Thursday, October 15, 2020

How Bad Must a Book Be to Deserve a One-star Rating? by James W. Ziskin

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.

From Jim

Full disclosure: I was the one who came up with this week’s question. At first, I thought it would be fun to answer. But, then, as I looked back at some of the bad reviews I’ve received on Goodreads, it made me sad. Not at all because some people didn’t like my books—that’s inevitable and normal—but because Goodreads shows you just how angry some people are. How gladly they vent their vitriol, proclaim their self-righteousness, and parade the the brilliance of their judgments for their legion of followers to admire. I feel sad but not really surprised. If the age of social media has taught us anything, it’s that very little of it is social.

How bad must a book be to deserve a one-star rating?

As online rating portals such as Amazon and Goodreads offer no option for zero stars, I can only assume a rating of one star means there is nothing of value in the book. Just bad writing, poor characterization, misspellings, incorrect grammar, and excruciating sex scenes. What else can one assume? Surely most books—traditionally and independently published—have some value. If writing a book were a school test, would so many get one star? A failing grade?

Professional reviewers tend to leave the nastiness out of their reviews. Tend is the operative word. There’s plenty of snark out there, too. Usually, they try to offer a measured critique of the book, where it fails and where it succeeds. And the professionals reach a larger audience. Even a bad review in the New York Times will likely stimulate sales for the author.

A cruel review on Goodreads, however, accomplishes only two things: 1. it saddens the author, and, 2. it gladdens the reviewer. Negative reviews on Goodreads do not affect sales. They do not influence other reviewers. Ultimately, they don’t matter. Except to the author and to the reviewer.

I thought about highlighting the dumbest, snarkiest, rudest reviews I’d ever received. We’d all have a good laugh, right? But I simply am not feeling it. The exercise only served to remind me how much hatred is out there waiting for an audience. But I asked the question, so I’ll offer an answer of sorts. Instead of talking about my bad reviews in particular, I’ll try to catalogue the types of negative reviewers out there. The ones who confound and frustrate all authors. See if you recognize any of these, and, please, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.

Here are some of the archetypical reviewers who specialize in poor reviews/ratings:

1. The ones who give one-star ratings to all the books by an author. Why continue reading books you hate? How do you manage to turn the pages while holding your nose?

2. The ones who write that they really loved the book but mistakenly clicked on one star instead of five. (It is possible to change the rating.)

3. The ones who qualify their three- or four-star review by announcing they only award five-stars to “literature.” What do they say to their kids about their latest finger painting?

4. The ones who say “terrific book! Loved it. Three stars!” 

        Teacher: You aced the test, young man. Congratulations! C+.

        Student: Huh?

5. The ones who—essentially—admit they’re not smart enough to understand the book. “I just don’t get it.”

6. The ones who hate the book because they dislike the genre. Me, I don’t like getting punched in the face. That’s why I don’t pick fights in biker bars.

7. The ones who want to show off the devastating cleverness of their ridicule.

8. The ones who complain that they figured out the ending.

9. The ones who complain that they couldn’t figure out the ending.

10. The ones who say the book was damaged in shipping.

11. The ones who didn’t like the picture on the cover.

12. The ones who say the print is too small. (Legitimate complaint, but not the author’s fault.)

13. The ones who ordered the book by mistake.

14. The ones who didn’t read the book, but know that it’s bad anyway.

15. The ones who don’t approve of the four-letter words in a book set in a maximum security prison.

16. The ones who don’t like female characters who have a sex life.

17. The ones who conflate a character’s behavior/opinions and those of the author.

18. The ones who say they skipped large sections of the book, but—don’t worry—didn’t miss anything...

Now I’m a big boy. I can take a legitimate, serious bad review. Sure, they sting a little, but I’ve got enough positive reviews and critical success to put them out of my mind. But, I confess, this week’s question backfired for me. I feel worse for having posed the question. And answering it did nothing to make me feel better.

Apologies to my fellow 7 Criminal Minds bloggers and to you readers. But at least I learned something.


Paul D. Marks said...

That's a great list, Jim. I'll add one to it, the people who ordered the book for someone else, then give it 2 or 3 star review saying basically that they ordered for someone else. So why are you reviewing it?

I think there's a lot of people out there with axes to grind and reviewing books can be a way for them to do that and feel righteous.

Judy said...

Still laughing at the list of your typical bad reviewers. I think you've nailed 'em, James Ziskin.
I only post reviews of books I've really liked. I choose to read books which I think I'll like. I do tell my friends about books I love and usually forget about the ones I found disappointing.

