The Worst One-Star Amazon Reviews… Ever!

The Worst Amazon ReviewsNote: This is not a collection of hilarious one-star reviews, but rather a post on reviews that are not hilarious. Or useful. Or worth writing.

I generally try to remain positive on this blog. Today, however, I’m going to be as negative and sarcastic as your average one-star Amazon reviews.

I read a lot of reviews. A few are insightful. Many are quite funny. Most are worthless. I’ve often maintained that the three or four-star reviews are the only ones worth reading, because the fives and ones are often so hyperbolic that their credibility becomes suspect. Five-star reviews too often drip with fanboy/girl gushing. One-star reviews tend toward the same grab bag of tired gimmicks, none of which offer any useful information.

Now, I understand that most one-star Amazon reviews are not actually reviews. They’re rants. Someone reads a bad book and they’re angry. They’re hurting and they want to lash out. They want the world to share their pain, and so they unleash a couple paragraphs of mouth-foaming invective and consider it a public service. I get it.

However, as a writer, I’d like to know why someone hates my work — not colorful, over-the-top descriptions of how much they hate it. And if I’m reading a review to try to judge how much I’d like a book, I’m not interested in how clever the reviewer is (which, most of the time, is not very clever). Either way, I want some useful information about the book in question — and the following examples, my friends, do not qualify.

So with that in mind, I submit this list of things to stop writing in your Amazon reviews. Forever. Please.

1. “I wish I could give it zero stars.”

Okay, stop right there. You wish you could give it a rating lower than the worst possible rating? Say you could rate it zero stars — wouldn’t you then wish you could rate it negative one, or negative ten, or negative one quazillion? Negative super-double-infinity because you just hate it so damn much? Isn’t “the worst possible rating” low enough?

2. “Worse than [natural disaster / fascist dictatorship / war atrocity]”

Cheapening actual tragedies by comparing them to your sub-par reading experience is not how you establish credibility as a reviewer. All this tells me is that you have no real sense of perspective. Also, you’re not funny.

3. “I would rather be [tortured / disemboweled / eat broken glass, etc.] than read this again.”

Gosh, I’ll bet you would! When I read something like this, a tiny part of me wishes I were some kind of super-genius psychopath, so I could track these people down, tie them to a chair, make them eat some broken glass, and see how long it takes them to decide they’re pretty okay with reading Eragon a second time instead.

4. “I don’t understand [the positive reviews / any praise this book receives]”

That’s not an opinion on the book. That’s an opinion on other people’s opinions. I don’t care.

5. “It’s overrated and I’m [shocked / appalled / confused] that it’s popular.”

Oh, it’s so hard being so much smarter than everyone else! Why was I afflicted with this accursed genius?! If you’re such a braniac, maybe the popularity of mediocre, easily digestible books shouldn’t be all that shocking. Do you want a prize for disliking something popular? Again, this is meta-opinion, and usually dime-store snobbery into the bargain.

6. “Don’t waste your time and money. I’m saving you the trouble. You’re welcome!”

Thank God someone is around to save me from having my own opinion on things! And big thanks for not actually telling me why I’d dislike it, but instead, letting me just trust that you are the final arbiter of taste. You are my hero, J. Random Internet!

7. “I guess you’ll like this book if you’re an [idiot / housewife / redneck / sociopath]”

Once again, this is not a book review. This is a snotty ad hominem on imaginary people you think you’re better than. Big bonus for ugly stereotyping, and by “big bonus” I mean you’re a bit of a tool.

8. “I skimmed about half of this book and here’s my opinion!”

I skimmed the first three words of your review and dismissed it! Seriously, opinions on the Internet are ill-informed enough as it is. Why would I put any stock in someone who’s bragging about how little information they digested before making their argument?

9. “This book is proof that civilization is [doomed / declining / made up of big poo-poo-heads]”

Yup, not genocide, dwindling natural resources, ecological disaster or global food crises. It’s this sub-par sci-fi novel that’s the real trouble. You’ve really got your priorities in order.

10. “I just finished the first two pages and am stopping to tell you how awful this book is.”

Get a blog. Or a Twitter account. Asshole.

11. “[I / my fifth grader / my dog / a bit of rancid lemon peel] could write a better book in five minutes!”

Then please, do it. Or encourage your fifth grader, dog, or rotting fruit to do it. I’m not kidding. We could use more good books, especially the kind that can be written at such high speed. I look forward to reading your work. Oh, what’s that? You were just talking smack? Ah. Okay, then. I’ll be sure to lend your opinion a lot of weight in that case.

