One Author’s Approach to Reader Reviews

Fast typingI have a goal of commenting in a positive manner on each and every review a reader leaves on Amazon about one of my books, whether their comments are negative or positive.

Why? Not only is it a courtesy, it says something about me as an author and a person. My father brought me up to look at him when he was talking and to acknowledge what he said. I didn’t have to like what he said, but I had to respect it. I know now he was saying things for my own good. He’s gone now, but the value he instilled in me is still there. I thanked him for how he brought me up before he passed away. I’m glad I did, as he deserved that feedback.

That brings me back to feedback in the form of reviews. Readers, who supply reviews whether negative or positive, invested their time reading one of my books. They had choices, but I was lucky enough that they chose one of mine. The fact that they felt compelled to provide others with feedback is a bonus.

However, I look at those reviews and feel they are addressed to me. I need to listen to their input, and I also can’t ignore it. That is why I have goaled myself to respond to all of them in a positive manner. I want more of them, and I want readers to feel comfortable speaking their mind. When I get to a million reviews, I might need another keyboard, or whatever the latest technology is at that time. That is supposed to put a smile on your face.

In the author world, reviews are precious. Collectively, they help readers decide which book to buy. In many cases a book without reviews could be the best book out there but will still have a good chance of being overlooked by readers, and Amazon will rank the book lower. (Read this article on why reviews are important.)

Even bestselling authors get negative reviews. See M. Edward McNally’s post –12 Stars for the 12 Bestselling Books of 2012. That shows that even bestselling authors fail to please everyone. It shows readers have many different tastes resulting in either one star or up to five star reviews for the same book.

I’m going to share a two star review I’m not at all proud about, but I want to make my point. This review was posted on Amazon in January of this year for the third book in my Scott Tucker series, Scent of Gardenia:

“I really, really enjoyed the first two books by Dick C. Waters. The disappointment in reading the rest of the series was, that every book had the same plot, same scenario, just a few parts were turned around. I mean really, how many freaky redheads are there? Don’t answer that! How many times can the same guy end up tied up, bound…”

I didn’t include the rest of the review even though it might actually increase sales, but was not in keeping with the IU being a safe-for-work site.

Here is the comment I left for that reviewer –

“Thank you for reading all of these novels and for your reviews. I wanted to create an interesting series. I’m glad you enjoyed the first two. Actually my favorite was Scent of Gardenia, which focused more on the antagonist’s motives.

Readers have a wide selection of novels to choose from, and my hope is that reviews like yours will help them find novels they can enjoy reading.

Thanks again,

Dick Waters”

So, even a two-star review can sometimes carry some positives. This person definitely read the first two and “really enjoyed” them, and might have read the others based on his comment. What that reader failed to realize was that the fourth and fifth novels were two variations of the same story. One of those novels was in keeping with the style of the first three, and the other, a more adult version.

I also hinted in my response by using the plural “reviews” that the person could have balanced his/her feedback by offering positive comments against the other two novels. I didn’t miss the positive in his/her reply, and maybe someone looking at the review would have noticed it also. I also try to check the “YES” box against the question “Was this review helpful to you?” Only some of the readers of the reviews are going to check that box, but it gives me an idea of how many people might be reading those reviews.

I’ve been asked from time to time what got me writing novels. I immediately reply – I never had a love of my required English classes. However, I got interested in writing after I read some authors I admired, and felt some had wasted my time. I thought I could write better novels, and write those I would like to read.

I know I will never please everyone, and the negative reviews hurt. However, with every review there is proof at least one person read one of my novels. When they offer a review they are helping me understand the areas which might need improvement in future novels. They also help other readers to make informed reading decisions.

I decided while writing this post to search Amazon for an author I admired, looking specifically at one of his books that had over a thousand reviews. Wow, to be that lucky on one of my novels. I scrolled through the first twenty-five pages of reviews looking specifically for any comments made in response to any review. What surprised me is not one of those two-hundred comments I looked at were made by that author. Maybe my goal of acknowledging each one is wrong.

We all look for sources to guide us, especially on unfamiliar travels. I even stop, sometimes for directions ( I did honey, don’t you remember?). Indies Unlimited is a source of guidance for me on many aspects of writing. However, I think I’m alone on whether my approach to responding to all reviews is a good strategy. Regardless, with no responses from my comments or signs along the way, I think I’m heading in the right direction. Sometimes instincts will get you there. If nothing else, I’m enjoying the trip.

