Where Professionals Publish

Why You Should Love One-Star Book Reviews

Guest Blog Post by Norm Schriever

Norm Schriever
Norm Schriever, Author of Pushups in the Prayer Room and South of Normal

Has your book ever received a one-star review?  Ouch, that hurts.

It’s hard enough being an author these days without bad reviews to stunt our sales.  Already we’re shunned for being self-published authors, like it’s some sort of contagious venereal disease that you can get from water fountains, toilet seats, or writers who make less than $8,700 a year.

“I prefer the term Indie author,” I tell people at parties, as I wrap a dozen bacon-wrapped scallops in a napkin and put them in my coat pocket for later consumption.

“Sure you do, sweetie.”  They say, a look of pity on their faces like they just ran over a baby raccoon, and are considering whether to throw it in reverse to put it out of its misery.  “Oh please excuse me, I think I see the lovely IRS agent who audited us last spring and I want to go say hi,” and they make their retreat.

Yup, it’s par for the course – sometimes we have to deal with less-than-favorable reviews on tiny, inconsequential websites like…oh, I don’t know… AMAZON.COM!

But I’m here to tell you that a one-star review is actually a good thing – a great thing, even, and I’m saying that with a straight face.

I used to stress about bad reviews, my ego throbbing like a bee sting, but then I read something by Indie author John Locke (who set the record for eBook sales and is starting to turn “traditional publishing” into a bad word) that completely changed the game:

One-star reviews only mean that you’ve successfully found someone who is NOT in your target market.  Hell, that makes sense.  Congratulations, you’ve done an AWESOME job of finding someone who is not your ideal reader, and therefore are that much closer to finding out who is.

A one-star review doesn’t mean your work is awful, it just means someone disliked it an awful lot, and any passion you can incite is good passion (as long as they spell your name right).  There’s no accounting for taste, and if books like “50 Shades of Sloppy Writing” can reach iconic status and make a gazillion dollars, then popularity is by no means a measure of quality.

When my first book was released (I feel like such a pompous ass every time I say that, but I still sort of enjoy it) most of the reviews were favorable, even glowing.  But there were a couple of angry outliers, people who DESPISED the book and wished they could come to my house and demand their 99 cents back and then slash my tires when I wouldn’t give it to them.

I can clearly recall my one-star review:  “Sadly lacking…annoying frat boys abroad…carouse, drink, and try to get laid in every country…immature…embarrassing behavior…” it said.

My initial reaction was:  “Mom?!  Is that you?  MOM!!!  Get off the internet!  I’m using it!”

But then I checked the user name of the Amazon offender/reviewer, and it wasn’t my mom, or even an angry ex-girlfriend, but someone named Julie from Chicago.

I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to email Julie and ask how she could do that to me?  After all, she admitted that the book contained carousing, drinking, and trying to get laid… so what’s not to like?

I reread it to see if she was just kidding, but alas, Julie really, REALLY disliked the book.  But that’s cool.  I realize now that she didn’t give me a one star review, just my book.  She wouldn’t care for my genre of book, my brand of entertainment, no matter who had written it.  She probably didn’t read I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell or Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, either, but maybe more sophisticated works like Jayne Eyre sit on her kitchen table next to the Grey Poupon.  People who are thrilled with the Hangover franchise are not necessarily standing in line for tickets to Les Misérables, but both are successful art.

So I can just cordially thank Julie for her honest input and take careful note that she is definitely not within my target market, and move on to find those who are.

I’ve been in this business a very short time (but sometimes it feels like a century) and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you want to find your target market as efficiently as possible, and engage them.  Trying to please everyone, or writing the best “General Interest” best-seller means you will be wallowing in mediocrity, and probably eating squirrel under a bridge, very quickly.

Screw ‘em.  Write from your heart.  Write what you would be thrilled to read.  Write to one person who really gets you, and don’t apologize for it.  And then go out there and find 2 of those strange beings, and then 3 and 4 and 500.  They are out there, I promise you.  Just not at the parties that serve good hors d’oeuvres like bacon-wrapped scallops.

I hope that helps.  Now get out there and write your heart out and earn a few one-star reviews.  And one more thing….”Okay, mom!  You can use the internet again!”

P.S. In all seriousness, Stephanie Chandler has a fantastic book on finding your target market, called Own Your Niche.  She did not ask me to say that, nor would she ever, and in fact me even mentioning her book will make her squirm, and she’ll probably ask me to take it out, and threaten to not post this article unless I stop saying nice things about her but TOO BAD Steph!  I won’t be bullied by you!  Hahaha.  It’s the truth – I learned a great deal about targeted marketing from Stephanie, and I also recommend John Locke’s book for writers, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.
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Norm Schriever is an author, humorist, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone.  Dissatisfied with a conventional existence, Norm sold or donated all of his possessions and moved down to Costs Rica, with only a laptop and surfboard, to pursue his passion of writing.  He sees his words as a way to unite people, and thereby hopes to leave this planet a little better than how he found it.

His first book, Pushups in the Prayer Room, is available here. To preview his next book, South of Normal: My Year in Paradise, go to www.NormSchriever.com or follow him on Twitter @NormSchriever.

Both of Norm’s books are published by Authority Publishing!