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Sunday, August 14, 2011

And the loser is...

This week, I got my first one-star review. It raised a few questions for me, and solidified a few things I've been thinking about all at once. I know that sometimes people assume one-star reviews come from a writer's competitors or people who have a grudge against that writer, but I can honestly say I don't think that happened here. I don't believe I've ever met this person, so I don't know how I could have offended her. I have to accept that the reviewer sincerely did not like my book. This is how much she didn't like it:

"It's very amateurish, both in style and in content. Don't waste your time."

The lack of constructive criticism aside, I still think a review like this can provide certain value. First of all, it proves that my work is real. Readers often assume that good reviews aren't genuine; that they're just friends and family of the author being kind. I can assure you, that's not me. I have exactly ONE friend/family member who has ever rated any of my books, much less reviewed them. Some writers may have this resource and I say good for them, but I come from one of the other families. You know, they're the ones who take delight in your failures, say unkind things behind your back, and encourage you to give up and fail. That's the environment I was raised in and I frequently visit on holidays and vacations. So a one-star review doesn't hurt me in any deep emotional way, it simply piques my curiosity. It also offers the added value that casual readers now know my reviews are real, not shill reviews posted by my family. Many authors say that a one-star review has helped their sales. It's early in my career, but so far I find this to be true .

Here's one of the things I've observed: Of all the reviews I've gotten, the absolute worst were from giveaways. Does that make sense? I can understand that a person who paid good money for my book and then hated it might want to warn others away, but why someone who won a free copy in a giveaway? What does that person have to gain? I can only guess as to the reasons, and my best guess is to ask why would someone enter a contest for something they don't even want? Of course, that's just a question. It's perfectly possible that the book's blurb, description, and other reviews were completely lacking in such a way that the contestant truly had no idea what they were in for when they entered the contest.

Here's another observation: Almost every popular movie, book, or TV show that I've looked at lately seems to have a rating of somewhere around 3 stars. Two and Four star averages are fewer but seem equally represented, and 1 or 5 star averages are extremely rare. This doesn't prove much except that fans and critics seem to be equally divided, regardless of the genre or even type of work. Any subjective art seems to suffer from this. Which ultimately seems to confirm something I've heard others say, which is that the stars don't count, the review does. Meaning a drive-by one-star rating is as meaningless as an unsubstantiated five-star rating. In order for the review to be of any benefit to other readers, it MUST provide some insight into what worked or didn't work for the story. Otherwise, it's just another anonymous star added to the average of thousands and thousands that came before.



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