On Facebook a few weeks ago, my friend Angela Ackerman dared me to order a pizza from Amy’s Baking Company and send it back (and to record the confrontation). Not one to create drama, I declined. *smile*
But then I had to know what prompted her dare. The details were even worse than I imagined. (I’m ashamed to say I live within 50 miles of these people.)
The season finale of chef Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares TV show featured the local restaurant Amy’s Baking Company. Like most reality shows, the participants knew what they were getting into. Chef Ramsay has a well-known reputation for ripping restaurants to shreds for their food, service, and cleanliness.
Why would anyone sign up? In the case of Amy and Samy, the owners of Amy’s Baking Company, they’d expected Ramsay to praise them to the hills. After all, every negative reviewer on Yelp is just a “hater” and a “bully.”
We’ve seen this reaction from authors on Amazon and Goodreads reviews too. Every bad review is seen as a personal attack. Comments about poor editing? “It’s not my fault I can’t afford an editor.” Writing quality? “Stop implying I’m a talent-less hack.”
The number one advice to authors when it comes to reviews is: Don’t reply back. And that’s at the top of the advice list for a reason.
Sure, when we get negative feedback, whether from a beta reader or a reviewer, it can hurt. We can feel defensive.
But if we reply to a negative review with anything other than a “I’m sorry the story didn’t work for you” type of response (and even that is usually uncalled-for), we’re going to make the reviewer feel defensive too. And two defensive people facing off won’t result in a pretty picture.
Any rebuttal we make says that their experience doesn’t matter. Or that they’re too stupid to know good writing. Or worse, that they don’t even know their own thoughts or opinion.
It’s too bad that Amy and Samy didn’t follow the advice about not replying back. Instead, when they received their first bad review on Yelp years ago, Amy responded negatively. Very negatively. That led to a quicksand situation they couldn’t escape.
Human nature often leads us to delay our reaction at first when we’re confronted with a situation, as we check to see what everyone else thinks. A similar reaction kicks in with reviews. Seeing reviews for a product makes us more likely to leave a review as well.
The likelihood of sharing our opinion increases if we strongly agree or strongly disagree with the other reviews. And if we see an author attack a reviewer for saying a book was poorly written, how are we going to react if we had the same opinion? We’re going to feel attacked too. We’re even more likely to add our review to defend the original reviewer—and ourselves.
In other words, an author replying to a negative review encourages others who had negative experiences to speak up as well. This wave of people sharing their negative reviews makes the author suspect they’re being singled out for a bully attack and the situation escalates.
Or in the case of Amy and Samy, the situation explodes.
The first six-and-a-half minutes show a nightmare of delusional owners and horrible customer service. At the 10:30 mark, Amy explains to Gordon Ramsay how their problems started.
One reviewer gave them a bad review. Amy responded by calling him a loser and a moron. Her defense, when Ramsay points out the insanity of that reaction, is “he insulted me first.” (The reviewer had said their pizza tasted like a frozen pizza—not a personal attack.)
As I pointed out above, her reply encouraged others to speak up. There were no “online bullies” targeting their restaurant, only other customers who got defensive when their similar negative experiences were attacked.
Flame-ups like this are all too common among some authors as well. We talk about our books like they’re our babies sometimes. But just as parents can’t let their egos get too wrapped up in their kids’ lives (witness the parents who feel personally insulted if the soccer coach doesn’t play their kid often enough), we can’t let our egos get wrapped up in our books.
Fine, to that one reviewer, the pizza tasted frozen. To that one reviewer, our character wasn’t likable. People are allowed to have differing opinions.
Even if we know their opinion is factually incorrect (the pizza isn’t really frozen, our book really did have an editor), opinions are about feelings. So no matter how inaccurate the details, those people are still entitled to their opinion.
In the case of Amy’s Baking Company, Amy’s response to one negative reviewer led to more negative reviews. Which then led to her feeling singled out by bullies. Which led to her signing up for Kitchen Nightmares. Which led to a huge audience seeing just how delusional she is. Which led to more negative comments on Facebook. Which led to an epic Facebook meltdown.
(Sample Facebook comment: “I AM NOT STUPID ALL OF YOU ARE. YOU JUST DO NOT KNOW GOOD FOOD.” The rest degenerate into f-bombs. Yes, with all caps and horrible grammar. And no, I don’t believe for a second their claim that their Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and website were all hacked at the same time. If true, the hacker did a spot-on imitation of their earlier, real comments.)
Their new notoriety exposed Amy’s previous prison time and Samy’s possible deportation for immigration fraud. People discovered their website used stolen pictures to misrepresent their food. Katy and Miranda, the now-former employees shown in the episode, have come forward to confirm that nothing in the episode was staged. Just a few days ago, Samy kicked a customer out of the restaurant after she found fruit flies in her drink.
And I could link to a dozen more crazy-filled articles (hover over that link to read the headline), but I think the point is clear. Responding to that first negative review has brought them nothing but trouble.
Reviews start as just one person’s opinion. But if we respond to a bad review, we turn reviewing into a spectator sport, where hundreds or thousands of people are watching to see how we handle the situation. And crowds at spectator sports can be bloodthirsty for entertainment, all at our expense.
Don’t be like Crazy Amy. Don’t engage, and don’t reply. *smile*
What was your impression of this episode of Kitchen Nightmares? Have you ever left a review after feeling strongly about the other reviews? Is there any good way to respond to negative reviews? What problems have you seen result from review situations escalating and/or getting personal? Do you have tips on how to not take negative reviews personally?Pin It