5

I see basically three possible responses:

(a) Write a rebuttal ranting that this person is a jerk and his criticisms are totally unfair and that he isn't worthy to be spit upon by a great author like yourself, etc. Let's say we rule that out.

(b) Do nothing. Take your lumps.

(c) Write a rebuttal pointing out factual errors, but keep it as reasoned and non-argumentative as possible.

Perhaps I should say that in my case, I wrote a non-fiction book on a somewhat controversial subject, and someone with different beliefs posted a review on Amazon attacking my book that included assertions I consider inaccurate. (I'm thinking that I don't want to be more specific than that to avoid biasing answers by whether or not you agree with me. I'm trying to keep it general.) Perhaps I should add that the book has only gotten 3 reviews -- I'm far from a best-selling author -- and Amazon deleted a very positive review for some reason, so now I've got one positive review and one negative review.

Any thoughts on the above responses, or do you have other ideas? Does the fact that the book is on a controversial subject lead you to give a different answer than if it was, say, a light adventure novel?

  • Addendum *

I posted this question over a year ago but someone just posted a new answer, so let me take this opportunity to offer a clarifying comment. (Not saying the new answer indicates a misunderstanding, just that it brought my attention back to this question.)

Bear in mind that I'm talking here about non-fiction books. This is not the same as what I would say about fiction.

If someone posts a review saying that the writing style is poor, like "the logic isn't clear" or "the explanations were difficult to understand", I don't think there's much point to a rebuttal. You can say, "My text is perfectly clear and if you don't understand that's because you're stupid", but that's unlikely to be productive.

But suppose a reviewer says, "Dr Jones 1953 book, 'About Stuff', completely refuted the writer's conclusions." The author might well want to reply that he discussed Dr Jones arguments extensively in chapter 6 and that Dr Smith presented compelling evidence in 1982 that Dr Jones was wrong, and that the reviewer is simply ignoring this. That's the kind of claim made in a negative review that I'm talking about: Not, the writing style is poor, which is largely a matter of opinion and not objectively debatable. But, the writer said X, when in fact I didn't say X. Or, the writer said X which is not true, when in fact I can make a good argument that X is true in a couple of sentences.

I've gotten other negative reviews since and I haven't replied to any of them because, frankly, I don't want to sound like I'm whining about a bad review.

3

I wanted to write what Nicole wrote, but she already did (+1), so I'm going to write something else.

A productive – as in facilitating – response to a negative review is to try your best and forget for a moment that you are in love with your own work (because it is the materialization of what a beautiful and wonderful person you are), and instead take your reader's perspective and look at your work and try to evaluate if maybe there is even the slightest bit of truth about what that reviewer wrote and whether that critique can help you to make your next book even better.

We all are blind to our own faults, and having them pointed out to us is painful, but facing them is the only way to grow.

I don't mean to imply that you must take every review serious. But that you might profit from taking a day once a year to collectively sample them all and consider what they mean. As a writer, you are a business, and your business is trying to sell something to your customers. Ignoring the complaints of your customers will surely lose you some of those customers. Which is why good companies don't get stressed when customers rant at the help desk, but rather try to understand how they can make similar customers happy in the future.

What that means in a non-fiction book and how you can implement that is up to you. Of course, if you are the catholic church and preaching the gospel, you cannot simply include other beliefs in your preaching just to make all the non-catholics happy. But maybe that critique can help you evaluate the manner and style of your writing. Are you discussing facts, or preaching a belief? If your book is "scientific" in the broadest sense, and readers feel offended by your stance, then maybe your writing is not scientific (because scientific writing always allows for a different interpretation of the data). Even the most controversion subjects can be presented cool-headedly. But if your reviewer is a fanatic who is incapable of cool-headed discussions themselves, then certainly ignore them.

In the end, both my and Nicole's advice is to remain calm and unaffected. The professional approach is not to confuse yourself with your work, or your readers with your friends. This is difficult in something as emotional as writing, but try to switch between writing mode (where you are what you write) and sales-person mode (where you sell a product). Once your book is published, you should no longer be in writing mode.

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  • No argument. In my case the negative review was mostly attacking statements of fact, so it didn't particularly hurt my feelings. If the reviewer had said that my writing was unclear or my logic incomprehensible I might have taken it more personally, but at the same time there might have been lessons to learn from it. BTW my daughter (who is an English major in college) proof-read for me before publication and had many harsh comments, which I think I took well. :-) – Jay Apr 16 '15 at 13:15
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I highly suggest you do nothing. A) is a very bad idea - it will tarnish your reputation as argumentative and rude. C) could easily be construed as doing A) -- even with the best intentions, someone could take it out of context -- so it's also best to avoid that. As for if my answer would change for a different type of novel, definitely no. This is good advice for anyone.

The best guidelines I've seen about this come from Goodreads on author reviews:

Please do not comment on negative reviews of your book, even if it's just to correct an inaccuracy in the review. Previous experience has shown repeatedly that the only positive reaction to a negative review is to ignore it.

Many studies have show that a few negative reviews are actually helpful, as they lend validity to the positive reviews on the book's page.

In a different place on their site:

Don’t engage with people who give you negative reviews. We cannot stress this enough. The number one mistake new authors make is to respond to negative reviews. Engaging with people who don’t like your book is not likely to win you any new readers and could lead to members deciding not to read your book. [...] other readers will see a reaction from the author and interpret it as hostile regardless of how carefully the response was crafted. A single negative interaction is often enough to turn a reader off an author permanently.

It's best to just move on and focus on the positive reviews. :)

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  • An addition to your excellent answer: The books, music, etc. that I enjoy the most as a consumer and endorse the strongest among my social circle are those whose creators are friendly, helpful, warm and so on to everyone. I am deeply impressed when a writer or artist, if he must react to an abusive comment in the context of a discussion, is understanding and friendly even to that person. Often these persons react to this friendliness to their abuse with shame and become more friendly themselves. [contd.] – user5645 Apr 16 '15 at 6:44
  • [contd.] I have witnessed many cases where a person who was aggressive towards a speaker later approached him and excused himself and became an avid follower. So, as a professional, if you react at all, you must react in a way that shows understanding of and concern for the opinion of your reviewer. If you cannot do that, as Nicole already made clear, you should remain silent. – user5645 Apr 16 '15 at 6:44
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    Thanks. Yes, I definitely understand how "I'd just like to point out some mis-statements" can sound defensive and argumentative no matter how careful you are, which is what has led me to not respond to this negative review so far. – Jay Apr 16 '15 at 13:09
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In my experience, a response always legitimizes a critique, so unless a) you have a policy of responding to all reviews, b) you yourself actually think the criticisms are legitimate, or c) the reviewer already has a position of legitimacy higher than yours (i.e. "Top Reviewer" status), responding is intrinsically counterproductive.

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1

Another approach would be, on your own website or blog - is to write a veiled rebuttal. I wouldn't directly mention the bad review, but just write as if you are clarifying some issues or points for current/future readers. But of course this blog post would address the issues that the bad review got factually wrong, and even address some of the other issues the review raises.

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  • Interesting idea. Only drawback I see: Lots more people read reviews of my books on Amazon than visit my website. Still, it would make a pseudo-rebuttal available on line, and it would add material to my web site, which frankly right now is pretty sparse, basically just a page for each of my three published books with a back-cover-style description and ordering information. – Jay Apr 29 '16 at 5:05

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