Should editors/authors respond to negative and/or lukewarm reviews???

Jane Johnson, an editor from Voyager, responded to a review of Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns (Canada, USA, Europe) on

Here's an extract from Liz Bourke's review:

In my experience, you have to be either especially clueless, or trying very hard, to achieve that level of misogynist creepy.

I’m not going to stand here and insist on high feminist standards in every work of fiction I read (much as I’d appreciate it if more books had them). I don’t have very high expectations to start with. But a certain indication that the author sees women as
people, and doesn’t leave me trying hard not to throw up because I can’t see very much in his book that undermines his protagonist’s view of the world — from where I’m standing, that indication is a minimum requirement.

While I didn’t like Prince of Thorns very much at all, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book. Problematic, but not necessarily bad. If you like bleak, bloody, and gruesome novels about cold-blooded unprincipled sociopaths who achieve their murderous dreams, then this book will be perfect for you. I wish you joy of it, because for all its flaws, Prince of Thorns has some damn good writing.

Me, I need to go scrub out my brain

And here's the editor's response:

Liz is of course entitled to her own opinion, but I did find this rather a bizarrely skewed review, until I realized that it's appearing on the website of a rival publisher who failed to win the book at auction. Funnily enough, all of Mark Lawrence's editorial team in the UK and US are women, and none of us (hope you don't mind my speaking for you, Ginjer?) found the book misogynistic. Yes, it's grim and nihilistic in places, but also beautiful, uplifting and laugh-out-loud funny; and in the end Jorg emerges as - at the very least - an anti-hero (and develops further in the second novel, as the onion layers of his persona are peeled back one by one). He's a damaged boy, and for very good reason. This is dense, clever, beautifully written and highly rewarding fantasy for readers with a strong stomach, a love of language and the desire to read something a bit more challenging in the genre. But don't take my - or Liz's - word for it: read it for yourself and see what you think.

Although I don't necessarily agree with the review, I'm not sure Mrs. Johnson should have responded at all. For, no matter how valid the criticism of the review, I feel that editors usually look bad when they publicly make a stand like that.

This brings to mind the incredible amount of crap generated by what was a good-natured back-and-forth between Gollancz editor Simon Spanton and I following the posting of my review for Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. After exchanging a few emails on the subject, Spanton suggested that I post our correspondence on the Hotlist on the eve of my departure for Poland. Needless to say, by the time I landed in Warsaw (comments were not moderated back then), things had taken a turn for the worse. . . And it was all over the SFF message boards to boot.

In case you missed it, we called our argument The Hype Files.

What do you guys think? Should authors and editors respond publicly to such reviews?

39 commentaires:

SQT said...

It doesn't seem to end well when authors and editors respond does it? I've been turned off of reading/reviewing books due to authors who are quick to take offense when someone doesn't like their book-- so that's a factor if they want to see their book featured elsewhere. In this case, since it's not the author himself responding, I hope no one holds it against him.

Blodeuedd said...

In this case no, she just tries to make them sound like a sore looser. While in reality the TOR reviewer just had her opinion about the book, and opinion she was not alone with as a woman.

When it comes to not that positive reviews they should just say thanks and move on. Or not comment at all

Fairy said...

Everyone should be entitled to express their opinion and I don't think that editors/authors should feel obliged to respond. It is a form of "art" and everyone has their own taste and criteria. You can't please everyone and I don't see anything wrong with that

Ted Cross said...

Normally I feel reviews shouldn't be responded to, but just reading the two excerpts you posted here made a big difference to me, so now I am not sure. reading the first made me feel like I shouldn't bother with the book, mainly because it already didn't look very appealing to me. The response made me curious about the book, though.

Anonymous said...

Generally I would have said no, but on a publisher's site I think it's an ok context, also when it's an editor and not the author, although he could still say "I disagree with this or that", sure. But an amazon customer review, as has been known in the past, would be inappropriate.

Morrigan said...

