The First Bad Review

Yesterday I received my first bad review for my début novel, CHOCOLATE FOR BREAKFAST. Two stars, after more than thirty reviews of mostly five and some four stars. Two stars. The reviewer did not like the book. She wished I had made Bernadette stronger in character and moral fiber.

Although I didn’t agree with her (I’m assuming it’s a female by what she wrote), I accept her opinion. She didn’t criticize my writing, she didn’t say my characters were one-dimensional, she didn’t take me to task for typos or formatting errors. She simply didn’t like Bernadette. So is that worthy of a two-star review? Apparently it is!

Still, it bothered me (that was yesterday – I’m fine now). So yesterday afternoon I re-read a blog by the fabulous Anne R. Allen, the author of five comic mysteries and a survival guide for writers (co-authored with Catherine Ryan Hyde). You can read this specific post here. What I took from Anne’s post is this:

  • Without the negatives, the positives would mean nothing. This is true. Up until yesterday, all of my reviews were 5-star or 4-star. A lot of those reviews came from my friends. A few are from strangers, and every bit of positive feedback just lifted me higher. Perhaps this one review took some wind from my sails, but that’s okay.
  • Amazon reviews, which were only mildly significant three years ago, now have a make-or-break impact on an author’s sales.
  • Rating existing reviews as “helpful” or “unhelpful” has significant impact. By voting for the most informative and favorable reviews, you have the power to
    get them moved to the head of the line.
  • Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED” to the Amazon algorithms. 2 or 3 star reviews are going to hurt the author’s sales, no matter how much you rave in the text. Those stars are the primary way a book is judged on AMAZON. Without a 4 or 5 star rating, a book doesn’t get picked up in the Amazon
    algorithms for things like “also bought” suggestions. Giving 1 or 2 stars to a book that doesn’t have many reviews is taking money out of the author’s pocket,
    so don’t do it unless you really think the author should take up a new line of work.
  • A bad review is forever. (Well, maybe.*)

*About a year ago, I read an e-book that was a total mess. It was not only poorly formatted and full of misspellings, it was poorly written. Now, I’d be more likely to overlook the formatting problems (as distracting as they were), but it was a struggle to get through the clichés, the overused phrases and descriptions, and it was pretty obvious the author had some unresolved issues with his parents. I gave the book a two-star rating and tried to write a sympathetic review, but stood by the two stars. The author actually commented on my review and lashed out at me! Within a couple of days, I’d deleted the review. It seemed better to leave this guy alone.

So, I’ve got my two-star review and there it is. With a wider distribution (which is what I wanted, after all) comes the fact that not everyone will like what I’ve written. I ate some chocolate this morning and the world is right again.

25 thoughts on “The First Bad Review

  1. Generally, I’m appalled by the way some authors lash out at reviewers for bad reviews. When you put a book out for sale, it is a product to be bought. If someone doesn’t like it they have every right to say so. If people put out work that is not well edited, proof read or formatted, and it gets criticised, it is their own look out. Aside from that, why are so many authors’ egos so fragile (or why are they so self-obsessed?) that they cannot accept that someone simply might not like what they have produced?

    Not everyone will like you, in this world, or like what you do – it’s just life!

    I keep hearing, over and over again, that people no longer review a book unless they can give it a really good review. Okay, I don’t now, either – but, for goodness’ sake, what is wrong with the odd 3* review? I’ve heard people accuse others of ‘ruining their careers’ by giving them 3 stars – and seen one professional editor getting all sorts of stick for giving one star and saying that she couldn’t read past the first couple of chapters of a book that was so poorly punctuated and had so many grammatical errors that it was painful to read. I was very glad she stood her ground and said that it was not up to her to make the author feel good about herself, but up to the writer to produce readable work.

    I agree that it’s ridiculous to ‘two-star’ a book on whether or not you like a character – many of my characters are not meant to be liked! The book should be judged on how well it is written.

    Before you ask – yes, I’m an author, of 4 books. Yes, out of many, many outstanding reviews (from people I don’t know!!), I have a few so-so ones and a few bad ones, too. People are entitled to their opinion; they are also entitled to express it.

