The one where I get my first ever 1-star review on Amazon

I’ve done it! After nearly 4.5 years as a published writer with ten books out there, it has finally happened. Today, I received my first ever 1-star review on Amazon for my latest novel The Secret to Happiness.

Screenshot 2019-10-10 at 13.35.14In the writing community, the first 1-star review is often joked about as being the ‘rite of passage’ or it’s said that you’re ‘not a real author’ until you’ve received one. That might all sound very flippant but it’s a way of dealing with the blow of someone telling us that they thought that the novel that we spent months or even years creating with blood, sweat and tears is, quite frankly, a turd. Ouch. It hurts. But it happens.

Every big name from classics like Austen and Dickens to multi-billion contemporary best-sellers like J K Rowling, Stephen King and Dan Brown has 1-star reviews. So that puts me in pretty good company.

I am quite astonished that I’ve ‘survived’ this long without the lowest rating but I will admit that I smarted when I received it today and not for the reason you’d expect…

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One-star reviews happen and, as authors, we need to accept that not everyone is going to love our story (would be a boring world if we all loved the same things). Some readers will come from the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” school of thought and keep it to themselves whereas others will happily voice their negative opinions and some of those will do it with venom! Which is absolutely their right. Maybe not the venom part but it’s certainly their right to share their opinion.

No, what irked me was that Amazon have changed their rules around reviews. I obviously missed the memo about this and I still believed that it was not possible to just give a rating; words had to accompany it. Not anymore. Now a reader can simply give a rating with no explanation whatsoever and this is difficult to swallow.

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I still have a day job in Human Resources. As an HR Professional, one of my two specialisms is learning and development. I’m therefore all for a bit of (preferably constructive) feedback and I will happily learn from this in my writing career and action it where possible e.g. if a reader has spotted an error. What I can’t do is learn from a 1-star rating with no explanation. And neither can potential readers. I personally don’t make a buying decision based on reviews but there are plenty of readers out there who do and having low ratings without explanations doesn’t help them or the author.

I’ve seen 1-star reviews for other authors along these lines:

Book didn’t appear on my Kindle

Formatting seemed to go funny

Paperback didn’t arrive on time

Not read it yet so can’t rate it

It’s possible that the formatting is down to the author or publisher but not necessarily. The other scenarios above are definitely out of the author’s control and, if a prospective reader is looking at the reviews for a buying decision and the reason for the low-rating is explained as one of the above (or similar), then they can effectively discount that review as it’s not about the story itself.

I’ve also seen 1-star reviews for other authors that state something like:

Absolutely loved it. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Can’t wait for the next

In this case, the reader has clearly misunderstood and clicked on the wrong end of the rating scale. Oops. But, again, a prospective reader looking at reviews as part of their decision-making will see this and be able to discount that 1-star rating too.

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Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

But when a 1-star rating simply appears without a review, who does this help?

  • It doesn’t help the author because it brings down their ratings and gives them nothing to work with
  • It doesn’t help prospective readers because there’s no information to support the rating and factor into their buying decision
  • And, actually, it doesn’t help the person who left the rating because they haven’t had their rant!
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Image by an_photos from Pixabay

I therefore find myself mystified as to why this system would be introduced by Amazon.

Maybe there is a case for just leaving a rating on certain products. For example, if you ordered a pack of 12 x Bic biros, does that really warrant you having to write a review? They’re mass-produced pens. What more can be said? Either you can write with it or you can’t. But for books, is this really an improvement? I’d suggest not but I’d very much welcome your thoughts.

I’m concerned that it opens the system up for abuse. When someone places a review, their Amazon identifier comes up. Sometimes this is their real name but, more often than not, this is an identity they’ve created for their reviews like glitterunicorn or loves2read. Either way, we have no idea who these people are and the unspoken rule is that we don’t communicate with reviewers, even to thank them, but they do have some form of identity on the system and, if curious, we can see what else they’ve reviewed and maybe take comfort that they never give high ratings for books or they clearly don’t enjoy a certain type of book. However, when they just leave a rating, they’re completely anonymous – we just know the rating and nothing about the source – and this surely opens up the opportunity for an individual with an axe to grind to randomly give a low rating to an author they dislike or even of whom they’re jealous whilst appearing completely invisible on the system.

