Bad Book Reviews: Not About Your Book, But About Your Readers’ Expectations

Several months ago, when I was planning the promotion for my first book, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, I decided to publish some free e-books in order to attract attention to my work. I therefore released a handful of short stories and essays, as well as a self-contained excerpt from my memoir itself.

My strategy was a strange combination of successful and disastrous. My free e-books definitely succeeded in promoting my work; however, as the reviews clearly demonstrate, they also seem to have ticked off a number of potential customers. And this is what’s interesting. Because when you sit down to analyze the reviews themselves, it becomes clear that poor reviews are often unrelated to the quality of the work itself. Bad book reviews are, more often, a result of a failure to meet a reader’s expectations.

Understanding this is crucial to achieving success as an author. We’ve all read book reviews in which we simply disagree with a reader’s opinion. But for authors, it is, to a certain extent, irrelevant if we are right and a reader is wrong. It may not be our fault if someone misinterprets our work. But it is most definitely our problem.

I want to begin here with what I think is a highly illustrative example. Back in November, I released my short essay entitled “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Critical Analysis” as a free e-book. I described it as “a lighthearted analytical look at the most beloved Christmas special of all time.”

It’s a humorous essay. In fact, it’s the most popular blog post I’ve ever written, so I can say with assurance that the writing is good and the subject compelling. The e-book, however, although it earned a few high ratings on Goodreads, only received one review, and it stunk:

Rudolph December 23, 2014 (One Star)
Not quite what I was expecting when I had looked for a Christmas book to read to my five-year old daughter the night before Christmas eve.

Clearly, this is someone who saw my free e-book and decided to download it without even looking at what she was getting. Somehow she failed to notice that the cover includes the words “a critical analysis.” There is a school of thought that suggests that you should never offer books for free for just that reason – because it will encourage people to download them who would never be interested in reading them otherwise – and this is a perfect example. This woman didn’t leave me a one-star review because my book was bad – she left it because it ruined story time with her daughter.

That isn’t my fault. I had categorized my essay as humor, not children’s, and my keywords were mostly related to Christmas. However, when I was looking at the book’s page just before I unpublished it at the end of the season, I happened to notice something. In the section marked “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” I saw nothing but children’s Christmas stories. She was not the only reader who made that mistake. Which makes you wonder if I was somehow at fault, after all. Perhaps by including keywords that were related to Christmas, I virtually ensured that the people who found it were parents seeking stories to read to their children. Perhaps I would have been better off using keywords that were related to humor – which is what I will try if I decide to release the book again next Christmas.

Here’s another example. I published an essay entitled “Is Your Anxiety Real? One Woman’s Experience with Mental Disorder.” The description read “Read my story of how I was misdiagnosed with anxiety – and what the problem really was.”

The piece was exactly what it said it was. Several years ago I was misdiagnosed with anxiety and was treated by my doctor with a prescription. Nearly a year later, I realized that the problem was an excess of coffee! Now I didn’t pretend to have some magical solution for true sufferers of anxiety. In fact, the story makes it clear that I never even really had anxiety. But consider this two-star review from Amazon UK:

No help to millions of people who like me suffer from anxiety every day – without the … 28 August 2014 (Two stars)
One woman’s experience. No help to millions of people who like me suffer from anxiety every day – without the help of branded coffee.

This review is not about the value or worth of my little book. This woman downloaded it seeking relief – hoping to find something that would help her with her own anxiety. It didn’t do that, so she was disappointed. The book did what it set out to do – but it wasn’t what she wanted from it. Yet who pays the price for that? I do. Could I have avoided this problem? Probably, yes. I had left the description intentionally vague because I wanted it to be a bit mysterious. But if I had described more fully the point of my story, the narrowness of readers to whom my situation might apply, then some readers might not have gotten the impression that my book would offer them solutions to their own mental health issues. The book “sold” very well, and I wonder now if the title was a bit too compelling in the manner in which it suggests the possibility of misdiagnosis.

However, it was my memoir excerpt “Detention” that resulted in the greatest rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. The e-book did receive numerous four- and five- star reviews across the various Amazon sites, from readers who said very nice things about it like “I really look forward to reading the full book.” But it also yielded a number of poor reviews, mostly related to the fact that it was not a full book. But what really struck me were these rather bewildering remarks:

One Star, 8 Nov 2014 (One star)
Its ok but just getting into it then it ends. Did not realise it was so short.

