The Vulnerable Author



Once you press that publish button, your book will be publicly visible. This allows the general public to discover and purchase your book, but it also makes you vulnerable.

What could happen?

  • You could spend years researching and producing a book, and in just a few seconds someone can write a few words in a review that sends you seething.
  • You could spend months doing even more work to market your book, only to find that some of your former social media friends no longer wish to speak with you.
  • You could be unfortunate enough to attract the attention of cyberbullies.
  • You could stick your foot in your mouth publicly in a few seconds, shattering months of hard work to brand your author image.
  • You could have a steady flow of sales going, and then suddenly the algorithm that was helping your book get discovered can freeze your sales like an Arctic chill.
  • You could have virtually no sales at all.

Authors need firewall protection—not so much for their computers as for themselves!

What Can You Do?

Think positively:

  • Don’t dwell on the worst that could happen.
  • Visualize a positive future for you and your book.
  • Don’t waste anxiety over what hasn’t actually happened.
  • At the first sign of a problem, don’t react out of fear. Things might be much better than they seem.
  • Be patient. Try to stay positive. Feel confident (but not arrogant).
  • Don’t be a stat or review junkie.
  • Eat healthy and exercise.

Be the best you that you can be:

  • You can’t control other people, but you can control your own actions.
  • Refrain from remarks and activities that may attract negative attention.
  • Strive to maintain a professional author image.
  • Don’t behave reactively or defensively.
  • Show patience, think things through, talk things out privately.
  • Ask yourself, “Does this look professional?”
  • Show good character.

Diversify your assets:

  • If you only have one book and it’s only available on Amazon, you’re ultra vulnerable.
  • Strive to sell effectively through multiple sales channels. That way, if something is adversely affecting sales at, chances are that it’s not also affecting Amazon UK, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Apple,, The Book Depository, local bookstore sales, direct sales from your website, in-person sales, etc. While may be your main sales channel, other additional sales help to give you continued activity when sales are slow.
  • Write multiple books. If you write different kinds of books, consider using a pen name as this offers protection from being targeted (on the other hand, it’s easier to market books that are all published in a single name).
  • If you have a talent for cover design or basic editing, for example, you can combine this with your writing hobby so that you’re not entirely dependent on book sales.

Market, market, market:

  • Pre-marketing helps to generate early sales. The more sales you generate, the more likely you are to get valuable reviews from customers (which looks more natural than recruiting reviews in a time when customers are learning to be suspicious of reviews).
  • Learn ways to market your book effectively and do the work. Personal interactions can help to generate sales, even if there is a sales deterrent on your product page. Customers you interact with personally through marketing are also more likely to post reviews.
  • Run book promotions or contests to help generate interest in your book. This can help to inspire sales and reviews when you’re going through a lull.

Experiment. When sales slow, that’s a good time to try and shake things up:

  • Try revising your blurb. If there is a recent bad review, sometimes a blurb change can render the review less effective. For example, if the blurb points out the same thing that the review says, new customers may think, “It wasn’t useful to say that in a review. It says it right there in the product description.” For example, if the customer was surprised that it was just a novella, or if the customer complains that there is too much violence, making such things clear in the blurb can help to offset the review. Your blurb is a dynamic marketing tool.
  • If a review complains about editing, consider getting your book edited. If you receive helpful feedback about features of your book that you might improve, consider doing this. Don’t blindly revise your book every time you receive a review; but when you do receive feedback, do give it your consideration. If you do update your book, consider mentioning this in your blurb.
  • Reexamine your Look Inside and cover. A slow period is the best time to try something new.


  • Develop a fan base. Create a fan page or email newsletter with content or activity that will attract fans. Provide instructions for signing up at the end of your book.
  • Make connections with fellow authors. Share stories and advice with one another. Help one another out (scrupulously, of course).
  • Research to find others who have shared a similar experience. See how they handled it, both what they may have done wrong and what worked well.
  • You’re not alone. There are thousands of other supportive authors out here. Reach out.

Look for the silver lining:

  • Don’t just see and focus on the bad. Look for the good that comes with it.
  • Sales have ups and downs like roller coasters. Remember to see and enjoy the ups, and when falling down, remember that it may go back up later.
  • When a customer says something like, “I enjoyed the characters, but…” don’t focus solely on the BUT! See the good remarks, too, not just the bad ones.
  • If you did the best you could at the time, remind yourself how hard you’ve worked. Believe that your hard work will pay off in the long run.

