So, Jon Stock, author of the Daily Telegraph post I linked to earlier today, responded to me on Twitter today. Based on our conversation thus far, he seems like a decent fellow although, in my opinion, terribly misguided. His rationales for considering it part of his job to contact reviewers fall into three basic categories. I’d like to address each of these and explain why none of them actually pass the sniff test.
One of the reasons he cites for contacting so-called “hostile reviewers” is that they might be sockpuppeters. Presumably, this requires the author’s attention because the person in question is out to sabotage the book’s sales by “review bombing” it. The author must put a stop to this because it is unfairly tanking the book’s review average on Amazon.
Setting aside the question of how common this is (I think it’s pretty much equivalent to voter fraud in frequency) and the degree to which low review averages actually harm sales (not nearly as much as many authors believe based on my observations of recent bestsellers), what is the benefit to the author of finding the sockpuppet? If this person is truly out to destroy your career, I’m betting large wads of cash that he/she is not going to respond to your inquiries and is certainly not going to change or take down the reviews as a result of your polite inquiries. In fact, odds are pretty good that your stalkerish behavior will induce the sockpuppeter to create even more sockpuppet accounts with which to review bomb your book because you have proved you’re a whiny jerk.
In short, then, sockpuppet=ignore.
Stock’s next rationale for contacting the reviewer in the instance he describes in his article was that it contained spoilers, and not just for one book, but for all the books in the trilogy. That actually seems like a pretty fair reason from contacting the reviewer–if for no other reason than to ask them them to add a spoiler warning to the review.
Except…okay, here’s the real truth about reviews, especially on Amazon: most book buyers don’t actually read them. How do I know this? Because my short story, The Reiver, gets repeated reviews complaining that it’s short. Even though its length is disclosed in the product description (at the beginning, no less). Even though at least a dozen, if not more, reviewers have given it low ratings for being, in their opinion, too short. Surely, if people who were buying (or in this case, downloading for free) a book for which they had read the reviews, and many of those reviews complained that the book was short, they would not feel compelled to post their own review complaining that the book was short.
Beyond this, however, how many of you have read a book more than once? Even though you KNEW how it was going to turn out? Stock says that since his book is a thriller, the plot is so important that knowing who gets killed will ruin the experience. But I have never yet had my enjoyment of a good book (emphasis on good) spoiled by knowing how it was going to to turn out. I’ve read some mysteries and thrillers multiple times, even though I clearly know “whodunnit” when I start.
So, while I do think it would have been nice if the reviewer had labeled her review as containing spoilers, in the final analysis, I don’t see this as a legitimate reason for making contact. Especially since I firmly believe that people who want t a particular book are unlikely to be dissuaded from doing so by a few plot spoilers…unless, of course, you as the author really believe that’s all your book is about.But…it was about me!
The third reason the author in this case gives for contacting the reviewer is that the review called him a misogynist and a serial killer. Now, I have to give him credit here in that he’s right–that’s certainly what the review title says. However, the review makes it clear that it’s the content of the books that has informed her judgment on this subject…and I don’t think that any rational person would actually believe the reviewer was suggesting the author is, in actual fact, a serial killer, although they might well believe she was suggesting he was a misogynist.
Look, I get it. No author wants his character impugned based upon what he writes. But in the final analysis, you have to ask yourself why it matters. Is your professional reputation on the line because one Amazon reviewer called you (insert slur here)? Is this a hill you need to die on? My answer, plainly, is no. I’m not willing to make it more about me by engaging with the reviewer, however unfair or personal the comment may be.
I can, however, think of one time that I tracked down and contacted an Amazon reviewer and I think I was right to so. Someone left a review on Hot Under the Collar on Amazon. It was a lovely, 4-star review. It was also not for my book, but for another book with the same title. So, here’s the one situation in which I think it is “not creepy” to track down the reviewer or, failing that, to comment on the review. Because the other book deserved that four-star review, not mine.