As a final comment, I would encourage other authors to consider looking at the reviews weekly, to value and acknowledge each new review. I think my dad had the right approach, and he didn’t feel he had anything to do with my writing. He was so wrong! I look at reviewers when they are talking to me.

Author: Dick C. Waters

Dick C Waters is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the Scott Tucker mystery novels; Branded for Murder, Serial Separation, Scent of Gardenia and Fragrance of Revenge (soon to be published). For more information please see his Author Central Page

22 thoughts on “One Author’s Approach to Reader Reviews”

  1. Dick, great post and extremely thought-provoking. I have actually made my goal the opposite of yours, to never comment on any reviews of my book. Why? Because I’ve seen (mentioned here and elsewhere) where back-and-forths between authors and reviewers get ugly. Of course this comes out of negative reviews, and I’m lucky to have a small amount of those. I guess the review territory has always seemed, to me, to belong to the readers and I don’t know that my crashing their territory would be constructive. I’d love to hear from others about this. I’m sure there are lots of ways of thinking about this. Thanks for posting.

    1. Melissa, thank you for sharing. My professional career focused on business analysis, I guess looking back on it, I was always open to input. I too, would like to hear other input on this.

  2. As Melissa says, this is a thought-provoking post, Dick. I’m going to briefly throw out two conflicting thoughts. 🙂

    First, I understand your reasoning for why you do this and as you’ve described it can see how it is a positive thing. I always say that reviews are for other readers, not for the author. However, that doesn’t mean that an author who chooses to read reviews can’t benefit from them if they’re able to process what is said and separate the comments they can use from that they can’t. Acknowledging that the reader took the time to read your book and then the additional time to read and post a review is a (for lack of a better term coming to mind) the polite thing to do. I suspect that how you handle this is the correct decision for you.

    However, it might not be for everyone, which leads me to my second comment. Three or four years ago I saw a long discussion about this somewhere, I think on the Amazon forums. I’ll point out that we’re talking about reader reviews here on Amazon or other retailer sites, not a review on a blog where the answer *might* be different. I thought, as you did, that *if* an author commented saying “thanks for the review” on all reviews, there was no downside. Many readers commented negatively about the practice, feeling they’d be creeped out and make them less likely to write reviews in the future, especially if the review was less than glowing. Add to that human nature which is going to make it unlikely that some authors will be able to resist making the thank you more positive on the good reviews or give an explanation that could be perceived as arguing (if it doesn’t clearly cross that line) on the not so positive reviews, and it could stir up a hornets nest the author would be better to avoid.

    As with all things, the correct answer isn’t going to be the same for everyone.That’s why this is titled “one author’s …” because it is what works for you. I’m sure there are others it would work for as well.

    1. Thanks Big Al for information I was unaware of. I think this post might generate some outside interest. I’m glad I put “one author’s approach” in the title.

  3. I understand your reasoning, Dick, but I’m with Melissa on this. I think the reader reviews are strictly the reader’s domain (good or bad). I won’t say that, on the occasion I do check out the reader reviews, I’m not drawn to respond but I resist the temptation.

    I do agree though that this is a thought provoking post, Dick.

    1. TD, I would expect to be out on this branch alone. I’m still learning this business, and I expect to make some mistakes along the way. However, I’m not going to change my goal. Thanks for your feedback…I might wear out my keyboard today.

  4. Dick, I think this is a very good approach. Just as we like being acknowledged, when we return the favor it encourages reviewers to keep going and It is a two way street. Even with not so stellar reviews, there is something to be found to help us progress. Of course it the reviewer is just a total jacka**….
    You have shown once again your that your creativity is ever in motion; thank you.

    1. Thanks Aron. I do want to think that a reader will be encouraged to provide their review, not threatened by doing so. I appreciate the support. Nice to have company out on this branch.

    2. P.S. If a thank you is wasted on one party another will notice and that may garner new readers. It doesn’t hurt to be polite, and what is successful one month may fly away the next. We all have experienced that in this new age of pulishing IMO.

  5. I think this is a very interesting topic for discussion, Mr. Waters. I do appreciate an acknowledgment that an author, or anyone for that matter, has read one of my reviews. Also, getting an email from Amazon that someone thought my review was helpful is gratifying, but I suspect most of those are from the author of the book rather than a reader looking for a new book to read. I really have no way of knowing one way or the other. I do enjoy getting to know the authors I read on a more personal level, but at the same time I don’t feel like I need their approval for my opinions. It is a bit of a double edged sword, I suppose. However, I do feel justified when other reviewers agree with me. 🙂

    I suspect that Red Adept Publishing encourages their authors to at least leave a *thank you for taking the time to read my book* note on their reviews at blog sites, which I admit is nice to see once and a while. However they do not leave notes on their reviews on Amazon.

