It’s In the Stars. . . Or Not

Hello, SEers, and Happy Hump Day! Mae here, inviting you to pull up a chair and sit a spell.

A recent post I did on Story Empire generated great discussion about entering book giveaways and/or downloading free ebooks. Many agreed the only time they did either was when they were truly interested in reading the book. An offshoot of that discussion led to a few comments about reviews—the dreaded “R” word.

fluffy long-haired cat with big eyes and open mouth, looking surprised

I know this subject has been debated high and low, and discussed ad infinitum. But one of the comments on my original post made me consider reviews in a new light. As authors, we naturally hope for the best when it comes to star ratings. Inevitably, sooner or later, we’re bound to collect a few on the lower rung of the ladder. I’ve had my share. It’s part of being an author. Even big guns like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and—my personal favorites—Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are not immune. The truth is you can’t please everyone. And, well . . . sometimes a book could stand with improving.

As writers, most of us are nowhere near the level of success the big guns enjoy, so we tend to be less cavalier when it comes to one star reviews. But what about when that less-than-desirable review could push your numbers into a realm Amazon favors?

As a reader, I’ve made it a practice not to review books unless I can provide at least three stars. But as noted by a comment on my last post, Amazon uses how many reviews a book has to determine which books to boost. Suddenly a one or two star review attached to our Herculean writing efforts could make the difference between 48 reviews and the magical 50. Hit 50 and Amazon notices you.

As with most things, we have good and bad. A poorly written book could be pushed higher simply because so many people take the time to share what they don’t like. By the same token, a well-written book could languish when not enough readers review it.

There have been multiple times when I’ve read a one or two star book that had potential, and was tempted to leave a review explaining what didn’t work and how it could be improved. Sadly, I’ve seen reviewers attacked in the comments on Amazon for leaving low ratings. And I’m not referring to ridiculous reviews like “Don’t waste your time” “Useless” or “Product never arrived” (an actual review given to one of my favorite novels of all time. Seriously, how does that earn the author a one star review?). I’m referring to legitimate reviews where the reviewer expressed what they didn’t like, only to be attacked in the comments for sharing their thoughts. That’s made me gun shy. I also don’t like pointing out negatives—whether it be grammar, plot development, character building, editing, etc.

Maine Coon cat with big ears making funny face at camera

On the flip side, if someone tags one of my books with a one or two star review, and that review pushes the title to a new plateau on Amazon, is the result truly that dreadful? Admittedly, if my first books out the door had netted low reviews, I would have been devastated. I’m not sure I could have recovered. Now, I chalk the few that do turn up (and yes, thankfully, they are few) as part of the course for being an author. My later releases have garnered more attention which creates more opportunity for someone to find something they didn’t like. Still, I’d rather have the higher numbers, even with a few not-so-sterling reviews tossed into the mix.

What do you think? As a writer, how do you feel about earning a low review? If a low review would push your ranking with Amazon higher, would you be okay with it, even if the review wasn’t constructive? As a reader, do you leave one and/or two star reviews, or shy away from what is perceived as a negative?

Let’s get some discussion going. The topic may be an old one, but I’m all for hearing opinions. After all, a writer’s life is “in the stars.” How do those glittery accolades measure up on your end?

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39 thoughts on “It’s In the Stars. . . Or Not

  1. Great post, Mae! I didn’t know about getting 50 reviews on Amazon….good to know. I have had all types of reviews…I try not to let my feelings get hurt because it is only their opinion. I figure if I hit someone’s emotions then perhaps it was a good thing. I feel bad if I have to leave a three star review for a book….So far, I’ve been lucky to read books that I like. The ones I don’t…I’ve avoided:) My favorite review was a two star rating because he didn’t know it was a kids book…lol. So far I’ve found reviewers on Amazon not as harsh as the ones on Goodreads. I always want to know if I can improve and I can…and how I approach others, well I will put a book down and not read it if its a one or two star rating for me and get to the books I can get lost in. I tend not to notice grammar- only the story – unless it is really bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to laugh about the two star review, D.L. I once had someone complain because they didn’t like the mystery element in a book I had written, even though the book was clearly tagged as a mystery. It does make you wonder sometimes.