Things may be better than they seem:

  • A bad review can actually improve sales. You never know. Wait and see. One thing’s for sure: It will increase your total number of reviews, which makes your book seem more popular.
  • Customers are growing suspicious not only of good reviews, but also of bad reviews. Give your customers credit. They might be able to see through smoke and mirrors (if there is any).
  • A review that points out a problem may help you in the long run. You might wind up making a revision that puts a much better book on the market.
  • There are seasonal effects, economic factors, Amazon’s algorithm periodically changes things up, and a number of reasons that sales might slow down temporarily. You really need to wait a few weeks to see if things are really slower than normal. Be patient.
  • Don’t fret over the actions of a jealous rival. Customers may see through this. If a rival does succeed in bringing your book down, at least you can be sure that he or she has shot him- or herself in the foot foolishly. Similar books help each other sell better through customers-also-bought lists, for example. More likely than not, a jealous review will actually help your sales and hurt the sales of the author who left it. Try not to sweat it.

Avoid making mistakes:

  • Avoid commenting defensively on a review. Avoid commenting at all. Be patient, think things through, talk things out, learn how other authors have handled this (both good and bad), ask yourself if the worst that can happen offsets the best possible outcome.
  • It’s tempting to send your “posse” to your blog and downvote a review you don’t like, but how will that look? In the worst-case scenario, you and your friends vote and the reviewer and the reviewer’s friends vote on all your reviews. How will that look? Put yourself in a customer’s shoes. There may be a special situation, but at least think things through and talk things out, be patient, let emotions calm down and wisdom kick in.
  • Avoid ranting about a customer in public, such as on your blog. What you post on your blog doesn’t stay on your blog; it’s not like Vegas. You want people to read your book. You don’t want people thinking, “Is that how you treat your customers?” I don’t know about you, but I absolutely LOVE my customers. They aren’t easy to find.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on, recently updated and expanded, is temporarily on sale for 99 cents at

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

16 comments on “The Vulnerable Author

  1. Sensible advice. Here in New Zealand, the issue becomes one of territories. because the place is so small, formal reviews are often given to rival authors who, inevitably, take the opportunity to ‘creatively damage’ the competing book and the repute of the rival. It’s endemic, and I’ve got to the point now where I’ll work with my publishers to manage the problem. But as you say, there is usually a silver lining somewhere.

    • Ah, but authors want similar books to sell better, not worse, because customers-also-bought lists help stimulate their own sales. When Author A’s book is bought with Author B’s book, Author A benefits from sales of Book B. It’s like free marketing. Author B’s marketing helps Author A. But if Author A succeeds in bringing Book B down, his own book suffers for it. Customers tend not to buy one book or the other, but over time buy a bunch of similar books. They find more similar books from the recommendations that come with the ones they already read.

      Unfortunately, there are authors, editors, even publishers who don’t realize to what extent Amazon has rendered the slam-thy-competition strategy ineffective (it’s more of a slamming oneself strategy by bringing down the books that could have helped the author out). Fortunately, there are also many authors who support one another and realize that what’s good for one is good for all.

      Perhaps the sliver lining lies with the customers who see through it (many do), the authors whose review privileges get revoked because eventually they go too far and get caught (some cases have been widely publicized), and more of this nature.

      • You are welcome and thank you for this wonderful article. We writers, our worst enemy and critique are ourselves. When our books aren’t doing well as we planned (or wished) and people seem to be not receptive of our work, we blame almost always blame ourselves right away instead of looking for other means on how to make it work. Your article is a good reminder that there are things you can do instead of just waiting around and beating yourself if the book didn’t do well on the first run. ^_^

    • “Negative reviews would mean that I’ve actually had some sales:-)”

      Not necessarily. “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains” has 23 five star reviews, 1 four star review, and four 1 star reviews. It had a fifth one-star review that compared my book to poor-quality, scratchy toilet paper, but Amazon took that down (unfortunately… I kinda liked it!)

      I’m fond of one of the remaining one-star reviews because it calls my book “Dangerous”, but, overall, of the five one-star reviews it’s pretty clear that at least four of them were written by people who’d never read the book in a million years: they were just politically driven. Unfortunately, if you’re writing in an area of political or emotional sensitivity I think it’s hard to avoid such things.


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