Should I Respond to a One-Star Review?

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Have you ever received a one-star review? Or do you dread the day that might happen? Or perhaps you are hoping to be published so you can get a review. Any review. When you start receiving reviews, some of them might not be as stellar as you had hoped. So what, if anything, should you do?

Good, Bad, Indifferent?

When I look at reviews of sites such as Amazon, I think it’s healthy to see a range of reviews from five stars to one star rather than all fives. Why? Because a reasonable mix of reviews indicates that strangers are reading your book. Any author can find a few friends to post five star reviews, but a mixed reaction shows that a book is being marketed to a variety of readers. It’s nice not to receive any one-star reviews and keep your mix in the five to three range, but a few lower reviews mixed in with positive comments shouldn’t mark the end of your career.

That doesn’t mean one-star reviews take you to a happy place, though. Instead, you may feel angry, defensive, offended, surprised, and perhaps tearful. No matter what, don’t let your fingers hit the keyboard to respond publicly to any review when you are feeling these emotions. Call a friend and gripe, cry to your spouse, play catch with your dog, but never post any comments until you are calm. In fact, this applies to any form of posting comments online.

A Gracious Response

The idea for this topic occurred to me when I spoke with one of my authors, Angie Breidenbach. Angie has a positive outlook on life and she wasn’t upset by her one-star review on her book, A Healing Heart

Instead, she posted a gracious response that even gained her at least one more reader:

Thank you for your review. The character reactions are actually based on the study of people I know in real life. And to be honest, Mara is based on my own journey back from being angry with God. So I suppose it’s simply a case of whether you’ve ever experienced it or seen it happen to someone you love, or not. I wish you a delightful and joyous life – one that never has to face these dilemmas. May yours be a peace-filled, happy journey :)

That’s not to say that a well-mannered response will always be successful, though. We’ve all met the person who just won’t like us or our books no matter what we do or how we write. So how to decide?

Not All One-Star Reviews Are Equal

Some reviewers will state what they disliked about the book in an honest way. The nicer ones will also say what they did like about the book as well. Chances are, as the author, you won’t agree with a negative review. Very few people would be able to respond without appearing defensive or argumentative. Approach responding with extreme caution. Or better yet, don’t offer a retort at all.

Other reviewers are looking for a safe way to vent their own anger and frustration and may attack you and your beliefs personally. There is no reason to respond to them. By virtue of name-calling, the person has lost the argument.

In the Christian publishing world, we have a problem peculiar to us in that some people will read our books and then become mad that they portray a Christian message. These readers didn’t properly review the promotional material around your book before deciding to purchase. That is on the reader, not you, as an author. No need to respond to these reviews.

I’ve seen many one-star reviews commenting that the electronic format was poor so they rate the book one star for that reason. Sadly, this will bring down a book’s average but the author’s only safe response is to alert the publisher to the problem.

Still other reviewers will rank a competing book with a one-star and then try to convince readers to buy their books instead. Usually they’ll get called on this unethical practice by other reviewers. No need to comment on such a transparent ploy.

Remember, You Have a Team

If a reviewer has made an unjustifiable attack on your work and you really feel you need to make a correction, I still recommend not responding in any way until you speak with your agent and/or editor. For example, if a reviewer says your book misstates facts, defending the integrity of your research may be in order. But by all means, consult the team of publishing professionals behind you before engaging in any public defense or explanation.

Your Obligations

Yes, you are obligated to your readers in that you must deliver the best quality work you can at all times. This shows you care about your reader and her time. But you are not obligated to respond to your reviews at all. Many authors make a firm practice not to read their reviews. The flip side of reviews is that too many glowing ones may make you feel overconfident. Sort of like the old Hollywood expression about the star who believes his own publicity. 

Whether you keep up with your reviews or not, don’t take any of them too seriously. Better to spend your time writing your next wonderful book.

Your Turn

Do one-star reviews keep you from buying a book?

Have you been disappointed in a book with glowing reviews?

What book or books do think have really lived up to their reviews?

Have you ever written a one-star review?

