By Sandra Beckwith
Have you experienced that rite of passage in the book publishing industry known as the one-star review?
No matter where you are in the publishing spectrum – a self-published first-timer or a celebrated best-selling author – you can expect to see a one-star review show up eventually.
Nobody wants or hopes for one, of course. But it’s inevitable.
Here’s a Sampling of What You Can Expect
There are the one-star Amazon reviews that make you laugh, cringe, or roll your eyes:
“Totally worthless book.”
“I was so ashamed of myself after I paid good money for this silly book.”
“Best part of the book is the title.”
Then there are the one-star Amazon reviews that have a little more substance:
“A brief glance through it is enough to confirm that it is precisely the novel you would write if you wanted to become a celebrated author but hated writing, hated readers, and wanted to punish academics.”
“If you’re going to read this (you feel obligated because your stupid book club picked it) and enable the author at least look into the information that her family has out there and take everything in knowing that it is highly disputed by friends, family and logic. Mostly logic.”
“I literally have no idea what this book is about. And I’m not reading it again to find out either.”
The Difference Between Bad Review Types
Nonsensical or mean reviews offer no insights. They’re throwaways.
Those that are more in-depth can provide information you can act on – if you’re open to it. For example, when several readers express disappointment because your book didn’t include information they expected — and they’re specific about what that is — you can update the book’s description in a way that manages expectations: “This book is not about ‘X.’ ” (And perhaps add that missing information to a revised edition.)
Or, if reviewers repeatedly comment that the book is so full of typos that they couldn’t finish it, or that the dialogue was stiff, you can take action and fix those problems.
Sometimes the feedback is useless, sometimes it’s helpful. It can be hard to see it for what it is because one-star reviews feel like personal attacks. But, if you can take a step back and be objective, you can often benefit from the feedback.
3 Reasons to Pay Attention to Them
In reality, even pointless or nasty one-star reviews serve a purpose. Here are three reasons to embrace the dreaded one-star review:
- You can use negative feedback to improve the book or its description.
Use the unpleasant feedback to your advantage. As noted already, if you get the same comments from several people, it’s time to pay attention. You can probably use it to make changes that will make a difference.
Let’s say your 90-page paperback costing $14.99 has several one-star reviews saying the book isn’t worth the price. Shouldn’t you take another look at the price?
Self-published authors often set prices based on how much they want to earn from the book, not what readers are willing to pay. In the end, a smaller percentage of something is better than zero percent of nothing, right? That’s what you’ll get if you continue to overestimate your book’s value to its audience.
Look for patterns in those negative reviews to see what you can learn from them. Sometimes, it’s nothing. But sometimes it’s something — even a big something.
- They give the four- and five-star reviews credibility.
Maybe I’m too skeptical, but when I see a book with 63 five-star reviews, I think, “Really? Not a four or a three in the bunch?” Then, because I know more than the average reader, I presume that the author has benefited from a well-organized campaign to get positive (and not necessarily honest) reviews up there.
Like me, you know that reviews are subjective and reader preferences are quite personal. You might hate what I love, I might hate what you love. Do we believe it when it when everybody agrees that it’s a great book? Probably not.
And that’s when the one- (or two-) star reviews come into a play. A 4.6 review average, especially when there are lots of reviews, is more credible than 5.0. (See the next point.)
- Readers aren’t stupid.
And I’m kind of tired of the way some people think they are.
When you see a one-star review that says, “It arrived with a bent cover,” what do you think?
My mind-reading powers aren’t what they used to be, but I’m going to take a chance and say that you probably think the reviewer is a goofball. That person is reviewing the packaging, not what’s between those bent covers, right?
Readers can see that as clearly as you and I can.
How to Handle Negative Reviews
Let’s say you achieve that not-so-coveted “I got a one-star review” status. Should you reply to it?
As I explain in “Should you respond to negative reviews?,” most of the time, you shouldn’t, but there are four situations when replying does make sense.
In general, I advise authors to eat cookies and move along when it’s a random negative review. But when one- and two-star reviews become the norm, not the exception, it’s time to pay attention. There’s usually something you can learn from when that happens.
Is it time to revisit your reviews to see what you can learn?
Sandra Beckwith is an author and national award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to save thousands of dollars by doing their own publicity, promotion, and marketing. You might have seen her on “The Montel Williams Show,” or “CBS This Morning,” or read about her in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Feedspot has ranked her website, Build Book Buzz, in the top 10 among thousands of book marketing blogs worldwide; it has also been named a top website for authors and writers six other times. Get your “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” when you subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter at https://buildbookbuzz.com/gift .