Tuesday, September 18, 2012

So What About Those One-Star Reviews?

Guest Post by Kristin Comstock

1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DONT READ THIS BOOKJanuary 30, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Fahrenheit 451 (Paperback)
Ray Bradbury tries to write a bestseller in this boring novel. He keeps the audience in the book for about three pages, then everyone falls asleep. If he could do it again, I think he should have never written books in the first place.
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The dreaded one star review. What does it mean really for writers and readers? I am not an author, and only a sometimes writer, but I am an avid reader and sometimes reviewer, and strong supporter of indie writers. Personally, I will probably never write a one- or two- star review. Why? I think I need to have actually read a book to review it fairly, and frankly, life is short and my reading list is long. I would never make it through a 1 or 2 star book. But that's just my personal philosophy. And I certainly don't subscribe to the  "I think this book is just a 3- star book, but there are a ton of 5 stars,so I'll give it a 1- star so it all balances, and everything will be right with the universe" phiIosophy. (Yes, I have seen this stated more than once. I'm not an author, but this one kind of steams me!) Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are plenty of one-star reviews just begging to be written. Obviously, there are plenty of readers with a different perspective than mine,leaving one- and two-star reviews. I started thinking about this the other day while catching up on all the hot news surrounding reviews. What is the value of legitimate one-star reviews and why do reviewers leave them? So I spent a little time browsing reviews on Amazon. What I found was just what you would expect; the reasons for leaving one-star reviews are as diverse as the tastes of readers reading the books. Here's a look at some of the most common ones that I found.
Many one-star reviews were given because a reader "couldn't get into it". As in " I just can't get into ________ (wizards, vampires, bondage, etc), so I'm giving this book a one star review." These reviewers seem to be using the star system to rank books according to their personal preferences,or as a way of relating how much appeal the book had for them.
Sometimes one-star reviews are given for typos, or poor editing. I have seen poor reviews based on one error that was troubling to the reviewer. ( By the way, lest we begin to believe this happens only with indie published books, I can point to at least 2 traditionally published ebooks I have read recently which would need to get this rating because of several minor proofreading errors.)
Particularly fascinating to me are the one-star reviews that  also talk about strong points of a book or things that the reviewer liked. For example, Agatha Christie's classic bestseller, And Then There Was None: "It was well written. It was a page turner. But it had a very anti- climatic ending. So not worth my time or money"  or this for a more recent bestseller, Water For Elephants, " This writing is exceptional and managed to keep me interested during the course of the book. Still these marvelous little glimpses of author Sara Gruen's potential do not permit me to recommend this book to anybody." (Huh?) So why a one star and not a 2 star? Or 3 star, if you find a book "fast paced and super compelling" but you didn't love the way the characters developed, as one  Hunger Games reader wrote?
Sometimes reviewers wish  the author had done something different , gone in another direction, as again in The Hunger Games: "I hoped that the plot device would give an opportunity to explore human nature...but it fails." And sometimes a reviewer just is not comfortable with the subject matter. How about those one-star reviews for the popular parenting book, Everyone Poops?

9 of 61 people found the following review helpful

1.0 out of 5 stars EwwwFebruary 14, 2004

By A Customer

Honestly, if you're reading this book, you're in need of serious psychiatric help. This book should only be read by the most hard-core of poop fetishists, as it contains words that no self-respecting sailor would use. This is terrible. "POOP" STINKS

So with so many reasons for giving out 1-star reviews, how should we, as readers and writers, be looking at this dreaded rating? The master science fiction writer,Ray Bradbury, may have just shrugged off the review above. He expressed this perspective in his 1996 interview with Playboy magazine, "When I started writing seriously, I made the major discovery of my life - that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don't listen to anyone else, and always go your own way." There may be something to this attitude-after all, a writer has to be true to him or herself.  But, as a writer, you may not be quite as confident or successful as Bradbury yet, so , perhaps, a more useful attitude may be to take what you can learn from the review and move forward- just as Ray Bradbury surely did. 
Maybe writers should even consider one-star reviews as a badge of honor. After all, most bestsellers have a healthy blend of 1 to 5 star reviews. Hang around long enough and it's hard for a book to escape them. Sure, I know those 1 star reviews are about as welcome as a bad case of poison ivy, but consider this: A few thoughtful, yet less than stellar, reviews, may lend a bit of authenticity to the book's reviews as a whole for the potential reader. People tend to be suspicious of a book with nothing but glowing reviews. Wool (the Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey, one of my favorite reads of 2012 has 1562 five-star and 12 one- star. A few of the negative reviewers express doubt over the validity of all those 5 star reviews. They can't believe they're in the minority and dislike a book that so many people are raving about. But the reality is, readers hand out stars for all kinds of reasons and many times the basis for the rating is purely subjective and the low (or high) rating may or may not be an accurate reflection of the quality of the work. Readers and writers both need to take the stars as a tool but certainly not as gospel. Different strokes for different folks, y'all.. and on that cliched note, I'll leave you with this profound quote from Kurt Vonnegut:
"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."

What are your thoughts on one star ratings as a reader or writer? Do you give out negative reviews? What is your criteria for a one star rating? 

Kristin Comstock is a transplanted Michigander just like her friend,Jeff Currie. She is an educator, social media consultant and manager, avid reader, sometimes reviewer, and strong supporter of indie writers. She resides in Texas with her 3 very busy children, and 2 ornery cats. Track her down on Twitter @krismos.

1 comment:

  1. I think one star reviews are in bad taste. On the other hand it takes all sorts to make the world go round. People are entitled to despise a book if they want. If I ever got a one star review, I'd hurt deep down inside but I would try not to resent it. Everyone has their reasons and at the end of the day, Ray is right. We have to write for ourselves and damn the torpedoes.

    Great post, Jeff.