Reviews and Maturity

So this post is the result, as so many of my posts are, of a few conversations I’ve had recently about writing, and life. I’m constantly learning, but at this point, also trying to share what I’ve learned with others who ask me about stuff. Like whether they should ‘un-publish’- a book that was their first, and they now feel is immature and not a reflection of them as a writer now. I pointed out in response that I leave my first novel up, despite it getting not-so-great reviews, because it’s a reflection of where I started versus where I am now. No, readers probably don’t pay attention to dates published, in most cases (I know I do if I am trying to blitz-read an author, because it lets me read series from the beginning if they have been so inconsiderate as to not mark books with series identifiers. Pet peeve: number your series books, people!). I know I have fans who were interested to read it and see my growth as an author, because they took the time to reach out and tell me that. I leave it up for them, and because with some two dozen titles on Amazon, I know it falls to the bottom and only a reader who was working through my whole body of work would find it. Along with some of the other oddballs I’ve written.

And along with that is the other conversation I had on facebook about one-star reviews and whether they are always bad. They are not. I had a prominent reviewer give my latest novella, Snow in Her Eyes, a one-star review, and it led to more sales than that story might have seen elsewhere. Because he was very articulate about what his problem was with the story.

I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that’s why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn’t like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn’t NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.

Read the rest at Papa Pat Rambles (and stay for the wonderful essays and quirky reviews!)

A one-star review – especially when it is balanced with other high reviews – can actually be a selling point. It’s only when you see an imbalance of one, two, and even three-star reviews that it’s obvious there’s a problem with that book. And sometimes even ‘a problem book’ can be enjoyed by readers. I ran across a case recently where a friend I trust had reviewed a book, the author found the review, leaped like a gazelle to the absolutely wrong conclusions, and I was highly amused. I also decided that I would not read that author’s books. Not because he’d had a hissy fit over the negative review, but because I saw enough of a theme in the reviews of his books to know my friend was right, and I would not enjoy those books. I have to say the ‘sex scenes written by Victor Appleton II after a few stag films’ nearly made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!

I’ve come to a point where I trust the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes it’s not what they say that is important, it’s how they say it. Like the book with 104 reviews… until you clicked on ‘verified purchasers’ and suddenly it had five, and of the others the majority of them mentioned they had received a review copy in return for their review. I have nothing against review copies. But I do think that if the book does not generate the bulk of it’s reviews from people who read it after buying (this book was not in the KU program) then there is a problem with it (and reading the blurb and ‘look inside’ not to mention the ghastly cover, cemented that impression).

As an author I know I have to show maturity in how I handle my reviews, both the positive and the negative. Mostly, mine make me happy. But even the ones that make me shake my head – like the reviewer who commented on Pixie Noir that it had no emotion and she thought it must have been written by a man – don’t bother me much. Because losing your mind over a review and shrieking about it in public like the above author who gazelled off into the distance calling that there were lions attacking him… yeah, no. That’s not good publicity, dude. Not only did you lead to one of your fans making the connection to my friend and linking to his facebook page in your comment thread (and I screenshot that and let my friend know to brace for incoming) but you lead to me deciding firmly that I would not read your books, nor promote them. Guess what? unprofessional behaviour just pisses people off. I have a very short list of ‘will not buy, will not promote’ but that author is one of those. And I know I’m not alone in that reaction to author behaviours.



  1. When I was doing academic book reviews, I was told 1) review the book, not the author, 2) review the book that was written, not the book you would have written, 3) if you compare it to another book, give solid examples [not “was less useful than…”]. Those seemed pretty useful at the time, and can be tweaked for fiction. [“…is similar to the author’s earlier work, {title}, but is written from {other character’s} POV. While I did not care for this POV, others might find it entertaining…”]

  2. Since I am That Reviewer, I take the opportunity to speak
    ( “Snow in Her Eyes” is an excellent bit of writing, btw):

    When our personal limits have an impact on our public output, I think we have an obligation to make that known. There are some things I just won’t read, because I am a sissy, for example slasher/horror stuff. Won’t read it, period. Also won’t read porn, but that’s because I like participatory sports, not stadium events.

    And sometimes we discover a limit we didn’t know was there. I was reading what I believe to be a well-written historical fantasy novel, and discovered part-way through I hated everyone in it and wanted them dead. Why? Because the action took place in what became Afghanistan, a place where my beloved first-born son left blood on the ground. (By the way: he and I are taking me to a VA counselor soon, where I can talk about this. HE doesn’t have the problem that I have, incidentally; he is at peace with those who harmed him, even though he is permanently disabled. He is a better man than I am, which is probably the best thing a father can say of a son.)

    The author cannot help but be disturbed by a negative review, but anger and dismay are best expressed in private, or within a small group. The internet is full of nasty people who can smell blood in the water, and when an author lashes back in a public forum, there is no possible good outcome. Show your wounds to people that love you; NOT to people who like looking at wounds, because they will inflict more.

    When I started reviewing, authors taught me that they valued a real evaluation far more than they valued 5 stars combined with ‘Great Read.’ I took that to heart; I believe an author pours themselves into their work, and since I am the beneficiary of the hours they spend writing, I owe them a tiny bit of myself in return. It’s a mutual pay-off; when an author says “you get me,” that feels GREAT.

    Two final points:
    1. Don’t be a Norman B.
    2. Include your contact information IN YOUR BOOK when you publish it. There is an fledgling author out there who REALLY needs feedback from me, but he won’t get it. I lost the original correspondence from when he asked me to review his work, and his contact info is NOT on Amazon and NOT in his book! And I won’t review the book because it should never have been published as written, and I can’t warn him in advance, and that’s what I call an ambush review. I don’t do ambush reviews.

    1. I would much rather have an honest review than a false five stars.

      and the contact information may not be possible: some venues will not allow anything that looks like a link in the book, not even to the author’s own webpage.

    2. With all respect to yourself and Mrs. Sanderson, leaving a one-star review of a high-quality book is still a poor move in my eyes: it’s commonly supposed that the ranking indicates quality, and one-stars bring down the ranking.

      1. I understand your point about the common suppositions.

        However, it is primarily sales that result in the rank, and this novella is ranked 162 in its’ primary category, which is a pretty hot number.

        Star rating, reviewer ranking, and freshness of review are some other factors Amazon has disclosed as going into the algorithm that determine a book’s rank, but nobody knows what the rest of the algorithm is.

        According to what I’ve heard authors say, they actually prefer Benjamins, though.

      2. Negative and neutral reviews (3 star or less) do have a negative effect on your ranking, however they often do help sell books.
        I have some books out there that have no 1 or 2 star reviews, and I worry that people will think that I bought the reviews. I have some books with a fair number of 1 and two star reviews, but they’ve still sold very large numbers of copies. That later bit happened because the people who hated the book confirmed for the ones who went on to love it, what the book was about.
        Have I responded to bad reviews? Yup. Every once in a while (usually after too many drinks) I will mock a review from a bad reviewer, if they go on about things that were not in the book (yes, I’ve gotten bad reviews for things that weren’t written) or if they complain about things that were clearly mentioned in the blurb as being in the book.

        Mostly though, I try to not read too many reviews, the good ones swell your head and the bad ones make you sad. I’ll skim a few to see if there is anything people want to see more of, and take it into consideration, but that’s really about it. Because the only thing that really matters is sales numbers. That’s the review that counts the most.

  3. I left a neutral review on Amazon in which I tried to explain myself. Someone really lashed out at me there. I don’t know whether it was the author or a friend or what, but they *demanded* that I remove the review. I refused because the only problem they seemed to have is that it wasn’t a glowing review. They said nothing at all about anything in my review.
    I tend to suspect that leaving up the review meant that the response, which I replied to in a moderate tone, hurt the author more than my tepid review.
    I tend to read the 5 star and 1 star reviews to see if I can suss out anything that guides me toward or away from a book. Whether the reviewer loves it or hates it is less important to me than an explanation of why they do so.

    1. I’ve been attacked for a neutral review, as well, not only by the author but her ‘street team’ of friends she’d convinced to do promo, er, reviewer attacks for her. It really reflects badly on the author.

  4. Since Amazon puts the most helpful negative review right there up top… I’d highly suggest folks mark that one-star as the most helpful. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. I like one-star reviews when they’re honest. “This is actually the first third of a book”, “This would be a fine book if you believe the Bible is all literal”, or like Mr. Patterson’s referenced here, not “Badthink!! Screech and stomp!” type reviews. Good one-star reviews generally are better than five-star “This is her best book yet!” reviews that don’t tell me anything about the book.

  5. Here are few of the random thoughts this post generated in my mind…

    1) Every reviewer has the same qualifications as any random poster on Facebook. (Use with caution. Verified Purchase does not mean verified thoughtful reviewer)
    2) Every reviewer has the same qualifications as any first time author that no one has heard of before. (Use with caution. They may not be able to articulate what they mean… positive or negative)
    3) Every person using reviews probably knows these two things (deep down), but rarely considers it when using said reviews. We tend to like what we like regardless of source.

    Is there a Reviewer Score on Amazon that shows how many ‘useful’ reviews a particular user has posted? Even if there is, what would that mean? That’s why I think reviews from known sources are better than generic Amazon reviews for actual informative book buying choices.

    1. There is (at the moment) a ‘Reviewer ranking’ on Amazon. It is a function of the number of reviews written; the number of ‘helpful’ votes awarded by others; how recent the reviews are; and perhaps something else that they don’t admit. According to Amazon, there is no preference given to ‘Verified Purchase’ reviewers (as opposed to Kindle Unlimited reviewers) but some of us wonder.
      A review written by a higher-ranked reviewer is assigned a higher weight in determining a book’s ranking, but no one knows how big a factor that is because Amazon isn’t saying.

      Amazon’s top 10,000 Customer Reviewers list shows the following categories: Rank; Total Reviews; Helpful Votes; Percent Helpful.
      Nobody knows the weights assigned to those factors, or if there are additional factors involved.

    2. And at some point, when one has racked up a certain number of reviews marked as helpful, one can get an invitation to become a Vine reviewer, whereby Amazon offers you free stuff to review – and some of that free stuff is not pure cheap cr*p, either. Often you get new products that Amazon and the manufacturers want honest consumer feedback upon. (I was invited to be one a good few years back, thanks to posting a lot of book and movie reviews. A website that I contributed to got on some distribution lists for books and movies released on DVD, and it just snowballed from there. I don’t know how the ratings works, but it is a way to get rather nice free stuff for the work of doing essentially a book report on it.)

  6. Sometimes an unreasonably bad review on pure can attract a reader who’ll try the book out of pure spite. I know all the screeching about Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark made me spite-read it, even though I didn’t at all care for Roth’s Divergent. Surprisingly, I found CtM an exceptionally good story.

    Too bad there’s not likely to be movie made of it.

      1. But remember: spite will only take the reader so far.

        Spite might get you there, but quality will make you stay.

  7. and she thought it must have been written by a man

    Did she just assume your gender?

    For that matter, did you (and I) just assume hers/his/zir?

  8. *gigglefit*

    Don’t you know all of us women are apparently white Mormon redneck gun’ totin’ males (with awesome racks) – especially if the description don’t fit us at all….?

    However for today, I identify as a reincarnation of Jeanne d’Arc. From Fate series of anime/games. Seriously. (no, not really.)

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