“This book is the worst book in the world. I read half way through the book and gave up because it made no sence” [sic]
—Actual One-Star Review from Amazon.com
Every author has it happen sooner or later: the dreaded one-star review. Any review less than glowing is likely to sting a bit, so a review of fewer than four or five stars may cause you to want to take some action.
Should you comment on the review, to explain why the reviewer is mistaken? Ask Amazon to remove the review? Set up dummy accounts to bury the bad review under an avalanche of five-star praises and write reviews attacking your competition? No, probably no and definitely no.
In most cases, the best strategy to deal with a bad review is simply to ignore it. Some people are not going to like your book. That’s life. If you want to feel better about that, read this collection of one-star reviews of classic books, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlotte’s Web, Jane Eyre and others.
Fifty Shades of Gray has sold about a trillion copies (OK, that is an exaggeration. But it has sold well over 20 million copies.) and it has nearly 4000 one-star reviews–that is nearly a third of all of the reviews the book has received (see the graphic at right). Yes, negative reviews can harm sales, but one bad review among several good ones will not kill a book.
Because your first instinct is probably to defend your book or lash out at the reviewer, let’s take a look at possible actions and their impact before you do anything.
Should you comment on the review, to explain why the reviewer is mistaken?
Amazon allows anyone to make a comment on reviews, so you could leave a comment about why the reviewer is mistaken. However, an author responding to a bad review is likely to come across as defensive. Keep in mind that many one-star reviews are posted by trolls who would love to get into a battle with an overly-sensitive author. This can not end well. In 99.9% of cases, it is best not to respond to reviews.
Never get into a pissing match with a negative reviewer. They usually have a lot more piss than you and they will win. You can not come off looking good when you allow them to lure you into silly arguments.
When should you reply to a review? Never is a good answer, whether the review is good or bad. However, I might make an exception for a circumstance where someone asked a question that the author could answer. For example, if someone wrote a nice review and said they hoped there would be more books in the series the author might comment to let readers know that the next book will be out in October. Even that is probably not a good idea, though. Authors should be above the fray, and not acknowledge reviews publicly.
Should you ask Amazon to remove the review?
Maybe. Amazon will not remove a review just because it is negative, but they may if it violates the Amazon review guidelines. For example, reviews should be relevant to the product. I was once able to get a one-star review of one of my books removed because it did not address the book or its content at all. Other examples of review content that violates the guidelines would include:
- Links to the reviewer’s own products
- Feedback on the seller, the shipment experience or the packaging
- Profanity or spiteful remarks
- External links
- Advertising or promotional material
- Reviews by or on behalf of someone with a financial interest in a directly competing product (e.g., the author of a similar book)
If you believe that a review violates Amazon’s review guidelines, you can contact Amazon via Author Central. Look for the link at the bottom of this page.
Should you set up dummy accounts to bury the bad review under an avalanche of five-star praises?
No, no, no! This is not only wrong, it is stupid. If the ethics of it don’t stop you, consider that you may be discovered. It was recently discovered that crime novelist R.J. Ellory used several sock puppet accounts to write glowing reviews of his own books and attack competing books. Is that the way you want to become famous, as a lying hack? Probably not.
Do not write a bunch of reviews using fake names, whether of your books or competitors’. It is easier to spot than you may think. And it is sleazy.
The same goes for getting friends, relatives or Fiverr workers to do your dirty work. No fake reviews. Ever.
So what is the best thing to do when you get a bad review?
Ignore it, and get on with your life. The fact is that you will not be the one person in the history of the world who is loved by everyone. There will be people who dislike your work, and there will be people who dislike you. Forget about it and go write your next book. Better yet, don’t even read the reviews. Just focus on writing and becoming a better writer with each new book.
Oh, and that review at the top of this page? It is from a one-star review of To Kill a Mockingbird. Even the great classics are not immune.
Cathy Stucker is the founder of SellingBooks.com. Get her audio program on building an effective author platform free when you sign up for the free Selling Books newsletter.