Getting Those Dreaded One Star Reviews: What They May or May Not Mean.


170px-Cordelia_-_William_Frederick_Yeames
“I don’t deserve this!”

A writing colleague of mine was really upset by getting her first one star review. This had gone up on both Amazon and Goodreads. It seems that the purchaser had been so eager to spread the bad news about this appalling book that she had even gone to the trouble of opening an account at Goodreads to post it as her first book read.

Well, I didn’t say, as many hardened writers say, ‘Join the club; any Indie Author has to learn to shrug off destructive reviews.’  

That may be true, but it seemed a bit insensitive.

You do your best to give your readers the most gripping read that  you can, and then someone dismisses it as worthless rubbish, urging everyone not to waste their money.

Hmm. They are undeniably painful, getting those one star reviews, and unless you want to look unprofessional, there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about them. The only time I respond is when someone complains of errors, textual or historical. Then, being a bit of a prig about grammar and research, I politely ask the reviewer to point them out to me so I can rectify them if necessary.

Amazon and Goodreads readers of your book can say anything that they like – however untrue – about your writing in an effort to discourage anyone from making the same mistake that they did, and buying your book. That nothing happens for 98 per cent of it, say; or that these are the dullest, least sympathetic characters that s/he has ever had the misfortune  to encounter.  

That’s the downside of the technology that makes self publishing possible.

Generally, though, there is one comfort. Most one star reviews tend to be of the ‘couldn’t get into it don’t waste your money’ variety. I find it hard to believe that any discerning reader is gong to take those seriously.

And do most self published authors want undiscerning readers? Well, maybe we do, just a bit; the ones who are undiscerning in our favour…

My colleague’s reviewer insisted furiously that the book was ‘BORING!!!!!!! BORING!!!!!! BORING!!!!!!’

Well,  I have found large sections of many classics frankly boring, ‘Wuthering Heights’ ‘Vanity Fair’ ‘Tom Jones’ and much of Dickens to name just a few, so my writer friend is in good company in boring readers. 

Regarding this particular review, though, I pointed out to my colleague that there was a discrepancy between the indignant tone and the reader’s furious insistence that s/he found the characters dull and the action wholly uninteresting.

If I’m really bored by a book, I start to lose concentration. My mind wanders to that meeting with my older relative next Sunday, where she’ll tell me once more about her coming knee operation. In my excitement over this, I forget the name of the lead characters in the book, or what s/he was doing in the last chapter which led to what is happening now.

ZZZZZ..,What?

Oh yes:  I was reading… 

He flashed his brilliant white teeth in a menacing smile.

A young girl like you certainly shouldn’t be out alone in a place like this.’

Suddenly, Ludmilla realised that he was one of the gang of young Wolfmen who were terrorizing the city. In fact, he was none other than their leader. How could she not have realized this, the minute he began to follow her home?’

That’s just what I was about to ask myself. Self Defence Step One! ‘If someone starts following you, get ready for trouble.’ 

Still, to continue:

Do you care for a bowl of Doggie Munchies?’ Ludmilla asked kindly… Then she noticed again the slight limp, no doubt the result of that fight with the rival gang. “Maybe you would prefer a knee operation?’

Me: ‘Oh no, that was my imagination taking over. Ludmilla doesn’t make any such helpful suggestions. I just dozed off again. This book is a perfect cure for insomnia. I must read it every night. Probably most readers as bored as this would rate it with two stars, but I’ll give it two and a half stars, rounded up to three, if I can ever get to the end, that is…’

Being a writer myself, I am probably much more scrupulous about handing out low star ratings than many readers. As I have often said, I have to come across something like a story that suggests that wife beating is OK, or one that romanticizes rape to give a one star rating.

Still, I do think my nonsense above is probably more typical of how you react to a book that bores you than ranting. Far from becoming angry; you can hardly concentrate. You feel far too torpid to rush to write a review using capital letters and exclamation marks, let alone troubling to open a new account with a website to repeat what you’ve said.

I suspect that that particular reviewer and others who write that a book is BORING!!!!!!!, are in fact, more outraged than bored by it.

 Whatever it is that has disturbed them – it might be sexual content, a piece of religious heresy, or any other contentious matter – a comic fat character, perhaps – they prefer to insist that they were ‘bored’ rather than angry. After all, it sounds a lot more sophisticated – even a trifle Byronic – and it might put off more readers.  Also, that way, the reader avoids admitting that this book really had an impact on her or him.

Besides, as I pointed out to the writer, as that reader admitted she had to keep on skim reading to the end, that’s really good.  I personally regard anyone reading to the end of mine as a victory, even if they hate every word. If someone has to find out what happens, even if s/he detests the characters and the plot, then the author’s won her/him over into that fantasy world and got a grip on the imagination, and that’s just what any fiction writer wants.

Finally, until next time, here’ s an image of something to do with stars that brings everything into perspective….

220px-Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_Nevada

The Milky Way…

Next Post: Scathing Reviews Part Two: Those Unsympathetic Characters.

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4 thoughts on “Getting Those Dreaded One Star Reviews: What They May or May Not Mean.

  1. Oh, yes … nowadays I’m very reluctant to leave anything less than a 3-star review, and I even feel a bit guilty about that! I’m always aware of how much work has gone into a novel, even if I personally didn’t much like it, and am unwilling to publicly bash it. I’ve made a few exceptions, in the cases where a book really infuriated me, but I feel bad about them too… Having said that, everyone is entitled to express his or her opinion, and I don’t think we can complain too much. My feeling is that, once we send our books out into the big, bad world, they are no longer ours alone; they become fair game for criticism, however much it hurts. One of the paradoxes of being a writer is that, while many of us are almost painfully sensitive, we also have to have the hide of the proverbial rhinoceros once the reviews start rolling in!

  2. You are so right, Mari. We do need the hides of rhinos indeed to weather some of the critical comments, yet we have sent our work out to be read. Yet, as I said to my novice writer friend above, there is some comfort in your work having had such a strong effect on some readers as to elicit a rant.
    I don’t tend to leave less than three star reviews either, and am scrupulous about what I say about living authors, but I have so say, I don’t feel much guilt about strongly criticising dead ones even if I avoid giving out low star ratings. I assume they have gone on to something far greater!

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