“You can be the ripest, freshest, juiciest peach at the market, and there are still going to be some people who simply don’t like peaches.” ~Charles J. Moran
I credit my grandfather with that expression as he is the only one I’ve ever heard say it. I love to throw that saying in when applicable because it is just so accurate. As a matter of fact, it is so true and so applicable to so many fields (especially writers) that there should be a coffee mug emblazoned with it.
I’ve done this blog post before. Although it’s repetitive to do it again, the message is important and bears repeating.
I spend a lot of my day interacting with both writers and readers. I am asked all of the time about reviews. “Should we (readers) leave reviews if the book is good/bad?”, “How much stock should we (writers) put into the reviews our books receive?” “Do you think many people will pass my book over because of a bad review?”
Okay, lets review. We’re going to ‘weigh’ bad reviews and I’m going to accomplish this by picking apart one I received.
A bit of backstory: My first book came out a long time ago (2003.) It was my first, I was over-eager, and it was not ready for public consumption. I admit that fact. I own it. But, I went and published, ready or not. I didn’t receive many reviews (about 10), and they were given over the next few years, not all when first published. Below is a sampling of those reviews.
Take notice, there are reviews from 2003, 2004, 2012, 2014, and 2015 (15 months ago). Now this was a sub-par book from an unknown author. If that were the only book I had ever written, the reviews most likely would have stopped in 2003 or 2004 and the book would have slipped into the Amazon abyss. But, I have written/published three more to date so that first book fell into what is known as a backlist. Now, when someone reads one of my more current books and enjoys it, they are more likely to look up/buy my earlier titles, that being the reason for more current reviews. Take notice, the reviewers mention details from the story indicating they’ve actually read the book.
*I am quick to admit my haste in publishing a book before its time, but I would also like to make known that subsequent books were not published with the same mindset. The story in Missouri in a Suitcase was not ready from an editorial standpoint, but readers still enjoy the actual story itself.
As you can see, Missouri in a Suitcase (under the pen name, Nova Scott) enjoyed a number of favorable reviews. Nothing less than 4-stars in thirteen years. And then one day:
In February of this year, a full 12 1/2 years after publication, I receive my first-ever (on any of my books) 1-star review. In my case I knew who was responsible for the review, but readers searching through my titles didn’t. So for the sake of this blog post, I am going to dissect the following review – for a purpose. Here is the lone 1-star review:
This post will have advantages to readers as well as authors, because it will teach a reader how to decipher those rare negative reviews among the many positives. Now if a book has 19 negative reviews and only 1 or 2 positive, it’s usually a safe bet the book stinks. But when it goes the other way, you have to ask yourself why one person walked away with a completely different take on the same work. So, using the example from my book above, the first thing to consider is the fact that it is not a ‘verified purchase’. That doesn’t necessarily mean this person did not buy the book, but it increases the chances and coupled with other signs, can help to paint the big picture of what is really going on.
Compare what they say in their review with what you know to be true. They claim they saw a ‘ton’ of good reviews. There were ten. I am going to reference a particular Stephen King book later in this post. That book has more than 7,000 reviews. now THAT’S a ton of reviews. It’s also Stephen King and I am not his caliber. Yet! Although, I do write a good story.
Next, they do not mention one single detail about the story as the reviewers in the previous example had. Not a name, a poorly written scene, a twist, even a typo. They speak in vagueness and generalizations. Most readers who truly dislike a book the way this bogus reviewer claims to have disliked it will offer a laundry list of complaints in great detail. This reviewer said absolutely nothing that would make anyone think they actually read a single word between the covers.
Indian company? If anyone knows what he is referencing in that comment, please leave the answer below.
Readers are smarter than the trolls give them credit for being. You’ll notice that not one person found this review helpful. You can go to the book’s page HERE and see that potential readers found the credible reviews helpful.
Moving on, the bogus reviewer states that he had heard a lot of hype about the book. Oh how I wish that were true, but the fact is, he is a bold-faced liar, and I would have no issue telling him so. The book was published 13 years ago. No book written 13 years ago has a lot of hype swirling about it. Even the classics. They may still sell well. Everyone has heard of them. But there is no residual hype for any book that has been out that long. Couple that with the fact that compared to the greats, I am virtually unknown. Yes, undeniably growing in popularity, but virtually unknown in the great, big world of publishing. There. Was. No. Hype.
And last, take a look at the reviewers name. Gary H. Rather non-descript, but go a bit further and click on his name to see his other reviews. What’s that. No other reviews. None. Nada. Zilch. The man has never reviewed a book in his life, aside from mine. That one detail was enough to tell me it was bogus.
- Millions upon millions of titles to chose from and he chooses mine?
- He leaves me a negative review because mine is the only ‘bad’ book he’s ever read?
- He’s a troll who had an ulterior motive for leaving a scathing review that had nothing to do with the actual book? – And we have a winner!
This same troll left 3 or 4 negative reviews on another of my books’ pages. After twenty-some positive reviews and five years after its publication, these troll reviews showed up one day. It just so happens that they also came early this year to coincide with my walking away from a long-term relationship. He did me a favor because when the negative reviews began to surface and his bogus stalker accounts on Twitter and FB began to emerge, I enjoyed a surge in sales on old titles and immediately before my newest release. Rather than to become upset (I’ve been blessed with thick skin) I have become proficient at using his juvenile antics to my advantage. Since I am not a huge celebrity and cannot count on a leaked sex tape or well-timed wardrobe malfunction to create a buzz and give me free publicity, I have to use what I have available.
If you’ve written a good book, and if your reviews are positive and fair and you suddenly find yourself with one or two negative reviews, analyze them before you swear off reading that book or writing another book forever. And once you see that they are bogus, use them to your advantage. Use them to create a buzz. Blog about them. Most new writers try to hide them. They don’t want anyone to see them because they feel they will hurt sales. It’s quite the opposite, especially if handled correctly. But if you are receiving mostly negative reviews, you might want to take them seriously. If they are coming from verified buyers, if they mention the details of the story, if these readers review often, it might actually be your writing, and in that case you might want to hone your craft before putting out your next book.
Now, I mention Stephen King quite a bit when making comparisons, certainly not because I consider myself as well-known or prolific as he is, but because he represents many of the points I am trying to make. First, I have enjoyed more Stephen King books in my reading life than almost any other writer. But I haven’t enjoyed them all. It’s very much a love/hate reading relationship with me and Stephen. This brings me back to my peaches analogy. As accomplished, as famous, as long as he’s been doing it, even he has readers who don’t like peaches.
You’ll notice that even though the reader is not a verified buyer (might have bought it in a bookstore), he at least mentions a detail about the book. You will also notice that there are 1,260 critical reviews on this book with more than 7,000 reviews in total. You can’t take away that Stephen King is the master in his field, but even he has ‘non-fans’. It comes with the territory. *This reader happened to enjoy Mr. Mercedes, but not everyone did.
Many of those who read this ‘get it’ and will find it redundant. But there are just as many out there who are either new writers and have not had the displeasure of the negative side of writing, or have struggled with the feelings of not being good enough due to the criticisms of those whose sole purpose is to knock them off their feet for a variety of reasons. All reviews systems are flawed, not just Amazon. Although it is a great outlet to research your next potential read, it only works if you know how to decipher the reviews. Good luck and happy reading!