Dear Authors: Don’t Respond to Goodreads Reviews

Another day, another classic Goodreads author meltdown. Someone gave self-pubbed author Dylan Saccoccio a one-star review, and Saccoccio (rather predictably, as Goodreads veterans well know) went apoplectic. Saccoccio’s contributions to that thread have since been deleted because his account has been banned, though you can read some of his comments here and check out the archived thread here, because everything he wrote was ridiculous and abusive. Goodreads reviews are nothing if not dangerous stuff, folks.

Props, by the way, to reviewer Cait’s composure through the whole thing.

I’ve talked before about how this kind of behaviour led me to quit Goodreads, and the gendered stuff I was talking about in that post echoes a similar dynamic here, with a male author attempting to shout down a female reviewer. But there’s another dynamic at play that we need to talk about: authors, regardless of their intentions, should not be responding to reviews on Goodreads.

Not everyone is going to like your book. If they post an honest review — even if it’s blatantly wrong, or you don’t agree with it, or it hurts your feelings, or you think they’re a big stupid butt-face with a butt for a face — you have to just breathe and move on. Breathe. And move on.

You know who looks terrible in an author-versus-reviewer shouting match on Goodreads? The author. Always the author. Because an amateur reviewer on Goodreads, even if they post an awful screed, has nothing to lose in the situation. Even when the author isn’t behaving in a completely unhinged fashion as in this latest example, the author is the one with the professional identity to uphold. When it does go off the rails as badly as we all know it can, it’s the author who will lose sales and face.

I had never heard of Saccoccio before this weekend’s confrontation, but you can bet I would not feel comfortable picking up his book because he has made it unsafe to speak publicly about his work. And he’s made himself look, frankly, dangerous.

But it’s not just the one-or-two-star reviews. I also don’t think authors should respond to positive reviews, even to say thanks — the dynamic is too weird. Perhaps not all reviewers feel as I do, but I think the reviewing space needs to be its own thing, unadulterated by the feeling of the author’s hot breath on the reviewer’s neck as they try to make an honest assessment of the work in front of them.

Authors, I implore you: shake it off and back away from Goodreads. Here are ten things you can do that are better and more productive than responding to a review that is eating at you.

  1. Take a long walk. Find a tree. The tree is now the reviewer. Yell mean things at the tree. Explain to the tree how hard you worked on the book. Kick the tree. Let your dog pee on the tree. Get it all out before you go near your computer again.
  2. Look at animated GIFs of kittens doing crazy things. See? Don’t you feel better?
  3. Write out a response to the reviewer in longhand. When you finish, put it in your sink and light it on fire. NO ONE NEEDS TO READ THAT. EVER.
  4. Call your mom and tell her all about how the internet is stupid and full of mean assholes and let your mom remind you that you are the best little author she knows. Bonus marks if you also have explain what the internet is to your mom.
  5. Close your eyes. Imagine a penguin. The penguin thinks you’re a great author.
  6. Put your head in a pillow and scream. Curse. Cuss. Blaspheme. Have your own little tribute to The Aristocrats. (Wash the pillow after, because that’s not good mojo for sleeping later.)
  7. Use all your pent-up anger to write a blindingly good fight scene. Or a blindingly good sex scene. However your cookie crumbles. Add it to your next book and know that you triumphed over that review.
  8. Remind yourself of the Stephan J. Harper affair. You don’t want to be that guy. And you don’t want that to be your Google legacy, either.
  9. Have you considered eating your feelings? My feelings, in times of stress, often taste like lightly salted Ruffles and glass bottle Coke. YMMV, and experimentation is strongly recommended.
  10. Take the useful feedback to heart and write another, better book. Win many awards and become famous without being famous for having a meltdown. Remember: living well is a far better revenge than becoming a wide-spread Twitter joke.

So what do you think, Rioters? Should authors respond? And what other awesome advice would you give an author to help them shake off a bad review without going bananas? Meet me in the comments and we’ll hug it out.

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