The one thing an author should never, ever do.

I’m a reviewer. I hang out on message boards frequented by other reviewers. One popular topic on these message boards is that of authors who comment on reviews of their books.

Almost all reviewers agree that authors shouldn’t ever do it, and when it happens, someone often links to the site where it’s going down, so we can all go over and see how badly everyone behaved.

It’s kind of a lame spectator sport, and it’s really not funny, because these authors are more often than not doing terrible damage to their reputations – and their sales – sometimes permanently.

It happens again and again, especially on Amazon. And, it seems to happen most often with first-time authors and self-published authors, probably because they just don’t know not to. Some of these conversations started off okay, but then very often quickly become defensive and unpleasant. More often than not, other readers/reviewers jump into the conversation and it really spirals out of control. What the author has done is drawn more attention to the review.

When an author has commented on a review, I’ve sometimes seen others comment that they’ve “added the author to their never-read list.” Don’t let this happen to you. For everyone who leaves such a comment, there are many others who feel the same way. They will write you off as someone whose work they won’t ever support.

Reviews are certainly important; without them books are unlikely to sell well. typewriterGiven the huge number of people who read them, there’s a very large potential readership that you have the ability to alienate, all in just a few keystrokes. Some Amazon.com reviews are propagated to Amazon’s international sites as well. So, it’s better to just let your creative work speak for itself.

If you choose to reply to a review, just understand that you will do it at your own peril.

Here’s what you must understand about reviews:

While authors can certainly learn from reviews, reviews aren’t primarily meant to be a conversation between an author and a reviewer, but between a reviewer (reader) and other readers.

If you disrupt that little ecosystem some people will react very poorly to it. And the reviewer who said whatever it is that you don’t like won’t pay the price – you will.

[See: Streisand Effect, in which trying to suppress bad press only amplifies it: these things multiply with attention. Goodreads also explains this problem well.]

If someone says something false or negative, just let it roll off you, rise above it. You can’t please everyone. There will be other reviews, which will be positive, and factually correct. Enjoy those and just ignore the others.

Negative reviews may not even hurt your sales.

Many people are going to look at your book page, and the book’s reviews.

One – or even a number of negative reviews – won’t sink a book’s sales! (But an author behaving poorly will.) What bothers one reviewer might be just what another reviewer will like about the book.

Potential buyers also want to look at a range of reviews. People will naturally have a variety of opinions (and even what they believe to be fact). That’s what you want; when everyone posts the same, super-positive, perfect-5-star reviews it can seem fishy. Readers expect – and respect – some dissent.

Remember, even beloved authors like Shakespeare, JK Rowling, and Dr. Seuss have critical reviews. And, think of all the times you read a critical movie review – but bought a ticket anyway, to see for yourself.

Readers will also usually pay little mind to reviews which are obviously inappropriate, abusive, are badly written, or seem poorly considered.

Don’t even leave a positive comment.

If someone leaves a good review, don’t comment then, either. Reviewers don’t like to think that an author is, in effect, hovering over them and passing judgment on their reviews either way. If your readers think you’re going to scrutinize and critique what they write, they are going to be less likely to leave a review. And that can’t benefit you at all.

If you like the review, there are things you can do.

Tweet it. Share it on your Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, and other social sites. Quote it on your website. These are all great.

And, of course if someone leaves a nice comment on your website, feel free to thank them, briefly. (But it’s still best to ignore any negative comments – just let those go.)

Do you have experience with this issue?

If so we’d be glad to hear about it – just leave a comment below.

(And, be sure to check out our article with tips on where to find reviewers for your book.)

Comments

    • says

      Hi Christy, Thanks for your comment. Checking your work for errors isn’t really the function of a reviewer. That’s what editors and proofreaders are there for.

      It’s best to get feedback on your book (ebook or otherwise) before you publish it. You can send it to family and friends – or find an website where people will do beta reading for each other (those do exist) for general feedback.

      Ideally, you’d hire an editor and/or proofreader to go over it before publication. A proofreader will catch the typos and other little errors that crop up and distract from the reader’s experience. An editor will catch inconsistencies, awkward phrasing, check that the writing flows well, and more. Some people will do both things for you. These services aren’t necessarily expensive, either.

      Then the reviewers can read and your best work, rather than a draft.

