Is a 1 Star Review ever OK?

audiobookIf you’re a successful mainstream author with a string of big-selling, award-winning traditionally published books and hundreds of 5 Star reviews to your name, does a 1 Star Review still bother you?

I’m ploughing through the audiobook of a well known literary novel at the moment and I’m struggling with it. This book has sold in its millions, won awards and even been made into a film – a dream-ticket for an author. But it has divided critics and readers. Many have hailed it, but a significant number have just not got it.

And I’m one of them.

I tried reading this novel a few years ago but didn’t make it past the first third. The audiobook was my attempt to make the ‘reading’ process easier and to be fair the narration is largely excellent. But it’s a long and convoluted narrative and it’s leaving me with the feeling that the emperor has no clothes.   I know I’m not alone in this thinking, but I am in a minority.

I rate books on Goodreads with stars (mainly to prompt conversations with my reader friends), but I write very few reviews either on Amazon or Goodreads. I tend only to review self-published and small-imprint published books, on the assumption that these writers – as I do – need every bit of positive endorsement and feedback they can muster. I would never write a 1 Star review of such a book. If I read one that I disliked that much, no one would encounter my opinion online.

But what about a mainstream, million-selling novel? Is a 1 Star review OK?

I wonder if this particular author still reads their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I wonder, with all the success the author has enjoyed, whether they care a jot when the occasional reader fails to appreciate this novel. Given that so many credible sources have endorsed it, does it matter when the odd reader has such a negative response to their literary endeavours that they pen a review layered with peevish criticism, or worse?

On balance, I think it probably doesn’t matter to an author in that position. But I can’t be sure.

Reviews exist to help other readers decide whether to buy. In that respect you could argue that all reviews are relevant – and oddly, I wouldn’t disagree. Quite apart from anything else, I really value reading other people’s 1 Star reviews of books I’m contemplating reading. Occasionally they will dissuade me and I can thank the writers of those reviews for redirecting me.

However, I doubt another 1 Star review on top of the mountain of plaudits which exist for this particular novel, would make the least difference to anyone considering a purchase. So for that reason alone, it seems a waste of my time to pen a review.

But the truth is broader; I’m an author as well as a reader, and I simply can’t do it to a fellow author, whoever they are and however successful they are. I just don’t want to be so publicly unappreciative of anyone’s writerly endeavours.

I realise this is perverse of me. I know I’m saying I want to benefit from other people’s 1 Star reviews, yet not offer up my own.

That’s how it is – I just can’t do it.

So how do you see it?

19 thoughts on “Is a 1 Star Review ever OK?

  1. Before I published I would have rated something as low as 2 stars. At the time all I thought was that my rating was helping Amazon make better recommendations for me. I didn’t think about the author seeing (or caring) about my ratings at all. As authors, I think it is perfectly acceptable that we don’t offer 1-star ratings. So what if it makes us seem to be in some sort of insider club. Let people think we are that in tune with the publishing world that we never make a bad pick.

    1. I think you have it – the fact that we are authors too, *does* make a difference. But it is hard, balancing the fact that I’m not prepared to write 1-star reviews myself, with the fact that I often find other people’s 1-star reviews quite helpful!

      1. It’s the same as food. I don’t create homemade junk food, but I certainly enjoy the occasional bad for you / fast food meal from time to time. Just because my kitchen has a ‘no’ policy doesn’t mean there isn’t still a market / need.

  2. I never leave 1 or 2 star reviews either. If the book, mainstream publisher or otherwise, were that bad I wouldn’t have finished it. On the other hand I’m not neutral. There are styles, plots and characters that I don’t like, so it might be me and not the author who’s at fault. Finally I know all the work and emotions that go into writing a book, who am I to judge anyone’s work? But I don’t criticise people who do so either. They’re helpful for readers albeit hurtful to authors. When it happens to me, I do the same as when any other unpleasant event occurs, I try to learn the lesson and move on. Each novel is part of my writing process not the end. There’s always room for improvement. Interesting reflection in your post 🙂

    1. I think we see eye-to-eye, except that I rarely fail to finish a book. I might have to have two or three goes at it, but I like to finish what I’ve started, even if it seems like it’s going south. Some novels sag in the middle, but pick up again; endings can reward even where middles flounder. I also read quite a lot in recommendation, and it doesn’t always follow that I enjoy what my friends have enjoyed. So I do find a few 1 and 2 star books (IMHO) on my shelves. I don’t mind leaving a star rating of 1 or 2 stars, but,like you, no reviews.

  3. It’s a tough question, isn’t it? Especially for those of us who are new authors. Personally, I’d never leave a review at all if it was less than a 3 (for a newer author’s book), but I might be inclined to leave a low one for a well-selling author, though it would be politely and informatively written with the sole intent to alert readers that not everyone sees the book in the same light.

    1. Yes, that’s a very good way to put it. I just think, a well- selling author likely has all the reviews their book needs without me adding to the mix. My priority, and I struggle enough finding time for it, is to write my own book!

  4. Like you, I don’t want to leave a one-star review for any author, whether they’re a bigwig or not. I’ve left only a couple two-stars, and even in those, I kept them respectful and pointed out the good things. I guess I figure every author has feelings, whether they’re famous or not. Thoughtful reviews–no matter what the star is–seem the kindest. But also like you, I recognize the backwardness of this, since I’ll often read the one- and two-star reviews too!

    1. Yes… Bigwig authors have feelings too! Perhaps they don’t still pounce upon and analyse every word of each review they receive though. There must be a time when one tires of reading reviews… surely… possibly… don’t you think… eh? No, me neither. 😊

  5. I can see your point of view, but constructive criticism can be valuable feedback to an author. Maybe he/she tried something new and if it really didn’t work, and the feedback is all positive, how will they ever know? They might be happy to have your honest review.

    1. They may indeed be happy to have it, but as a writer panting for positive reviews myself, it’s a step too far for me, to be publicly critical ( however constructively) of the work of another author – particularly a successful one whose literary credentials, unlike mine, are already proven beyond doubt!

  6. I prefer an honest review so tend to give what I think. I’d prefer to do without the stars in all honesty and just go with the words as they are what matters to me but you have to work with what you have in front of you. So one star reviews, yes. Does that make me harsh? I suppose.

    1. It’s very good to get a view that contrasts with my own. The star ratings are a quick and easy way to see what people think in the broadest terms and as such, they are helpful. I would agree that the words alone offer something more qualitative, but reviews would be harder for potential readers to assess. I think honesty is very valuable, but in the case of a self-published author, I would not publish a 1-star review. If an author had specifically asked me for feedback and I hadn’t enjoyed their work, or I felt I had some relevant ‘1-star’ critique to offer, I would offer it in private, but not on a public forum. But that’s just me.

      1. I spent time with another blogger Dylan Hearn and he said the same as you. If you think it really doesn’t work then a private comment is fairer. I can see that.

        1. You met up with Dylan? Top blogging buddy! Nice to have the chance to bring a blogging friendship into the ‘real world’.

          1. I caught on that he, like me, is a cricket nut and as I had a spare ticket for Saturday I suggested a meet – which we’d been talking about for a while. Top Geezer. We had a fab day (if you ignore the photo he tweeted of me resting my eyes mid afternoon, the rat)

          2. Sounds like you had a great day. I just tracked back down the Twitter feed for the pic. Hope you enjoyed the snooze too! 😀

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