Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are critical for online book sales . But too many bad reviews can tank your book’s success, especially if the negative reviews come shortly after your launch. 

The first reviews your book receives are the most important. They set the tone for future reader reviews. Your first reviews must be good, and that is why having a strong book launch is important.

You need to know:

  • Where negative reviews come from
  • How to get fewer negative reviews
  • How you can make some negative reviews go away completely. 

Where do negative book reviews come from?

Source #1 Politics

Rest assured, I’m not talking about political politics. If your book touts the virtues of Ford, don’t be surprised if Chevy fans leave you negative reviews. If you hype the iPhone, don’t let negative reviews from Android users get under your skin.

If you take a stand with your book, be it fiction or nonfiction, you will get negative reviews from people who disagree. The good news is those reviews are rarely about the book itself. Most people don’t pay to read books they disagree with. Instead, they will be critiquing your public appearances and your associations.

Many of the unfavorable critiques of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Principles for Life(Affiliate Link) do not address the book itself. Negative reviewers speak about him as a person. They criticize his affiliations or comments he has made outside of the book.

Politically motivated negative reviews boost your sales. Let me say that again. Politically motivated negative reviews boost your sales.

If your book is about how amazing Ford is, negative reviews from Chevy fans cause Ford fans to love you more. So celebrate! 

What to do about these negative reviews:

  • Ignore. There is no value in reading these reviews. These are not your people.
  • Celebrate! Negative reviews from the “other side” mean your book is getting traction. 

Source #2 Expectations Mismatch

Bait your fishing hook with bait that attracts the kind of fish you want to catch. If you don’t want to catch catfish, don’t use stinkbait! The same holds true for how you promote and place your book.

Bad reviews typically come when the reader’s expectations do not match what the book delivers.  

If the book looks like a dark urban fantasy and turns out to be Christian literary fiction, that mismatch will result in bad reviews. A mismatch will also repel the right readers who would have left good reviews. 

Reader expectations come from:

Other Books in the Same Genre

If the other books in your genre all include a kissing scene, and your book does not, then you will end up with an expectations mismatch. 

The Cover

If your cover indicates the book is a cozy romance, and in reality, it is a steamy romance, you will get some negative reviews.

When I say a book has a “bad” cover, I do not mean it is pretty or ugly. A “bad” cover is simply using the wrong bait to catch the right readers.

A book cover is meant to attract readers. A pretty cover that attracts the wrong readers is worse than an ugly cover that attracts the right kind of readers. 

Good covers attract the right readers.

If you want to catch catfish, don’t complain about the smell of the bait. 

The Title & Blurb

You can explicitly set expectations for your book in your title, blurb, and back cover. If they are well-written, each piece of the cover makes a promise to the reader. The reader wants what you’ve promised, so they go ahead and purchase your book. If you make a promise on the back cover, you must fulfill that promise before the book ends.

Previous Books 

You may not realize it, but you set reader expectations with every book you write. 

Readers expect your next book to be like the previous books. The more you deviate from those expectations, the more negative reviews you will get. 

If your first books have no explicit language, but your fifth book has lots of cussing, expect bad reviews. 

If the first four books in your series featured space battles, but your fifth book is nothing but political intrigue, expect bad reviews. 

If your first three books were about how amazing Ford is, and your fourth book is about how you are now a Chevy driver, expect unhappy readers.  

What to do about negative reviews caused by a mismatch:

  • Read these reviews and take them to heart. These are your people, and their feedback is important. 
  • Consider ways you can align your book’s packaging and content to meet reader expectations. The inside must match the outside. Sometimes you only need a new cover to stop bad reviews. A mastermind group can help you with this. If you don’t have a mastermind group, consider joining one of mine!

Source #3 Sabotage

Some authors falsely believe that the only path to the top of the rankings is to displace the authors above them by pulling them down.  

One way they accomplish this is by hiring several dozen (or several hundred) people to leave negative reviews. This is a black hat marketing technique called “review-bombing,” and I never recommend black hat tactics. However, you need to know what to do if someone is review-bombing you.

If your book normally gets 2-5 reviews a week and suddenly you get 20 negative reviews in a few days, you may be the target of sabotage. While review-bombing is painful, there are ways to have the reviews removed. 

How to Get Negative Reviews Taken Down

Step 1: Study the Amazon Rules 

With the Amazon rules in hand, you can make a case that will hold up in “Amazon Court.” When you initiate a complaint, the first human to read your complaint will be an underpaid Amazon employee who reads a lot of complaints all day long. 

To make it easy for this employee to remove the negative comments, quote the specific Amazon rule the review has violated. 

Most Useful Rules: 

If someone calls you a name, you can get their review removed. “Don’t engage in name-calling or attack people based on whether you agree with them. You may question the beliefs and expertise of others as long as it is relevant and done in a respectful and non-threatening manner.”

If someone cusses in their review, you can sometimes get it removed. “Don’t post content that is obscene, pornographic, or lewd, or that contains nudity or sexually explicit images.” 
 

