Over the past eight years, I’ve dealt with thousands of complaints from readers… ranging from the completely baffling to the hugely helpful. I’ve noticed a few patterns in what makes the difference between constructive and helpful feedback vs extremely frustrating feedback. The next time you’re unhappy with a publisher, here are my suggestions for how to make sure your feedback is heard and acted upon:
Email, don’t comment
If you care enough to complain, care enough to email and start a one-on-one conversation. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that comments will get more traction because they’re public — if you were at a party, would you shout over the conversation to the host “THIS GUACAMOLE IS MOLDY!” No, you would not. You would pull them aside and let them know, so that they could get that gross guac off the table.
Constructive communication is really hard, but it’s so worth it. Yes, you’re registering a complaint, but theoretically you like the site enough that you want it to improve. Yes, you want to express your disappointment or concern, but you also need to be articulate about what the publisher can do to improve.
Ask for what you want
Don’t waste your time just saying “YOU SUCK.” Before you write, know what action you’d ideally like the publisher to take, and specifically ask for it. “You guys suck and the website has changed and I don’t even like you any more” isn’t actionable for a publisher. “I’m disappointed by the lack of posts about grooms with disabilities, and would like to request that you do more” is something I can actually work on!
Don’t threaten to stop reading or announce that you’re leaving the community… if you’ve already decided to leave, what motivation is there for a publisher to accommodate you? Most of us want to invest our time in the readers we’ve got — if I’ve already lost you, why bother? If you’re so frustrated that you’re done with the site, just be done. Don’t waste your time flouncing.
Open the door to discussion
For me, the most helpful and educational reader complaints are when people express concern about something on the site, provide additional resources about why it’s harmful or hurtful, and provide clear suggestions about how I could fix it… and then they leave the door open to discussion. Let’s have a conversation about the issue!
Be ready to accept solutions
Sure, it’s frustrating when people leave a comment with a non-constructive conversation-ending flounce. But the very most frustrating thing for me is when someone complains about something, and I hear their complaint and offer a solution — AND THEY DECLINE THE SOLUTION. If you say a product isn’t worth your money, then accept a refund. If you say you’d like a problematic word removed, then offer a brief acknowledgement when you see that it’s been removed.
I’d love to hear from readers: what are the best experiences you’ve had with complaining to a publisher?