he wanted more about motorcycles perhaps he should write his own book. I hope he loves Murder at the Jubilee Rally, which comes out in October. It's set at a motorcycle rally. 

 Another wrote to say that I had mentioned alfalfa growing in the fields, and I was mistaken, that alfalfa doesn’t grow in Texas. He informed me that what people thought was alfalfa was actually Johnson grass. I resisted the temptation to tell him he was wrong, that indeed there was plenty of alfalfa in Texas. Instead, I wrote him that my daddy had told me those fields were alfalfa and I believed him. (I still believe him). 

 There were a few less than excited Amazon and Goodreads reviewers who said the books were too slow, but that didn’t bother me. The Samuel Craddock I don’t write thrillers—or at least I didn’t write them at the time. But by and large the reviews were all terrific. 

Then one day I told one of my fellow “minds,” James Ziskin, that I’d never gotten a bad review. He begged to differ, and hunted up a review he’d read about my fourth book, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, that was in fact a complete take-down. The reviewer said he’d liked my other books, but he hated this one so much that he threw it across the room. 

He raged that it was something he never believed would happen and that he thought I must be laughing at my readers. 

 So what did I do? I laughed. Why? Because the review had been written two years earlier, and I’d somehow missed it. Also, I somehow felt that getting a bad review made me a real part of the writing community. Everyone gets bad reviews at one time or another, and this one was a doozy. Maybe if I’d read it at the time the book came out, I would have been horrified and felt the need to tell him that in fact the book was based on a real incident. But too late. I had moved on, and presumably he had, too, because he reviewed the next book positively. 

 In the past few years, I have only read professional reviews. Not that I have an aversion to reading reader reviews, but I never seem to find the time, and when I do take a peek, I have no complaints. The fact is that even if I got bad reviews, it probably wouldn’t change the way I write. I have a particular slant on things in my small Texas town and with my characters and I think it would be hard to change that. I do wonder if I’m pushing hard enough, though. Maybe it’s time to rile up my readers and get some tomatoes thrown at me!


James W. Ziskin said...

Terry, you know I love your books. If I mentioned that one review, it wasn’t out of meanness. We must have been discussing bad reviews and it came up. I’m so sorry! I would never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially not yours. God knows I’ve had my share of bad reviews.


Terry said...

Oh Jim, I never meant to make it sound like you were being mean. You weren't at all. I don't remember what we were talking about but I'm sure it was in the spirit of reviews being all over the place. I mostly remember laughing that the review was so over-the top. Like I said, it was way after the review came out. Sending you a virtual hug!