12. “My [husband / roommate / hetero life partner] hated this book!”

Is this person just too lazy to write their own review, or are you trying to establish credibility by invoking the unverified opinions of third parties? Either way, quit it.

13. “I read a lot of crap and this is the crappiest crap that ever crapped!”

I actually have some grudging respect for this argument. It’s still kind of useless, but at least the reviewer isn’t being pretentious. If someone reviews a movie and says “I’ve seen a lot of grade-Z movies, and sir, this is no Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” I’ll probably take them at least a little seriously.

NOT The Worst One-Star Amazon Review

And finally, the one-star review I’d like to see more of:

“I [didn’t like, hated, loathed, threw out, burned, defecated upon] this book. Here’s why.”

I’m not saying you have to like every book. I’m not even saying you have to be polite. I don’t mind some incendiary language, if it transmits some useful information. Were the characters flat as playing cards? The protagonists morally loathsome? The story so slow and plodding that you began to yearn for the breakneck pace of a Tarkovsky film? The plot clearly lifted from The Ghost and Mister Chicken starring Don Knotts? The prose so purple and garish that you could add it to Prince’s wardrobe? Okay, you’d be pushing it a little with that last one, but at least you’re telling me something about the book, and not just having your own anger-management therapy session.

Writing an online review — on Amazon or anywhere else — is not exactly a grave responsibility. Most reviews will probably not change hearts and minds. But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least try to make it useful to someone.

Oh, and in my defense, when I wrote that review of “Stigmata,” I was really drunk.

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  • Joni

    “Do you want a prize for disliking something popular?”

    Yes! I mean… no. No, not at all. 🙂

    I don’t usually write reviews because, as you know, I don’t really analyze most works with a whole lot of depth, so my reviews would not be useful to anyone, even other readers/viewers like myself.

    But, when I do feel compelled to write a review (good or bad) I strive to put useful information into it. What’s the point, otherwise?

    • I wish more people thought like you. I don’t want or need an in-depth analytical essay out of an online review — just some useful information!

  • StartYourNovel

    What a coincidence — I too find 3 & 4-star reviews more credible than 5-star ones. Precisely because of the gushing.

    How do you tell straight away that a review won’t help you at all? You look at the title. Some review titles sound like they were written by 16-year-old hermaphrodites in the throes of psychosexual ecstasy. (OK, maybe that was a bit much. But I couldn’t think of a better way to convey hyperbole right now.)

    That said, there are honest 5-star reviews where you can tell that the reviewer loves the book went to a lot of trouble introducing it to prospective readers. Some of these reviews, and they’re not that few and far between, tend to be better than Amazon’s product description. Maybe, maybe they’ve been written by someone in the McGrawHouseofRandomHill corporate marketing dept., but I still find them valuable.

    As a rule, though, I prefer to avoid them. Especially the rather laconic “dis beuk is so ahhhhsom” variety.

    Re no. 11., which is my favorite – I have a small, genuine deer antler in a drawer and it has in fact written a novel about being a small deer antler in a drawer for six years. It may be better than most Harlequin romance novels, but I don’t read Harlequin romance, so I wouldn’t know.

    The question now, of course, is, “Why do you keep a small deer antler in a drawer”?

    Why, because I can.


    An afterthought: protagonists can be morally loathsome yet highly entertaining. Even, *gasp*, relatable. Take Tony Soprano or Jax Teller.

    Afterthought #2: Thanks for introducing me to “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.”
    I had thought that no film could ever surpass the breathtaking vistas and haunting beauty of “Galaxy of Terror,” and that was gnawing away at me, really, it was.

    • Great comment, JM. There ARE good five-star reviews. There are even some good one-star reviews. I just wish they weren’t such rare birds.

      So when is your deer antler going to publish its book? Is it going indie? I heard it’s tough for brow tines to make it these days.

      And I didn’t mean to say that morally loathsome protagonists can’t be engaging and awesome, but some reviewers certainly do seem to demand moral perfection from their main characters.

      And finally, if you want to talk trash sci-fi… we could make a whole discussion out of that. Have you tried “Starcrash” on for size?

      • StartYourNovel

        Not yet, but I’m going to. Will report from the trenches when and if I come back.

  • I think what makes this so amusing is that it’s painfully true. Also, I think I’ve said this before, but I never tire of your sarcasm. Very entertaining. 🙂

    I’ll admit I’m a bit nice when I review books, so I’ve written more than a couple five-star reviews, however I try to make a point of saying why I thought said book deserved five stars (you know, after the gushing is over). Maybe I succeed, maybe I don’t, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Right. Let’s go with that.

