The definitive guide to handling negative book reviews

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

One of my books has a negative Amazon book review that really annoys me.

The reader reviewer for Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness, Growth, and Contributions says, “This book was disappointing in that it joins the many books already out there that focus on the mechanics, aka ‘basics,’ but not the critical thinking that is required for PR in today’s competitive and changing information age.”

She’s right — and I pretty much told her so in the preface, which can be read with the “Look Inside!” feature. It states: “It is light on theory and jargon and heavy on instruction.”

In fact, the entire preface emphasizes that the book isn’t for the veteran communicator looking to educate senior management on the importance of strategic thinking. That piece, the table of contents, and the back cover text make it clear that I wrote the book for somebody who isn’t so much interested in the “why” but needs to know the “how.”

So did I take the time to respond to her review and point this out to her?

No.

Should I have responded?

Nah.

Let’s say I did it with great diplomacy: [Thanks for the review, X. You’re absolutely right — this book is intentionally light on theory and heavy on how-to.]. I’d just be pointing out that she made a mistake when she bought the book. I doubt she’d appreciate that.

When it’s OK to respond

So, really, is it ever appropriate to respond to a negative, one-star review?

The answer is “yes” in very specific situations when doing so serves a valid, productive purpose. That’s only about 2 percent of the time, though.

Here are four situations where a response serves a purpose:

  1. When you can thank the reviewer for information that will help you revise the book.

That would need to be a sincere “thank you,” too.

[Thank you, X. In hindsight, I wish I had included a chapter about Y. I’ll add it to the revision. I appreciate your helpful suggestion.]

2. When you want to correct major inaccuracies put forth in the review.

Do this only if you are willing to do so gently, with a friendly tone, and without anger.

[Thank you for your feedback, X. I always enjoy hearing from readers. I’d like to add clarification to what you’ve described as the novel’s fatal flaw: Contrary to what you’ve stated here, Texas is not a country. It’s a state, the 28th to join the United States, in fact. I hope this clears things up. Thanks again for taking the time to review my book.]

3. When you can agree with the reviewer.

[You’re absolutely right — that rule has changed since the book’s publication. I’ll make sure it’s updated when I revise the book, and appreciate that you pointed that out.]

4. When you can use your response to build a bridge.

[At first, I was disappointed to read that you thought the dialogue was stiff, but then I started thinking about how I could fix that in my next book. Would you be interested in being a beta reader for it? If you’ll provide your e-mail address, I’ll send you more information. ]

When you shouldn’t respond to that 2 percent

You might be able to justify responding in the handful of situations listed above, but that doesn’t mean you should.

Here’s when you’re better off ignoring a review that’s nasty, wrong, or misguided (I’m leaving out “idiotic” — those types usually speak for themselves):

You don’t want to respond. In general, you’re better off not responding to negative reviews, so don’t feel bad about ignoring those you don’t like, even if you feel you can justify a response.

The review you don’t like is on Goodreads. Site managers strongly discourage direct contact between authors and reviewers with regards to reviews. Responding in any manner to a review (good or bad) could get you booted from the site.

Reviewers leave reviews for readers, not authors.

The reviewer seems to be angry or hostile. No good will come from responding in any way in this situation.

It’s clear that the reviewer has a chip on his shoulder. This will be obvious to others who read the review, too. They will take it for what it’s worth. What’s more, it will be hard to find common ground with someone who has an emotional attachment to his opinion, so don’t put time or effort into doing so.

Negative reviews aren’t such a bad thing

Throughout all of this, keep in mind that negative reviews will give your positive reviews more credibility.

When a book buyer sees nothing but five-star reviews, she’s suspicious. A few one- or two-star reviews reassure her that the positive feedback is honest and authentic.

Your least favorite reviews can also provide insights or information that will help you improve your book. That’s a good thing.

Except for those very specific situations discussed, when a negative review appears, do these three things in this order:

1. Complain to an author friend who can empathize.

2. Eat cookies.

3. Move on.

You’ve got more important things to worry about — like making sure your next book is as good as it can be.

Have you responded to a negative review? What happened?

Sandra Beckwith is an author and national award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to save thousands of dollars by doing their own publicity, promotion, and marketing. You might have seen her on “The Montel Williams Show” or “CBS This Morning,” or read about her in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Her Build Book Buzz website has been named a top website for authors and writers three times and is ranked the 7th best globally for book marketing information. Subscribe to her free weekly book marketing newsletter and receive a gift at https://buildbookbuzz.com/gift.