Unexpected end 4 Nov 2014 (Two stars)
was very good to start with but became to an abrupt end was looking forward for more details but didn’t enjoy

You see the irony here. These were people who enjoyed the excerpt – who wanted to read more. They left me lousy reviews not because they didn’t like my book, but because they never even figured out that it was an excerpt. This, in spite of the fact that I stated that it was an excerpt in the book’s description, on the title page, and again at the end without even inserting a page break. Three places I said it, and they just didn’t get it. In addition, Amazon shows, right in the description, how long a Kindle book is. No one had a right to complain that they had been misled. Yet somehow they were misled, and I think I know why. The only place I didn’t state that it was an excerpt? The book’s cover. And that was probably my big mistake. Because as seems clear from my other examples, people don’t always read the descriptions of what they are buying – and certainly not when books are free. Much of their expectation is based upon the cover, and if the book doesn’t deliver what the cover seems to promise, they’re going to be disappointed, even if the author didn’t do anything wrong. Disappointed readers lead to bad reviews – and potentially lost customers.

This shows that you have to be very, very careful, not just in how you describe and categorize your book, but in the look that you give it. You can have an amazing cover, but if it gives the impression that your book is sci-fi when it’s actually paranormal romance, you’re far more likely to wind up in trouble. And the same holds true if you’re publishing a series, as is, nowadays, so often done. You need to have “Part 1” or “Part 2” showing in very bold letters, because you don’t want your readers getting to the end of your book and being angry because it isn’t the end of the story.

Finally, I want to look at one last example. This is a four-star review for my actual memoir – not the excerpt – which has been bothering me since the day it was posted. It’s a very good review, as most of them have been. However, what she says at the end really ruffled my feathers:

“I would have liked to hear more about day-to-day life at home with her mother. She jumps between big events… without covering the middle ground… It feels like the author held back because these details are probably somewhat mundane but I have a feeling that they weren’t boring details – the fact that the author felt so hurt and angry that she left home and never looked back tells me that there was a LOT that happened in between… Unfortunately, it feels a bit like her inability to trust us as readers has kept her from being very open in her memoir.”

Now this last sentence, I’ll admit, I found rather stunning. The majority of reviews have commented on how deeply personal my memoir is, and how impressed readers were that I had shared such private experiences. Now here’s someone who is complaining that I haven’t been open, that I’ve held something back.

She’s wrong. In fact, I hadn’t left anything out. After reading this review, I wracked my brain for other incidents I could include, and finally came up with two additional paragraphs. That was all. If I hadn’t described much about my last year at home, it was because my mother, as I had explained in my memoir, had to have foot operations and was stuck in a chair for nine months. A woman who can barely get up to go to the bathroom is unlikely to be physically abusive, and is certainly incapable of controlling a teen-aged daughter. There was virtually no day-to-day life to describe. She sat in her chair, and I went back to school.

I didn’t put my memoir in non-chronological order so that I could skip over events that I was reluctant to share. It’s because in many cases I don’t remember the order in which different events occurred. People sometimes seem to believe that because you’ve had a traumatic experience, that your recall of it must be flawless. It isn’t true – at least not for me. A lot of things happened in a very short space of time, and rather than pretend to the reader that I could tell the full story from beginning to end, I chose to assemble it as a series of segments telling what I remember. Yes, it is a bit fractured – but that also perfectly reflects my experience of my mother’s psychosis.

But, to be fair, I did not make this reasoning clear to the reader. The two poor reviews that the book has gotten have been from people who were simply unable to cope with it not being in order. And now that I’ve spent some time analyzing reviews, I think I understand why. Because people expect chronological order. They expect my memoir to be written like ninety-nine percent of personal memoirs on the market, most of which are not written by writers. They expect a traditional narrative structure.

I can’t provide them with that. But if I had explained in the introduction why the story jumps around, why there seem to be gaps that aren’t really there, then no one would have read it expecting it to be chronological, or expecting it to be complete in every detail. Would I have lost some customers because of that? Possibly. But I think it’s more likely that those readers would have gone into it with a more open mindset, more willing to accept a nontraditional narrative, had they been forewarned that that was what they were getting, and knowing that there were solid reasons why it was written that way. Ultimately it would have provided all readers with a more fulfilling experience – which is precisely why I’ve now added a foreword.

