That's the last thing any author wants to see in a review of his or her book. However, at some point, nearly every published author has to face an uncomplimentary book review. The hard part is dealing with bad reviews and handling the fallout that may be caused by them.
It’s easy to get angry at the reviewer, and the first impulse is usually to whip off a nasty reply and post it with the review, or blog about it, or go onto some private group forum and complain about it. However, invariably that can be the absolute WORST response, and may even backfire, creating a negative buzz about the author and the work. This is especially hurtful when the author appears to be ‘attacking’ the reviewer for stating what may appear to be an honest opinion.
The other approach is to ignore bad reviews and pretend they don’t exist. However, that’s also difficult to do when the reviews are posted on Amazon and seem to influence other readers, causing them to turn away or post similarly degrading reviews.
It may help to recognize that not everyone who writes a review is actually just a reader. Some reviewers have built a reputation by reviewing books and stake their reputation on being cruel and snarky. Paid reviewers for prestigious publications may actually be influenced to write crappy reviews for books that compete with books they’ve decided (or are told) are noteworthy. And sometimes readers who write nasty reviews may just be having a bad day or a bad life, and take it out on defenseless authors whom they believe cannot fight back. And, sadly, sometimes petty authors will give poor reviews for other books they’re jealous of. The point is, when readers go to all the trouble to get online and sign into an account that allows them post reviews, they’re MOTIVATED to do so – either because at the time they’re wild about the book they just read, or they’re soured with a negative attitude and looking for an outlet to vent. Whatever the case, the result is the same – the author ends up with either a glowing or hateful review filled with praise or venom.
When this happens, the best – and perhaps only – thing to do is ... take the high road. By that I mean, yes, respond to the negative review, but in a healthy and respectful manner, the same way you’d respond to a great review. Thank the reviewer for taking the time to read your book. Express concern for the reviewer’s apparently bad reading experience, and offer to refund the reader’s money spent in purchasing your book. (Yes, many readers grouse about ‘wasting’ $2.99 on an ebook that offers hours of reading time as opposed to happily spending more to wolf down a Big Mac in less than five minutes.)
You may be tempted to correct errors in the review, but never attempt to, point by point, justify your position. The less fuss you make over a bad review, the better. In graciously offering to provide a refund, you often diffuse the venom and sometimes actually make the reader realize the review was in poor taste. If a forum offers dialog between the reader and the author, as Amazon does with its review and reply/comments, then you have the opportunity to show the rest of your loyal readers what a professional you are by being gracious under fire. And sometimes the hateful reader will amend earlier review comments to be more in line with the actual reading experience, rather than venting anger that may have been spurred by an event or situation in the readers life that had nothing to do with the book or author.
As for ‘professional’ reviews, where the author is not given the opportunity to respond to a poor review, sometimes you just have to say, ‘Oh well,’ and let it go.
Of course, if all your reviews are bad, or they keep pointing out specific errors or faults in your book, this may indicate your book could use some shoring up. If you have the opportunity to fix the issues consistently remarked upon in reviews, do so, and make sure your revised edition is clearly indicated so that new readers will know those issues have been addressed.
And finally, take heart that at least you are getting reviews. That means somebody’s actually buying and reading your book. Let that be your motivation to finish the next one!
Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing