Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Common Wisdom

Ever happen to overhear a question on something you know about, so you approach them and join the conversation?

I do—and so readily do it that, if I want to go work at a coffee shop, I have to keep in mind that I might not get much done. Sometimes I end up distracted for hours, chatting… It can also happen, to a lesser degree, when I happen to be shopping. I recently spotted someone eyeing two types of sock knitting looms and helped her figure out which she wanted…and we ended up chatting for quite a bit about knitting and crocheting and some other stuff.

Now, common wisdom is that butting in on others' conversations is rude, yes?

I actually got called "charming" yesterday. And people I've chatted with before, if I happen to run into them again? Are, more often than not, pleased to see me.

So I am a living example that butting in on others' conversations is not necessarily rude.

Can it be? Yes. Need it be? No.

It's all in how you handle it.

An example in the writing world is the question: Should an author respond to their reviews? A quite vehement group of people insist that no, an author should never respond to their reviews—reviews are intended for fellow readers, not for writers.

But I know of some authors like Hugh Howey who answer every single review, and what's interesting about that?

Those authors are all bestsellers.

Now, very few authors answer every review, and the sample size is far too small to assume correlation indicates at least partial causation, but I've noticed something about my own practice of review responding.

See, I only respond to reviews 1. that have been sent to me, or 2. are put on Wattpad. I respond to essentially every single review on Wattpad.

And with that practice, I've become solidly popular on that site. I'm one of the most-followed users, though my number of "reads" is lower than others—but that's to be expected, because I post my stories in fewer "parts" than most. Each post gets a single read for each unique reader, which is why A Fistful of Water has so much more reads than A Fistful of Earth, over there—because AFoW was posted in first draft form, it has a lot more sections, so each reader counts for about 3.5x as many reads.

Responding to reviews—even negative ones—takes a specific personality type to be able to handle it. I can read a harsh review, wince, and calmly analyze where the reviewer's coming from. A lot of writers can't do that.

The second problem with responding to every review is that text can't hold tone. No matter what you write, someone will misread you, and there are some readers who will think you defensive even when you aren't. And some will refuse to read your work on principle, so you'll lose those particular readers.

But if it's done right, the evidence seems to suggest that an author who responds politely to reviews will gain more readers than they lose. So while the common wisdom is correct in that most people can't respond well to every review, it's apparently wrong for assuming that it's not worth doing if you can.

I've been considering going back and responding to my reviews on various vendors, myself, though it's been nearly 3 years for some of them. But if I start doing it, I'll have to keep doing it, and I can't be 100% sure that the correlation I've seen between responses and popularity has any bearing on causation.

The thing about common wisdom is that it's common wisdom for a reason. Figuring out what those reasons are…that's the hard part.

What do you think of common wisdom and its general applicability? What do you think about joining others' conversations uninvited? What do you think about authors responding to reviews?


Popular Posts
(of the last month)