When I first read this review, I was also annoyed that this particular reader seems to feel that I didn’t experience enough trauma – that having my mother beat and imprison and threaten to kill me was insufficient reason for me to leave home and never look back. But then I took another look at her final paragraph:

“I hope that someday she writes a more complete story. I would be very interested in reading all of the ‘in between’ scenes and hearing about her final year at home. Not as a ‘looky-loo’ but as someone who has experienced something similar, it’s always a comfort to know that you’re not alone. That someone else has experienced the ‘spies in the attic’ delusions but also the general embarrassment of being in public (in high school!) with someone who is clearly unstable.”

Ultimately, this review isn’t about me at all. It’s about the reader, about her experience. She expected my story to be like hers, the way, perhaps, she would have written it had she been the one telling it.

There is absolutely nothing that I can do about that. I can’t make my story fit what every reader expects, nor should I try to. But this merely emphasizes the incredible importance of setting up proper reader expectations. Because if you can minimize the effect, reduce the instances of not meeting reader expectations to cases like these, which are entirely personal reactions, then you truly can eliminate a large percentage of one- and two-star reviews.

So when you are releasing your work out into the world, remember this always. Because it may not be your fault if your book is not what your readers expected. But it is always your problem.

Bad Book Reviews

45 thoughts on “Bad Book Reviews: Not About Your Book, But About Your Readers’ Expectations

  1. virginiallorca

    I don’t have many to choose from, but when they criticize my characters, I consider it a win. One about POV, a couple about ending up in the air, but never style or even about newbie typos. Always, he gave her too many chances, it wouldn’t play in real life, she shouldn’t have done that, he should have shot him. Like they think they are real people.

    And, about leaving them: I said I try to pick out something good and focus on that even if I don’t care for the book. Someone said that is being dishonest. I can’t disparage a person’s effort. I get about two or three requests for a review per week. I don’t accomodate them all.

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  3. divinelightvibrations

    Great post and a wonderful thread. I’m glad I tripped across your site. Since I’m close to entering the world of self-publishing (we’re working on the cover right now), your advice about book descriptions and, more importantly, the subsequent reviews are timely. Thank you!

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  4. Ernie Zelinski

    Given that I have two fairly successful books, I get my share of bad reviews. The thing that irritates me a little is when the reviewer places “Don’t Waste Your Money.” as the title of the review as to someone indicate that the reviewer knows exactly what others want to read. Also, there have been several reviewers who have given my book “How to Retire, Happy, Wild, and Free (Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get from Your Financial Advisor) a 1-star review when it is obvious that they are 60 years old, haven’t saved enough for retirement, and are now looking for the magic bullet to save them from a life of poverty in retirement. One reviewer even went so far to claim that I misspelled “Advisor” even though “Advisor” and “Adviser” are both right.

    Having said that, here are some inspirational quotations that I always remember while reading the 1-star and 2-star reviews:

    “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
    — Jane Austin

    “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
    — Albert Einstein

    “When someone belittles you they are being little. Don’t fight battles with small-minded people. They’re not going where God is taking you.”
    — Joel Osteen

    “In the arena of human life the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”
    — Aristotle

    “Writing is a profession in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.”
    — Jules Renard

    “A non-doer is very often a critic — that is, someone who sits back and watches doers, and then waxes philosophically about how the doers are doing. It’s easy to be a critic, but being a doer requires effort, risk, and change.”
    — Dr. Wayne Dyer\

    And, most telling, “Pay no attention to the criticism of people,” advised Ezra Pound, “who have never themselves written a notable work.”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      I do think it’s a problem that some readers don’t seem to understand the purpose of reviews – which is not to air their personal grievances, as with your reviewers who are disappointed that you can’t offer them a quick fix. I got a one-star on a freebie the other day with the comment “No.” That was it. “No.” Now who does that help? Not the reviewer, not other readers, and certainly not me. So why even leave a review? Oddly, the same reviewer had left another one-star review for another book with the comment “Yup.” When it comes to those people, I just don’t understand what they’re thinking.

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  5. Alaina

    Lori! I just came across the craziest negative review for a book! The book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, written by a former New York Times regional reporter, is predominantly about growing up with an abusive mother. The negative reviewer said this: “it seemed like something i needed and then…suddenly…my mom died. now i feel guilty for ever buying such a book.”

    Which totally proves your point!!

