When authors should respond to negative reviews

I know what you are going to say. Authors should never respond to negative reviews. That's the general consensus from most people. However, because of the current state of the industry—authors behaving badly, reviewers running amok, and other unfortunate situations—I don't think the situation is so clear cut. In other words, there's some gray area.

When to respond?

You tell me

When the issue is technical fixable: I've seen authors and publishers offer an updated copy when the issue is technical, such as a bad formatting job. I don't see anything wrong with this. It tells the reviewer and others who see the public exchange that the author and/or publisher responds to the needs of their audience.

I marked out technical since there is one other time I've seen this used, though it is somewhat more of a gray area. Due to a response from reviewers, some books get another round of editing done. Offering reviewers who mentioned the editing issue an updated copy is an option (actually, offering an updated copy to everyone is good too).

This one has the potential to get you in trouble, so be careful. Don't ask for an updated review, though I personally think many reviewers need to get off their high horse and do this willingly. I updated one of my reviews after the author told me about an updated version. I verified that the new version was better, so I gladly updated my review and rating.

Most problems are avoided if both reviewer and author act with even a shred of humanity, but since this type of exchange is rare, I wouldn't suggest asking for an updated review/rating. I offered in the above case, and the author was ecstatic.

Are there other fixable situations that warrant a response?

When you respond to all reviews: As Diantha mentioned in this post, it's a good idea to always thank a reviewer for their time, even if it's a negative review. However, let me state this plainly, this is to say thank you only.

But what if a review is incorrect?

When and how should you respond?

Let me start this section by saying that I'm not talking about an opinion. If a reviewer thinks your lead character is weak, you do no good by defending your character. Perhaps the mistake is yours. Perhaps your character could be stronger.

And even if not, there's little chance you'll change the reviewer's mind. You'll be labeled as a badly behaving author, most likely. Either learn from it and move on, or just move on. (After thanking them for the review)

But what if there's a technical error in the review?

What if the reviewer labeled the book in the wrong sub-genre? Now, this is dangerous territory. Not all subgenres are clearly defined. What falls into a certain genre can be different from one person to another, and although in a perfect world I would love to say that an author should be the one to choose what genre they write, this isn't always the case in the real world once readers get a hold of it.

If the factual error isn't an error—just an ill-formed opinion—you could hurt yourself more by responding, so my advice is to use caution and common sense. Perhaps one way to respond is to start a discussion instead of telling the reviewer they are wrong.

For example:

Thanks for the review. I noticed you described it as a [subgenre]. I'm interested in how you came to that conclusion. It wasn't intended to be that way, and you are the first to mention it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think? Would something like this be advisable?

Of course, even in this situation, the tide can change rapidly. I've seen it. The key is to have an open mind and learn from the reviewer. It is not the author's job to educate the reviewer.

How they read the book is how they read it, and an author won't change that. If the author ever gets defensive, in other words, the gig is up. The author should never tell the reviewer they are wrong, directly or indirectly. It will end badly.

If the error is certain and clearly seen, then you might be able to respond without being lynched. But HOW you respond is more important in this case than actually responding. Don't slander the reviewer. Don't come off as preachy or as a know-it-all. Don't tell the reviewer they are wrong. It will end badly, if you do.

What do you think? How would you respond to a review that contains a factual error? (Assuming you respond at all)

But what if you have been slandered or the target of a hateful reviewer? That's a little bit of a different situation, and I'll discuss that next time, which you can read here.