    Feedback is nice, but I don’t review for notoriety or a pat on the back. I do it to help spread the word about great books written by Indie authors because I appreciate their low cost books. I want readers to know low cost does not mean low quality. Perhaps, I am a bit anti-establishment and this is my way of taking a stand and getting the word out. I look forward to the day that Indies and trad pubs are on a more even playing field.

    (My punctuation always sucks, just ask BigAl, please feel free to add appropriate ‘s or s’ as needed…)

    1. ?wazithinkin, You were! Thanks for taking the time to express your view. New authors have the problem of being discovered in the massive publishing arena. I like your comment about indies and trad pubs on an even playing field someday. I would like to be known for writing interesting stories, and for being approachable. Maybe by providing a comment to reviews, I can separate myself from other authors. I have already tried to improve my writing based on the comments received.

  6. Wow! You may not think it, Dick, but you dissed that reviewer who did not like your book when you said, “actually, (title) was my favorite.” If I were the reviewer I snap right back–“Well–it dang sure wasn’t mine.”
    If a reviewer messages me on FB or tweets me, I respond. Otherwise–those reviews are for readers. Reviews have always been written for the reader. IMO, you are taking away the reviewer’s thunder by commenting and jumping into the mix. The reviewer is speaking to a different audience. The author just gets to look over his/her shoulder.

  7. Dick, in this instance, I agree with Melissa Bowerstock: I don’t comment on any reviews, rave or otherwise. I always thank readers in the back of my books for taking a chance on my novels. If I had a way to thank a reader privately for helpful comments, then I would–but not in a public forum like Amazon. I even advise other people not to comment on my reviews, whether they found those reviews to their liking or not.

  8. Hi, Dick. I agree with your logic on thanking reviewers. It’s always polite to respond whether the review is good or bad. So, I’m basically with you on that.

    Your reply to the reader of your 2 star review was certainly a “thank you” for reading your other books but it did not respond ti his critique of “same plot, same scenario”. Perhaps you should have explained why the plot was the same (if indeed it was, I have not read that particular book) or acknowledged he has a point. Either way, you would have added to the discussion.

    That brings us to the question of whether we are encouraging a “flame” war by engaging in a meaningful discussion. In most cases I think we are. Most reviewers don’t want to be challenged on what they have said.

    It hurts when there is a bad review but, if the reviewer is genuine, we can learn from it. The problem arises when the reviews are from trolls that have not read the book and merely want to damage sales. In those cases, pointing out factually incorrect comments (not opinions, which obviously all are entitled to) is best avoided.

    I made the mistake of engaging with such a “reviewer” who was making inaccurate comments on one of my books. His review was initially taken out by Amazon but — and this shows how devious and malicious these guys can be — he re-wrote it changing just a few words. He changed his name to mine and even changed his location to Thailand where I live. His changes are not against Amazon rules, and they accepted it.

    I may write a fuller account of what happened as Thai Immigration got involved when they checked out his tourist visa and noticed the name change. He had stupidly given his real name before making the changes. Thai Immigration are paranoid about illegal immigration.

    On balance, it’s better not to comment in my view. What is needed is a different policy from Amazon to encourage only honest reviews (good or bad) and to halt the practice of fake reviews.

    1. Matt, it is nice to see people commenting on this post. As time goes by, I will learn whether my actions of commenting on reviews is worth the potential dangers involved.

      I purposely did not comment on the point that reader made about the other books being similar, purposely to avoid problems. The fourth book in the series had two versions.

      I wrote two novels basically at the same time, and they were the same story. One was in the style of the other books in the series, and one was a much hotter/adult version. I did an IU post on this (How I Wrote a Novel in a Month – 9/2/13). I did put a warning at the front of both books, but was warned by other authors that people might miss the note. You can see why I didn’t want to respond to that part of their comment.

      It also sounds like you have a suspense novel potential related to the scenario above.
      Thanks for commenting.

  9. Thank you for your comments.

    Now let me try to clarify something. When I said I have a goal to comment on every review, I should have said I use the “Comment” function in Amazon to provide a polite acknowledgement and thank you for their review.
    In it, I try to thank them for their read and for taking the time to leave a review to help other readers to make an informed purchasing decision.

    I can see the dangers involved in trying to alter their opinion.

Comments are closed.