Generally, no, they shouldn't respond, but when the reviewer makes rather serious accusation at the author, such as misogyny, I wouldn't blame him (or his editor(s)) for responding. Criticize a book all you want, but if the author's character is thrown into question, IMO the gloves are off.

Remember when some dumbass TV critic said that no woman could ever enjoy Game of Thrones? GRRM made a side derisive comment about that in one blog post, and I think it was fair of him to do that.

Kathryn said...

I do and don't. I think there's a way to respond in these situations, and many ways not to.

If someone gives a positive review, it's good to have the author say "Well, thank you for that". If you post a negative review, I think an author should still say "Thank you, I appreciate your honesty" rather than "F**k you, I did it my way so sod off" or whatever. Either don't respond, or take the advice on board.

I don't like it when authors get involved in a review and try to explain it to the reviewer. If that's happening, then they've done something wrong either in their book, or they come across as defensive and perhaps even negative towards negativity.

I finished Prince of Thorns this morning, and I agree with the review, for what it's worth.

Baptiste said...

I don't know if they should respond and I guess that depends, in a large part, on the nature of the review.

However, I do believe they should have the right to do it and not receive an automatic blame for that.

If it's only PR spin, their answer will probable deserve them, however, if it's well written and though out, it might bring something to a debate.

Claire said...

I'm not convinced that it is a good idea for a publisher to respond, particularly with the tactic 'they didn't get to buy it so they are rubbishing it'! A low blow, Jane.

Cecrow said...

The editor's response appears sound, but could have done without the direct reference to and challenging of the review (would be better approached as "We've noted some reviewers have expressed concern about ..."). Particularly the calling out of as a losing bid. Perhaps Tor refused to bid higher in light of this sort of concern about the novel's content, so that isn't a very strong point to be making.

PeterV. Brett said...

I generally try not to respond to negative reviews, though it can be hard when you work for years on something only to have people stomp on it. However, there have been a few times when I could not help myself. These have been when the review either propogates some misinformation I want to correct, like a pub date of the next book, or if it personally attacks me and my character in a way I feel is unfair.

When I do respond, I am very careful to be polite, thoughtful, and reasonable. I usually write the response and let it sit a couple hours, then reread and edit it before posting.

Six times in ten, the reviewer has apologized for stepping out of line and we have a great interaction.

The other four, it's a clusterfuck. Such is the way of the web.

Regardless, in the open forum of the internet, authors and editors should have as much right as anyone to respond to things. But as with everyone, the onus is on them to not be a dick about it.

Matthew MacNish said...

Not like this. The only way to respond to a bad review is go the Gore Vidal/Normain Mailer route: drunken fistfight.

4raser said...

I don't see why not. Once the book is out there it should be free to be discussed by anyone in any context. That's what a review is, in the end - one voice in a discussion.

If people want to keep the discussion going then who are we to stop them? If they come off looking desperate or biased in their responses then that is their mistake to make.

Laura said...

In general, it's probably a bad idea to respond at all. In this case, that first sentence was a horrendous idea. This might bring more attention to the book, but it makes Ms. Johnson look very unprofessional.

Daniel Abraham said...

I believe Miss Manners would recommend an author or editor who feels moved to respond would be best advised to say "I'm sorry it didn't work for you, but I appreciate your taking the time to look at it."

Anonymous said...

I dont think the issue from the Voyager Editor was in response so much at the reviewer(if you can call it thatas it just seemed to me like a jabber at a storyline device used in which this reviewer has taken it out of context for her own and maybe Tors benefit and added the tag of "misogyny",But to me its more of a sneaky way TOR has aired this review and for some reason on their own blog and now stands back waiting for the heat to happen and some editors will no doubt say how misjudged the voyager Editors response was..Fine if it was a bloggers blog but looks bit obvious that theres bit more here than meets eye then just an inocent ole review.Strange that people keep talking about the Voyager Editor being wrong when I thought it showed she has balls and not willing to put up with game playing from TOR.

