Let's get the formalities out of the way. I'm a reader and a (gasp!) non-professional reviewer. I write fiction in my free time, and I've never considered non-fiction to be a strong point of mine. I'm certainly no journalist, but I review on my blog and on Goodreads because I love books and love sharing conversations about them with my friends online.
There's been a lot of talk in the author community lately about the lack of critical reviews on sites like Goodreads. I'd like to point out that Goodreads is NOT full of critical and professional reviewers. It is full of people of all ages and from all walks of life. Many are working mothers who read every spare moment they get and many are teenagers. Some reviewers are as young as twelve or thirteen years old! Some positive, some negative, but most a mixture of both. To me, this is a marvelous and beautiful thing. This says that fiction is high on the priority list of so many people. This is a good thing for authors. It means more and more books to be bought and read!
When you become a published author, you instantly become a professional. Therefore you must act like one. Your readers are your customers. What is it they say in the business world? The customer is always right. Even when they aren't. Yes, it feels different, because your books are a part of you. But even when you're hurt by something negative you've read about your book, you must remain professional and maintain a professional stance on the situation, or risk alienating and insulting your readers and other potential readers.
Do not comment on a less-than-favorable review of your own book.
Do not comment on a less-than-favorable review of your friend's book.
Do not ask your friends or fans to comment on a less-than-favorable review of your book.
Do not link or even refer to a specific less-than-favorable review on your profile, website, facebook or twitter feed.
Recently, several authors have berated, belittled, and even gone so far as to publicly bully online reviewers for their opinions about books. Most online reviewers, even higher profile ones, can hardly compete with the level of of exposure or the legions of fans that some popular authors have. When an author, as a professional, comments on OR about (either on the review itself or on their own website) a specific non-professional reviewers words, there is a tremendous imbalance of power which becomes a form of bullying. Singling out a reviewer who reviews on their own blog, Amazon, or Goodreads is in NO way acceptable behavior for an author in any genre, especially in the young adult world where many reviewers are young adults themselves.
Maybe it would be different if a professional reviewer publicly ripped your book to shreds, because in that situation, it would be a more level playing field. Professional reviewers get paid to be critical. It is their job. Most online reviewers do not get anything out of posting their reviews, financially speaking. Most (if not all) review for fun and are not trained in critical evaluation of literature.
Should we really have to remind authors that these are not professional reviewers? They are teens and pre-teens! They are working men and women! They are stay-at-home moms! They are book lovers!! All who have more important matters to attend to than being publicly harassed about their opinions and statements on a review that they posted for their friends and followers to read.
About Negative Reviews on Goodreads
Per Goodreads policies, all reviewers are entitled to review however they see fit and say what they will about the book and the characters within it, as long as they don't personally attack the author in the review. That kind of review would be removed by the Goodreads staff. (The staff does not do the same for comments however. Comment moderating is left up to the user who started the forum. Some choose to use this ability and some do not.)
Yes, many members of Goodreads -- present company included -- write both positive and negative reviews where they curse occasionally, make inappropriate jokes, and just generally have a grand ole' time amongst friends. But that's what Goodreads is for. Is profanity and book, book cover, or character bashing on a review unprofessional? Perhaps. But it's also a perfectly legimate review as far as the Goodreads staff is concerned.
Responding to Negative Reviews
If someone says something in a review that you absolutely feel is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of your book that needs to be cleared up, maybe write a calm and respectful article on your own website explaining your work. Do it with grace and dignity, without naming names or specifying specifics. Focus on what you believe are the merits of your book, it's characters, and their story.
But under NO circumstances should you comment on that person's review. Do not call out a specific reviewer. Don't pretend it's your prerogative to ruin a reviewer's reputation, even if you feel they attacked your own. Do not resort to name calling. Do not even imply that there is a singular review that you are responding to, because someone will go looking for it, someone will get their feelings hurt, and you will without a doubt lose potential readers because of it.
Also, try not to insult the online reviewing community at large, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Be careful of what you say and how you say it when referring to reviewers.
Of course, you certainly can do any of these things, but I would highly recommend that you don't, especially if you care at all about your reputation and your readership.
The Effect of Negative Reviews
A lot of authors, even mega-hyped ones who've already sold tons of books or received huge advances, seem to think that a severely negative review will somehow cripple the sale of all present and future copies of their book, but let me clear this up. It won't.
Even if readers find a negative review interesting, it will hardly dictate whether or not they buy the book. Sometimes, a negative, mocking, or even harsh review can intrigue individuals enough that they purchase the book based on that alone.
In most cases, a negative review will not stop readers from researching your book. If anything, a disproportionate review (whether it's overwhelmingly negative or ravingly positive) will lead people to seek out a balanced review so they can more accurately weigh the merits and failings of the book. Readers know that a fair and balanced review is exponentially more likely to truly help them decide whether or not they want to read the book.
Despite the attention and comments negative reviews on sites like Goodreads might get, if someone wants to read your book, they will. Furthermore, an author who responds to a non-professional negative review will lose readers, not gain them.
All hope is not lost if you receive a negative review. Everyone gets them, even the greatest writers throughout history. The good news is that you'll also receive positive reviews! Many will grow to love your book and characters as much as you do. Especially if you are gracious to those who invest time and money into your books!
I'm not at all saying not to interact with readers. We love discussions about books with authors, and many authors maintain active accounts on Twitter and Goodreads, even becoming close friends with the people they meet. By all means, continue doing your thing! Just do it respectfully and all in the name of fun and for the love of fiction.
Regardless of how it might look to you based on some negative reviews, reviewers LOVE books and authors tremendously. We are all greatly disheartened and disappointed when we see authors we respect behaving immaturely and, most importantly, unprofessionally.
Please authors... Social Network Responsibly!
And if I could, let me direct you to some posts from a few authors who do it best:
Julie Kagawa's Blog Post - Authors and Negative Reviews
Courtney Summers' Blog Post - How to Deal with Writing for Public Consumption
Hannah Moskowitz's Open Letter to Those who Review on Goodreads
Also, here's a fantastic article about the effect of online negative reviews:
Fiction Writer's Review - When are you Big Enough to Handle the Bad Review?