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Should You Respond to Negative Reader Reviews?

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by Sandra Beckwith, Build Book Buzz

Sandra Beckwith

One of my books got a negative review on Amazon that really bugs me.

The reviewer for Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness wrote, “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 absolutely right and I pretty much told her so in the preface, which can be read with the “Look Inside!” feature before purchasing the book: “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. The preface 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 “how.”

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


Should I have responded?

Possibly, but only if I did it with a smile, a thank you, and a message that agreed with her assessment. (“Thanks for the review, [reviewer]. You’re absolutely right—I totally agree with the assessment. . . .”)

When It’s Okay to Respond

So, what about you? Should you respond to negative, confusing, or misleading reviews of your book?

Probably not.

Many people will tell you that you should never respond to negative reviews. I’d say that they’re right 98 percent of the time.

The 2 percent of the situations when you might want to consider responding include:

When you can thank the reviewer for information that will help you revise the book—and that thank you would need to be sincere. (“Thank you, [reviewer]. In hindsight, I wish I had included a chapter about [X]. I’ll add it to the revision. I appreciate your helpful suggestion.”)

When you want to correct major inaccuracies put forth in the review, and only when you can do so gently, with a friendly tone, and without anger. (“I’m sorry you were frustrated by the book’s emphasis on tactics rather than strategy. You’re right—this wasn’t the best book for you—I did write it for an entry-level audience, and it’s clear that you are more senior. I’d like to suggest you consider another book on the subject, [Title]. I’ve read it and I think it’s a better fit for your goals. Thanks so much for taking the time to write a thoughtful review—I’m sure it will help others at your level.”)

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 in the revision, and appreciate that you pointed that out so I can improve the text.”)

When you can use your response to build a bridge. (“At first, I was disappointed to read that you thought the dialogue was a little 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 send me your e-mail address, I’ll send you more information.”)

When You Shouldn’t Respond

There are situations when you shouldn’t respond to a negative review, including some that meet the criteria mentioned previously. I’d say don’t respond given these conditions:

When you don’t want to. In general, you’re better off not responding to negative reviews, so don’t feel bad about ignoring those you don’t like. Eat cookies and move on.

When the review you don’t like is on Goodreads.com. That site’s managers strongly discourage direct contact between authors and reviewers about reviews, and responding in any manner to a review could get you booted from the site.

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

When a chip is evident on the reviewer’s shoulder. That chip on the shoulder will be obvious to others who read the review, and they will take the reviewer’s comments for what they’re worth. Besides, it will be hard to find common ground with someone emotionally attached to a negative opinion, so don’t put time or effort into doing so.

On the Bright Side

Are most books likely to generate a negative review or two? Possibly, but remember: Negative reviews are often honest summaries that will give your positive reviews more credibility. Prospective book buyers who see nothing but five-star reviews get suspicious. A few one- or two-star reviews can reassure them that the feedback is honest and authentic.

Sandra Beckwith, formerly an award-winning publicist, now teaches authors how to promote their books. To subscribe to her free biweekly newsletter, Build Book Buzz, visit http://buildbookbuzz.com. For more information: sb@buildbookbuzz.com

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