Ashley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

I just think it's a study in bad policy to respond. As far as I am concerned you put your art out there and not everyone is going to like it. Authors/editors ought to just accept this, and they even should accept that certain people will find something they FEEL they SEE in the work (like in this example) that others may not see and run with that as why they disliked it. It's obviously not a slight to the author, since I've read a few very positive reviews of this particular book and it's getting read.

So other than voicing her sour grapes about the review what does the Editor GAIN by doing so? She gains people reading her comments as total mudslinging at the reviewer which is NEVER a good idea...simply because in the age of the internet, us internet book blogger's will run with stuff like that...and at some point Neil Gaiman will tweet about it and those follower numbers will destroy the planet.

Discussion is one thing, but this is clearly childish mudslinging on the editor's part. She really should have kept her ya shut IMHO.

Ian Tregillis said...

"I'm sorry it didn't work for you, but I appreciate your taking the time to look at it."

What he said.

This is why I avoid reviews as much as humanly possible. Though, like Peter points out, sometimes there is a legitimate need to correct the record.

The response swings a little wildly and therefore loses credibility, imho, when it accuses of slagging work from rival publishers. I'd always been of the impression (impression, not a statistical analysis) that was pretty egalitarian about promoting works across the SFF spectrum, regardless of publisher. That's their stated mission, anyway.

Neth said...

Responses to negative review rarely come out well. It can work, but it's very tricky business. Mostly it comes off like someone with sour grapes or worse.

It's all opinion and people's opinions often are vastly different. So, in that respect, Daniel Abraham's response is probably best.

However, correcting some sort of factualy error is clearly a good thing to do as long as it's done respectfully and professionally.

In the case of the actual response referenced in this post, I have mixed feelings. It seems pretty clear that a discussion on the treatment of women in this book is worthy discussion. So, in that respect, the editor's response well well stated. However, it goes too far and becomes childish when she accuses Tor of having nefarious intents - especially since you can go through and find dozens of positive reviews of books published by rival publishers. She completely undermined her otherwise interesting and intelligent response.

On the other hand, this is another thing that makes me curous about the book at hand. My instinct is to wait a while since it's getting so much attention right now, but that's getting harder and harder.

Neth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

and that comment about "I'm sorry it didn't work for you, but I appreciate your taking the time to look at it."
why? reviewers dont sell books.PUBLISHERS DO.dont big yourselves up reviewers ok.You dont have that much power.Ive never bought a book from a review ive read.A reviewer should have broad enough shoulders to take it on chin if their review is poor and not well thought out not pandered to and thanked.Your having a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Theres a bullying culture we have in society and anyone with enough heart and courage to stand up for what they believe in is looked upon as foolish and should "shhhhh be quiet,the general public know best,oh yes"that anyone who stands up and judges someones reasons for doing things is seen as not one of themand how dare they.Well im with the Voyager Editor and I dont want to be part of this nodding dog the reviewer is right culture. Reviewers are failed authors.apart from Patrick :).This blog is only one I read but dont judge on issues you know little about.I would like to know why TOR thought it important to have this review.I think they would do better trying to sell their own books and getting books read and awards won than bad mouthing other publishers authors
Who cares if the Voyager editor said what she did.. christ its book publishing not politics.Freedom of speech anyone?? oh youve forgot that for now ,ok ,whats that? youll change your mind when it suits your own argument in future?

Anonymous said...

why not - debate is good.

Re Richard Morgan's TSR and your review: I thought from the beginning you never gave the book a fair chance, as you were mostly concerned with leaving for Poland and read it in a hurry.

Mark Lawrence said...

item 1: Liz Bourke of the estimable ideomancer said: "Prince of Thorns has some damn good writing."

item 2: Goodreads tells me that 18 women have given 'Prince of Thorns' 4* or 5* reviews for each woman that's given it a lesser rating.

item 3: How good is that? :)

*transmission ends*

Anonymous said...

Huh...her criticism of the book makes me want to read it now...sounds potentially cool...


Goofilin said...

