Friday, October 16, 2020

A Lone Star State

by Abir Mukherjee 

Discuss the worst/funniest/most ridiculous review you’ve ever received on Amazon or Goodreads. This is your chance to defend yourself and blow off some steam, since we know we can’t engage with reviewers.



Man, what a topic! 


It's my kryptonite, 

the stone in my shoe, 

the bane of my life, 

the one-star review, 

as Dolly Parton might have sung, is a right of passage. Like a childhood fear of injections, you dread it, and then you get your first one, and you feel crap, but then realise it ain’t the end of the world. You're still a writer. In fact, you’re now a proper writer, because everyone’s had them. 


Really and truly. Go on Amazon (or Goodreads if you’re a masochist) and type in the names of your five favourite authors (ten if you’re feeling indulgent) and check out their reviews. I bet you every single one of them will have their share of one star reviews. Someone will no doubt read, say The Bridges of Madison County and write ‘Not enough explosions – One Star’ or have a go at Nineteen Eighty-Four, complaining that Orwell was out in his maths by a good thirty-two years. Now one could argue that these things are down to taste, and that’s fine, but as my colleagues have pointed out – that’s not always the case. There are exceptions to the rule, some of which are rooted in mendacity, and some in plain idiocy. Here are a few of them.


-       Reviewer is reviewing a different book by a totally different author – this sometimes happens and it’s understandable. I share the same name (Abir Mukherjee) with another writer (I know, what are the chances?) – but he writes very different books from me. I have had people have a go at me for writing his books, when I didn’t. I’m pretty sure he gets the same from irate readers of my stuff.

-       Reader is complaining about something totally unrelated to the book in question, such as:

o   Book didn’t arrive in time;

o   Book arrived punctually but was damaged in some way;

o   Book never arrived;

o   I never ordered this in the first place and I won’t read it;

o   I didn’t order it, I didn’t receive it, and I wouldn’t read it, but I’m giving it one star because I disagree with the author’s opinion on ABC, XYZ etc.


-       Then there’s the malevolent one star review – one of my mates who’s an extremely successful self-published author (I mean he sells more books in a day than I do in a year) told me of the skull-duggery that apparently goes on in the self-pub world. There’s a school of thought that certain demographics buy certain books based on their Amazon reviews and ratings. ‘If your book is doing well in the Amazon chart, like in the top 50, you might suddenly see a few one-star reviews appearing, almost as if they were planted there.’ I think Amazon’s approach to reviews might have changed recently, but my mate definitely saw this as an issue when we were drunkenly discussing it back in 2018.


Whatever the reason for the one star review, my advice is to not take it to heart – though this is often more difficult than it sounds. We authors are fragile folk, with large, precious egos. One word of criticism can set us back months (now you understand why some literary novels take ten years to write and in the end are just 250 pages of anxious, self absorbed navel gazing). Seriously though, our books generally take a few years of hard work from inception to publication. In a sense they’re like our babies. We bring them into the world after much stress and strain and the next thing you know, Alan77 from Tulsa is going on Goodreads and telling the world how utterly crap and ugly your baby is. (Just p*ss off, Alan).


But of course, a writer cannot tell Alan77 to p*ss off, because that would be wrong. Alan can say whatever the hell he likes, because that’s free speech, but the author cannot respond to Alan’s ridiculous assertions about the book lacking substance and the characters lacking a third or even a second dimension, because to do so, to get down in the dirt with Alan would be career suicide and a first class ticket to the asylum.


The one thing I was told about one-star reviews when I first started out was never to argue or refute or even engage with the reviewers. And it’s damn good advice. Sometimes it’s not even possible to argue with the review. My one star reviews include this cracker:


‘This reads like it was written by a bank manager’ – I don't know what that means.


But for every one of those, fortunately there’s one of these:


‘This book was just the right thickness to correct the wobble on my table – 5 stars’


So it’s swings and roundabouts.


My advice is, try to ignore the one star reviews, and don’t let the five stars go to your head either. It’s the two or three star reviews that you can learn from. They’re the ones that are normally constructive. There are things that I’ve picked up from such reviews and implemented them in my writing and I hope I’m a better writer for them.


So please, don’t take any of this as a reason not to leave reviews. We need the feedback, so do keep sending them in…unless you’re Alan77 from Tulsa. To you sir, I say, p*ss off.


Paul D. Marks said...

Abir, it's bad enough getting one star reviews for the things we write. But to get one star reviews for what someone else writes: No words.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great post, Abir. "just the right thickness to correct the wobble on my table" — I'm still laughing.

Brenda Chapman said...

I think we've all been reviewed by Alann 77 from Tulsa at one point in our careers. He and his cousins get around :-) Thanks for putting those negative reviews into perspective, Abir.

Susan C Shea said...

There's good news in the wobble table review - the writer will have to explain the book and people will bend down to read the spine for years unless he wants his precious table to wobble madly!

James W. Ziskin said...

Great post. Abir. That table wobble is the best review I’ve seen in a long time. Congrats!

And your awards and and nominations should provide you with great solace. Great books.