The other day, I flipped open the Toastmasters Advanced Communications Manual, Public Relations, and found a description of the difference between public relations, advertising, and publicity, quoted below.
Some people confuse public relations with publicity. Public relations refers to a variety of marketing strategies that strengthen a person's or organization's credibility, enhance its image, develop goodwill or influence public opinion. Publicity is one of these strategies and it involves media coverage such as news stories, feature articles, radio and television interviews, public appearances and reviews. Other strategies include speeches, speakers bureaus, sponsorships, charitable contributions, special events, newsletters and Web sites.
Public Relations also should not be confused with advertising. You pay for advertising. . .Publicity is free. For example, if a newspaper editor considers your product or service newsworthy and assigns a reporter to write an article about it, the result is public relations. Because you didn't pay for the article and it written by an independent party, readers consider the article more credible and are more likely to be influenced by it. The risk, however, is that you have no control over the article's content and whether it is favorable to your product, service or organization, although you certainly can try to influence the reporter.
This, then, is the challenge for the author who doesn't have a lot of spare cash to pay for advertising. With paid advertising, you control the message, although not all readers will accept it as credible. With all the strategies you put into your marketing plan to garner favorable public opinion through public relations, you may influence the message, but you will not be able to control it, although the third-party source may be accepted as more credible.
Some people may still believe the old bromide, parodied in the image at the top of this post, that any publicity is good publicity, but I doubt that an author whose books have received unfavorable reviews on Amazon, Good Reads, Library Thing, or any other platform where readers share thoughts about the books they read, would agree.
But it is true that any review is publicity - it is free.
And there is one advantage to even unfavorable reviews: the review itself is evidence that someone read the book and felt strongly enough about its content to put together a review. With a name (or at least a screen name) associated. And that offers the beginning of a conversation. Instead of ignoring a bad review, or trying to get it removed, take the opportunity to thank the reviewer and engage in a public and principled conversation about what the reviewer found lacking in the book. It may be that the reviewer doesn't like or usually read the genre of your book. Or, if your book is non-fiction, it may be that the reviewer has specific information that he or she felt was overlooked or stretched beyond the ability to suspend disbelief. Disagreement, when handled with courtesy and professionalism, can add to your favorability among potential readers.
In another strategy for dealing with bad reviews, Digital Book World recommends authors make lists, one before looking at any reviews - a list of their fears - and three once the reviews begin - a list of what is irrelevant (to be ignored), a list of what brightens the day (to be cherished), a list of the negative comments (to serve as reminders that every author disappoints at least one reader).
The number of reviews is also important. One bad review may feel devastating, but it can be overcome by more good reviews. For strategies to get those good reviews, check out this post in Kimberly Grabas' blog, Your Writer Platform: How to build your following before the book deal.