Saturday, April 29, 2017

One-Star Reviews

Well, it finally happened.  I received my first one-star review for one of my books.  Being 18 words in length, it really didn’t qualify as a review.  Frankly, it struck me more as a protest sign than a review. 
I’ve received about 100 reviews posted to Amazon and Goodreads, so it’s not like this one-star rating would sneak by me.  I notice them all.  While 80% of my reviews are 4 and 5 star, I’m not new to receiving 3-star reviews.  I’ve even been able to cope with a couple 2-star appraisals, but for some reason this 1-star slap in the face was different.  It bothered me.
I’ve read blog posts from authors addressing the subject of one-star reviews, each offering advice on how best to absorb harsh ratings.  I agree with most of what they recommend:  Don’t respond to poor reviews. Don’t contact the reviewers.  Accept the criticism as “part of the territory” of being an author.  If possible, learn from the criticism.  There are exceptions to these recommendations.  If the attack on your work becomes repetitive, lacks constructive content, and/or appears to have destructive motivation, it’s reasonable to contact Goodreads and Amazon to alert them to the problem.
It’s human nature to be disappointed, even hurt, by these punitive reviews.  How could anyone be so critical of something you spent months, possibly years, creating?   The book (a short story collection) receiving my first one-star review had a 4.5-star average prior to this blemish.  It even received contest awards for several of the stories included in the collection.  Still, my first reaction to the one-star rating was to be hurt rather than angry.  
Another typical reaction is curiosity, wanting to know more about the person who would tell you your child is ugly.  Are they outside my intended audience?  Are they experienced reviewers? Could they have other motives for being so critical? As I said earlier, it’s not wise to contact the reviewer or to publically react in any way.  It might escalate the situation.  However, it’s not hard to learn more about an Amazon or Goodreads reviewer without contacting anyone.  There are few secrets on the Internet.
As an author, I have principles regarding giving and receiving reviews.  Every reader has the right to critique my books.  In fact, I welcome ALL reviews.  I also believe reviewers should provide constructive feedback and a reason for their rating, regardless of the number of stars.  I will never give an author an overly harsh critique of their book or one that doesn’t include a balance of positive and critical comments. I’ve posted 2 and 3 star-reviews, but I’ve offered constructive comments as to why the book didn’t meet my expectations.  I’ve yet to give another author a one-star review.  After all, who am I to levy such a punishing literary verdict? Instead, I’ll send her/him a private message with my comments.  
I wrote this blog post for a couple reasons.  For one, it helped me calm down and move on.  I also hope readers will better understand how important reviews are to authors.  We are just people, proud of our work.  We don’t anticipate that everyone will like what we produce, but we hope they’ll take time to let us know why or why not. 


  1. I can appreciate your sentiments, Donn. At my day job (worship leader), every so often we get comment cards with a complaint about something or other. The music is too loud/quiet, the songs are not familiar/not enough variety, why are there colored lights/we need more colored lights . . . much of the time the complaints are in direct opposition with themselves. What actually irritates me, though, is when the complaints are anonymous. We do have a policy at work that if comments of any type are anonymous, they are to be tossed in the trash. If someone can't own up to their words (which in most cases are hurtful when unsigned), then they don't deserve to be seen by the addressee.

    The problem is that the anonymous notes are almost always based on inaccuracy, complete lack of facts, or one person's opinion stated as "everyone thinks" or "we all feel . . ." I think book reviews are much like that. Sure, they may or may not have a name attached with a Goodreads or Amazon account, but the bottom line is that it's a review based on someone's opinion, which may or may not be rooted in fact. You don't have the option of having a neutral party "throw away" a negative review so you don't have to read it, and I can't imagine an author who doesn't read his reviews each time a new one pops up. With creativity of any type, we tend to feel that it's a personal insult if someone doesn't like our work, because it implies they either don't like us, or that they think our creativity is lacking in skill somehow.

    I've only gotten to read one of your books so far (so far!) but I absolutely enjoyed it on all levels: plot, style, writing skill, and editing (of course). I'm glad writing this post helped you to calm down about it, even though I'm sure those hurtful words may still linger in the back of your mind for a time. You almost have to fall back on the logic of "if ten people say this is fine, and one says it's not, then whose opinion is closer to the truth?"

    1. Lynda, thanks for your comments. I agree. You have to look at trends and not outliers. If trends are favorable, everything is fine.

  2. When I review a book that I don't particularity care for, I always find something positive to say. Maybe it's just that the genre is not to my taste, but I do know that an author puts their whole heart in the story, and really a one star review is a bit harsh. If it's anything less then 3 stars, I don't post. Just my own thoughts on the matter.

    Linda B