20 Responses to Should I Respond to a One-Star Review?

  1. Rachel Muller March 27, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    I’ll be honest and say that I don’t always read reviews on books I am purchasing. But if I’m reviewing a book to use as a comparable I do skim over some of the ratings. However–a one star rating piques my interest only in the fact that I have to find out for myself why that reviewer rated it that way in the first place.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but the ratings usually reflect one or two elements of the book. For instance the author may have stellar writing abilities, but the reader gave it a low rating because he/she didn’t enjoy the story. Or perhaps there were too many errors in the publication, but the story was excellent.

    One author stands out in my mind as one who has ‘lived up to’ expectations. Rachel Hauck continually surprises me with her books. Why hasn’t any of her works been made into movies? LOL. There are many others whose novels I adore, but Rachel’s just seem to go above and beyond. :)

  2. Jeanne Takenaka March 27, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    I haven’t received any one star reviews, only because I’m not published yet. :) I expect that if/when I have a book on the market, that will happen at some point though. For all the reasons you stated above.

    I definitely agree with the ideal of not responding to negative reviews. Angie’s response was well-written, and I imagine, the exception. The few times I have seen an author respond/retort/refute a 1-star review the author ends up looking small and defensive. A definite turn off for potential readers.

    I have to confess I don’t read reviews very often before buying a book. I usually purchase books based on word of mouth recommendations or because I know the author’s work already.

    And I’m with Rachel—I definitely think Rachel Hauck’s books live up to their five star reviews.

  3. Olivia Stocum March 27, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    I read the reviews. Sometimes I even buy a book based on a bad review because it makes me curious. Why did this person hate it soooo much? I read the reviews on my own books to. It’s important for me to know what my readers are looking for so I can tailor my work for them. After all, they are keeping me in business! Yes, now and then I get a ‘hateful’ review. I usually bang my head in anger for a day, then I get over it and move on.

  4. Angela Breidenbach March 27, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    I decided long ago to thank reviewers for their reviews whether I agreed with them or not. They took time to do it and as we all know, time is precious. Because of that personal policy, I’ve had other people purchase books based on my responses and thank you notes. I don’t know how this will work should a book become a mega seller, but since it’s still in the realm of normal and reviews for any normal book are spread out over time, I have been able to keep up. But there’s been that lovely conversation going with a reader now and then like the one that started with a new reader who bought my book because of the one star review and my response to it. That next reader then posted her review in less than 3 days. A 5 star. I had nothing to do with her choice other than it resonated because she’d also experienced similar events in her life as the story world portrayed.

    Will I respond to every 1 star? I don’t know. I’ve responded because each reviewer was a real person. Some one star reviews look like copy/paste by groups with agendas. I think a review posted for the purpose of an outside agenda has to be ignored. It’s not about the book. A review needs to be legitimately about the book, not a personal or religious agenda. So if a review is obviously attack agenda, I suggest treating it like spam and turning it in or ignoring. If it’s really about the book, I suggest graciousness. Not everyone will like us. It’s not fun. But to me, I want to set a standard of kindness and appreciation.
    ~Angie

  5. Dina March 27, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    I think often one-starred reviews say more about the reviewer than the work itself.

    I would want to know where they’re coming from and what kind of reviews they’ve given to other things.

    I like your point about being weary of things that have 5 star reviews only. Yes. A mix is better.

  6. Cheri Gregory March 27, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    When I’m buying a book or product, I head straight to the 1-star reviews. 90% of the time, they convince me TO make the purchase. It’s generally a case of, “If someone with that perspective hates it, I will probably love it!”

    • Shirlee Abbott March 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

      I do the same thing!

      Too many twos and threes, and I head for the library to borrow instead of buy.

      • Nancy B. Kennedy March 28, 2014 at 8:30 am #

        Cheri… one-star reviews usually make me avoid a book or product! I guess I’m a grouch at heart. Or maybe I have a really dark view of the world that I want to see validated!

