The Power of One

Posted by on January 15, 2017 in business of writing, recent, self-publishing, writing | 8 comments

A couple of weeks ago (in other words, centuries in the past, in Internet time), someone (let’s call her Naive Non-Fiction Author) published an article on one of the big aggregator sites, saying that all self-published books were terrible, and that all self-published authors were deluded fools who write drivel in hopes of parting honest readers from their hard-earned cash.

Predictably, sparks flew.

Authors wrote responses to Naive Non-Fiction Author on Facebook and Twitter and personal blogs. Some people responded to the content of the original post. Others debated proper responses to clickbait.

Then, things got nasty.

People went on to Goodreads and Amazon and gave one-star ratings to Naive Non-Fiction Author’s books.

These one-star reviewers hadn’t read NNA’s books. They weren’t rating the content. Rather, they were expressing their discontent with the author’s public stance. And in the opinion of this self-published author, that expression stepped over the line.

I get it. Self-published authors work hard. We invest a tremendous amount of time and effort and cold, hard cash to create our books. We write books that traditional publishing can’t afford to publish because our books have niche audiences or have non-traditional characters or don’t fit into convenient genres. We forge ahead on the new frontiers of publishing, exploring new ways to communicate with our readers, building new technologies to move our industry away from outdated twentieth-century ways of doing business.

(Yeah, I know. There’s some crap published by some self-published authors and there are some self-published authors who push too hard in their own entrepreneurial interest. But I’ve got news for you: there are some traditionally published authors who screw up, too.)

My point is: I know Naive Non-Fiction Author went too far.

But down-rating her books should be off-limits.

I’ve been on the receiving end of one-star ratings. I’ve received one-star ratings when vendors’ shipping materials weren’t up to the task, and cardstock covers got bent.  I’ve received one-star ratings when a printer bound in sections of a Georgette Heyer book instead of the climax and denouement of my own novel. I’ve received scores of one-star ratings when Amazon delivered the wrong file to every one of the 6000+ people who pre-ordered a box set, even though the proper file had been uploaded to Amazon on a timely basis.

(Just to be fair, I’ve received one-star ratings on my actual writing as well. Not many of them, and not with any consistent criticism, but they’re out there.)

Those one-star ratings have an effect. They suppress future sales of the specific book in question. They block advertising for the book (because most advertisers require a minimum rating before they’ll accept ads.)  They can kill individual books and entire series.

Each of those negative effects assumes that the single star has been awarded because the book itself is terrible. Not the post office, not the printer, not a vendor’s mechanized file version software.

There’s no reason to believe that NNA’s books are terrible. Her opinions are narrow-minded. Her research is shoddy. Her excuses are flimsy.

But it’s not fair to give her books one star.

So? How about you? Have you ever given a book one star? What were the circumstances?

(I’ll lead the discussion: I’ve rated one book one-star. It was a non-fiction book on using Amazon’s algorithms to build readership of Kindle Unlimited books — and it completely overlooked Amazon’s massive change in its Kindle Unlimited structure, when it went from paying authors for an entire book read after a certain percentage had been completed to paying authors solely on the number of uniform-length “pages” were read. The one-star book was still being sold at full cost more than a year after Amazon’s transition. In that case, I also returned the book, something else I’d never done before, or since.)


  1. I’ve never written a one-star review of a book by a living author. The only ones I’ve written were public domain books of long dead authors where someone put them up for sale without proofing the book or correcting any of the many mistakes induced by OCR’ing print pages into digital format. In that case, I’m careful to refer to the specific cover because Amazon limps all versions of a book into one. For example, Dorothy L Sayers’s work recently went out of copyright. The earlier Open Road Media Kindle editions of her work are well formatted and free of errors, but there are other versions that are terrible In my review (which wasn’t one-star but did include an all-caps headline warning about errors), I mentioned the problem and posted a copy of the Open Road cover.

    As a self-published author, I know the power of reviews. Unless someone is using a book to encourage bigotry, violence, or hate speech I would never post a negative review. What came across in this author’s FB post was her insecurity. She seemed to feel that the success of self-published authors threatened her accomplishment. I posted a comment to that effect on her post, but it never occurred to me to retaliate on her work. Of course, I wasn’t tempted to buy her books, either, because if she doesn’t see her own motivations more clearly than that, she might not be as good a writer as she thinks she is.

    • I really wish the vendors had a separate way to comment on non-writing complaints — shipping problems, formatting problems, etc.

  2. I’ve never given a one star review. Ever. If I’ve read a book and really didn’t like it because of what I perceived as poor writing or horrible plot structure, I don’t bother leaving a review on Good Reads (which is the only place I leave reviews). I don’t give the book a star rating or leave a comment either. I just quietly mark the book as “read” and move on to the next book in my TBR pile.

    • I tend not to leave public reviews of books that I hate, either. These days, I don’t finish most books that I hate; I abandon most hated books around the 10% point. (Sometimes, of course, I have to finish reading them, for one reason or another…)

  3. I have never written a 1 star review, mostly because I usually find some value in every book I read and in this case, intentionally downgrading a writer’s ratings just because you’re in a snit is childish and irresponsible on the reviewer’s part. In a perfect, and completely honest world I’d probably rate many of the books I read a 3 star (as in average, a good read but a far cry from Pulitzer prize material but, because of the general trend Amazon and other book sites to assume that anything that doesn’t have at least a 4 star rating isn’t worth reading, I rarely even give a 3 star rating.

    • I wish there was some agreed-upon standard of reviewing. Do books start at 5 stars and lose points as readers read? Do they start at 0 or 1 and build up points? Start at a neutral 3? (There’s a similar issue with reading books for potential awards — different readers have such different methods in allocating points!)

  4. I’ve never given a one-star rating to a book so far. There were a couple with no editing. Almost completely unreadable. I don’t think I reviewed them at all.

  5. I read a book by a famous author it was truly terrible, I keep it on my bookshelf to remind me that if that book can get through the whole system and still get published there is hope for me. So would I give it a one star, NO! It inspires me that I can get published and to do try to do a better than that author. I hope no one puts my book on their shelf because it is so bad, but if it inspires them is that so bad?
    Even Awful maybe useful.