All authors, whether well known and traditionally published or an independent (indie) self-publishing one, value reviews. Without question these assist discoverability. They may also form the backbone for some publicity and marketing campaigns. In many ways they have taken over the role of word-of-mouth recommendations that used to be the mainstay for discoverability.
Whether an author should respond to a review is very much a personal issue that has been the subject of much discussion, and dissension, over the years. Many will argue they should not while others, in equal measure as a rule, consider it right to do so.
A Reminder: As stated in previous discussions and articles e.g. Reviews – What Wanted?; Writing Reviews, reviews are primarily for prospective readers rather than for the author. Of course, an author may learn from them but the principle should never be forgotten or overlooked.
Whether to respond or not
The differing opinions.
The following is based upon a variety of comments and observations read and observed in social media discussions and elsewhere over the years as well as personal observations.
Always: Some consider it only polite and good manners to respond to someone who has taken the time to write a review, especially as so few readers bother. Many also consider it to be part of interacting with, and appreciating, their followers, fans and readers.
Never: There are authors who strongly hold the opinion of reviews not being for them. They also consider to constantly respond would be an irritation to their readers and may even be interpreted as being spam (unsolicited and unwanted communication). There is also a fear such responding may be seen as trying to influence the outcome of subsequent reviews.
Occasionally: Thanking an individual for an excellent review or acknowledging the honesty of a negative review. Alternatively, they advocate publishing an occasional, general, broad spectrum, appreciation to readers for having taken the time to write and publish a review.
Negative Reviews: It must always be remembered reading is a subjective experience and what one reader may appreciate/like another may disparage/hate. There have been occasions where an author takes umbrage with a negative review and responds in a most inappropriate manner. Some have even utilised vitriolic language. It also has to be acknowledge some authors are very unrealistic in their expectations, deeming anything less than a four or five stars rating inadequate. Assessing Book Review Ratings discusses the topic further.
Positive Reviews: Naturally, everyone enjoys receiving positive feedback for their efforts and work. It is also natural to wish to thank people for it. Nevertheless, care should be taken. Readers should be treated with respect and not be inundated with unsolicited mail. This is not to say the occasional thank you would be unwarranted, it would not. However, most people are busy and either do not have the time, or the inclination, to plough through an overfilled inbox. They are more likely to simply delete such items and may, if it continues to be irksome, block the sender all together. There are however, authors who state they respond to each and every review received and to good effect: clearly, these know their readers well.
Reviews containing errors: This can be a touchy area. If the misunderstanding/misinterpretation is only minor, it is probably best to overlook it. On the other hand, if it is serious, there may be occasion to publicly comment to ensure potential readers are not mislead. Great care should be exercised. The wording must be courteous and put in as positive terminology as possible. No one is immune from error; author or reader. The temptation to vehemently justify something also needs to be avoided. Often, unless the consequences would be truly detrimental, it would be better to contact the reviewer privately to politely explain their miscomprehension/misunderstanding.
Respect Readers: Authors should always, always, treat their followers, fans and readers with respect. Even, if in their opinion, it is unmerited. This touches on a difficult matter: Some reviewers unnecessarily use savage hostile language or even ‘attack’ the author personally even if they do know them personally. It is suggested, rather than get into a heated debate, with the probable outfall, authors remain quiet and in no manner react or respond. Other readers will easily see how unjust the person is being.
Sharing Reviews: It is acceptable for authors to share reviews of their books via their website, blog, social media, etc. Accompanying comments should observe all the attributes mentioned above.
There has been considerable change to what is, and what is not, acceptable behaviour for authors when looking for reviews. Some retailers (e.g. Amazon) and some book reading groups (e.g. Goodreads) no longer consider reviews received in exchange for a free copy of the book or other incentive, valid or, as Amazon put it, verified. In addition, sites like Amazon, may well remove a review if they perceive there to be some sort of relationship between the reviewer and the author. Apparently this has even extended to those who are ‘friended’ in such sites as Facebook. This is not to say an author should not seek reviews. It is just simply they have to submit the request in an appropriate manner and place: some groups and blogs exist for the sole purpose of reviews.
Author to Author
Many authors submit requests, either through social media, reading sites or direct, to fellow authors asking them to read and review their book(s). Where an author, despite their busy schedule, kindly takes up an offer it would only be fair for this to be reciprocal without the need for them to request it. (Of course, there is now the issue of reciprocal reviews, as mentioned above, not being considered valid which makes requesting one untenable. An author simply choosing to read a book (preferably purchasing a copy) without waiting for a request effectively circumvents the issue.) This idea has been supported, in the past, with frequent discussion about authors helping authors. However, there has been a noticeable change in attitudes over recent years with many appearing to have become quite selfish. The consistency of posts shouting/demanding for people to purchase, read and review book(s) has increased noticeably. Regrettably, this has not been accompanied by those demanding such action willingly, reading, commenting upon, or reviewing fellow authors books. Has society really become so self-centred? Have authors become so insular? To expect someone to read their works without bothering to read any themselves is not acceptable behaviour.
Where an author does review a fellow author’s book, the review should always be written from their perspective as a reader and not an author. When there are more technical (authoring/writing) points they wish to draw attention to, they should be communicated privately.
Authors need to remember, reviews in the most part are for potential readers, though they may learn from what is shared.
Whether to respond to a review or not is a personal matter. Nevertheless, general opinion is, if an author choses to do so, it should be kept to a minimum.
Even where a reviewer has misunderstood or misinterpreted something, any response should be polite and respectful and mostly done privately.
With the many changes introduced over recent times, authors need to be careful about how and where they request a review.
For author readers, reviewing should be a reciprocal event. It is incredibly selfish to expect other authors to utilise their valuable time without being willing to also assist them in similar manner.
An author should write a review from their perspective as a reader and not as an author. Should they consider it necessary to add observations from an author perspective, it would be better to do this privately; via e-mail or private messaging.