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On Tuesday, I shared the above tweet to say that 35 of the 36 reviews on Amazon were 5-star. Is it a coincidence that, within two days, an anonymous 1-star rating appeared (bearing in mind it usually takes a couple of days for ratings/reviews to materialise)? Yes, quite possibly. In fact, I hope it is. But I wouldn’t be an author if my mind didn’t work overtime and constantly ask ‘what if…?’ What if someone decided to take me down a peg or two after that tweet? What if someone was sitting there saying, ‘Nearly all 5-star? Well, not anymore. Ha ha ha ha ha!’ I just don’t know. I’d like to think that nobody could be so cruel but we live in a world full of hatred and unkindness exacerbated by keyboard warriors and trolls who don’t think about the impact their words might have on others. Or don’t care.

Can I just emphasise that I’m not upset at receiving a 1-star rating (she writes through the blur of tears before ripping open her second box of tissues for the day). After all, 36 readers disagree. I’m just a bit bewildered by Amazon’s change to allow ratings instead of reviews. Please do pop a comment below and let me know what you think.

Edit: I meant to say something which I put on my FB post about this earlier and that there may well be a whole pile of positives to this change that I’m simply not thinking of because I’m too blinkered by the 1-star review. Huge thanks to Shalini, a prolific reader and reviewer who has been so supportive of my writing for giving another perspective on this. It’s well worth reading her comments for an alternative take (click on the option at the top of this post to see comments).

Jessica xx

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Image by Ka Young Seo from Pixabay

5 thoughts on “The one where I get my first ever 1-star review on Amazon

  1. Some days I like to rate and I don’t want to say anything about the book. Because 1 star means I didn’t like the book and I don’t want to give explanations.
    An author says it takes 2 minutes to write two lines. I say sometimes life is so difficult that I want to read and rate and not write and get to my next book
    So I like that I can rate which is equivalent to the book was not for me. That’s what it means. I don’t want to explain why it is not for me.
    Also take this into consideration, there are going to be many readers who would give you 5 star rating without writing a review… Would you ask them to write why they liked a book, analyse what they liked in the book. It just means they enjoyed the book.

    So for me, I like that I can rate without write one star or five star or anything in between

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Shalini. It’s really useful to get a different perspective on this, especially from a prolific reader/reviewer like yourself. I originally posted about this issue on Facebook earlier today and I had put a comment about wondering if there was a positive side I wasn’t seeing (so I’m going to edit this post to add that in here) and you’ve just raised that with the suggestion about 5 star rating without comments. You’re right, it might lead to more high ratings from those who simply don’t know what to write, fear giving away spoilers, or don’t have the time or inclination to write. I suppose that, with my first rating-without-review being the only 1-star I’ve ever received on Amazon (I have a few on Goodreads), it was much easier to look at the downside of no explanation yet I wouldn’t be bothered at all if I received 5, 4 or even 3 stars without an explanation; it’s just that negative end that niggles. I still worry about the scenarios where it’s not about the writing or it’s a mistake but maybe they’ll be balanced out with review-free ratings at the other end too. Really appreciate you sharing your perspective xx

      • Thank you for your understanding. As a reviewer I want to support authors. But like today I am not well and my brain cannot string sentences, then I want to give just a rating and not say anything. Life should be easy.. Ratings make it more 😂
        Don’t think so much, just go with the flow. If someone hasn’t liked when most have that means even if you had changed one scene, one line it wouldn’t have made much if a difference.
        Also sometimes life gets to all of us. Today I hate everything even the books I have read didn’t find them interesting when I would have on my healthy days. So it just means on that day, at that moment, the reader didn’t like it. Reasons are aplenty.
        Psst I haven’t rated or written anything but read a couple of books. I don’t want yo to say anything today

      • You’re still poorly? Oh no. I’ll let you into a secret. I’m not a happy bunny myself because of several things that have happened recently so this probably irked me more today than it might have done on a day when all is well in the world! Take care of you and hope you’re feeling much better very soon xx

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