      Getting everything right prior to publication will save you a lot of headaches – and negative reviews – in the future!

      • Christy Nathan says

        Hi Denise,
        As you said above that for mistakes editors and proofreaders are there for, So, after publishing our ebook is someone is also there who can give us all information about our ebook sales and where the ebook is purchased.

  1. says

    Everyone is busy and so when a critic takes the time to give his/her opinion on a book the author should be grateful. Even if there are negative comments the author should try to learn something from what is stated. Humility is fast becoming an archaic virtue but it is still needed to accept criticism graciously.

  2. says

    I know this is an old topic, but I published a particular review in March 2014 on Amazon/Goodreads, my site etc. The writer still has not let it go to this day, he fills twitter with vitriol. He has even had his author profile removed from Goodreads because of the way he has behaved. Since this was my first such reaction I was a little shocked at first, but it has not put me off reviewing self-published authors surprisingly.

  3. Joe Haldeman says

    In Ernest Hemingway’s published letters there are a few really blistering responses to critics, with the notation “not sent.” A good lesson implied there (by a man who was not famous for restraint).

    I send a short note in response to a review if the critic has found an error in fact that I can correct in subsequent printings. I think that’s just common courtesy. Thanking him or her for liking your book, especially in correspondence that might be made public, is probably unwise.

  4. Michael J. Gayda says

    Thank you for this site and your comments. I just published my autobiography on Amazon and B & N. Because my book is an autobiography I can easily internalize what people say. I finally decided to not read ANY reviews. I want people to read my book because the message is what is important. I am highly fortunate to even be alive after the life I led and that’s certainly worth being thankful for. What you say is important: let readers respond any way they want to.

  5. Maricela Baird says

    This entry was posted and tagged authors, bad reviews, criticism, dealing with bad reviews, literature, masq2, never respond to reviewers, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

  6. says

    Great advice. I totally agree. I would add that taking to Facebook and Twitter complaining about a bad review isn’t a great move either. It’s true you may get a lot of sympathy from your friends and followers, but that sympathy may turn into a witch hunt. Authors may suffer a backlash when their readers come to their defense and start flaming the negative review with comments that may get personal and ugly. That reflects badly on the author and makes him/her look petty.

  7. says

    The power of writing is not caring if anyone wants to buy your book. It doesn’t matter what they think of you as a person, or as a writer. Stifle one’s self for the sake of dollars? Suffer in silence for the want of shekels?

    I am guilty of this grievous flaw, and I regret it not one whit.

    • says

      [In reply to Paul Maher Jr.’ s comment below]

      This article is mostly directed those authors (many of them self-published), who at the hint of any criticism or dissent, are tempted to attack the reviewer. Too often, self-published authors who don’t know any better, find themselves antagonizing their readers, and shutting down sales.

      I’ve seen this scenario many times, especially on Amazon, where tens of thousands of self-published authors – many of them first-time authors – sell their books, and where most of the reviewers are ordinary readers rather than professional reviewers. These authors often take deep offense, just because someone doesn’t give their book a 5-star review. They love their book (of course) but think everyone else will too, and react badly when that’s not the case.

      It happens often. Someone will say something innocuous in a review, like “I didn’t find it believable in this novel, that someone could drive to San Francisco from Seattle in one 14-hour nonstop trip, and still have enough energy to go dancing until the bars closed.” Or, “I don’t like a lot of detail about landscapes, so found this book hard to get through in places.” And the author takes deep offense at the minor criticism and jumps down the reader’s throat for it.

      Authors who do that are going to do more harm than good. You’ve gotta pick your battles.

      For most authors, sales are important. They publish their books with in the hope that they will sell and gain a readership.

      Whether they decide to comment on reviews or not, authors should first be aware that there may be consequences of jumping into the fray. Then, they can make that decision for themselves.

  8. says

    Hehe

    I’ve seen that happen quite a few times in the zombie books niche. A bunch of first time authors and everyone thinks their books is better than the Bible :(

    • says

      Thanks for your comment. (And cool site, by the way!) It’s understandable that authors are proud of their work – they’ve poured love and time into it. But they should understand that every writer has room to improve, and that not everyone will love their work as much as they do – and that that’s OK! Got to have pretty thick skin to be an author!

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