By Judith Briles
Once a writer becomes a published author, the “opinion” floodgates can open. Few realize how truly vulnerable the published author becomes. Kudos come in, which are lovely; it’s the potshots and naysayers that can sometimes take your breath away. Naysayers and those who just don’t like the book are out there—not everyone is going to think/feel what you’ve created is terrific. Then, there’s another breed—the trolls.
Negative Book Reviews
What happens when all of a sudden, ugly ones surface? Did you really publish a stinkeroo—one that should be yanked? Or, are you being stalked by someone who is seeking revenge? Posting because of envy? Being paid to do it? Or just a jerk, now-it-all or someone(s) who miserable and have nothing better to do?
If you are writing on a controversial topic, guaranteed, you will get reaction. If you have some kind of already existing notoriety, you will get reaction.
We live in a world where just about anyone and their dog can post something. It doesn’t matter if it’s valid, true, real or pure hoax. It gets posted. It wasn’t long ago that an author could pay individuals and groups to post positive reviews. Finally, Amazon started a form of a crackdown, and to the dismay of many authors, threw out the baby with the bath water. Many legitimate and terrific reviews were deleted. The reason—in many cases, it was tough to discover. What Amazon did was delete anyone’s review that its robots could detect were connected to the author—relatives; those who were acknowledged by the author in the work (even if they had bought the book—a verified reviewer)—it went overboard.
Within hours of the recent publication of What Happened by Hillary Clinton on September 12, over 900 negative one-star reviews were posted of the 500-page book within 24 hours. By the next day, Amazon had determined that something was amiss and issued a statement (and deleted the great majority of the reviews):
We remove customer reviews that violate our community guidelines when we find unusually high numbers of reviews for a product posted in a short period of time, we may restrict the number of non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews on that product. All of the reviews deleted were unverified.
We are not deleting negative reviews. We have triggers in place to suppress reviews when the voices of many are drowning out the voices of a few. When these triggers are activated, we suppress ALL non-AVP (Amazon Verified Purchase) reviews on the product. In this case, people that actually bought the book and have an AVP badge are more likely to review the book favorably than people that did not buy the book.
Amazon Customer Reviews must be reviews related to the product and are designed to help customers make purchase decisions. In the case of a memoir, the subject of the book is the author and their views. It’s not our role to decide what a customer would view as helpful or unhelpful in making their decision. We do however have mechanisms in place to ensure that the voices of many do not drown out the voices of a few and we remove customer reviews that violate our Community Guidelines.
For we authors, book reviews can make or break our book sales and success. Self and Indie authors don’t have a major publisher to cry “foul” when the trolls are in play. So … what’s an author to do?
What You Can Do About Negative Reviews
- Toughen your hide … you can ignore them and do nothing.
Let’s face it, there will be reviews that you don’t like or want to see. They happen. Stay focused, support your book and keep writing.
- Determine if the review is a “troll” or a “ tutor”.
Do not personally respond to “trolls”—ever. You don’t need to get into a rant response mode and add fuel to whatever is motivating them. If a “tutor” someone who has pointed out a few typos—you can thank them, even offer to send a new copy when the next edition when reprinted.
- If you believe a troll is in play and you do feel that some kind of response should be posted, let someone else do it for you.
Your fans and friends can come forth here. Ask them if they will respond to the naysayer to counter what was posted. I’ve done this several times for individuals who I’ve felt have been inappropriately dinged when a private SOS went out. This is done in the “comment” to a review post as well as “report abuse” on Amazon.
- Don’t grumble on your social media sites about bad reviews.
It’s stiff upper lip time. Re-read the positive reviews; share info with your followers of what you are working on; not everyone is going to love you. What’s important is to identify faux reviews—they do happen. ID and report if you see them. You don’t want a label of “author behaving badly” or “poor sport”.
- Do contact Amazon.
Ask them via Seller-Performance@amazon.com and tell them what you want them to investigate and who you think the resource is—a stalker, competitor or what.
Always keep in mind that publishing is a business and your book is a product and any new books or offshoots are also products. Most negative reviews come from those your work didn’t connect with. If they are from a “faulty” product—fix them. Rarely personal. But when it is, stand up and speak up.