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Readers, Do You Really Know What 1-Star Reviews Mean?

For Monday’s Genuine Writer Podcast episode, I invited Lia Mack back on, author of Waiting for Paint to Dry and my co-organizer of the annual Genuine Writer’s Retreat.

She’s awesome, and very fun to listen to about any topic, including the one we were talking about that day: 1-star reviews.

This is something I’ve referenced before, but always from different angles. In this case, I was sick and tired of seeing people post stuff like, “Yay! I just got my very first 1-star review. I guess I’m a real author now!” on Facebook writers’ groups.

I think the mentality – combined with an insecure refusal to believe that anyone could give your book a legitimate one-star review – is that “real authors” have their fan clubs and their haters. Which, I suppose, is true. But it’s not an exclusive clause to the “real author” contract.

There’s nowhere before the dotted line that says, “Only real authors have haters.”

“Fake authors,” whatever that means, can have them too.

If you want in on that discussion, click here for The Genuine Writer Podcast episode in question. If you want to switch the subject from how dumb writers can be to how clueless readers can be though…

Keep reading on.

During our discussion about 1-star reviews and ratings, Lia and I agreed they meant one of two things:

  1. Someone really, really hated your book.

  2. Someone was really, really having a bad day/life when they wrote what they wrote.

But I’ve since realized we missed something. Judging by the reviews on Waiting for Paint to Dry, there’s a third possibility.

Now, Lia has some awesome reader feedback on Amazon overall, boasting 4.3 out of 5 starts. For instance, GiGi2 raved, “Read this book!” and Kindle Customer wrote, “Simply ~WOW.”

At the risk of detracting from those hard-earned opinions, I think it’s important to highlight the nine one-star reviews Lia got out of a total 241. While two of them fell into the already established categories above – they either really, really hated the book or were having a really, really bad day/life – the other seven amounted to “Eh.”

Since when did “Eh,” as in “It just didn’t hold my attention,” amount to a one-star review?

This opens the door to an otherwise hidden third category of readers who leave the worst ratings… people who don’t understand what a 1-star review really means.

No matter the actual intent behind giving a book a 1-star review, the effect is the same. People are going to assume the reader hated it.

As in, despised. Or was disgusted by. Or thought that the author should be taken out and stoned, never to disgrace the art of writing again.

Now, clearly, not everyone agrees with that assessment. But that is how the vast majority of potential readers are going to perceive it. And with good reason.

If you’re working with an online setup of one to five stars, you can’t go lower than one. There’s literally no worse rating to be applied.

So a reader who gives a single star to a book he just doesn’t care for is automatically putting it in the same category as a book he wanted to literally burn.

Not to be all melodramatic, but it’s the equivalent of putting pickpockets in the same prison block as serial killers.

Is the pickpocket a good person? No.

Do you want to have anything to do with him? No.

Are his crimes as bad as systematically murdering people? Probably not.

So next time, dear reader, you’re going to give a one-star review for a book you just read, stop and consider what you really mean to say by it. If you really hated it, then by all means, let the author have it.

Otherwise, you might want to leave a two-star review instead. Or maybe not leave one at all.

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