What To Do With Negative Reader Mail

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

If you’ve been a published author for any period of time, you’re probably no stranger to critical reviews or harsh reader mail. Even though you might receive many glowing reviews and letters from satisfied readers whose lives you touched, you can’t help but focus on the very few less-than-happy readers who feel obligated to share their discontent with you. It’s very hard to cope with this, and even more difficult to figure out how—or if—to respond.

When They Criticize Your Faith

It can be especially frustrating when the topic of a reader’s discontent is the fact that your book is written from a Christian perspective, and they feel hoodwinked. They start reading and when they realize it’s “Christian” they become enraged. They sometimes leave 1-star, angry reviews on Amazon. Here are some Amazon comments on a Christian novel:

“When you read the review for this book, no mention is made of the Christian nature of the book. This is misleading.”
“I resent the absence of the Christian fiction label. ”
“This book is not a [genre]. It is a Christian morality tale.”
“Why is it that authors of Christian fiction often hide that fact in the descriptions? I am simply irritated when I buy a book based on a secular description only to find that the predominant thread throughout the book is Christian proselytizing.”

Sometimes people will even write directly to the author to say these things, as happened to one of my clients recently. They may couch their opinion in terms of “constructive criticism.” But as authors, you can’t help it—it hurts!

I empathize with the pain of being harshly reviewed. As an author, this is just one of the many situations in which you need to find coping mechanisms that work for you (and all you authors are very familiar with this!)

What To Do

Keep in mind that a reader feeling “hoodwinked” is a real thing, and if it were you, and you bought a book that turned out to be from a perspective with which you deeply disagreed, you’d be frustrated too. Imagine any novel that you thought was secular or neutral and as you read, you discovered it was from a different religious or atheist point of view, and seemed to be strongly espousing those views. You may rightly wonder why you hadn’t realized this before you bought the book. Being empathetic toward your angry reader can help you put it in perspective.

The best thing you can do—and I promise this will make you feel better—is to create and save a template response to send to people who write you negative letters. Creating a template keeps you from having to summon up the emotional energy, not to mention the words, to respond to a critic. I keep my templates in Evernote but you can keep them in Word or whatever works for you.

Your template response to a negative reviewer can be something like this:

Dear [Name],

Thank you so much for taking the time to write me. I value my readers and I take every critique seriously, so I want you to know I’ve heard you. I regret that my book didn’t live up to your expectations, but I’m grateful you took the time to reach out.

Wishing you all the best,

[Your Name]

The response is purposely brief, and lets the reader know you received the critique that they felt was important to send. It also avoids shaming them for not being a Christian or somehow not “getting” your book. Of course you can make your response sweeter (mine is a little business-like) but avoid being defensive.

This Isn’t the Best Time To Share Your Faith

Some may disagree with this, but I also think this isn’t the place for evangelizing. Charles Martin’s example of a response to an angry reader is beautifully written and a lovely invitation to faith, but you’re already dealing with a person hostile to Christianity. In my opinion, this kind of response is more likely to increase their hostility rather than open them up to the idea of faith.

Of course, the advice to send a response applies to situations in which you received a personal letter (or email) from a reader. It’s not for responding to public reviews (such as on Amazon or reader blogs), to which you should never respond.

I hope this helps! What are your thoughts on how to deal with or respond to negative reader mail?




Image copyright: elessar / 123RF Stock Photo

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