Thursday, April 2, 2015

Don't Fear The One-Star*

Authors pretty universally hate, fear, and loathe one-star reviews, which makes them humans, and creative people who identify with their stories. However, from the customer's perspective, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum... I mean, one-click buy button. And that is, bad reviews help sell books.

You see, your customers are internet-savvy. They understand that if a thing looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have a book that has 50 reviews, all five-star, you will have to work harder to sell the book than if you had 15 reviews, 4.2 out of 5 stars. The latter looks authentic, because we instinctively know there's one in every crowd that hates the thing everybody else loves.

Also, the tone and tenor of the one-star say as much about the reviewer as they do about the product. For example, a steamy contemporary romance getting a one-star "this was a wonderful love story, until the author ruined it by having her two characters engage in out-of-wedlock intercourse!" will sell far better to its target audience, because that's exactly what they're looking for. (That's a true review, by the way, and the sales lift was noticeable, though the author was torn between laughing on the way to the bank and crying over why, why, would a buyer think they were going to get anything else in that subgenre?)

I personally have dropped a hefty chunk of change for a cookbook on the strength of a one-star that said "This has almost no new recipes! It's just a collection of the best recipes from her five previous cookbooks!"

Closer to home: Peter's prison memoir, Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls
The first one star said "I have never been to prison, nor worked in a prison, so I guess I can't really say how I'd feel in his place, but when he discusses 'the criminal type' or personality, he sounds ...kind of disturbing. It made me uncomfortable."

This review did not hurt sales of the book one bit. In fact, it has chiefly functioned to make people who work in law enforcement gigglesnort, and people who are looking for a realistic view of the inside decide the book clearly isn't whitewashing the problems and dangers involved in working with rapists, murderers, pedophiles, terrorists, and drug lords.

Check your one and two-stars for technical issues (or if it hurts too much, have a friend check them). If they're complaining about formatting, you may need to strip the formatting and upload a cleaner version. If they're complaining about spelling (and you didn't write in Queen's english when they expected American english), make sure you ran a spellcheck on the final uploaded file, and then consider running a text-to-speech program to see if any homophones didn't get caught (or were created) by spellcheck. (For instance, did the heroine receive a "twelve carrot" diamond or a 12-carat diamond?) Robotic speech is good at catching homophones that are hidden by regional accent, as well as skipped and doubled words. (If you did write in Queen's English, a disclaimer at the front stating that it is written in British English, and spelling and grammar will vary from American, does a lot to cut down on the complaints. Won't eliminate them, though.)

If it's not a technical issue, a one-star or two-star review simply means this: the word of mouth, reach and discoverability of your book has now grown beyond just the pool of people who will like it (or like you). This is a good thing, because it means more and more people are hearing of your book. You're not shouting into the void; people are finding you.

It hurts, yes? Remember they're not attacking you; they're criticizing your product. The reviews are for other customers, not a direct conversation with the creator. As well, each reader brings their own emotional baggage and personal history to a book, and sometimes what they get out of it is very, very different than what you put in. Rant privately to friends, but do not engage the reviewer. (And if you must, keep it to the polite "Thank you for your review. I'm sorry you didn't find the book to your taste.")

Have a cup of what's good for what ails you, go look up your favorite story and read it's one-star reviews and commiserate that you're in good company. Then sigh, say it's likely to help sales, and keep on writing.

*Caveat: if it's the only review of a story, yes, it can sink the story. Sorry.


  1. Much wisdom here - and based on 35 years of marriage, also the product of much conversation. :)

  2. I have zero idea why my blog won't accept your comments, but will accept Peter's, Laura's, Callie's, and Cedar's. It's an aggravation, since I love to get mail, but on the other hand, now I get to shiver with joy at getting a post on your blog, so that's a win.
    And quick quick quick, the post about writing slash and burn ambush personal attack reviews was an April Fools joke. You got roped into it because you understand marketing strategies better than anyone else by the campfire I have joined.
    My purpose in writing reviews is primarily personal (it gives me something constructive to do). The way it works best for me, though, is to write about works and authors I believe in, and in doing so, I hope to bring them to the attention of those who haven't discovered them. I'm slightly miffed that my April Fools post got 33 hits (which is big for my blog) and 'Stand Against the Storm' only has four. However, I reviewed that shortly after I had started my mission, so maybe it's only, or primarily, momentum we are seeing here.
    There were some true statements in my April Fools blog. I was, in fact, the grateful recipient of many classes on research methodology and statistics, and maybe there is some application here. (Definitely not the approach I claimed in the April Fools blog). I always reference my blog posts on my facebook page and on Mad Genius Club, but the two reviews that got the most traffic were also referenced on the author's blogs and/or on their Facebook pages.
    I wander afar from the one-star review topic, but maybe I should review some of the non-MGC affiliate works I own, reference my blog reviews on their pages, then incorporate the practice of mentioning my MGC reviews on their pages. I own copies of everything Larry Corriea, Michael Z. Williamson, John Ringo , and Brad Torgerson have written, and most of Eric Flint (except Grantville Gazette, couldn't keep up with it), David Drake, and David Weber.
    Finally, apologies again for the distraction my Blogger account caused, and appreciation for your thoughtful reply to my outlandish joke. I feel almost as though I have drawn the sacred by initiating the profane, but if my thanks and your forgiveness are on the table, all is well, all is well.

  3. The only reviews i actively dislike are the ones from someone who either A. Pans everything with faint praise or B. reads as one of the authors detractors who isn't reviewing the book, but rather his spleen at the authors politics etc.

  4. I ALWAYS read one and two star reviews. They come in handy- especially if it's an author I'm not familiar with. Books are an investment in time and energy and any bit of information I can get helps.

    I learned the hard way- after ignoring some one star reviews for a series of books that was not my cuppa. The author was trying to make a deep point that sometimes bad people are just bad and don't really change their nature- but it took him three books to make that point. And he took the time to make his characters evolve and change through the first two books- to then have them collapse in on themselves in the third. I wish I had read the one star reviews at the beginning of the series that warned about this- but I missed it.

    On the other hand, I picked up MHI because one star reviews called it "over the top gun porn"- which sounded like fun to me. ;) Another good indicator is when the one star reviewer complains about the book being "not literary" or "too steeped in genre." Heh. Those types amuse me to no end.

    I agree with Sanford- though. Drives me crazy when I see negative reviews from people who clearly never read the book. I feel bad for OSC because he tends to attract these trolls in large packs. I was pleased to see Amazon start to label things as a verified purchase- though that's obviously not always reliable. (libraries are our friends.)

  5. I looked at my first one-star as proof that I was now a "real author." Kinda like being a Real Rabbit, but without the fur and cute tail. Someone new had come in, read the book, didn't like it, and let the world know. So it was proof that I wasn't having friends and relations do reviews. (Not that I ever have. Only two of of my IRL friends and no relatives have read my fiction, aside from a few short stories.)

  6. actually I like reading the one star reviews. It gives me a better idea what is in the book. A book can't be awesome for everybody.

  7. I also find it easy to ignore pans that start with a statement such as:
    Like ALL self published books this falls short in editing...
    They establish they have an agenda first. They think it identifies then as one of the righteous instead of the great unwashed. Again - an endorsement for many.
    I just bought C.J. Cherryh's new book "Visitor" and like ALL traditionally published books I quickly found a typo that jarred me out of the story. I said how about that and dove right back in because Cherryh...That woman can write. I didn't say - "Oh damn that DAW! - and throw the book against the wall in disgust.