      I’ve heard the reviews on Goodreads can be pretty harsh. I don’t do a lot on that site other than log what books I read and post my reviews.

      It sounds like you have a good approach to reviewing and also taking reviews in stride. We can definitely learn from the negative ones if they’re presented in the right light.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links | Staci Troilo

  3. I’ve often heard you haven’t “arrived” at being an author until you’ve received a bad review. But let’s face it, they aren’t easy to read. I’ve also seen people leave a one-star review and wrote they loved a book. Obviously, they don’t understand the rating system. As a reader, I’ve purchased books based on one and two-star reviews because something the reviewer said they disliked is something I find intriguing. Interesting post, Mae.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve also seen those one star reviews where the reviewer says they loved the book, Joan. Like you said…some don’t understand the system.
      And I’ve also heard the same thing–that you haven’t arrived as an author until you’ve earned a negative review. I try to keep that in mind when I get one, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. No matter where a low review would shove my book, I still wouldn’t want one. My reviewers have been fair. My few three stars had rationale which although I could not understand, was from the heart of the reader and so acceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have left 2-star reviews before. :-/ I know about the 50 review policy, and I still want to support the author. Whenever I leave a review (and especially with a 2- or 3-star review), I always make sure to point out what I really liked about it along with what areas I feel could show improvement. Amazon’s rating scale shows a 2-star as “it was okay,” whereas a 3-star is “I like it.” If a book was just “okay,” then it’s a 2-star. I think I’ve only given one or two 2-star reviews. I’ve never given a 1-star review; if it is that bad, I don’t finish reading it. I make sure to explain for any reader of my review what bothered me and what I liked so that he/she could decide for him/herself if my rating system had any merit. I have received some critical reviews, and I embrace them because it helps me to go back and polish my writing to make it better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yvette, I will be honest. It was your comment on my original post that prompted this blog. You really made me think and reconsider how I look at reviews.

      You have a good formula for explaining what you like and didn’t like in your reviews I’m surprised that Amazon considers a 2-star review as “it was okay.” That’s how I think of 3-star reviews. To me, a 2-star needs improvement, and 1-star isn’t worth the effort. I haven’t given either of those, but admit there were times I was tempted!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad I inspired you (though I don’t remember what I wrote…lol!). 😉 I try to use the star-system that the site has in place, so sometimes I will have a different amount of stars on different reviewing sites because their ranking system is different.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. After my first book came out and I got my first bad review, I wrote a humorous blog post about it. It was a humor blog, and the intention was to highlight the emotions involved with that first negative review in a funny way. What I hadn’t anticipated was that some of my wonderful online friends would seek out that review and leave unfavorable comments to the reviewer. While I was touched by their desire to help me and appreciated the thought, I realized afterward it might have been best not to post anything about it at all–humorous or not. Now, five years later, bad reviews sting for a moment, and then I move on. The good reviews more than make up for them.

    As for leaving a bad review myself, I don’t do it often. On the rare occasion I do leave a two-star review, it’s only on a best-selling book with lots of reviews. Even then I’ll add positives to it. For indie books, if it didn’t appeal to me, I just won’t leave a review. Perhaps that’s not really fair to potential buyers, but I figure indie authors don’t have the benefit of hundreds of reviews to buffer the bad ones. I don’t want to make it that much harder for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie, I agree with you about indie authors vs. bestsellers. A negative review on a bestselling book does little harm, I think. In many instance, it might even entice some readers to buy it.

      The situation you described about your 1-star review is a perfect example of what I was referencing in this post. People mean well, but sometimes do more harm than good. I’ve seen a few books with 1-star reviews where the reviewer explained what didn’t work for them and why, only to have others gang up on them in the comments. In many cases it’s obvious those slamming the reviewer are friends of the author. Yes, they mean well, but….:)

      I think you did a smart thing turning a negative review into a humor post, and I know your friends meant well. It’s great that they are so protective of you, but reviews are such a complicated creature.

      I, too, am now 5 years into the writing/publishing arena, and agree that bad reviews sting for a short time, but the good ones more than make up for them.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts today!