    I’d also be interested in knowing how accurate the information is, about faling foul of Amazon’s algorithms if you get 1-3 star reviews. I wonder if that is heresay. I’ve seen loads of books much higher than mine in the UK charts with much worse reviews, simply because they are what is in vogue at the moment- ie, those on the 50 Shades bandwagon, and the badly written chick lit that will always sell, presumably because its readers by people don’t realise what a split infinitive or a cliche is. But there y’go!!!


    1. Thanks for commenting, Terry. This being the first real criticism of my first published book, I decided to write about it, but really, I’m not that upset. Once I was able to see it for what it was (simply that the reader didn’t like my main character), I knew there was nothing I could (or would) do to change her opinion. All I can do is continue to produce the best-quality fiction I’m capable of producing.

      I wish you continued success with your books!


  2. Ah, Martha, it happens. But you know what, no matter how this is analyzed and picked apart, the bottom line is that more people liked it than didn’t. And that is the main goal. It kinda stings a little, but by no means should you let it get to you. You’re a good writer whose debut is selling. The numbers matter and those who liked the book – well, their word of mouth is more valuable than an amazon review…just sayin’ 🙂


  3. Martha, I’m of a mind that it’s wrong to give a two star review because you didn’t like a character in a book. I don’t enjoy writing reviews and thank God I don’t write books because my skin is thin.

    My family and I spend a good bit of money on Kindle books and other books as well. We appear to live in a library, that’s just a fact, and I read many reviews. People will give a one star rating while reviewing the price of a book, particularly an e-book. That drives me wild! One can’t tell by looking at the rating or usually its title that it’s not the book the reviewer is complaining about, it’s the price. That sort of thing goes on all the time with the internet and it’s not going away anytime soon.

    You’ve commented before about that two star review you gave and it’s given me pause. I was moved to review your book because I was tremendously impressed, and I doubt I’d bother to write a negative review. That’s even truer since I read what you’ve written and considered how you felt.

    There are all kinds of people in this world. As Tracie said, “keep your chin up”, but it seems that you’re doing just fine without advice from me. Just keep on writing, please. 😉


    1. Thanks, Marcia. You’re right, it’s going to happen – some people simply don’t realize the impact, and others may have a darker intent. But it’s okay; as I said in my post, she didn’t criticize my writing, which would have been more difficult to bear. 🙂


  4. I think, unless you are a professional reviewer who writes reviews for a living (and that hopefully means you are educated and savvy), you shouldn’t say anything unless you can something nice. I am just tired of internet ranting. It’s everwhere. When anybody and everybody can just say anything without regard to how the words might affect people, well…it’s just a sad state of affairs. That’s my rant! I’m sorry. People just don’t know what they are doing. I think Amazon should explain how it works–maybe people would be more careful.


    1. Kim, I’ve seen some really nasty stuff that poses as a book review! It’s usually with the best sellers, but I did know that making the book free this past weekend would get it into more hands, and that was what I wanted. Thanks, my friend!


  5. As a reader who enjoys writing online reviews, I truly appreciate this little window into your world. I’ve actually moved entirely away from the star rating system in my own blog because it’s so fraught with misinterpretation. Your post makes me even more confident of that decision, because a 3-star rating from me means I liked the book. How awful is it that I could be saying, “Good job!” and you could be interpreting it as, “He thinks my book is garbage!”

    For what it’s worth, I dismissed your 2-star reviewer out of hand. As in, I literally shook my head, mentally filed it under “people who have nothing better to do,” and moved on. I’m pretty sure most other readers would do the same, because there are always a handful of abrasive people on big websites. Don’t let “that person” steal your joy. It’s worth too much for you to let it go so freely.

    For my own education, do you know whether this same algorithm is used on other book rating sites (like Goodreads)? Also, have you given any thought to pushing out beyond Amazon? I own a Kobo myself, and they’re continually promoting their Writing Life program on their blog.

    Best of luck with your book in the months to come!


    1. IC – Thanks! Your comment reminded me of Anne Allen’s blog, where some people simply believe three stars is good! And it’s not that three stars is bad, but three out of five – well, it’s like getting a 60 on a test. 🙂
      I don’t know whether the algorithm is the same with Goodreads, but they also use a five-star system, so maybe.
      And yes, after the 90 days in the Kindle Select program, I’ll branch out. I wanted to ‘test the waters’ with KDP Select to see how I’d do, but I didn’t like having to tell a few friends that they couldn’t read my book on their Nook. I really hated telling them that.


