Replying to negative reviews is a BAD idea

 

I decided to do a bit of spring cleaning, headed to Goodreads to trim my TBR stack. There I came across a horrible case where an author’s meltdown after a one star review avalanched into a massive shitstorm and ended up ruining their book sales.

Most of the books in my TBR have average ratings above 4, so a book with a rating of 1.51 stuck out like a sore thumb. It had a nice cover, which made it all the more curious. So I clicked to see what was going on, scrolled down to see the Goodreads community questions and there I found my answer.

As it appears, a reader gave the book a ranty one star review and stated the author used the characters to convey propaganda about their socio-economical views. They also criticized some language misuse. The author wrote a long and whiny comment in response where he insulted the reviewer and it exploded from there. Other people wrote angry comments (one of the one star reviews has 900+ comments under it!), the author wrote more heated replies, which resulted in people organizing brigade campaigns to rain one star ratings on the book.

Judging from the statistics of the ratings, people shared screenshots of the abusive replies from the author and it went viral in book reviewer communities, which resulted in the book getting downvoted into oblivion.

The author realized his mistake and deleted the awful comments, but it was too late.

I am not going to link to that book page or share the screenshots, for the details and identities do not matter.

Word to the wise: Never, ever reply to negative reviews for your book! Refrain from answering any sort of criticism on public forums. Let the positive reviews speak for themselves. So long you have enough number of 4 and 5 stars, a few one star reviews are not going to do much damage.

In the age of social media, getting all worked up about a couple of one star reviews is certainly not a good idea. That one star will turn into a thousand one stars in no time if you get involved and spark a drama war. Just don’t do it. Great literary classics, cult icon books and popular books with huge fandoms all have a whole bunch of one star reviews.

Besides, according to some studies, bad reviews boost sales of unknown authors. Here is the link to the Harvard Business Review article explaining the phenomenon:

https://hbr.org/2012/03/bad-reviews-can-boost-sales-heres-why

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17 thoughts on “Replying to negative reviews is a BAD idea

  1. Very true!!! I’m always astonished that authors make these mistakes again and again. They need to grow a thicker skin. There is NO way that everyone is going to love their books. On top GR has become a more trolled place than ever before. It’s reputation among authors and members has been tarnished because of that. I fortunately always miss drama like that, and keep my reviews positive etc.;-) no drama for me!!

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  2. I wouldn’t know from an autho POV, but as a reader one of my biggest pet peeves is an author responding to a critical review. My friend wrote a critical review for a book bc of representation issues, and she read the book (I only think ratings should be done when one reads a book), and the author corrected her on her review. My friend was so offended bc it’s her opinion, right? It was one bad out of many good ones, but it made the author look bad. So I totally know what you mean.
    If an author commented on my negative review (of which there are few), it would be so awkward. So great advice!! 😊😊😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Some authors respond to general criticism on their own blogs, without attacking or targeting anyone or getting butthurt-defensive. That takes a special kind of wisdom though, directly engaging individual reviewers is unprofessional. Reviewers should never be bullied, and people aren’t stupid, most people can tell if a bad review is out of spite and not valid. If someone gives a one star review and complains about excessive violence, that will not deter me from buying that book cause I don’t mind violence.

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    • I have to say that I did respond to my first and only one star review…only when the reviewer INSISTED that all my good reviews HAD to be fake…she made other disparaging comments that I ignored. I kept it short and courteous, never attacking her back in the least. She ended up re-writing her review, addressing the comments I had made as if it were on her own accord…and wrote it as if she never read my “long response”…but I let it go, there was no way I was going to continue.

      There is absolutely no way I could let someone say all my good reviews must be fake and family, etc…especially when that isn’t true. If she didn’t like my writing style, or the story building, things like this, then fine..that’s her opinion, and I take that with a grain of salt (it’s so odd, in one day, someone told me they couldn’t relate to the characters, and another person told me she loved the characters so much she wanted to hand out with them!…I just laughed) but when she was seriously knocking me ethically and my personal character…I had to say something…again, I didn’t attack her back or say anything nasty…although if you read my answer and her revised review, it still doesn’t read so well for me, but at least the comment about fake reviews was addressed…either way, it’s done and I just saw recently where she actually took down the review from Amazon, months later…?