      Like

  7. Part of my critical process stems from something I hold true in the workaday world. You critique in private and praise in public. That’s how I treat my employees. The internet is such a public place that I can’t bring myself to say critical things online. We’ve also seen the knee jerk reactions from the mob mentality online. I don’t want to direct that at an author, or have it bounce back onto me. Those organized boycotts and such really happen, and I don’t want to be the catalyst for that. In such a public place, if I can’t leave a reasonably positive review, I won’t post one at all.

    Liked by 5 people

    • That’s always been my philosophy too, Craig. Authors put so much effort into their work, as an author myself, I avoid leaving negative reviews. I will, however, leave a three star review with constructive feedback on things like POV hops and dialogue.

      As for the mob mentality, I’ve read reviews on Amazon where people ganged up and attacked the poster in the comments. I don’t want to open myself up to that kind of attack. By the same token, not all 1-2 star reviews are dreadful. I forget which book it is, but I have a 2-star review out there somewhere from someone who simply didn’t enjoy the story. She had nothing bad to say about the writing, just that the book didn’t suit her personal taste. I was fine with that. It’s the kind of lower review I respect.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Great info, Mae! Who’ve thought the quantity of reviews can be of more benefit than the type of reviews. Good to know, though. I try to review books, especially if I “know” the author, but if I didn’t finish a book, or didn’t like it, I don’t leave a review. I try to keep reviews to the nuts and bolts stuff of characters, plot, etc. However, I’m on the fence about leaving reviews when the story is good, but the grammar, punctuation, etc needs help, because too much will usually discourage me from finishing the book–unless I really like the story. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Julie, I’ve encountered those books where the idea behind the story is good but the grammar, editing, and punctuation are problematic. That’s when I normally go with three stars, and will point those things out. I believe it’s beneficial to the author to know. When an author has promise but that promise is going to be hindered by bad editing or grammar, they need to be aware of it (yet another reason for indie authors hiring professional editors). When I hit a did-not-finish, I don’t leave reviews. Fortunately, DNFs are few!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Reviews are such a hot-button issue for writers!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. If I get a low rated review, I seriously look at what the reviewer is saying to try and learn what didn’t work for them. Sometimes they simply didn’t like the book and that I get. Not every book is for every reader. I won’t leave one or two-star reviews. I will go as low as three, but if the book is less than that, I simply don’t read it. If I can’t get past the first three chapters and want more, I put it down. Quite honestly, I have too many books sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read to waste my time on something I don’t enjoy reading. And, like Harmony said, I didn’t know about the magic 50! I learn something new every day.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Jan, unless Amazon has changed (which we know they do all the time) the number was 50 for the first boost/push, though I do think books sometimes get pushed for the wrong reason (like a lot of negative reviews). I completely agree with you about having too many books on my Kindle to read. Normally, if a book doesn’t grab my interest within two chapters, I move on to something else.

      Like you, when a reader me a negative review, I do try to learn and grow from it, although many times those negative reviews are uninformative. I normally gain the most constructive feedback from 3 star reviews—also my cut-off point for leaving a review for another author!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I don’t know. If I was solely a reviewer, I would probably be more ruthless. As an author who reads, even though my Amazon ID is not my name, I worry I’ll look like I’m petty, jealous, or targeting “the competition” (which, if you know me, is ridiculous, because I don’t consider writers my competitors; they’re my colleagues).

    Now, I’m at the point where my time is too valuable to read lousy books. If I hate too many things in the beginning, I don’t finish it and I don’t review it. And if I like it enough to finish it, then I clearly have something positive to say.

    There is a time and place for negative reviews. If an author is willing to learn from constructive criticism, then I guess they can be good. But bad reviews can turn a reader away from not just that book—it can turn readers away from an author’s entire body of work. I just don’t want to be the person who costs a writer a chance at a reader. After all, reviews are opinions. Why should my opinion take business away from someone? Even if I only address mechanics, I’m still possibly influencing someone away from a title or author when that particular reader wouldn’t notice any of the issues and would enjoy the work(s).

