Should I Give Bad Reviews to My Competition?

We’re all trying to market our books as best we can and attract buyers to our books. And we all know that getting good reviews on Amazon is an important way to convince readers to buy our books. But what about leaving bad reviews for our competitors? Or even a book making some reasonable critiques and then adding something like, “MY BOOK TITLE is another excellent guide to this subject.”? This was a question I saw on a self-publishing forum recently. I thought I would address it because it raises a few issues regarding some key topics: marketing self-published books and Amazon reviews.

Word of Mouth

So first of all, let’s talk about why this strategy seems like a good idea. Reviews that recommend other products can be quite helpful to the consumer.  I want to know if someone thinks one product is better or worse than another is. We’ve all heard nothing sells better than word of mouth, right?

I was recently looking for a rice cooker and I noticed a reviews on one product listing saying that their rice cooker had broken quickly and they’d bought another brand, which was more reliable. Those reviews were definitely one factor in my decision. However, the key factors in convincing me to buy the other brand were:

  1.  The reviews written by actual users, not people working for one brand or the other (as far as I know, at any rate).
  2.  There were multiple reviews saying the first rice cooker was unreliable or broke easily.
  3.  Not all those reviews were negative in tone and none felt like they were ads for the other brand. They felt like they were written by real sincere human beings.
  4.  There were multiple reviews on the other rice cooker’s listing saying how good it was!

Let Your Readers Promote Your Book

Knowing all that, here’s a better way to do this. Get your readers to post reviews recommending your book. However, you need to make sure they follow three rules:

  1. They should actually have read the other book. (Don’t just tell your street team to start giving negative reviews to every book on Amazon)
  2. Their comparison should be sincere and honest. (“I really enjoyed this book but it focused a lot on X. BOOK TITLE is another book on the same topic that talks more about Y”)
  3. They shouldn’t say exclusively negative things about the other book. Make sure the comment is constructive. (Think about how you’d feel if someone trashed your book solely to recommend another book. It’s also doubtful that the other book is so bad that there’s nothing good to say about it.)

Even better, don’t do this in book reviews on Amazon. Get your readers to discuss your book and where it fits in the competition on their own sites. Ask them to write a blog post (Yes, blogs are still a thing) or something short on social media post. That’s a much more appropriate place for this kind of word-of-mouth selling.

Note that Amazon actually has pretty strict rules about reviews. These rules are clearly designed to ensure that all reviewers are being sincere. They almost certainly exclude the strategy discussed here.

Establishing a Unique Selling Point

Another reason the strategy of badmouthing competition in reviews seems like a good idea is: It is very important to differentiate yourself from your competition. Whatever kind of book you are writing, there are going to be other books on the same subject. Knowing and articulating why readers buy your book and not another one is an important marketing skill. This is sometimes called identifying the Unique Selling Point  (USP). Knowing what your book has, or more importantly, what your book gives your reader is key to honing your marketing message.

The problem is that a review of another person’s book is not the place to market your book. When people go to read reviews, they are looking for sincere, unbiased reactions from real customers. The author of a competing book is neither sincere nor unbiased. Your book may indeed be better than other books out there. But you are probably not the best judge of that. Of course, you like your book better. That’s why you wrote it.

Finally, it can sound like you are being manipulative and insincere. that can really turn customers off. They might think that you are resorting to a negative strategy because your book isn’t good enough to get good reviews . Or they might just find it off-putting the way many people find negative political campaigning off-putting.

Get inspired to write some marketing copy

So, what should you do instead to use your USP in marketing? Take what you were going to write in your bad review, erase the overly mean parts, and use it as inspiration for your marketing materials. Thinking about how you’re better than the competition is a GREAT way to write a book description, promotional blurb, ad, sales pitch, presentation, even a book proposal to an agent or publisher. These are all places where people expect you to self-promote and you’re allowed to exaggerate, brag, and use some hyperbole!

Let’s say I had a book about how to promote self-published books out there and there’s another book that is very popular, but flawed (in my opinion). My imaginary bashing review might say

This book is full of misunderstandings of marketing principles and it’s outdated particularly when it talks about social media marketing! Even when the marketing advice is sound, the book doesn’t do a good job applying marketing principles to books. The book, How to Market Self-Published Books is much better. It’s the only book out there on marketing books that is grounded in actual marketing principles and apples those principles fully to books. And it focuses on strategies for today’s world of social media, video content, and interactive media. It’s the only book you need if you’re serious about being successful.

Instead of posting that, I’m going to delete the sentences about the other book and rewrite those last sentences:

How to Market Self-Published Books is the only book out there on marketing books that is grounded in actual marketing principles and apples those principles fully to books. Fully up-to-date, it focuses on strategies that work in today’s world, including how to use social media, video content, and interactive media to market your book. If you’re serious about being successful, this is the only book you need!

I can move a lot more books with that, than I can with a nasty review that might backfire on me! Now if I’m at a presentation or book talk and someone asks me directly what I think of a competitor’s book, I’m going to answer truthfully. So if I don’t like it, I’ll happily say why and why my book is better. But I’ll do so constructively and sincerely, directing attention to my book.

Alienating Potential Partners

Don’t forget that the book market is not a win-lose market. Devoted readers buy lots of books. Certainly, fiction readers can be voracious and spend a lot of time buying and selling books. So your competitors aren’t actually your competitors. Even in an area of non-fiction, I might buy several books from several different angles. You wouldn’t believe how many books I have on book formatting, writing ad copy, and self-publishing. So hearing that Book X isn’t like Book Y will not necessarily make me buy Book Y or refrain from buying Book X. If anything, it’s more likely to make me refrain from buying Book Y or anything written by that author again.

Now imagine that you got one of these reviews on your book page. An author of a book similar to yours leaves a review talking about how bad your book is and how their book is better. How do you feel about that? Would you like to work with that person? Or will you vow to do everything in your power to destroy them? (Or is that just me that does that? I might need to work on some anger issues).

Work Together

Rather than alienating others with your promotional strategies, why not reach out to other self-published authors in your area and see if you can work together? If your book really is unique and stands out from the competition, then it won’t hurt you to market together. Ways to work with, not against, other authors include:

  • guest-posts on each other’s blogs or newsletters.
  • co-writing articles for news, book, fan or other websites (The 5 best books for Self-Publishers or What You Need to Know as a New Self-Publisher)
  • social media takeovers or post swaps.
  • going in together on an ad or promotion in a magazine, journal, or convention.
  • going in together on a booth at a convention.
  • agreeing to recommend each others books when people ask (and your own books don’t meet their needs).
  • for fiction, crossover fiction.

I hope this was a helpful article that gave you some ideas for promoting and marketing your self-published books. Have you ever worked with another author to market your books together? Leave your ideas in the comments!