I’ve written a little before about my peeve of authors trying to closely control readers’ perceptions of their work.
*cough* Tolkien *cough*
And of course there have been ongoing discussions of Authorial Intent and “Death of the Author” from experts much more highly qualified than I for centuries.
But today, I had a very personal experience relevant to this discussion. An author responded to my one-star review of their book on Goodreads.
I’m not going to say who it was (though I guess you could figure it out from my Goodreads page–but please don’t @ them if you figure it out), mostly so SEO doesn’t pick up their name. I was so stunned I had to take a screenshot:
First and foremost, it’s just not professional for an author to respond to a review at all. But they did.
In the first comment the author points out that the review is based on an ARC–advanced reader’s copy–which is true, but then the implication is that the review doesn’t “count” somehow because the reviewer didn’t read the published book. (I noticed that this author has posted similar comments on other negative reviews.)
Except, here is how ARCs work: they are released FOR PEOPLE TO REVIEW, so readers of the reviews can decide if they want to read the book. What’s more, this author felt the need to control the reader’s perception not only of their book, but also to control the reader’s perception of my review of their book.
I added a comment as an addendum, explaining to any readers of the review that as I’d read the first chapter of the published book and the same issues I’d originally had with the book’s writing style were still present, and as there was no reason to believe the rest of the book would be any different, I still wouldn’t recommend the book.
Then the author responded AGAIN!
There’s an entire story that you’re missing out on, you don’t even know. Is it my fault that you’d rather read books that read like fanfic? I’m so sorry that literature is too difficult for you. Perhaps you should step aside and let readers who appreciate literature step forward in your place and enjoy the story and the meanings that are conveyed within it. Your lack of desire to read content fully diminishes your credibility as a reviewer.
I don’t even know where to start with that. Let’s just leave it alone for now.
Author and BookTuber Alexa Donne has a great video that I feel is really relevant, and that I wish I could send to this author. Donne says:
“The point of a review and the point of criticism is for the potential audience… to evaluate a work for consumption. Do I want to read this book? Will this book interest me? … The reviews are for the readers; they’re not for the authors.”
She also discusses the idea of authorial intent and control, and “breaking the fourth wall” as she describes it. When an author continues to comment and engage and try to control and retcon readers’ perceptions of their work, that is breaking the fourth wall. It shatters any connection or engagement the reader has with the work itself.
Authors, I love you, and I get it. Writing a book is really hard. I’ve never been able to do it. You put your heart and soul into your book. Your book is your baby, and you want to hear people say nice things about it.
But once your book is out in the world, you can’t control people’s perception of it; it has to stand on its own.
And reviews are not for you; they’re for readers. If you as an author are going to read reviews of your book, you need to be prepared for criticism—even if you don’t agree or think the critique is fair, don’t attack the reviewer. It’s a bad look.
In conclusion, books belong to their readers, read critically, and be kind.