    Long story short, I can’t do it.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Staci, I’m with you. Well..I guess there are some readers who would consider a 3-star review bad (and I do leave them) but I can’t bring myself to leave a 1-2 star review. Even when I have a constructive comment to make in a 3-star review, I will always point out all of the positives of a novel. As you said, reviews are opinions.

      As an avid reader, I do admit to being influenced by reviews I’ve read on Amazon. I generally look at genre first, followed by the blurb, and if still interested, I go to the reviews. I read several of the top reviews, then 1-2 of the lowest ones and make my decision. I’ve noticed a lot of 1 star reviews are comments about cliffhanger endings–where the reader has to buy the next books in the series for the continuation of the story (like a serial). Those reviews I am grateful for, because when I see them, I won’t purchase the book. In that respect, the review does influence me on whether or not I’m willing to take the chance on an author’s work.

      I often think it would be nice to be a book reviewer and do nothing but read, but even then I think I would have a hard time leaving a negative review!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. (I have a MondayBlog coming up in a couple of weeks on reviews, too! 😉)

    Unless grammar and editing are at Defcon 5 threatening to take us all down, my reviews generally cover characters, plot, and continuity. I have left one star reviews in the past, but have developed a pretty good instinct on books I should “avoid” and haven’t given any reviews of less than three stars in the last year or so.

    Good post, Mae! 👍

    Liked by 3 people

    • Grammar and editing at Defcon 5—I love that, Felicia! 🙂

      It sounds like you have a good system for what you address in reviews. I find I’m better at learning what books to avoid, too. Amazon’s “look inside” feature is a huge help. If I find clunky writing in the opening section, I won’t take a chance on the book.

      I’ll be looking forward to your Monday blog on reviews. It’s a topic always worthy of discussion!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I had no idea about that magic 50! I used to give low-star reviews but have since decided that if I can’t give at least three, then I won’t review. Now, I wonder what’s the best way forward? I have found critical reviews helpful in the past, especially with my first ever book, but I still don’t enjoy them, and the last thing I would want to do is to discourage someone. A conundrum to be sure. Thanks, Mae 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Three stars is my bottom line for leaving reviews too, Harmony. If I can’t offer that much, odds are I didn’t finish the book, or–if I did–I’m simply not going to comment.

      It is discouraging when we receive a low review, but as author, we need to develop a tough skin. I think most writers have a fragile shell, because we work so hard on our craft and want others to enjoy it. When we receive a less than stellar review, we take it to heart. That’s especially true early on in our careers, but it also helps our growth. And as my husband once pointed out (when I was upset over a particularly nasty review), when you put your work out for public consumption you open yourself up to criticism. I find it interesting that writers are the ones most conscious of the damage that can be done by leaving a negative review.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. An interesting discussion piece Mae. I didn’t know about the magic 50 number where amazon was concerned and certainly didn’t know even low star reviews count towards that number. That said, I’m like you; if I don’t like a book I’d rather simply not review than leave a poor review. However, now that I know about the star system, am I tempted to change my mind, knowing my paltry one star could actually help an author? No. I still can’t call people on their negatives. I just don’t have it in me. As for how I would (will) feel getting poor reviews – I will cry, rant and dwell. I know I will. EVEN if that review pushes me into the magic 50… I’ll still cry, rant and dwell. That’s just me. 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    • We all hope we won’t garner those lower tier reviews, Jess, but they eventually crop up, and they’re not easy to move beyond. I only ever ranted over two of mine (which I felt was justified), but the others–although I did not enjoy them–I took in stride. My rants of course were in private. I’ve never responded to a single review (good or bad) in public. I will “like” a positive review on Goodreads, but that’s the extent of it. I’ve always heard it said that writers should never comment on reviews, and I’ve lived by that mantra. That makes it hard when someone can take a potshot through a review, but you can’t defend yourself. Still, it’s part of an author’s life and I’ve had to adjust.

      I guess it’s kind of “hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst” scenario we have to face when it comes to reviews.I mentally hold my breath every time I release a novel, and don’t expect that fear of failure or negative reviews will ever go away!

      Liked by 3 people

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