  7. Susan Flemming March 27, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    I’ve only written a few reviews and I have to really love the book to take the time to write a review for it. I’ve never written a one star review but lately I was sorely tempted to. The book was by a writer I discovered recently. I’d read two of her books and they were so well written, it was difficult to put them down and I ended up each time staying up into the early morning hours reading them (which is a rare occurrence for me.) So when I saw another book by her I was delighted. And I stayed delighted until the final two chapters of that third book. The second last chapter skipped ahead a year. I had to read that chapter over a couple of times to figure out what exactly was going on. And then when I realized what the author had done, it completely ruined what had been a great reading experience. Then to make matters even worse, the last chapter skips ahead 60 years and again that chapter was even more infuriating. I don’t have to have a happy ending to have an enjoyable reading experience but I do have to have an ending that makes sense and flows from everything else in the book. Afterwards I checked the reviews and was gratified to know that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t think the ending fit the story. If I had purchased the book instead of borrowing it from the library I might have written that one-star review. As it was, I did tell our librarian that the ending was a stinker and that I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone.

  8. Nora March 27, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    I can’t agree more with wanting to see a mixture of reviews. I know, personally, I have seen nothing but 5-star reviews on something that turned out not to be worth a 5-star (in my opinion). Thankfully, a quick look at the sample on Amazon was enough to convince me that these 5-star reviews were from friends of the author in most cases.

    Once I’m published, I hope to get nothing less than a 3. Wish me luck or divine intervention on that one. :)

  9. Peter DeHaan March 27, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    I’ve never written a 1-star book review. If I can’t some something nice, I don’t write a review (but then if a book is that bad, I likely didn’t finish it either).

    I don’t shy away from reading books with 1-star reviews, but I do avoid books with all 5-star reviews!

    (I’ve heard that the worst review is actually a 3-star review. This means the author failed to elicit any reaction from the reader, leaving them neutral and unaffected.)

    • Iola March 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      Interesting comment about 3-star reviews. As a reviewer, I often find them hard to write, because there wasn’t anything I especially disliked about the book, but I still didn’t like it. As Amazon says “It was OK”.

      I do write 1-star reviews, but I don’t always post them. Sometimes I find another reviewer has already covered all my points, so there’s no need. Other times I do post them, because it was a review copy (e.g. via NetGalley, which means I have to post a review, positive or not).

      I would point out that different websites have different rating systems. A solid 4-star on Amazon (“I liked it”) becomes an average 3-star on Goodreads. And a lot of Goodreads users have their own personal rating systems.

      Personally, I’m of the opinion that authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Responding to critical reviews can backfire on the author if not done well (and “well” is in the eye of the reviewer). Responding only to positive reviews looks fawning, as though people who didn’t like the book don’t rate a mention.

  10. ausjenny March 27, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    When buying a book I dont read the reviews at places like Amazon and Goodreads. I do trust some reviewers with blogs but most fiction I decide by the genre, blurb and author or author interviews etc.
    For non fiction I head straight to the 3 star reviews. Most say what they liked and not and it helps me decided more. I will read some of the other reviews too and also one star. 18 months ago was looking for books about grief and one looked good but wasn’t sure. Read the reviews and it was the 3 star ones that showed it wasn’t the book for me.
    I prefer not to have authors publicly respond to my reviews. One time an author did she basically told me her book wasn’t a romance but womens fiction. The way it was marketed was as a christian inspirational but I was left thinking from reading the blurb that it was a romance. I was ok with her explaining but it was probably not the right forum to do that. I didn’t change my review but I understood. Either way I still would have only given it the 3 stars.

  11. Rudy u Martinka March 28, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    Steve,

    You may be interested in how I responded to a review comment I received on my Amazon Author Page.

    King Solomon and a Jungle Made My Dream Come True

    Regards and good will bloging

  12. Linda Rodante March 28, 2014 at 5:55 am #

    As a hope-to-be-published writer, I am glad to see this blog and the discussion. I read the reviews every time before buying a book. I do not buy books that have all fives–unless someone has personally told me this is a great book–because I am suspicious that all fives signal friends’ reviews not honest reviews. I do reviews, too. One thing that I’ve found is that when someone asks me to do a review, and I say “Yes, I’ll do a review–an honest review,” that although they say, “Of course,” they don’t really mean it. I have given fours before that drew the ire of the author. Do we all think our writing is perfect? Very disheartening. In fact, disheartening enough that I may not do reviews for friends or colleagues any more.

  13. Jenny Leo March 28, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    I’d like to think that I’d welcome any number of stars, but I know better. I’ve gotten a taste of it with writing contest results, where the usual response to my entry seems to be two judges who love my piece and one judge who hates it with the heat of thousand suns. There’s never anybody in the middle, which is good (I guess), but also warns me that for every reader who cottons to my work, there will be one who thinks it’s the worst thing ever committed to print/pixels. If pre-published authors want to get a taste of handling reviews, I recommend entering writing contests.

