A few months ago I had some jewelry stolen out of my hotel room. I'm a big believer in that old saying "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar," so despite being upset I did my best to act calmly and rationally. I spoke politely to the general manager, who apologized and led me to believe I would be compensated for my losses via their insurance company. I walked away feeling that the situation had been handled justly, and awaited the reimbursement check I'd been promised so I could replace my missing items.
Imagine my surprise when I received an impersonal letter in the mail telling me that my claim was denied and there would be no reimbursement.
I was livid. I work in marketing, so when faced with a situation where I'm treated poorly as a consumer, it really chaps my hide. Customer service matters, and in this situation I felt that a brand I trusted behaved badly, so I crafted a letter to the GM outlining my plans to post my experience to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my undergrad and graduate university alumni networks.
Yes, I thought it was important that my colleagues and friends here about my experience. But I was also pissed. Not just because of the missing jewelry, but because of the way I'd been treated. This hotel chain had essentially poked a bear and prompted me to lash out by using my pretty sizable social media megaphone.
Do not give your readers a reason to use their social media megaphones about you in a negative way.
Many of you likely saw this article making it's way around the blogosphere in October, in which an author tracks down a woman who negatively reviewed her novel.
There's been a lot of debate about whether people agree with this author's actions or not. I'm not here to debate that, though my views on the matter will become apparent very quickly. I want to share my thoughts on 1) why commenting on a negative review can do more harm than good and 2) why negative reviews can be good for business.
Don't poke the bear
Simply put, when you comment on negative reviews you risk poking the bear. You are essentially telling that reviewer that they are wrong, and that their opinion is not valid and/or does not matter. If that person happens to be an avid reader and reviewer, that may be pretty upsetting. So upsetting that they lash out and do more than just write a negative review.
Take my jewelry story as an example. If they had handled the situation like they'd initially promised, I wouldn't have done anything negative. In fact, I might have felt more positive about the hotel chain because they handled the situation fairly and professionally. It wasn't until I felt like I had been unfairly treated that I wanted to retaliate.
Your negative reviewers are the same way. Leave them alone, and they will just be one negative review in a sea of other reviews. Make them feel like they are being unjustly treated, and they will use their social media megaphones to make sure people hear about it. You'll get added to Goodreads lists like "Writers Who Respond to Negative Reviews" that put not just your book in a negative light, but also your brand.
Don't do this. Don't give them a megaphone that shines a negative light on you. Especially if you plan to write other books in the future. That negative light has implications beyond the sales for the one book they reviewed.
Did you know that negative reviews can actually help sales?
Yes, you read that right. In the world of product marketing, negative reviews can actually help sales. And I would argue the same is true for books.
First, people who leverage reviews to make purchase decisions read multiple reviews at various star levels. Which means that while potential readers might stumble upon that one-star soul-crushing rant about your baby, it's not the only review they'll read. And all those positive reviews you received become counter points in the potential buyer's decision making process.
Second, the why behind the negative review is more important than the star rating, and can actually lead to more sales. Let's say Suzie Q hated that your book had a love triangle in it. Maybe Jennie J LOVES love triangles, and when she reads Suzie's negative review, it triggers her to buy your book even though Suzie only gave it one star.
I can personally tell you that I have purchased books based on negative reviews multiple times, because the exact thing the reviewer hated is what I love to read.
And here's another fun fact for you: there is data suggesting that negative reviews can actually make the glowing reviews more believable. That's because consumers sometimes question a "perfect" score, because it's suspicious. What if the book was only reviewed by the writer's friends and that's why they're all so positive? What if this is just the publishing house posting reviews for the author, or they're paying people to review? While most reviews aren't fabricated, there is something suspicious about a perfect five star score. Which means that the one star review you received may prompt someone to buy your book because it makes the good reviews more believable.
Nobody, not even the J.K. Rowlings of the world, is beloved by all.
So why don't you tell us the name of that hotel chain, Stacy?
Because they ultimately handled the situation properly, with a profuse apology for the way I'd been treated, proper compensation for my missing items, and a promise that they will be more vigilant with future customers to ensure they have a way to safeguard against theft in the future.
And in the end, that's all I really wanted. Even if it took the threat of negative PR to get there.