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      You know, I’ve actually had similar reactions, from people saying that my book was too intense for them to read because of their own pasts. Is that the writer’s fault? Sometimes I don’t think people understand the point of the review process!

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      1. Alaina

        LOL… I wish I could find the email a policeman friend sent me years ago, it was an entire page of emoticons of breasts, in all different shapes and sizes. Hilarious. Unfortunately, I lost touch with him after he was promoted to Lieutenant. I believe he thought he was too good for us lowly writers after that. ;D

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  6. Helen Treharne

    Reblogged this on Tea Talks: Home of Helen Treharne, Writer and Reviewer and commented:
    I thought this was fascinating and something to consider when offering not just free copies of books, but also when selecting potential reviewers. I think the worst review I had was from someone who I finally understood didn’t like the type of book. Looking at other reviews it was clear they like vampire stories with sex, romance or erotica. Mine do not. Once I understood that I was far less annoyed with the ” vampires don’t behave this way” etc. She was simply projecting what she wanted to see and was used to reading. The cover didn’t scream romance and it is listed in the horror category, but I’ve learned people rarely look at that.It is certainly something to consider when framing your book, both in terms of cover and blurb.

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  8. Connie B. Dowell

    Great advice, Lori. It might be impossible to tell what misconceptions people will have before a book’s release, but we can learn from reactions to make the content of our books more transparent. I’m afraid there will always be people who don’t read descriptions and download, seeing just what they want to see until the open the book. Nevertheless, it’s good to reduce that number if we can.

    Take heart, though, it’s not just books that get this treatment. Anything offered freely will be subject to did-not-read-itis. I’ve seen this in giving free classes and working as a consultant at a university, freely available to students and faculty. Most people paid attention to what we were offering, but there would always be someone who latched onto a single word in the description and made what they wanted of it in their heads, ignoring all the other words! It’s just a fact of life that we might be able to reduce but never eliminate.

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      You’re absolutely right, Connie – no matter what we do, there are always going to be those who simply don’t pay attention and then complain afterwards as if it’s our fault and not theirs. Not much we can do about that. And some people, I think, just don’t get the review process. I’ve seen one-star clothing reviews, for example, that say things like “This didn’t look good on me.” Personally, I would never blame the manufacturer because I don’t look good in orange – but not everyone sees it that way. ;)

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  9. Amalie Cantor

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today. :-) It’s so true that half the battle is meeting readers’ expectations. The problem is that a lot of times you don’t know what expectations they had to begin with! My book club and I got into a bit of a spirited debate the other day about the ability to enjoy our selection for the month. I adored it, but a few of the others didn’t get into it as much as I did. Their main argument? It had failed to meet the expectations they had set up for it.

    Now as I’m preparing to get my blurbs together for my own publication, I’m ready to tackle it from the viewpoint of being as straightforward about what it “is” as I can.

    Thanks so much for the insightful post! :-)

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      You are so right, Amalie – trying to figure out those expectations can be a battle in itself! I certainly never would have guessed how readers would misinterpret some of my work based on the “trappings” rather than the writing. What you might also find useful as you move towards publication is reading through reviews of other books in your genre(s) – there really is a wealth of information there and it can be well worth the time it takes to look through it. You’ve actually got a very interesting situation – your book is essentially a fantasy (or some subcategory thereof) that will also appeal to the vastly under-served LGBTQ market. Both are very popular genres, and I will be very interested to see how you manage the marketing to appeal to both :)

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    2. Iola

      This might sound odd, but I’m always a little hesitant about reading a book a friend has read and raved about … because they’ve raised my expectations so high, it will be hard to meet them. That’s totally beyond the author’s control, but still affects my enjoyment. Go figure.

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  10. woodbeez48

    I read this with great interest, Lori because I just published my debut novel yesterday and have yet to face up to any reviews, good or bad. I really understood where you were coming from with this piece and I think it’s a mature approach to take to reviews. We can’t always know what reader expectations are but perhaps we can refine our messages to them and in so doing, control their expectations a little and in our favour as authors. I think it’s right not to dwell on reviews too much, although whether I’ll be able to take that advice, who knows?! But it’s good to be reflective, while not being too hard on ourselves.

