WRITING: Why I Read One Star Reviews
A note: this is me talking to y’all as a reader and not a writer. I’ve had some awakenings lately as to what actually DOES make me buy a book on Amazon.
A second note: I’m probably not a good example of the majority. I have, for a while now, stubbornly bought indies with low review-numbers because their samples and blurbs are well written, and I don’t give six fucks and a half dozen dry humps whether the rest of the world liked it or not. But I’m not the only person more or less like me I know, so. There you go. Encouragement onward!
I was paging through Goodreads yesterday, looking through books for something new to spend my time on. I’ve been stuck in this fantasy/sci-fi loop for like a month, and it’s time for something different.
I found a book, mentioned several times in my feeds, called Slammerkin. Don’t ask me how it is; I haven’t read it yet. But I sure as hell bought it.
No, I’m not just telling you how my day went. What made this blogworthy–what made it worthy of discussion–is the reason why I bought it.
It wasn’t the numerous high reviews, the critical ratings, the sample (though that did help persuade me–the lady can write). It certainly wasn’t some bookspamming yahoo on Twitter. No, no. It was the numerous negative reviews.
Did you read me right there? It was the negative reviews.
Some people–not all, but some–passionately hated every character in there. They hated the premise. They hated the vapid and superficial main character. They hated the raunchiness, the depressing view of the world, attributed misandry, greed, and formless ambition to the author (!!) as well as her main character.
The negative reviews were eloquent, glowing in their expressive contempt for this novel, its characters, and even its author. Which would make you think this is a book to avoid, right?
Hell no. Hell to the no. What those reviews tell me is that a lot of people read it through–and apparently cared enough to remember quite a bit in the way of detail–and formed some very passionate opinions. If they hated it, holy shit, they had fun on the way. This book made them think. It made them care enough to hate.
And that–that caring–is more important to me in choosing a book than whether or not some assistant football coach in Choochaneechee, Iowa liked it.
These negative reviews, I have to admit, said things I liked about this book. Grungy? Count me in. Not a sentimental, gibbering bunch of pastoral holier-than-thou garbage? Sweet. Unlikeable main character? Big deal, I don’t like people anyway. And even the negative reviews admitted, the book is well written and well researched. And those two matter a lot more to me than this liking the main character garbage.
A note–if a book has several one-star reviews complaining about writing quality, plot continuity, or editing, it’s a little different. Even I’m not going to revenge-buy a bad book. But when it’s personal–oh buddy. I don’t care what some random person thought of the book, when I’m debating whether or not to buy. I care whether or not they cared. And if they passionately disliked several things that sound like things I’d like, well, one star be damned.
I’d say, as a reader, I actually look for groupings of one and five star reviews. If there are a lot of those, and few three and four star reviews, I’m happy. If, on the other hand, there are a lot of three and four stars–if, in essence, people didn’t feel strongly about it, but didn’t super duper love it, either–I avoid. Like everybody, I’ll read a book with a large percentage of five star reviews. At least, unless those reviews are badly spelled or obviously fake. Or something.
I’ll be honest, I don’t put too much stock in a negative review that cites its main reason for negativity as dislike of the main character. I mean, this is a novel, not a tea party. Nobody said you had to like everyone in it. And, to be honest again–I don’t much trust the truth of one-star reviews anyway. If you hated it that much, you probably liked it a little, deep down inside.
You liked it enough to devote about thirty minutes to ranting over it. Anyway.
I wanted to share this for you sad-face indie folks who just got your first nasty review on Amazon. Some of us DO check the one-stars, and we check them to buy, not to avoid. So, when that crazy mouth-foamer posts a one-star review with MY CATS ALL HATED IT in all caps as the title, don’t despair. It might destroy your average a little bit, but most sensible people aren’t going to let a bunch of personal (purrsonal) opinions they may or may not share shadow their view of how good something might be.
When I want to know what a book is about, what it says to people, I check the one-star reviews. When I want to know if it’s well-written, I check the sample. People give different star-values to things they like–a book with one bad typo which a reviewer otherwise considers perfect might get three stars, where another person might take pity on an author and give a steaming pile of garbage five. However, the stuff you hate only gets one rating, and that’s one star. MAYBE two. Usually one. And me, I want to know what you felt strongly enough about to hate.
Hopefully this cheers somebody up. I know it certainly did me, when I realized what I’d been doing. Like I said, no one star reviews yet, but I know that day is coming. I hope somebody one day hates my book as dramatically as these folks hated Slammerkin. That would tickle me almost as pink as someone loving it–I mean, at least they noticed, right?