I was asked recently what I thought of authors contacting me to respond to a review. An author who is one of the most gracious correspondents I've ever had the pleasure to meet wanted to know: do it? Don't do it? Do it but privately? The right answer is – it's complicated.
I can see reasons for each of those ways, and I’ve had all three sorts of responses. None that’s led to an author meltdown, thank God. On one hand, when the review was positive, it was very pleasant and I enjoyed the exchanges with the author and was left thinking what a very nice person, and if it wasn’t a totally glowing review, I was thinking gee I wish I’d been more positive about her book. Or I wish I could have been more positive about her book.
That’s multiplied by about a zillion times when the review wasn’t very enthusiastic. Sometimes really nice people produce less than fabulous stories. I had the horrible experience recently of writing a very low-ranked review on a book by someone I know through social media. That's all the closer the contact is but still it's kind of hard because I’m pretty sure she’ll read it. It's not like I enjoy hurting anyone, but sometimes there just isn't a lot of positive.
So, yes, responding is polite, and I’ve seen it done very graciously but in a weird way, it gets in the way of the next review, because honesty and politeness get all mixed up. The practical aspect is that if someone's kind to me, I'd like to return it, and at the same time, I am reviewing books, not personalities. What happens when I read the next one and can't be enthusiastic? Do I hurt someone's feelings? There are people on the other end of this reviewing thing who can be hurt or happy because of what I write. This happened once, the author was charming, and I couldn't give her next story a glowing review and still be honest. So it ended up costing her a review.
My understanding with Dark Divas is that you can hand a book back without finishing it only if the spork is already stuck in your eye. I could be wrong on this, but "you chose it, you complete the review" isn't unreasonable. It does mess with the "back away slowly" option. This is where I have to grow a thicker skin.
I have reviewed stories where the authors have contacted me privately, which seems like the best response, because they weren’t having to put on their public face. They could be just honest. We could talk a little about the points I didn’t care for and no one else had a reason to chime in, which is where it seems like trouble starts in the big internet messes. If I've made an error of fact, I'd like to know it, I have great respect for facts. I have learned things from authors' comments, and I am always glad to do that. Some of the most charming people I've met on the internet have come to me just this way.
I've also had authors mix some scoldings in with the thank yous, because I "didn't get it." Thank you very much, I got it just fine, and calling a leg a tail doesn't make it so. I read what's on the page, not what's in the author's head. While not planning to commit the 'nincompoopery' (I have been reliably informed that this is the correct term) of attempting lit-crit when not qualified, I can and do notice logic fail out loud. A discussion is welcome, a brow-beating is not.
There’s a review on Smart Bitches Trashy books that was middle of the road, and the author showed up in the middle of the discussion, maybe 30 posts in, and said something really witty and gracious and all of a sudden the comments went from 'I’ll pass' to 'I have to read this just because she had such a nice attitude.' The author had everyone eating out of her hand before the thread ended. That was something I really don’t think everyone can manage. We've all seen when responses go wrong.
So I don’t mind if authors comment, either publicly or privately, but it does affect the detachment between the reviewer, the author and the book. But I really think I’d rather get an email.