Very mean reviews are the easiest to get removed. “Don’t post content that is libelous, defamatory, harassing, threatening, or inflammatory. For example, don’t use obscenities or profanity, and don’t express hatred or intolerance for people on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender or gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, age, or disability, including by promoting organizations with such views.” (Sometimes Amazon proactively removes reviews that violate these guidelines.)

If a competing author leaves you a review, you can get it taken down regardless of what it says. Just point out that they are a competitor. “Users are forbidden from “Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors’ products or services.” 

If you get 30 bad reviews in two days, there is a good chance compensation has taken place. Users are forbidden from “Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.”

There are more rules, so study them. Many negative reviews violate Amazon’s rules.

Step 2: Click “Report Abuse

In your report, cite the specific rule the reviewer has violated. I suspect Amazon outsources the chore of reviewing abuse complaints to workers in other countries. Make your written complaint clear and simple. Don’t use big words, and quote the specific rule that has been violated.  

Step 3: Ask your fans to report it as well. 

You will likely need a dozen abuse complaints to have the review removed. Don’t ask your fans to downvote the offending review, as this can backfire. Instead, ask friends to upvote other reviews by clicking the “helpful” button. 

Source #4 Quality Control Issues

Quality Control concerns may include broken hyperlinks in your ebook, shipping issues, and production problems like, “My book was missing the last 50 pages.” Sometimes people leave negative reviews about a specific typo or a repeated typo.

What to do about negative reviews about quality issues:

  • Take it seriously. If you are indie published, the issues are most likely Amazon’s responsibility, but you’ll want to make sure. 
  • Be aware of counterfeiting. Quality issues may be an indication someone is selling counterfeit copies of your book. For more about counterfeiting, listen to Episode 198: How to Protect Yourself from Counterfeiting and Other Amazon Attacks
  • Respond to it. This is the only kind of negative review you should ever respond to. If someone is missing 50 pages of your book, find out what happened. Fix the problem that caused the mistake then make it right with the reader. 
  • Fix it or ask the reader to ask Amazon to make it right. Amazon has a stellar reputation with customers for a reason, and they are good at making things right, even if the problem is simply slow shipping. Some readers don’t know they can contact Amazon customer support, so they leave a negative review instead. 
  • Let it ride. Sometimes people complain about shipping issues in a book review and leave a one-star review. Don’t fret. These 1-star reviews don’t reflect poorly on you, but they still give credibility to the 5-star reviews. 

Source #5 Jealousy (and Other Internal Issues)

If the review has nothing to do with your book, the reviewer is probably unable to see past their own issues. I faced this with my book on dating and relationships. Some of my negative feedback was nothing but the reviewer’s personal love story. Since I hadn’t told their story, in their view, my book was wrong. 

Once you are successful, you will get more out-of-nowhere, mean reviews. They are a sign of your success and other people’s jealousy. 

Another internal issue that leads to bad reviews is chest-beating. When a know-it-all reviewer disagrees with a small point or points out a fact you got wrong, he’s simply communicating his need for people to think he is the smartest one in the room. These people start sentences with, “Well actually…” and most readers hate the self-important musings of a know-it-all. 

What to do about mean reviews:

  • Ignore. There is no value in reading these reviews. Don’t be dragged into their crazy insecurities.  

Bad Reviews Validate The Good Reviews

Believe it or not, some bad reviews improve your book sales. 

One of the surprising things about Amazon in the early years was that products with one-star reviews outsold products without one-star reviews. You don’t want all the one-star reviews to go away. You want a high average number of stars with a few bad reviews sprinkled in to give the good reviews credibility. 

You never want all the bad reviews to go away. 

Finally, remember that you are not your book! If someone dislikes your book, it doesn’t mean they dislike you. If they truly don’t like you, it doesn’t mean they are right. 

Mean people are emotionally unhealthy and often feel miserable inside.

The best response is to pity the mean reviewer. Then give thanks for all the people who taught you manners, civility, and kindness.

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Don’t miss it! Learn how to launch your book with a launch team so you’ll have an influx of good reviews right away. A launch team is critical for garnering a good number of positive reviews in the first two weeks. 

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Encouragement

The older my children get, the louder they get. I have a new tool to fight toddler noise on the podcast. I connected a special orange lamp to a smart wifi outlet plug. With a click on my computer or phone, I can turn on the light. We call this the “quiet light” and are trying to coach the children to be especially quiet while the light is on.

The light is positioned where you can see it from all the areas of the house where noise can get into my studio. The ugly orange light is obvious and can’t be missed. I thought this was a very clever solution for a work-from-home podcasting dad.

There is only one problem. We are not entirely sure if Mercy, our 19-month-old, understands the concept of “quiet.” Tommy, the 5-month-old certainly has no idea.  

I will admit this is a flaw in my system. A quiet light only works for children who understand what it means. But I hold out hope that they will figure it out. 

If you have any parenting tips or want to call our listener helpline to ask a question we can address in a future episode, you can call the listener helpline at 512-827-8377. You can also send a high-quality recording to AuthorMedia.com/contact.

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