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  3. Thanks for this post, Leona! I review all the books I read at GoodReads, and no one has ever responded to any of my reviews — authors, that is. I’ve had only two instances in my whole time reviewing books, including at my blog, that I’ve ended up not writing a review because in my opinion the book hadn’t really been ready for publication. In those instances, I’ve communicated directly with the author. These two examples were published either by the author or one of those presses that promise the world in services, including editing, take an author’s money but do not deliver. I’m an author, too, and can understand the impulse to respond to a review, good, bad or ugly. I haven’t, and now after reading your post, I definitely have a good reminder not to!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I refrain from giving one star reviews, but if I have critiques I clearly list them, what worked for me and what didn’t. Maybe what I hated about a book is someone else’s preference, I bought a few books after reading negative reviews after all and liked them. It’s best to avoid directly responding to reviews. R. Scott Bakker and Mark Lawrence sometimes answer general criticism on their own blogs, without directly addressing anyone, or getting emotional. They do it in a professional and intelligent manner. Unfortunately some self published authors act on emotional impulses and we see horrible meltdown cases like that, which destroys their publishing career and reputation.

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  4. I review books for The Chalcedon Foundation, as well as on my blog, and sometimes we get contacted by the author… demanding a positive review! Who do these people think they are? It happens more often than you’d expect.
    There’s a story about someone who wrote a negative customer review on amazon.com and was contacted by the writer, who pretended to be a lawyer threatening to sue him if he didn’t retract the negative review and replace it with a rave. The reviewer discovered that there was no such person as this lawyer, and that the author had also threatened other reviewers.
    Now for my own experience. I found some one-star reviews on my amazon page, written by a Rev. So-and-so, whom I’d never heard of, which were nothing but personal attacks based on my employment by Chalcedon. He had obviously never read the books, and was urging everyone else to steer clear of them.
    But amazon can deal with that. A verified purchase customer contacted them and objected to those reviews as unfair, uninformative, and unrelated to the content of the books–and amazon pulled them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, this is unbelievable! Some authors do a nice job handling one star reviews: They share the most hilarious one star reviews on social media without naming names, everyone has a good laugh.

      As for the malevolent troll reviews like you mentioned, there are procedures to get them removed from Amazon. Not sure about Goodreads, but I think anyone who is of average intelligence can tell an ill-intentioned fake review from someone who never read the book. If I see such fake bad reviews when I browse for books, I usually flag/report them if there is such an option, or simply ignore them and keep on reading the legitimate reviews.

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  5. Dear oh, dear… When you turn your work over to the public, the deal is – they are free to make up their own minds about what they think about it. If you really are going to feel so defensively protective about your work, then don’t publish it. And yes – I can say that stuff because I, too, am an author. I also happen to be a book reviewer. Fortunately, the instances when an author loses the plot and behaves inappropriately is relatively rare – but it does leave a bad taste in the mouth…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree wholeheartedly. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and in a public forum people are free to express it how they choose. If someone writes a bad review out of spite then it probably won’t hold water, and if they don’t back it up with legitimate reasons then others won’t heed it.
      I feel like the only good response as an author is to either ignore it if you disagree, or use their review as a learning tool and write a stronger story next time. I sometimes feel a little embarrassed when I read over past stories, but about learning from it.
      I actually came across a solid quote the other day, “If you never fail you’re not doing it right.”

      Liked by 2 people

    • If I put a book out there and it got mostly positive reviews, I wouldn’t mind a few bad reviews. Not everyone has the same tastes, after all. If it was getting mostly negative reviews, it means either I did a bad job with the writing, or marketed it to the wrong audience.

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  6. On any public forum applies what I prefer to call ‘the youtube rule’. Between 5 and 10% of the reactions will be negative no matter what, and 1% will be outright hateful. There is no rhyme nor reason to it (I mean you can put up a video of a young cat playing with a bit of yarn and you still get those hateful comments), there certainly is no point in engaging these negative comments (as the open sewer that is otherwise known as the youtube comments section clearly shows)

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