What Authors Should Be Doing About Bad Online Reviews

Remember the days when the only “reviews” of your book were the ones published in newspapers and magazines? Boy, how times have changed. We’re now in the era of American Idol and Facebook — one where “Joe the Plumber” has a voice just as influential as educated journalists.

This new “voice of the people” has created a conundrum for authors: How do you handle bad reviews online? These pans of your book can be appearing on blogs, message boards, Amazon … or even your own website.

So what’s an author to do about such comments? Here’s what you should NOT do: ignore them.

Let’s start by looking at businesses and how they handle poor reviews of their services. A new study by Harris Interactive reveals that a large percentage of consumers who got a kind response from a company after writing a complaint on a social media site either deleted their negative review, posted a follow-up review in a more positive tone, and/or turned into loyal customers. It makes sense, right? People feel good when their voice is heard and their negative feelings acknowledged.

Now, an author is not a company, and a book is different from a service. But the idea is similar. People appreciate a response and respect for their opinion.

So what should you do if someone posts a negative review of your book on their blog, on Facebook or on Amazon? Reply to them! Tell them that you’re sorry they didn’t appreciate a specific aspect of your book, and ask them what they would have liked done differently. If they have any questions or were confused by anything, take the time to clarify what they might have misunderstood.

It’s hard for authors not to take poor reviews personally — even if they are written by people who know far less than you do about a good book. But it’s probably in your best interest to suck it up, be nice, and respond. Not only may you sway the person who didn’t like your book in the first place, but you could win over a whole slew of new readers by taking the time to respond kindly and politely.

How have you handled poor online reviews? Share your experiences with us!

6 Comments

  1. I like your tactful, moving-forward approach. I will try it in the future! I chose to ignore a couple of reviews that weren’t glowing – as I thought they added balance when compared to the majority, which were positive. I thought it looked more realistic to see that not everybody who read my book was in love with it. Plus, the reviewers made some good points, though it was painful to see my weaknesses exposed. I hope I will be aware of them as I complete my next book.

    Excellent article.

  2. Anonymous Reviewer

    I am a reader who left a negative review on a book that had been terribly over-hyped on Amazon. I felt it was important to leave a negative review to balance the obvious 5-star “friends & familly” reviews. The author chose to write something very snarky about me personally on her blog. My review focused soley on the material, not the author. Will I ever read another book by this author? No. Will I ever recommend this author to a friend? Not an ice cube’s chance in hell.

    What really bothered me was that the author had no problem increasing her overall rating by soliciting 5-star reviews from both real-world and Facebook friends, yet she called me a fake and a fraud because I left a negative review in spite of the fact I’m a “real name” reviewer on Amazon and my purchase was verified by Amazon.

    The experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. I feel threatened and harassed (the author is soliting people to complain to Amazon about my review in order to have it removed), and I am now leary of purchasing anything but books from proven authors who maintain a healthy, professional distance from their Amazon reviews.

    I am also leary of Amazon going forward. That they allow authors to have negative reviews removed, and also allow authors to solicit positive reviews that aren’t accurate or objective is a problem for the consumer.

    If you’re too thin-skinned to deal with a negative review, then you shouldn’t be an author, IMO. Goes with the territory. I’ve received negative feedback along the way in my life and I always figured I had two choices – pout about it, whine, have a tantrum, blame the critic, or listen and use the information to improve. The latter option always made the most sense to me.

  3. Geof

    I know of one odious little person (no not Ken Starr) that loves to give neg reviews of books she didn’t like on amazon etc. An author of one of these books DID reply. The author was very polite and reacted in a similar way you outline in your article. The response? The reviewer chided the author and mocked the book even more. There is an old proverb we have among sci fi fans its “don’t feed the beast”. There are some people who are only encouraged by any attention you give them and its best to ignore them. Now I realize mainstream literature crowd is not like the SF (or certain corners of SF fandome) crowd but I’ve found that ignoring them works for me. I talked to Ray Bradbury once in LA and he told me 1)avoid the internet if you can 2) anybody gives you a bad review ignore them (and “get back to your writing”).

    Oh and my “friend” the reviewer? She’s still at it. And most authors ignore her.

  4. Geof

    P.S. I live by author C.J. Cherryh’s statement: ” I read no reviews, neither negative nor positive. “If they’re good, I might divert my writing to try to please. If they’re bad, I’d feel bad, and maybe be tempted to change my writing to please. In either case, not a good thing.”

    (others might not agree but it works for me!)

  5. Gary

    I had one review with 3 stars on an eBook. The reviewer actually gave me some good criticism and I went back and changed my eBook.

    I had one negative comment that the reviewer just stated it was poorly written. I ignored that comment.

    I’ve also noticed some people who give one star ratings all the books they review.

    I still feel that with the Internet, it makes it so easy for people to give an author negative comments to make the reviewer feel better about their lives.

    I’ve seen reviews give a negative review on a book. Then they give a positive review on another book in which other people gave it a negative review.

    You’ll never make everybody happy.

  6. Thanks Karin. I like your approach, and I appreciate the replies as well. When I write reviews, I give specifics as to why. If the review is low, I make sure I give specific reasons related to content. I also try to find “real” positive things about the book. One of my negative reviews of a popular book on Amazon has become a favorite, with hundreds of responses. But I carefully stated my respect for the author and other things about the book, and then gave reasons for my dissent. I also am an author, and I welcome serious criticism, because that can help me. Recently I received a negative review by someone who gave completely inaccurate information about the book and appears to have not read the book at all. I think it is natural to want to yell, “Hey lunkhead! Learn to READ!” But actually, if you look at an unfair/inaccurate negative review as an open opportunity to show who you really are, then this can be great. Sniping at the reviewer is a dumb idea. The reader has a right to his/her opinion. However, addressing the specific issues genuinely, charitably, and with grace is the most likely way to win over readers–which is the point of all of this. In the end, you can’t tell people what to think of your book.

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