    One-star reviews never persuade me not to buy a book. For one thing, they’re often just gripes. For another, I read reviews mainly for content information. For example, I can’t tolerate reading about torture, so I like to be warned ahead of time if a book contains scenes of torture. That sort of thing.

  14. Nancy B. Kennedy March 28, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    Sometimes reviewers merely want to demonstrate what clever writers they are — mostly by writing cynical and biting 1-star reviews. I got a review for one of my books that started like this: “The human mind has the flight-or-fight hard wired into it in order to survive dangerous situation [errors hers]. Faced with things like fangs and claws, chemicals are involuntarily pumped into the blood stream, muscles tense, pupils dilate, and we are prepped to either start running from a saber tooth tiger or hunting down a woolly mammoth.” The writer went on to say that my book invoked the flight response in her — the same response she has to Dave Matthews, Gilmore Girls, fake milk products and seagulls. It hurt, but yes, it was clever, and fortunately it made me want to laugh rather than chase her with a cleaver.

  15. Debbie Roth March 29, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    I buy a lot of books. When purchasing a book, 99% of the time I check reviews. I look to see if they are clustered around one or two dates which may indicate the author’s best buds reviewed; if dates are more evenly distributed, I assume it’s a more likely done by a more general sampling of purchasers. I scan these reviews to see if it sounds like the kind of book I’d really enjoy. The more reviews there are over a longer period of time and the fewer #1′s tell me it’s probably worth my $. If low ratings give reasons such as explicit sexual material, gratuitous violence, or ending disappointing/unsatisfying because it’s setting up for a sequel, I pass on the purchase. Nothing makes me grumpier than to invest time reading a book, only to discover at the bitter end it’s a set up to ensure you’ll want to buy the next tome in the series; it feels like the whole volume was a giant informercial to guarantee income stream. I prefer books that stand on their own and draw you in to the characters in such a way that you want to read more. I always scan the #1′s to see what their beef was, and if the book was rife with terrible editing,spelling, and grammatical errors, I take a pass on the book because I know these things will distract me from the plot.

  16. Ann H Gabhart April 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Interesting post, Tamela. I don’t always read reviews. I used to when I had my first book published after the internet age when it’s so easy to see reviews. Before that I read all printed reviews that were sent to me by my editor. Didn’t take much time for that. But now those reviews pop up right in front of your eyes with little effort and there are a ton of people out there writing them. Thank goodness that first book, Scent of Lilacs, got mostly positive reviews. Then I followed around my first book that went out on a blog tour and responded to each blogger, whether their review was good or not so good. But as one of you reviewers stated already, you don’t always want to hear from the writer. I sometimes had that feeling from reviewers too, so next blog tour I didn’t do that. I spent my time connecting with readers in other ways. I do respond to reviewers who send me links by e-mail or post on my FB page because I think they are seeking a response then. But the best thing about those bad reviews that you do read is that you can quote them and then laugh at yourself. Of course, you want every reader to love your books. Every last one! But that’s not going to happen. I had a free download book once and the reviewer said “Free is too much to pay for this book.” Uh, what’s that again? Another time, a reader said reading my Shaker books made her want to wash windows. I have a lot of fun with that comment, always suggesting the marketing people should use that. It takes a lot to make me want to wash windows. :) So when you do get those bad reviews and most writers do at times, except maybe Rachel Hauck, don’t read them or if you do, laugh at them and your sensitive side, then move on. Sometimes you should do the same with the 5 star reviews.

  17. Karen A. Wyle April 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    I recently responded to a one-star review on Goodreads that was based on the reviewer’s belief that a promotion I’d offered was phony. I’d somehow managed to miss some responses to the post offering the promotion. I sent the reviewer a Goodreads message, but also commented on the review to say that I was trying to contact all those whom I’d missed. What I found interesting was the website’s response. When I clicked “comment,” a message popped up saying (rough paraphrase) that yes, reviews can be tough to take, but did I REALLY want to respond? — and recommending against it. I had to click something additional (I forget the language) before I could post my comment.

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