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Bad reviews are every author's lot, but what is one to do upon receiving them? I mean - someone hates you! And they hate your whole family and your cute kitten whom you saved from drowning, and they hate all the charities you support, and they hope you die very soon of some horrible flesh-eating disease. Either that, or they didn't much enjoy what you wrote.

Upon receiving a bad review, there are three options:

1. Maintain a dignified silence
2. Say 'Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review my book.'
3. Make an absolute arse of yourself.

Responding to a bad review with anything other than points 1 or 2 is – in vulgar parlance – filled with fail. I cringe when I see an author going off on one at someone who happened not to fall at their feet.

So why shouldn't authors be allowed the right of reply? Why shouldn't we unleash the full force of our wit against a rude reviewer, or even politely correct someone who has made a genuine mistake?

No reason at all. You're allowed to do what you like. You have every right to launch a ballistic rant, to manifest in a negative forum discussion like a spectre at the feast, or to email the reviewer and point out why they are wrong. Having rights and exercising them are, however, different things, and there's huge potential to earn the disdain of readers who might otherwise be intrigued by your book.

Here are some sentiments I've noticed, either in author responses to reviews, or in forum threads sympathising with them:

  • That jealous hater probably had their own crappy novel rejected a million times and takes it out on anyone with a modicum of talent.
  • They're probably too stupid even to try to write a book, so they don't know the mortal anguish you went through to bleed every word onto that unforgiving page!
  • There's a typo in line 4 of the review, so they're a 'retard' (or any other offensive terminology) who doesn't deserve an opinion.
  • The idiot hasn't read your 500,000 pages of research that prove you're right to have your Roman British characters tucking in to a meal of rabbit and spuds.
  • The last book they enjoyed was SF, so they obviously just don't 'get' your crime novel. How dare they read a different genre from the one they were assigned at birth?
  • They shouldn't have read it in the first place if they weren't going to like it!

Then there's the passive aggressive stuff – 'If only you had had the courtesy to contact me, I could have explained this in terms simple enough for a young girl like you to understand...' Believe me, this will impress no one. Even a private communication can end up all over the web faster than you can say 'If you'd actually bothered to read page 700 of the appendix...'

The reviewer criticised your book. That's all. That's tough, and it hurts – and there's no law that says you have to be happy about it. You can sob into your pillow, or make a little doll and stick pins in it, or type up a stinging response that you never send, but if you really want someone to lick your boots, give up being an author and buy a puppy.

Keeping your dignity in the face of a bad review is not about sparing the feelings of some rude person – it's for your own good. The reviewer might genuinely be evil, they might have got completely the wrong end of the stick, they might be stupid beyond measure, they might be someone from your past who bears you a grudge - or they might be a normal, intelligent person who happens not to like your book. It's not about them. You're the one presenting your writing to the world, and if you have a go at a reviewer, you're the one guaranteed to look an utter tit.

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Very nice.

This is a fun topic. I wrote about it, too: "Authors taking issue with reviews have my condolences"

Link (if you're interested): http://kristentsetsi.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/authors-taking-issue-with-...