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Oh, congratulations, Julie – that’s so exciting! I felt very fortunate that my first several reviews were really nice, which made the first bad one much easier to take. I hope your experience is even better! I try to think of reviews in terms of “things I cannot change” versus “things I can” – and I agree that it’s definitely better not to dwell on the things you can’t. And hey, I’d be delighted to have you and your new book on my blog – you can email me at lorilschafer(at)outlook(dot)com if you’re interested :)

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      1. woodbeez48

        Lori, thanks so much for that offer and for your wise advice :) That makes a lot of sense. I just hope I can apply it when the time comes! I’ll be in touch via email. Thanks again.

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  11. Charli Mills

    This is great insight, Lori! Good marketing practice. The reality is, we publish for a target audience. The difficulty is in defining that target audience. Who are they? Where do they buy books, what words trigger their interest, what other books are similar to ours?

    The cycle of marketing is 1-definition (deciding to write a memoir versus a murder mystery), 2-market inquiry (who buys this kind of book, why and who else writes similar books) 3-creation (writing it in your own voice), 4-setting your price (excerpts, free shorts, full-priced debut, deals), 5-promotion and distribution (sell it), 6-evaluation.

    Your post is an evaluation and you have mined rich data. Brilliant to look for the gift in the poor reviews. You can tweak your next round to better fit your target audience and avoid those who wouldn’t be interested (for instance, your Rudolph essay can use more adult language, even state something like, “not your child’s bedtime story”). You can improve covers (simple banner across the corner of your excerpt, reading “excerpt”). You’ve used trigger words to get attention, now dig deeper and find the trigger words for your target audience.

    I appreciate it when authors share these experiences in a reflective way because we can all learn from your data insights, which is what reviews are. They are feedback and you’ve uncovered useful information. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Thank you, Charli – that’s exactly the response I was hoping for! This, to me, is exactly what you said – it’s data, raw data, information I can use and that I hoped that other authors would find useful as well. Rarely do new authors get an opportunity to garner a fair number of reviews in a short space of time, and I really did feel as though I learned something here – not about writing, but about marketing. And unfortunately the marketing is just as relevant to our books’ success as the quality of our writing.

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      1. Charli Mills

        I used to tell my staff that customer complaints were gold. We always learned from them even if it was a misunderstanding or not our company’s fault. Perception is a part of marketing and you have to understand people’s perceptions in order to phrase your promotion or position your book. You get it! Marketing is a part of it and it can be a fun part, too! I’d love to see a book like “Why People Buy” by Paco Underhill except it would be “Why People Buy Books.” No one is really doing book marketing justice. Not the way retailers have gotten into studying it like a science!

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  12. lauriekozlowski

    I see your reasoning and it makes sense to me, Lori. I’m sorry about the critical reviews you received from others of your stories. Your post reminds me how hard we are on ourselves, as writers. And rightfully so, we cannot improve without valuable criticism.
    I like how you bring to light what is useful in a review and what is not. It isn’t about our books. Such a tough thing to grasp, some days. Thanks for the reminder about reading being subjective. As an author and reviewer I try to stay as positive as possible, and as your post points out–be as clear as possible about my books.

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      It was actually a really good learning experience. I mean, if I’m going to get bad reviews – especially over issues that have nothing to do with the quality of my writing – I certainly prefer to get them on free books I don’t really care about. Much better than getting poor reviews on my “real” books – and now I have a better idea what to avoid! :)

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  13. TanGental

    Well, I defer to the experienced authors here who know a thing or two about letting it go but as a novice I found that incredibly useful. Mainly because, understanding your analysis means I understand Terry’s point better; namely read, digest, absorb any treats, change obvious flaws and consign the rest to history. Thanks Lori.

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Thank you, Geoff – I’ve been feeling a bit misunderstood here. It wasn’t my intention to whine about bad reviews or give the impression that I’m morbidly obsessing over them, because I’m really not. If someone leaves me a bad review because they don’t like my writing, that’s one thing. But if they leave me a bad review because they got the impression that I was offering them something I wasn’t, that’s a different story – and it may be an issue I can address. Otherwise, I definitely agree with Terry’s advice :)

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  14. Annecdotist

    Interesting, Lori, and you’ve obviously learnt a lot from the reviews even though it suggests there’s not much you can do differently. Like Terry says, perhaps not worth analysing when the readers’ needs are so unpredictable. I think the reading experience is something that happens between the reader and writer, and, the reader projects their own needs into the text, often unconsciously. When I write my reviews, I do try to be aware of what I’m bringing to the reading experience, although I don’t always manage. Your experience sounds frustrating, however, when you are trying to use reviews as feedback on your writing.

