On Responding To Bad Reviews

The Telegraph discusses the merits or otherwise of responding to bad reviews.

From time to time, a dust-up between a writer and the reviewer of his or her latest book attracts the attention of a wider audience and briefly confers on that audience the status of children in a playground urging a pair of muddy, sweaty and often ill-matched combatants to “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Generally speaking, the spectacle is not edifying, and shows nobody, onlookers included, in an especially good light. Truth to tell, though, and in order to sidestep the charge of hypocritical hauteur, one must admit that a bit of bloodletting appears to perform some shadowy, relaxing function in the collective unconscious.

In particular, the article references this little incident (and the shitstorm surrounding it) of a review of Alain de Botton’s latest book.

It must be very tempting in this interconnected age, where anyone can hide behind a computer screen and type away a review safely behind the screen of internet autism, to thrash out an angry response. My view? If there’s a shitstorm with your name on it, sit back, rub your hands together and enjoy the free publicity; then watch the sales come in.

I’ve worked behind the scenes in the industry and one thing that matters more than most is word of mouth. The most damaging thing you can do to a book that you dislike is not give it any coverage at all.

Someone once advised me that you weigh your press, you don’t read it…

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  • http://snarkbook.blogspot.com James

    Funny you should mention it – we’re trying to poll the interweb on the snarkiness or otherwise of what de Botton did:

    http://bit.ly/sq2Sv

    What do you think?

  • http://blog.markcnewton.com Mark C Newton

    I’ve seen snarkier responses, and he was rather gentlemanly in his tone – I imagine it to be typed quite calmly, rather than a rushed reply. Given the context, I’ll say it wasn’t all that bad.

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  • http://nethspace.blogspot.com/ neth

    nobody does it like Abercrombie

  • Nick

    Somerset Maugham: “Don’t read your reviews, dear boy. Measure them.”

  • http://blog.markcnewton.com Mark C Newton

    That’s where it came from! I should have known that, I love Somerset Maugham’s work. Shame on me.

  • http://www.fantasyliterature.net Kat @ FanLit

    It seems counterintuitive that a bad review is better than no review, but I’ve heard it from publicists before. I’ll take your word for it and not feel so bad when Solaris sends us a book we don’t like. (Not that that happens very often…) : )