Phrases like

"and doesn't leave my trying hard not to throw up..."

in a professional review are unacceptable. Remember this is a review in a Publisher's site, not an independent review from a personal blog or in amazon.

I agree with a response from the Editor (which carries inherent risks).

The response itself was as unprofessional as the review.

That is why this is a sad era to live in. We are all so angry all the time....


Thax said...

I believe that every author and/or editor has the right to defend his work if he feels it is needed. And especially if (like in this case) his personallity is directly put into question. Misogyny is quite a strong term, with very negative connotations that's thrown about way to much i.m.o.

In thruth I don't see a difference between this and the whole fanatasy online community piling on a certain publication and it's reviewer for giving Game of Thrones an unfair and biased review.

But, of course, it's in the author/editor's best interest to handle his defense with dignity and maturity. In this case the 'rival publisher' line is a very cheap shot that undermines the defenses whole position. I have seen plenty of great reviews of non-Tor published books on

As far as that review itself is concerned, frankly, I think that viewpoint is bullshit. I haven't read Prince of Thorns, (I believe it's somewhere between spot 150 and 200 on my to read list ... ) but I have seen similar reviews to Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series and even Joe Abercrombie's books.

Yes, most of Bakker's male characters don't put a lot of stock in gender equallity. And his female characters aren't all poster girls for the feminist movement either. He created a rather stark world that harkens back to the Crusade era, both in the social and technological sense. So yes, his women get treated like crap and they aren't all very nice persons to be around either. But it's not like the men are shining beakons of light and virtue either. Unless you want to argue that Bakker holds up a mentally messed up, raping and pillaging barbarian lord, an incestuous and delusional emperor or a wimpy, fed up with the world wizard as role models to aspire too.

Anyway, I understand why anyone (male or female) doesn't like to read things like that. But going from there to saying that Bakker is a woman hating Neanderthal who glorifies rape and macho culture is quite a big leap. And indicates a huge failing in the reviewers reading comprehension skills.

Anonymous said...

Now Mark Lawrences book has got alot more sales
Voyager Editor 1
TOR Publishers and reviewer 0
Job done
Champers gulped and corks flying at Voyager towers

Anonymous said...

Generally, I don't see a problem with publishers responding to negative reviews. Especially if there's concrete misinformation involved. However, if your response to a perfectly valid review boils down to a weird mix of "I'm a woman and not offended, how dare YOU be offended" and "conspiracy by our jealous rivals" ... yeah. Take a step back from the keyboard, please.

What I don't get is the attitude towards (negative) reviews that's shining through in some of the
above comments. Reviews are one of my favorite tools to pick up new reading material. When I look a book up, I make a point to read the 1 and 2 star reviews, too. When a book has 5 bad reviews, but they all criticize something different, no harm done, I can disregard them. If they all criticize the same and can back it up: warning sign.

I also disagree with the pearl clutching about the author being "attacked" with the "mean" accusation of misogyny. Provided that the review is correct in this regard: You write a book without female characters with agency but plenty of objectified women? Yeah, that charge might come up. Cry me a river.

And here the review fulfills its purpose because some people, like me, don't want to put time and money into a book that's "a sausagefest"**. Or are grateful to be warned about passages like the one quoted by the reviewer about the main character's first time in a brothel. Reading about the gang-raping and murder of women in a few casual throwaway sentences? Triggering as hell, and might be the point where I put a book down and never pick it up again.

Reviews don't have to be nice, or polite. They have to be useful for those reading them. And editors do themselves a huge disservice by appearing in comment sections with personal insults (here: the accusation of being dishonest in the review to damage a rival publisher) instead of actual counter arguments.

-- Seralphia

** Notable exception are e.g. accounts and memoirs of WWII soldiers. They are allowed.

WordTipping said...

There is nothing wrong with responding to reviewers. It is a tricky affair, but I do think authors/publishers should defend their work. A tremendous amount of time and energy goes into a book. As a reviewer, if I am going to trash a book, then I need to be able to defend my position.

