The general rule for responding to a negative reader review is: Don’t reply! But if you must, tread lightly.
Treat reviews as market research. If there is a recurring reference to an issue, consider addressing it by updating your book. Poor editing? That’s easy to fix. If readers are disappointed you did not cover a topic in a certain way, you can address it in the description so they know about it ahead of time.
Always be honest with the reader and never try to manipulate them into buying your book. This short-term thinking hurts you in the long run.
We also must trust our shoppers that they are smart enough to discount some of these reviews.
We used to publish a golf directory that included U.S. and Canadian golf courses. It was becoming expensive to ensure the Canadian listings were accurate, yet we sold few books in Canada. We eliminated the Canadian courses and changed the title of the book to U.S. Golf Course Directory and promptly got this negative two-star review:
“No Listing of Canadian Courses!! Many excellent courses are available close to US/ Canada Border. In Past I believe these were listed.”
A board book by one of our clients—one of those thick paged books for babies—was sold in used condition by a private party.
It too had a negative review that was not the fault of the publisher: the reviewer complained that the book had teeth marks from a toddler.
Sometimes you have to trust that other shoppers will read reviews like these and think more poorly of the reviewer, than your book.
Five tips for dealing with negative book reviews
#1 Review spam can be removed
We noticed another client's recently posted cookbook had a 1 star review that read:
“It looks stupid. A teen ager told me wat to say.” [sic]
She contacted the store—Barnes & Noble—and they promptly deleted it. It never hurts to ask.
(See Resources below for information about contacting Amazon about negative book reviews.)
#2 If you respond, don't be defensive
You never want to appear desperate or defensive so it’s always more powerful if someone else helps. Fortunately, reviewers will sometimes step in on behalf of authors and come to your defense.
April Hamilton’s 2008 edition of The IndieAuthor Guide had fifty-one reviews, 90 percent of them five- and four-stars, and a single one-star review. April took issue with the review and posted a compelling response. Other reviewers chimed in mostly in defense of the book.
#3 Other reviewers can help
Stephen Prosapio’s Dream War received negative comments from a reviewer who accused the author of ripping off the movie Inception. In this case the reviewer was mistaken because Stephen’s book came out well before Inception.
A subsequent reviewer corrected him with a follow up review.
#4 Sometimes a lower review can actually be more helpful
In a LinkedIn group, a member shared that an author asked him to change his review rating from five-stars to three-stars so that more people would read it.
The author liked the review (“Deeply and basically flawed, but a really good read.”) and felt that with 93 percent of the reviews either five-or four-stars, few shoppers would discover it. After the reviewer reduced his rating to three-stars the author shared that it actually resulted in a sale.
It’s an interesting, and gutsy, marketing strategy. Just keep in mind that everyone has an opinion, as odd as it may seem.
I suggest your default position is to let the reader of the review decide for him or herself whether or not to pay attention to the review. As the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone.
#5 Be careful, your responses are public
Keep in mind that your responses are public and your comments and tone will be judged by other shoppers. For an extreme example of how badly things can turn out, read this Buzzfeed article, Who’s Afraid of Kathleen Hale?
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