Should Authors Respond to Negative Amazon Reviews?

Thoughts on whether it's wise to feed the trolls.

amznWrite enough books—or even just one—and you may very well receive a negative or even a scathing book review at some point. Amazon doesn’t make its review data public, but I’d wager that most books fly under the radar and garner fewer than ten reviews.

I’ve heard a general rule of thumb: for every 100 books an author sells, s/he can expect to receive one review.

Let’s say for a moment that that’s true. Do the math: Even if your book sells 1,000 copies, you can expect ten honest reviews. (For now, I’ll leave aside the practice of buying reviews, something that has befuddled Amazon over the years.) At some point, it’s possible if not likely that a reader will not like your book and make his or her opinions known via the world’s largest online bookstore.

This begs the question: Should authors respond?

The answer isn’t as simple as, “Don’t feed the Troll.

Many authors make the mistake of responding to each and every missive.

For instance, if a reviewer is clearly and unabashedly churlish, then replying in the comments isn’t bound to do very much beyond inciting more rancor. Many authors make this mistake of responding to each and every missive. It makes them look puerile and defensive.

Don’t.

If, however, the review is factually incorrect, there’s a great deal to be gained by chiming in. For instance, in a recent review of The Age of the Platform, one individual erroneously claimed that “80 percent of the book is quoted from other texts.” This is patently false and I ran the numbers to prove it. (The actual number of quoted words is 6,029. Out of a 76,841-word manuscript, the percentage is 8, not 80. The reviewer is off by an order of magnitude. Put differently, the reviewer’s claim isn’t a matter of opinion; it’s demonstrably false.)

Brass Tacks: Tread Lightly with Negative Amazon Reviews

Regardless of what you do, you won’t convert a hater to an advocate. Still, you can appear professional and measured by acknowledging the reviewer’s right to dislike your text and pointing out his/her inaccuracies.

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2 Comments

  1. Scott Berkun

    You’re assuming that all negative reviews aren’t thoughtful. Sometimes they are. What makes for a good book, or film, is very subjective. To publish a book, even an excellent one, should come with the expectation that some people will have good reasons not to like it.

    I know I learn more from a thoughtfully written, but critical review, than a short one that tells me only that the book was awesome. A fully satisfied customer has less to each us than one with some complaints.

    I read nearly every review. I believe it’s only fair. But I respond to very few of them. I wouldn’t recommend it since, as you point out, very few authors possess the poise to do it in a way that doesn’t add fuel to the fire.

    What frustrates me the most are negative one line reviews, which are common. I can’t learn from a single sentence what I would have had to have done differently to make that reviewer happier with the book. If they’d give me a few sentences of feedback I’d have something to think about.

    Reply
  2. Phil Simon

    Good points, Scott. Not all negative reviews are created equal. Some can help you improve as a writer. I wasn’t differentiating between those types in the post.

    Reply

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