  6. The general system that I use is as such:
    5 stars means I loved the book, would read it again and would actively recommend it to others. This is not to say the book was perfect though.
    4 stars means i enjoyed it and would recommend it if asked specifically but it wouldn’t be one I would look to reread. Basically the good points of the book outweighed the bad points.
    3 Stars means it was readable but not particularly entertaining or inspiring. It’s not bad as things go but there are much better alternatives available.
    2 Stars means I actively didn’t like the book for some reason or the writing was truly terrible. Even in these though i always try to include why it was bad rather than just some rant.
    As for 1 star reviews, I don’t think I’ve ever left one. The only reason I could see for leaving one is if you actively have something against the author which is, to be quite frank, petty.
    This system has served me pretty well over the years and I’ve never seen any reason to stray from it.


    1. Hi Daniel, and thanks for reading and commenting. I can see two stars for a poorly-written book, where the author (and editor if there was one) didn’t bother to check for typos and grammatical mistakes (you’re basically telling them they didn’t bother, so why should you), if the writing was flat and uninspiring, etc. But to give two stars because you didn’t like the book doesn’t seem right, unless you didn’t like it because it was poorly written.


  7. I should point out I wrote that post for readers, to encourage them to write reviews, because they give readers so much power.

    For authors, I also have a post about the benefits of bad reviews: It’s about why you should be glad to have bad reviews. Lots of reasons: #1–it marks you as a real pro. All the best writers have tons of them. #2 They help readers know what your book ISN’T. Your reviewer probably wouldn’t like any chick lit heroine. All she’s saying is “this is chick lit and I don’t like chick lit” . That doesn’t hurt you at all, since you already have so many good reviews. #3 They prove your reviews are legit, and not just purchased from a review mill or written by yourself as a sock puppet. My strongest advice to all authors when they get their first bad review: break out the bubbly (or chocolate) to celebrate joining the pros and then go read the one-star reviews of your favorite classic authors. (Try Jane Austen’s!) Congrats on your first bad review!!


  8. Beautiful post, Martha! A ‘bad’ review is never good for our morale. I remember when I showed the draft of my first book to an editor, he was kind enough to read it, but then he wrote pages of comments on why the book is not good and I wasn’t sure whether I should answer each of his points. I kept quiet and then when he was through with his review, I asked him whether there was one nice thing he found in the book. He thought for a while and then came up with one nice thing in the book. I had to get it out of him but it was a point on which I agreed with him.

    I am not sure when readers give a 2-starred review when they don’t like a character or find that a character has flaws. If a reader doesn’t like a character, it probably means that the writer has done her / his job well, isn’t it? 🙂 And a character with flaws makes the character more realistic, isn’t it?

    On Anne Allen’s post saying that bad reviews are forever, I think most great books got bad reviews when they were first published. When we read those reviews today, we laugh at the reviewers, don’t we 🙂

    I haven’t yet read ‘Chocolate for Breakfast’. I am hoping to read it sometime soon. I love the title and I hope I will like the book. Thanks for stopping by at my blog 🙂


  9. My sympathies, Martha, I know from experience how gut-wrenching a bad review can be. Heck, I’ve felt like throwing up over a 3-star review! I will tell you that these things get easier with time, and you will develop a thicker skin. As you said above, the good reviews wouldn’t mean so much without the negative ones.

    Now that I’m a published writer and I know how much a bad review can hurt an author both emotionally and financially, I have changed how I operate as a reviewer. If I really dislike a book, I simply won’t leave a review at all. For the books I do enjoy, I will usually leave 4 or 5 stars and focus on all of the positive aspects of the work.

    Keep your chin up and keep rereading all of those glowing comments from the people who loved and praised your book. And remember, “No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone!” (That’s a direct quote from my mother, 🙂


    1. Vishy’s comments remind me that learning to take criticism and toss out what doesn’t resonate with us is one of the most important aspects of becoming a writer. I wrote a book with Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of the original PAY IT FORWARD, and she has many, many examples of how agents and editors hated PAY IT FORWARD and told her it would never sell. The e-book happens to be FREE tomorrow and Saturday. It’s called HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY. It has lots of other info for the contemporary writer. Here’s the link The book will have free updates every 6-8 months to keep up with our ever-changing publishing industry.


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