By David Wogahn

Yes it’s painful, but the general rule for reacting to a negative review is: Don’t respond.

Yet if you must, tread lightly. Let’s face it, online reviews have become one of the most effective marketing tools an author has to promote their books. In fact, there are book promotion websites that won’t accept book advertising for books that have an average rating below 3 stars. They don’t care that the reviews are bogus, uninformed or flat-out inaccurate. They just look at the average.

One of our clients published a children’s board book—one of those thick-paged books for babies—and it was sold in used condition by a third-party seller on Amazon. The reviewer had the audacity to give the book a negative review because pages had teeth marks from a toddler. Considering the “reader,” no surprise, but clearly not the problem of the publisher. (And adding insult to injury, they made no money in the transaction.)

You may not be able to contact the reviewer directly, but there are a few things you can do to minimize, improve, or reverse the review.

Review spam can be removed

Another of our clients published a cookbook that garnered a 1-star review that read:

“It looks stupid.  A teen ager told me wat to say.” [sic]

She contacted the store—Barnes & Noble—and they promptly deleted it. It never hurts to ask.

Comment on the review itself and/or vote it as unhelpful

April Hamilton has been working with eBooks for several years, and the 2008 edition of her The IndieAuthor Guide has 51 reviews with a single 1-star review. April took issue with the review and posted some compelling responses. Other reviewers chimed in mostly in defense of the book. Read it here.

Sometimes it is more powerful if someone in your community comes to your defense. You don’t want to appear desperate or defensive. An author we know told us about a reviewer who claimed his book ripped off a motion picture theme. Fortunately, someone commented that the book was written well before the movie was released.

Sometimes a less than positive review can be more helpful

In a LinkedIn Group about publishing on Amazon, a member shared that an author (Pete Morin, Diary of a Small Fish) asked him to change his review rating from 5 stars to 3 stars so that more people would read it. The author liked the review (headline: “Deeply and basically flawed, but a really good read.”) and felt that with 33 5-star and 18 4-star reviews, no one would find it. The reviewer happily changed the 5 to a 3.

Today, four years later, the book has 96 reviews with an average rating of 4.5.

It’s an interesting and gutsy marketing strategy. Just keep in mind that everyone has an opinion, and sometimes the best solution is to remain silent. Do you don’t want to come off small and petty.

Have you had unwarranted negative reviews? How have you handled them? Share your story below.

David Wogahn

DAVID WOGAHN is president of AuthorImprints, a professional self-publishing services company. Wogahn has helped more than 100 authors and businesses establish their own publishing imprints, resulting in the successful publication of 250 books…and counting. He is the author of Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright and LCCNs, LinkedIn’s course Distributing and Marketing eBooks, and is a speaker for the Independent Book Publisher Association’s (IBPA) Publishing University.

Learn more at AuthorImprints or contact Wogahn at or by phone at (877) 735-5269.