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      You are always very thoughtful with your reviews, and very careful to draw attention to your own potential bias, which I’m sure the authors you review really appreciate. But what I was trying to focus on here was more what one might call “administrative” issues than reader responses to my actual writing. I’ve had a couple of people say they don’t like my writing style, and honestly, that’s something I can shrug off without too much fuss. But getting bad reviews for DUMB reasons is a different story all together. Could I have avoided getting low ratings on my memoir excerpt just by putting the word “Excerpt” in bold letters on the cover? Bet I could have. That has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of my work – but it likely would have drastically improved the reader response.

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  15. Terry Tyler

    The woman who left the review about the Rudolph story needs a kick up the whatever; how stupid do you have to be to read that title and presume it’s a children’s story? Ditto people who download essays, short stories and novellas then moan when they’re not full length novels. I see this all over Amazon. It’s why my ‘product descriptions’ always say EXACTLY what the book is – ie ‘a 36K word novella, about half to a third the lenght of a novel’ or ‘the sequel to blah blah’. But even then they don’t always get read, do they?

    On the whole, though, I think you’d do well to stop analysing the reviews so much. Hoping that everyone will be reasonable, intelligent and think along the same lines as you is only ever going to be frustrating. I have varying reviews for all my books – it’s one of the difficulties of putting your work ‘out into the world’. My advice would be to read them, take on board any helpful and constructive criticism, and move on. I mean, REALLY move on. Stop reading them over and over, and thinking about them!!!

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      I respectfully disagree, Terry. This isn’t about obsessing over a handful of bad “free” book reviews – which, believe me, I have not done – it’s about looking at why readers leave them, which I personally think is an interesting analytical exercise. Yes, I certainly agree that there are any number of readers out there who can only be classified as numnuts for complaining about some of the things they complain about, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. But I do think it behooves us as authors to at least make an effort to understand where these readers are coming from, because in some cases I do believe it’s possible to present our work in a way that is less likely to lead to disappointment, which I think is really the main source of bad reviews.

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      1. virginiallorca

        Oh, I just reposted something on FB or my blog. It was one of a list of things to consider when reading a review. It said, if you know the reviewer’s motivation, you can understand why they said whatever. But I think it would be hard to “know”.

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  16. Norah

    This is a fascinating post, Lori. I really enjoyed reading it and have learned a lot from having done so. It’s not only a case of buyer beware (know what you are getting whether free or not) and writer beware (make sure your book is properly described). I thought Amazon was supposed to ‘check’ the reviews before they were actually shared publicly. It would make sense for those reviews which have misinterpreted the genre or purpose of the book to not be shared. It really doesn’t say much about a reader if they don’t know what type of material they are getting and should refer back to the description if it doesn’t meet their (incorrect) expectations. (Thanks for not quoting my review here! :))

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Honestly, I can see where someone might download a free book without looking too carefully at what it is – although one would think you’d be extra careful before reading it to your child. But it seems like a reasonable person would go back and look at the description before posting a one-star review. Wouldn’t you want to see if you were the one who made a mistake? Evidently that’s more effort than just typing out a couple of nasty sentences that ultimately make the reviewer look bad. But yeah, I’ve seen reviews of other people’s books that have just made me cringe – things like “I don’t like this genre, but I read this book anyway – one star.” It’s like, really? I’d be embarrassed to even leave a review like that.

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      1. Norah

        I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t think I’d leave a review if I couldn’t find something positive to say. Mostly, if I didn’t like a book I had read, which is rare because I usually pick fairly well, I wouldn’t leave a review. I can think of one at the moment I didn’t like, but I’m sure there must be lots of others who do like it. It’s by an award winning author. :)

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Alaina

    This is brilliant, Lori! Dang, you are GOOD.

    Fifteen years ago, before Amazon reviews became the thing, I published a novel (under a different pen name). I had my email address printed on the cover, and in that first year, I got quite a few complimentary emails. My favorite was from a man who said he had stayed up all night reading my book and had to call in sick the next day so he could stay home and see how the mystery ended.

    The original publishing company was bought out by another publishing company… actually, I think that happened a couple of times. I haven’t seen a royalty check since 2005, so I figured it wasn’t being sold any longer. Then, a couple of years ago someone I knew who had gone online looking to buy my novel told me that it was now available as an ebook. I still haven’t seen a royalty check, so I probably should contact these new publishing people and let them know I’m still alive.