On the other hand, what isn't need is snark and/or passive aggressive comments. The only part of Jane Johnson's post I did not like was the snarky attack on Tor in the opening sentence. Otherwise Jane did a fine job defending Prince of Thorns.

Liz Bourke's review definitely danced a fine line in its tone. I do not think she crossed any line, but there was some definite toeing.

Anonymous said...

I say why not. we all have a right to defend ourself and our work.

Anonymous said...

Really, who cares? Without these constant storms in teacups the fantasy blogosphere would be boring as hell.

enjai said...

It's all publicity, so I think the Editor was actually being very clever. The only mis-step, I think, was insinuating the initial review was negative due to sour-grapes over publishing rights. I've actually been expecting more negative reviews along those very lines (surpised by the lack of). It's a polarising book in terms of content but it's very good if you happen to fall on the + side.

Anonymous said...


>> And here the review fulfills its purpose because some people, like me, don't want to put time and money into a book that's "a sausagefest"**.

That seems a bit counterproductive doesn't it ? I mean, then men are allowed to not read "The Golden Notebook" because it's a .. cabbagefest ? A better word is needed.

- max

lessthanpleased said...

I used to be an editor at a newspaper, and we had a policy that forbade writers from responding to their critics. I always thought this was a mistake, and I think the review/response cited here are good examples of why that's the case.

Some commenters are stating that it was fine to respond, but the editor pointing out that Tor lost a bid for the book is going a step too far. From my perspective, that's what makes this response necessary.

In news, as anyone can tell you, a reviewer who has a financial stake or affiliation with a company that has a financial stake in a given product is not allowed to write about that product - in this case, Tor's failure to win the book affects any review that they would write about the book, and should have been disclosed to readers of that review in the first place to simply put that onto the marketplace of ideas that is the Internet. Did it affect the review in question? Maybe, maybe not. But disclosing that fact would have given readers of the review more information, and may have encouraged some to seek out other reviews just to be certain that is the case.

Given that Tor didn't do that, I thought the editor was in the right to put that out there. Could it have been done more politely? Probably. But the review in question used loaded language, too, so I think it was justifiable to provide a strong response.

My writers at the newspaper were frequently called racist, sexist and numerous other things to which they should have been able to respond - especially when comments can and frequently are counterfactual.

But yeah, pointing out potential conflicts of interest should never be deemed inappropriate, especially when a company's failure to disclose such conflicts (irrespective of whether they affect the review) could adversely affect the sales of an author. I want to know if the review is affiliated with a book in question, so I can, as a consumer, can make an informed decision about both the product and reviews of the product.

Anonymous said...

Well hang on if thats true that TOR made a bid for the book and lost out to Voyager then doesnt that tell you how sneaky TOR is now by getting stuck into it.Whats more sneaky a publisher defending a book that they won bid for and is informing us that TOR bid but failed ( you all wouldnt know this unless she had sdaid) or a Publisher using a reviewer to do its dirty work by showing its bad loss.No brainer ,the Voyager Editor got it spot on.and who cares if she sounded petty ..none of us would have known the reason of TOR showing this review on its site unless VOyager Ed had said.I wonder what other books TOR have lost out on that they have then bad mouthed the authors work that they were willing to fork out money for in first place.

Anonymous said...

Tor might not tell its reviewers what to write, but it sure as hell decides what reviews will appear on its site.

It may also decide who to ask to review particular books and select them to gain the type of review they want.

In receipt of several reviews of the same book it will select the one it wants.

Muddy waters!

Nina Lazar said...

I don't think it does an author any good to respond to negative reviews. From a publicity perspective, getting into a snit-fit with a reviewer can backfire badly, and from a creative perspective, it's a real energy drain.

In some ways it's like proselytizing -- did anyone ever harangue anyone into a religion? Nope. Has an author ever harangued a negative reviewer into changing their review? I doubt it.

Debate and discussion are good, but only in the proper venue. Online review sites, Amazon, Goodreads, etc., are not the proper venue, IMO. Best to let it go and not draw attention to it.