YES!!! (Wherein I explain how to read reviews)

First, a big WOOHOO!! I’ve just got another 1-star review on Amazon! Yippee!

No, I’m not crazy, I know how the star system works. This particular verified purchase review says:

One Star
do not recall this book and I cannot give a fair critic [sic] of it.

So, basically, someone bought my book, maybe read it, can’t remember it, and gave it a one-star review because they can’t remember if they read it.

Seriously, if the intent was to troll me — don’t they realise that ANY review is a good one? If people are buying the books and leaving review, the book is active. It’s churning interest. As long as they spell my name correctly, right? And this one is even more hilarious than the previous one-star review.

I’d like to use this opportunity as a segue into a discussion about how to read reviews. This is meant for both authors (for their sanity) and readers (when evaluating reviews).

Side note to authors: read the Amazon Myth Busting post, before you consider Amazon and reviews.

When evaluating the worth of reviews (not editorial critique — that’s a subject for another day), always look at the Two and Four star reviews. The breakdown is rather simple:

  • One Star: tells you just that the reviewer is a caustic moron. You won’t learn about the book, you’ll only learn about the reviewers preachy opinions
  • Two Stars: Didn’t like the book, and assessed why
  • Three Stars: humdrum meh.
  • Four Stars: liked the book, but not blind to it’s faults
  • Five Starsloved everything about it

So, readers, if you’re looking to evaluate a new book — look at the two- and four- star reviews. These are more likely to show you what is the good and bad about this book, and match it to your own tastes. (And do remember, that all reviews — like all art critique — is far more subjective tastes than exact science).

And, authors, just keep working to get as many reviews as you can. Who cares if it’s a troll leaving one-star rating? If your work is good, then the overwhelming numbers will be positive. No book is for every reader. The total average (and the more reviews the more meaningful it is) is telling prospective readers if the work is generally good or not, and the two and four stars help them match it to their tastes.

Crack open the champagne, and keep on writing!


  1. Very good analysis of the review system. Also as an avid reader who agrees that no book will be for everyone, I still glance at the reviews. Not to determine if it’s for me because I have no idea what those reviewers read otherwise, but to see if there ARE reviews and if they all sound like they were written by the author’s favorite Aunt!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m struggling to get reviews for my work (yeah, I know – I need to get out more and socialize is the big problem there) but I have a one-star on GoodReads that I actually nod and grin about. It’s a DNF rating. Considering I keep getting rave reviews (how??) I finally have one that reveals not everyone’s going to like the way I write.

    Kind of proud of that first 1-star, and the courage of the reader to actually post it when the rest are 4- or 5-star ratings/reviews.


  3. Well, that’s the strangest review I’ve ever read. If that read doesn’t remember the book, why would he want to ‘review’ it? I’m telling you, this star system is really a strange place 😉

    As a reader, I normally first read the 1-star reviews, but only if there are more than three sentences in there. Because it’s true, most 1-star reviews just say, ‘I don’t like it’. So what? But when the reviewer takes the time to elaborate and not be hateful, there are lots of intersting things going on in 1-star reviews. 2-star reviews are very similar and I’ll agree with you that they tend to be more elaborated, in general.

    Then I’ll read a selection of 5-star reviews, just to see who wrote them. If I find an overwhelming number of 5-star reviews that are clearly written by friends (and it isn’t hard to spot them. They normally praise the book highly without giving any insights in it), I’m already forming an idea about the author. Normally, I come across a few thoughtful 5-star reviews, and those are intersting to balance against the 1-star reviews, both their number and quality.

    Then I read a selection of the other reviews. I normally choose the longer ones, because I assume they are more elaborated.
    In the end, I form an idea about whether or not I want to read the book. The outcome isn’t garanteed, but we reader have to start somewhere.

    This said, true, as authors we ‘have’ to rely on the star system, but I really find it becoming more hateful as the years pass. There are so many ways to twart it. There’s money and favours being exchanged and it’s becoming so apparent that I’m placing ever less trust on this kind of reviews. I mean the reviews on online stores. I trust a lot more bookbloggers’ reviews, which are normally more thoughtful and at least come from a true (and most often experienced) reader.

    Ooops. Ok, I’ll stop. I don’t want to hijack your blog 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a reviewer and author, I agree with you that your need to read beyond the star rating.
    But I think it’s unfair to say that a reviewer is a “caustic moron” for giving a one star rating. I’ve one-starred books before, because they’re so badly written; and even a masterpiece that bored me to tears (Great Gatsby). I think I had the right to on both those occasions, and whether it’s quality or personal taste, readers are allowed to say “it wasn’t for me”.

    Isn’t it that type of name-calling that discourages readers from leaving any review, because they might get shamed for it?
    As you rightly said, any review is good in the big picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I try to separate my personal tastes from a review. My tastes do not necessarily reflect the tastes of other readers, or the literary merits of the work. I won’t leave a 1 or 2 star review – simply because life is too short for books I don’t enjoy. If a book doesn’t grab me I’ll simply put it aside and move on to the next.

      As for name calling, please bear in mind that I never engage with reviewers, besides saying “thank you” to those who contact me (regardless of content; I’ve said it to people who hated the book as well). I do, however, allow myself a smidgen of venting on my own blog 😉


      1. I figure that ALL of my reviews are based on my personal tastes. If I give a 1-star review, it is because I personally think the book is complete shit. This happens very rarely; perhaps twice out of 900+ read books since I started keeping track in 2010. By the way, I’m not saying your book is shit. I haven’t read it yet, so don’t take offense. I just came across your post and felt the need to respond. This is all hypothetical and based on how I review books, not how the caustic moron who reviewed yours does it. 😉

        If I give a 5-star review, it is because the book (including the genre, topic, characters, language) was perfect for me and my tastes at that particular moment in time and I’d be willing to read it again in the future. I might only give it 4 stars if I read it again in a year because my thoughts or opinions might change by then.

        Most of my reviews fall into the 3 category, so if it falls on either side of that line, I agree with you that those below- or above-average stars would say a lot more about how strongly I felt about it. Also, I never leave a review unless I’ve read the entire book. What’s the point of saying, “did not finish”? Why would anyone care about my opinion if I didn’t read the book?

        The reason for my rambling is this: I always thought that an author would gain value from even the insulting 1- or 2-star ratings, because you are getting a true sense of what works for readers. If people don’t like a book and fail to let you know they even read it, how do you know you aren’t living under a false sense of security that everyone just LOVES your work? If I were a writer, I’d rather know the truth. That way I could tweak the things that need tweaking and reach more people so they might want to buy my next book. For example, if I were a writer, I would hire an editor to clean up and shorten my reply to your post so there would be less of a chance that it would annoy people.

        Is this making sense, or have you already fallen asleep from how long this is? My name isn’t Morpheus Zzz for nothing! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Morpheus! (One of my favourite myths, due to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman 🙂

        Reviews are indeed important to authors, including critical (low star) reviews. My only observation was that (most often), the 1-star reviews have very little useful information (and, in some ways, so do the 5 stars). It’s the 2- and 4-star reviews that seem to have the most useful critique. But, as you noted, that very much depends on the reviewer as well. Not a blanket statement, just a small-sample observation.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I guess I have seen people leave one-word reviews like “horrible”. That doesn’t help anyone much, does it, when you aren’t told why they think it’s horrible. If I leave a 1-star review, I’m definitely going to be leaving a long gripe session along with it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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