Guest Blog – Greek God Himself, Mr James Lovegrove…

One-Star Reviews

This is intended to be neither a rant nor a whinge, and mine host Andy, in the guise of his anagrammatic ninja alter ego Mr Cyanide, has strict instructions to kung fu me in the head of it looks in danger of turning into one or the other. 

[Mr Cyanide: starts limbering up in the corner, running through his kata exercises.]

My topic today is one-star reviews on Amazon – the giving and getting of them and the appropriate response to them.

Because, folks, sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – these reviews are considered, thoughtful, well written and cogently argued, and for that reason they sting but not as badly as they otherwise might.  As an author you find yourself thinking, “Well, that person didn’t much like my book but at least they understood why they didn’t and they were able to take the view that, while the book didn’t appeal to them, it still might to someone else.”

In other words, they appreciate that authors are human beings, people with feelings.

Then there are the other kind of one-star reviews, less rare.  You know the ones.  Where someone sets out to destroy utterly the book they’ve just read.  Where it isn’t enough to say they felt it was poor – they have to trash the author him/herself and heap abuse on the wretched tome in the snidiest, sneeringest manner possible until it shrivels into a weeping little ball.

Let’s get one thing straight.  Those aren’t reviews.  They’re character assassinations.

[Mr Cyanide: “Steady.”  Robes himself in black combat gi.]

It’s true.  They are.  Many a time they impute dubious motives to the author, hinting that he or she may be deviant in some way.  They make the schoolboy error of associating the author directly with things his/her characters do or say (“There’s a rape scene so, hmmm, the guy must be a rapist”).  They express how personally offended their writer was by the perceived badness of the book.

This kind of review has no intrinsic value, other than the venting of spleen.  Yet it potentially has a harmful effect on the book’s sales.  It lowers the over-all star rating and thus makes the book seem less worthy of the attention of someone casually browsing the site.

It’s that old internet conundrum about power and no responsibility.  Anonymous or semi-anonymous, these reviewers can say what they like without fear of being called to account for their actions.  They can post remarks which they wouldn’t dare put directly to an author’s face.

[Mr Cyanide: “Certainly not mine.”  Cracks knuckles menacingly.]

I speak as one who has for many years earned part of his living as a professional, paid reviewer, with a proper byline and that.  I admit I may have dissed books in the past, but hopefully in as constructive a fashion as possible.  These days, however, I’m altogether a mellower, more middle-aged sort, and when I come across a book I don’t like, I adopt one of two tactics.  I either state as clearly as I can why the book doesn’t work and praise any good points it has, or, more usually, I ignore it altogether, damning it by exclusion.

I’m prepared to face the music if, somehow, I offend an author.  They know where to find me (online).

The same can’t be said for the Amazon-haunting nitwits who freely and heatedly fling their poo around.

One should rise above their prattling, of course.  One should remain loftily immune.  After all, many people continue to buy and enjoy one’s books.  That’s why one still has a career.  What does the inane gibbering of a handful of pigshit-thick ignoramuses matter?

[Mr Cyanide: “Almost a rant and a whinge.  Keep it reined in, Lovegrove.”]

Yes, sorry.  As I was saying, what do a few barbed, dismissive comments matter?  Precious little, in the grand scheme of things.  And in the event that the content of an Amazon review is libellous, defamatory or otherwise actionable, my understanding is that you can ask to have it taken down and Amazon will almost always oblige.

However, it’s better by and large to leave the one-star reviews in place, however hurtful they are.  For one thing, if you’ve annoyed someone that much, maybe you’re actually doing something right.  Art isn’t about pleasing everybody.  Some would aver that it’s about the opposite.  Provocation is as worthwhile as, if not more so than, mere entertainment.

Also, if you can demonstrate that you’re unaffected by the invective, then that negates it, doesn’t it?  If you don’t rise to the taunts, the bullies don’t and can’t win.

In closing, I offer this (courtesy of Mark Chadbourn, though other similar sites are available).  It shows that even literature’s great and mighty aren’t safe from the haters.

Mind you, it’s all right for those authors.  They’re dead.

Lucky sods.

[Mr Cyanide: “Right.  That’s it.  Hai-yahhh!”]


– James Lovegrove


Can I just add, I came across an Amazon 1 star review of the wonderful Mr Iain Banks’ Transition, a vehement attack written by a lady who’d “flicked through it in a book shop”. What?? Crazeeee?? — Thankfully, said offending article has since been removed (hopefully, followed by said offending ladeee).

– Andy Remic

  1. Jess said:

    I read this post a while back and re-read it today. I think it’s almost hilarious how allows anyone and everyone to post “reviews” of items for sale. These “reviews” (if you call them that) cover everything from poor shopping experiences for the item purchased (which literally has nothing to do with the item itself) to in-depth, well-written, high quality reviews by some very well known writers. Unfortunately, it’s the average reader/buyer’s review that’s often looked over.

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