Should you respond to negative book reviews?

stack of booksOne of my books on Amazon has a negative book review that really bugs me.

The reviewer for Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness, Growth, and Contributions 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?

No.

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, X. You’re absolutely right — I totally agree with the assessment . . . .”)

When it’s OK to respond

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

Probably not.

Many 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 would need to be a sincere “thank you.” [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, BOOK X. 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 it.]
  • 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 where the above apply, but you still shouldn’t respond. Please keep these loose guidelines in mind for when:

  • You don’t want to, quite frankly. 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.
  • The review you don’t like is on Goodreads.com. Site managers strong discourage direct contact between authors and reviewers with regards to reviews and responding in any manner to a review could get you booted from the site.
  • The reviewer seems to be angry or hostile. No good will come from responding in any way in this situation.
  • It is clear that the reviewer has a chip on his shoulder. This will be obvious to others who read the review, too, and 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.

Of course, most of us are grateful for any reviews at all because reviews in general are hard to come by. If you want more of them for your book, download the “How to Get Honest Book Reviews in 3 Easy Steps” audio program. You’ll get tons of tips and how-to information.

Are you likely to generate a negative review or two with what you learn? Possibly, but remember: Negative reviews are honest summaries that 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 feedback is honest and authentic.

Have you ever responded to a negative review? What happened?


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Sandra Beckwith is an award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to market their books. Three groups have recognized her BuildBookBuzz.com site as an outstanding resource for authors, so you know her advice is author-tested.

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4 Responses to Should you respond to negative book reviews?
  1. Man of la Book
    September 21, 2014 | 11:35 am

    Even worst then responding, finding the person’s e-mail and contacting them personally (especially if you’re full of fire & brimstone).

    Will not change their minds and they’ll probably never read another work by you.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      September 22, 2014 | 2:23 am

      Definitely not recommended!

      Sandy

  2. Mridu Khullar Relph
    September 22, 2014 | 9:30 am

    Gary Vaynerchuck is known for doing this really well. Apparently, he responds to his negative reviews but in such a way that he ends up making a friend out of his reviewer. I remember one story about how he invited a negative reviewer to speak to him on the phone so that he could address his concerns.

    Obviously it worked very well for not just that reviewer but for marketing in general because here I am, years later, still talking about it.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      September 25, 2014 | 11:15 pm

      Somebody else mentioned him in a discussion on this topic in LinkedIn, too, Mridu. It sure didn’t hurt Gary to take that approach. I think it’s all in how you do it.

      Thanks!

      Sandy

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