    But anyway, my point is, that in the two or three years since I was told that my novel is available on Amazon, I have not been able to bring myself to go even there and see if there are any reviews. WHY NOT? For the very reasons you talk about right here, Lori.

    I am an avid reader of books. I also read lots of reviews. If a book has many reviews, I will usually read several of the 5 stars and then some of the 1 stars before deciding if I want to spend money to buy that book.

    I’ve read enough reviews to know how crazy, wrong-headed, and even downright vicious a lot of the negative reviews can be. I’ve read crazy, hurtful, outrageous things in reviews. When I read those kinds of reviews, I always imagine how I would feel, if I were the author, and I read that review about my own work. Horrible, that’s how I would feel!

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE getting good, knowledgeable, constructive criticism. It is the best thing by far that has ever happened to my writing. Years ago I had a retired newspaper editor friend who generously offered to critique one of my early manuscripts. When we met a couple of weeks later, he had it marked all over with blood red ink. Before handing it back to me, he said: “What I’m about to tell you will hurt. But it’s the best gift I could possibly give you.” He was right on both counts.

    Smart, pertinent, truly constructive criticism can make a so-so writer good, a good writer great, and a great writer super-fantastic. As writers, we are simply too close to our own work to see it with the clear eyes that a competent editor must have. So bring on the helpful criticism, the more, the better! But those petty, snarky, snotty, know-it-all, dipshit reviews written by someone with an undeveloped ego who gets their kicks out of knocking other people’s hard work – No Thank You.

    You are amazingly brave and strong. Not only to read those unfavorable reviews, but then to be able to calm down and think about them so intelligently and analyze them so deeply, and then write about your insights this coherently… WOW WOW WOW. No wonder you managed to survive what would have ruined the lives of most “normal” people.

    Lori Shafer, You ROCK. :)

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. lorilschafer Post author

      You know, I only look at reviews when I’m in the mood. Sometimes I just don’t feel like reading them, not even the good ones – maybe I just don’t feel like being evaluated every day. And I’ve definitely adopted the attitude of trying not to sweat the things I can’t change – and if there’s one thing I can’t change, it’s the behavior of internet trolls! But most people – I don’t think they’re setting out to be mean when they leave a bad review. Yeah, their issues may be totally illegitimate as far as I’m concerned – but that’s my audience. Writing is a two-way street, and I should at least try to understand where the other side is coming from, even if I disagree with it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Alaina

        This makes a lot of sense, Lori. I’m healthy enough to recognize the truth in what you’re saying, about most people not intending to be mean, and about writing being a two-way street, so it’s good to try to understand where the other side is coming from, even if you disagree with them.

        My problem is that my PTSD gets triggered by disparaging comments, even if they aren’t valid. This is why I can’t bring myself to read my book’s reviews.

        Sometimes I get really down on myself for being so thin-skinned. But as one close friend told me, emotionally I’m like the equivalent of a burn victim with first degree burns over most of my body. The smallest touch in the “wrong” place can feel like sheer torture. And, she said, that’s not my fault, no more than it would be right to blame a burn victim for being “too sensitive ”

        I appreciated what she said, because deep in my heart, I know she was right. I’ve worked extremely hard over the years, through expensive, intensive therapy and reading tons of self-help books, trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get better. I’m still in therapy and still reading all the pertinent therapeutic books I can get my hands on. I have come a long way from where I was when I was in my most broken condition. You don’t get much more broken than being diagnosed with schizophrenia and put to a mental institution when you are 14 years old. But today, especially now that I am a great grandmother, I am disappointed that I’m not as together as you. Which is why I keep telling you how awesome you are. Cuz you are! :-)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. lorilschafer Post author

        Our situations really aren’t comparable, Alaina. What you went through is WAY way worse than what I did. The things that happened to you might have happened to me – but they didn’t. And I don’t think you should be at all disappointed in your level of brokenness, because, honestly, to me, you seem pretty together. Rather, you should be congratulating yourself on not ending up in an institution yourself. And if you don’t want to read your reviews – don’t read ’em! I’ve heard that many pros don’t, either. In any case, it’s no skin off your nose. I am, however, still looking forward to writing mine :)

        Liked by 2 people

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