We’ve all chimed in on this topic and there are differing opinions on how to handle it when it happens. What do you do about bad reviews? This is a tough question to answer. In fact, it doesn’t have one answer. It depends on the situation. Unfortunately, receiving a bad review sets off a chain of emotional responses that don’t lead to clear thinking. Especially for self-published authors, because they rely so heavily on reviews and having just one negative one can hurt sales in the beginning of a book’s life. Let’s start by exploring the types of bad reviews and how I would respond to them.
The I bought the book by accident – Yes, people leave bad reviews for books if they bought it and didn’t mean to. They probably don’t think about the consequence of their review.
How to respond – Leave a reply offering to refund their money.
The it’s not my genre – These people bought the book, apparently not reading the description. Not sure how it happens, but they still leave the one star review.
How to respond – I would be tempted to ask why they bought it in the first place, but I would hold back. I’m not going to offer to refund this person. Tough break on the review.
The grammar and spelling complainer – Let’s face it, there will be errors in our work and someone will find them. Some of the people that find the errors will let you know about it, though they may sprinkle it in at the end of a decent review of the overall book.
How to respond – Thank them for pointing out the error (chances are we already knew about it) and let them know you have corrected it. Don’t offer money back on this one.
The this story doesn’t make sense or the flow is off – This type of review is probably legit. Sometimes the organization of our books makes sense to us, but not to the readers. If one notices, chances are that others have as well.
How to respond – I would thank them for reading and letting me know about their concerns. That’s it. At this point, there’s nothing we can do about this type of complaint.
The dreaded, this is a self-published author and it shows – Some people just do NOT like self-published authors, so whether the work is good or not, they will find a way to point out you are self-published. They may be right. Certainly there is less professionalism overall in the indie scene. Face it, teenagers going through love spells can publish a book. They may also be wrong and chose to leave a bad review simply because it’s self-published.
How to respond – Thank them for reading and let them know you are working to improve your work daily. They’ll feel like they did a good thing and you come off as a decent person.
The I know this author and they are horrible review – Ever pissed someone off in your lifetime? Will anyone be envious of the fact that there’s a book out there with your name on it? They might very well leave a bad review just to get back at you. If they drop to the level of actually slandering you personally, it really hurts.
How to handle it – Don’t respond, especially if you know or suspect it’s from someone you know. They will make you eat any response you leave, even if you respond positively. They may even hunt out other places to slander your book if they know they got your attention. If I see a review like this for a book I’m scouting, I always find the author more dignified for not responding.
*One caveat – If the reviewer says something like, “This author hits puppies,” and the review gains traction or gets a response from other people thinking about buying your book, you should probably respond. Do it calmly and politely, explaining the situation. Address it once on the review site and then maybe on your social networks. That’s all you can do. Unless you really hit puppies. Then I hope you lose your house.
The this book sucked review – This person hated the book from top to bottom and it’s clear from the review that nothing will change their mind. Maybe the content sparked their little fingers to chop your book, maybe it was the fact that they didn’t like your name. You may never know.
How to handle it – I think this one should be left alone. It’s not your fault they didn’t like it, so don’t offer them their money back. Responding to a review like this would likely provoke another response from the reviewer that will make you look dumb. It’s like when I was teaching – as soon as I engaged a student in an argument, I lost no matter what the outcome was.
No matter what, if we see a bad review pop up, we’re going to hate it. We spend so much time getting our books ready to publish and are so proud when it finally hits the shelves (digital or otherwise) that hearing someone didn’t like it hits us in the gut. We get attached to our characters, so an attack on them it like an attack on our siblings. Heck, I recently got slammed on Reddit for my ideas about women writing science fiction. What I thought was a completely thoughtful blog post actually pissed some people off. That bothered me! I want everyone to love what I write, but I do admit that we can learn from bad review, especially constructive ones. It just sucks to get the bad review.
Bad reviews will happen and often we had nothing to do with the reasons. Many times the people leaving the bad reviews simply don’t think about the damage they could be doing. We have to live with it. Ultimately it is up to you to formulate your response plan, but be careful and think first. Let the review sit in your mind overnight before you choose to respond or not. No matter what, we should always work to improve our work. Also, as indies, we always need to help out our fellow self-pubbers.
Have you gotten bad reviews? How did you handle them?