This month’s Ask Bethany House question takes a look at a somewhat-controversial subject: “As a publicist who works with reviewers, do you ever get mad when you see one-star reviews of your authors’ books?”
So, let me first note that while I love my Bethany House authors, I have a good deal more objectivity when it comes to reading negative reviews than the authors themselves. After all, I didn’t spend months (or even years) of my life lovingly crafting a fictional world and putting imaginary people through trauma to get to a happy ending.
To give you a glimpse behind their side of the desk, I’ve heard of authors who…
- Don’t ever read reviews to avoid obsessing over them.
- Find one-star reviews normal and sometimes even hilarious.
- Feel completely crushed and stressed out when they first read a scathing review.
- Ask a friend to read bad reviews and pass on any reoccurring themes that might be helpful as they write the next book.
- Love to read five-star and one-star reviews of their books and others’ because it gives the whole spectrum of who the book’s audience is (and isn’t).
Back to the actual question. I admit, I’ve gone through pretty much all of those stages when it comes to our authors’ books. Where I’ve landed is this: not every book is for every person. That’s just the way it’s going to be, and one-star reviews are evidence of that.
Sure, there are times when reviewers will make a completely unsubstantiated claim or reveal that they were biased against the book from the start…but clearly, they weren’t the intended audience for the book in the first place, and if they want to disclose that to the Internet as a whole, fine by me. It’s only in an environment where people feel able to say anything about a book that you can trust the praise of glowing, five-star reviews.
(Although one clarification: I always recommend that book reviewers keep it classy and refrain from making harsh generalizations or personal attacks on the author. There’s a difference between critical and mean.)
To prove my point—one-star reviews are necessary and even a little bit fun—below are excerpts from one-star Amazon reviews of award-winning Christian fiction…along with some commentary by me. (To be taken in good fun. Sometimes authors need to laugh at these so they don’t cry!) I’m leaving the titles off for all the authors out there who might still be a bit sensitive to these words. But trust me, these authors are all highly regarded and for each book included, there were hundreds of four- and five-star reviews.
“The chapters were a combination of jarring, illogical ‘bad’ events interrupting a dry litany of ‘Old West’ chores and Christian ‘values.’”
Hmm…how to respond? At least the “bad” events kept things interesting?
“Formulaic. Too easy to predict. Less of a historical piece and more of just a disguised romance novel.”
[Another one-star for the same book] “This was classified as a romance novel and it just doesn’t seem like one to me. Nice story, wrong genre.”
This just goes to show that it’s impossible to pick a genre categorization that everyone will find perfectly describes a book.
“I struggled with the whole book (since i paid $10 for it i had to try to get through it) and at the last few chapters I just didn’t care how it all ended so finally stopped reading. I’m mad that there are so many good reviews & that I spent so much on it.”
The number of times people commented on why they were the only negative review among hundreds of positive ones made me laugh.
“There seems to be a new trend of ‘christian’ novels hiding amongst the regular secular novels. I think it would be helpful if these books were properly identified so that those who do not want to read this propaganda can avoid it in future.”
Amazon category: Christian Books->Fiction. Back cover copy mentions character’s faith, interior reviews describe author as an inspirational fiction writer. Quote before the first chapter is an actual Bible verse. If we’re “hiding” our Christian novels, we really need to take remedial stealth courses.
[The entire one-star review] “I received this book but did Not order it….why?”
Hmm…giving the author a low rating to complain about getting an unexpected free book. Why? (Things like this and complaints about Amazon-related issues like delivery always perplex me as reviews.)
[For a book labeled as a historical drama] “More of a drama than a romance. I thought it was to depressing.”
Again, the read-the-genre-tags issue.
“I don’t like her style, I don’t like the book. Some characters don’t have any relevancy in the story. Easy she can eliminate three chapters.”
At this point, the editor is probably wondering which three.
“The writing could use some help. I had to go back and reread some sentences to try and make sense of them. For example, the author would talk about female characters for 2 sentences, and then start the third with ‘he.’ Who’s he?! Then I’d go back in text to see you the heck ‘he’ might be. That, to me, is too much work for leisure reading.”
Okay, I see how this might be a minor quibble…but would that really ruin an entire book?
“This book isn’t worth the ink and paper it was printed on.”
Do you actually know how much the ink and paper is worth? Not actually that much, surprisingly. Most of the cost of the book goes toward the editorial, marketing, production, printing, and distribution expenses associated with publishing. In fact, this is why the price of ebooks typically starts the same as their print counterparts despite the fact that the physical copy has… Oh wait…you weren’t asking for more information to make a cost-benefit assessment of the book? Sorry about that. This is awkward.
“The 363 pages don’t contain enough substance for a decent 3 page short story.”
Is that three page story double- or single-spaced? Because I feel like that would make a difference.
“Equal parts pedestrian and irritating. Glad I checked it out of the library instead of buying it.”
I have to ask: what makes you so irritated that you leave an Amazon review for a book that cost you absolutely nothing instead of just returning it unfinished?
[On a straight-up historical novel] “If you love history then by all means rad this book. If you’re looking for a love story, forget it.”
I’m glad you addressed the actual intended audience for this book. That should help the right readers find it.
“Almost every paragraph someone would be shrugging, particularly the heroine. Very annoying.”
Well, not everyone’s going to care for this book, I guess. *Shrugs*
“didn’t like the story gave up after a few pages medioka what more is there to say don’t recommend it”
MEDIOKA! This is my new favorite non-word that I want to start applying to everything.
Let’s start a discussion: do you ever leave negative reviews of books you didn’t like? (Or books that were just “medioka”?) If so, how do you handle them? If not, why not?