The authors who blog here should each take a few minutes to read some of the most glowing reviews of their works and then order lunch from a favorite restaurant and have a glass of wine with it.

James Ponti said...

Great topic. Great list. A special element for those like me who write for kids. There are a steady stream of reviewers who denigrate a book because it feels like something kids would like.

James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Judy!

James W. Ziskin said...

James, I hear you! But you’ve got tons of accolades and awards to make up for those reviewers. Congrats!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

A lot of this is the direct fault of authors who share the stupid memes begging for reviews and saying a review cane be short and say nothing more than you liked it. Idiots were encouraged to say positive nothings and we all suffer for it. I have long said that one should only pay attention to reviewers who have something to say and ignore the rest. That concept is finally in place at Amazon where they have adjusted things and giving reviews of depth a higher place in their system than the meaningless one or two sentence review comments.

For those of us who take reviewing seriously, bashing platforms we appear on, sharing nonsense memes, and the like is not helpful or appreciated. Yes, there are crap reviews on Goodreads. There are also plenty of us doing quality work. Pay attention to the reviewer and ignore the platform.

I also wish I had a penny for every author who has claimed to publicly claimed to never read reviews and then emailed me to ask that I read their latest book and review it.

End of brief rant. Carry on.

Alan Orloff said...

I give this blog post one star. No unicorns!!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I wonder how many books the 'one-star' types have written.

James W. Ziskin said...

Kevin, you’re one of the good ones! A thoughtful and serious reviewer.


James W. Ziskin said...

Good one, Alan! I’ll add that to the list.

D.M. Barr said...

And then there are the one-star reviews from people who didn’t like the genre (then why buy it? Why read it?) and those who didn’t get the book on time so why not slam the author?

Susan C Shea said...

I figure the reviewers who resort to your long list of nonsensical complaints are the people who see their world glass as half empty and need to make that someone else's fault. I looked at a few on Amazon early on to see if I could learn anything. But the reviews there are nowhere near as good as the professional ones I got, and I had to shrug and let them go. Matter of taste and personal preferences, I guess.

Alexia Gordon said...

The reviews that frustrate me are the ones where the reviewer goes on and on and on about themself and says next-to-nothing about the book. I don't care about your hairstyle, what you wore, what you ate, or whose eyes you gazed into while you read it, tell me what you did or didn't like about the book. I'm also frustrated by reviewers who review the book they wish they'd read instead of the one they read. Okay, you don't like purple unicorns but this book features purple unicorns so tell me how well (or how poorly) the author handled them. Don't go on for several paragraphs about how wonderful pink turtles are, so the author should have written about pink turtles instead. I tend to seek out reviews from professional reviewers and from book bloggers because they usually don't do these things.

LJ Roberts said...

I'm with Kevin. Some of us do take writing reviews very seriously and work hard at them. It is important to me that I write a review that honestly expresses my opinion, positive and negative, of each book, always explaining clearly why I feel as I do. I rarely write a truly negative review anymore, instead choosing to set a book I'm not enjoying aside and moving on to something else. If a book so disappoints me that I feel I have no choice but to review it, I am very specific.

In this time of COVID, I find my attention seriously impacted, which is sad as I do have a long list of books I want to read/review. However, I want to be able to give them the attention they deserve.

I am so grateful to authors, editors, and publishers who do make our hard days just a bit easier. We reviewers are thankful for those of you who appreciate us as well.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

LJ Rpberts said: "In this time of COVID, I find my attention seriously impacted, which is sad as I do have a long list of books I want to read/review. However, I want to be able to give them the attention they deserve.

I am so grateful to authors, editors, and publishers who do make our hard days just a bit easier. We reviewers are thankful for those of you who appreciate us as well."

LJ said it all so much better than I did, but especially this.

I am having a very hard time focusing on things I read. Covid is certainly playing a role as is my own recent cancer scare--biopsies came back late yesterday and I am clear--- but the biggest issue is grief. One would think nearly three years after losing my wife things would get easier and I would be dealing with it better. The opposite is true.

I am also very grateful to those who send me materials to read as well as those folks who have stuck around reading my stuff and think I have something worth listening to now and then.

James W. Ziskin said...

Kevin and LJ, I.m with you. I hope you didn’t take this post as complaining about serious reviewers like you two. This is about the worst of the Goodreads reviewers.