One-star Reviews: The Brutal Power of the Star System

After my placing my novel The Language of Bears for sale on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing, I soon accumulated a steady stream of positive, even glowing reviews.





This plainly influenced sales.


Then, in a short period, the book received two 1-star ratings on Amazon. The first reviewer grumpily stated outright that he hadn’t read the book, and the other suggested the same thing.


This caused the average rating to drop to three stars. Sales plummeted and have remained dead since.


Thus is the power of democracy, and I’m good with that!

It does, however, underscore the importance of targeting one’s book promotions toward audiences who like to read the kinds of books you have written. I gather, from a variety of evidence, that The Language of Bears would be enjoyed much by fans of light-hearted (?) modernist novels like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, or books in the magical realism genre, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude* (or perhaps books with numbers in their titles). But for someone looking for formulaic, marginally-authored, airport-bookrack, attention-span-lite fiction, along the lines of that produced by Dan Brown, my book will produce a response along the lines of “WTF is this? Giant apples? Wha-?”

Such a reader will likely grow molten with rage at having wasted their time on this “intellectual” drivel, slam the book shut (or snap the Kindle off) before having progressed a few pages, and move on droolingly to something else.

And may spitefully leave a 1-star review on Amazon.


P.S. I understand well that the purpose of the review system has nothing whatsoever to do with authors, and I surely don’t want this post to be perceived as kindred to some of the whining, self-pitying displays I’ve occasionally come across on Goodreads, when authors are called out on poor writing, flimsy storylines, etc, and go all to pieces. The review system exists solely to assist prospective buyers of books find ones that are most suitable for purchase and in a way has nothing to do with writers. From my perspective as an author, I appreciate and respect even negative reviews, especially if they express opinions supported by concrete facts, examples, etc.

*this is not to say I am anywhere near as capable as the geniuses who wrote these masterpieces.


22 thoughts on “One-star Reviews: The Brutal Power of the Star System

    • Yes, for good or ill, those little stars decide whether a book thrives or perishes. Fortunately, I have several good ratings and reviews (for both of my books), and I expect there will be more in the future. Good luck with your book and future writing.


  1. I’ve received one-star ratings and it’s never fun, but we just keep plugging away and eventually the positives outweigh the negatives.
    And remember that sales are naturally higher at release, so some of your drop in rank and sales is probably a normal result of “post-release” normalization. That’s my experience anyway. It requires tons of creative marketing to sustain a high sales rank. Just keep writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My favourite was a two-star rating on the only book I list for free. He liked the book but picked at minor points. At least he took the time to write a review — I find it very difficult to convince my readers to write reviews. Terry R Barca

    Liked by 3 people

      • Hard not to take these things personally. Once we put our work out we are powerless to control our reader’s reactions. Hard not to take it personally but I do try lol.


  3. It’s strange that someone would spend their time choosing to read 20 books that they didn’t enjoy. That’s a red flag for me. Or does he only review books he dislikes? I’m the opposite, I only review things I like, which is most of what I read. If it wasn’t for me, I don’t review it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I looked more closely and they aren’t all one star. He has at least 28 one-star Reviews, about 10 two star reviews, and about 3 favorable reviews (of books). In addition, he has a ton of one-star reviews for products. An interesting quality of his reading interests is more than 20 of the books (possibly more than half) are about near-death experiences or the afterlife.


  4. Yes, I have had the same experience – it’s especially annoying when they admit they haven’t read it – one of mine only read the ‘Look inside’ part and then left a 2-star review! At least I had other people who had enjoyed it comment and call her out on it – that’s what the ‘Look inside’ part is for. If you don’t like it you don’t buy it, but it’s not on to give a negative review in that case. It’s like when someone says they don’t like a certain food, but won’t actually try it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The thing I have never understood is why anyone would leave a one star review and give no explanation, or very little. If I can’t get into a title, I either don’t review it, or explain myself. 1 star either means it’s a self-published title by someone that doesn’t understand basic grammar and punctuation–I quit taking unsolicited manuscripts and haven’t seen one since–or because I am well and truly pissed. If a reviewer is pissed, that reviewer should say what it is that bothers her…a dull book is a 3 star, 3.5 if there are some nice moments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I very much agree, Seayomama. I would respect a critique that communicates disapproval along the lines of “I didn’t like this book because the character development wasn’t sufficiently three dimensional. For example, when character X does Action Y on page Z, it struck me as being credible human behavior only in the way humans behavior is manifested in a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. Also, Dudley Do-Right is gay on page 48 but magically straight on page 72? This type of inconsistency undermined my ability to suspend disbelief to the point that it was very difficult to finish the book.” I would disagree with these particular criticisms if they were aimed at one of my books, and I would think the critic didn’t read deeply enough, but I would respect his/her opinion and the expression of it. Giving a book a one-star review with no better reason than “this book is boring and it sucks” is taking out one’s psychiatric problems on a stranger. Such “reviewers” are trolling, not reviewing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marilyn, thanks for dropping by. I’m sorry to hear about your cancer diagnosis. I imagine it’s the kind of news that makes one realize that a lot of things one believed important were actually pretty trivial. As for marketing, I too flunked it, and I lack whatever gene or trait that makes one a good businessperson. If I tried to run a business, I would probably give away the product to anyone who seemed to need it and didn’t have the money to pay. Despite this deficit, I have winnowed out other factors beyond reviews.


  6. The only negatives I got on Amazon were during price promos! So people read because it’s free and somehow feel more justified in crucifying the author. Anyone else notice that? I also had a one star review on Goodreads that was dated BEFORE the book was released. How is that even possible? Goodreads were not concerned about it and were certainly not going to take it away.

    Liked by 1 person

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