    The one thing I’d like to add to your list of unhelpful reviews is when the reviewer starts bashing the author. This doesn’t happen very often, but unfortunately it does happen, and really it’s just rude. No one is forcing you to like the book (or the author, for that matter) but there’s really no need to make a review personal or hurtful. We get it– you didn’t like the book. Congratulations. Now go read something else and leave the poor author alone.

    • Thank you, Ava!

      I don’t inherently mind a five-star review, even a glowing one. I would just like to know WHY it’s good, rather than “OMG this book mowed my lawn and cured my diptheria and achieved peace in the middle east READ IT NOW!!1” So, I think your approach is right on the money.

      Also, good call on attacking the author. I don’t know why I didn’t think to include that. Personally, I find it rather indefensible.

  • You crack me up.

    Also: I completely agree. This was a brilliant post. My dog’s ex-girlfriend’s sister said so. 😉

    Seriously: I like this post because (a) it’s concise, (b) follows a careful line of reasoning, (c) has well-thought-out arguments, and (d) shows examples from material read, thus evidencing time spent on personal research.

    Rancid lemon peel FTW!! 😀

    • Ha! Thanks for the kind words and the comment, Angela. I did do a lot of painful “research” to get to this point. 😀

  • Cameron Lawton

    Thank you … you just encapsulated everything I ever want to scream at people who “feel obliged” to save others from the dire torture of reading a particular work …. especially when they admit in the first line that they only read the first line, paragraph or chapter – sod off then you haven’t read it, your view isn’t valid!

    Constructive criticism is fine … note the word constructive, meaning helpful.

    And if you are going to criticise the genre of book … excuse me why did you try to read it if you can’t stand this genre? Really?

    Great post – had me chuckling maliciously

    • Yeah, I’ll never understand people who read something they know they won’t enjoy and then seem shocked when they don’t enjoy it. And I’m glad someone else shares my annoyance with the “save you from the experience” review. Thanks for the comment!

  • I think the phrase “J. Random Internet” is going to end up in my everyday vernacular now.

    I generally agree! I’ve had a book review blog for about five years, and have only ever once genuinely trashed a book (and its author, and its fans, and…). That was within the first year of having the blog and while I would still give the book a zero rating, I would now approach the review way, way differently if I wrote the review now.

    That said, I give a *lot* more four- and five-star reviews than zero- or one-star, because the books I review are, 95% of the time, books I bought. And why would I pay money for a book that I don’t think I’d like? So my reviews skew very positive, but hopefully not unhelpfully so.

    • As long as I get credit (on the internet? not likely), I’m overjoyed to see it get used 😀

      I imagine a book review blogger faces entirely different challenges. It’s not as if you can just slag on a book mercilessly and still maintain credibility. I won’t lie, writing substantive reviews is hard for me, especially when it’s something I didn’t enjoy.

      Thanks for the great comment!

  • Bwhahahaaa! God I love it when you get ticked off. 😀

  • Lillie McFerrin

    You’re dead on with this post! As a rule, I never read the one star reviews because they are so often useless dribble/ranting. Also, I’d give this post 5 stars, yes 5 even if 4 may make me more credible because it’s filled with spot on, well thought out observations and it made me laugh!

    • Ha! Thanks, Lillie. I will accept your fan hyperbole as credible JUST THIS ONCE! Because I am so impartial.

  • Much like Internet drama that I have nothing to do with, one star reviews frequently amuse me. If I really like a book, I go to Amazon and read the one star reviews first. If I didn’t like it, I read the five star reviews first. For perspective. And the fun of it, really.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jennifer. I often do that, too. Sometimes it’s given me reason to like a book that I didn’t have before!

  • Pingback: Quote of the Week: Bad reviews and how (not) to write them « Catecinem()

  • kyle

    Exactly! I always try to get people to explain to me WHY they dislike something.

    Typical dialog goes like this:

    Me: Why do you dislike X/movie/novel/game?

    Hater: Ach, so stupid!

    Me: Why?

    Hater: Ach, so stupid!

    Me: But why is it so stupid?

    Hater: Ach, so stupid!

    Me: TELL ME WHY YOU HATE THIS FREAKIN THING!

    Hater: …It ended too well.

    Tsk, tsk, some people. Especially as somebody who is busy stressing a novel, I would like to know exactly what problem is keeping them from liking what I write. I don’t care for your ‘witty’ remarks, tell me what you don’t like! Sheesh.

    Spot on post, please do keep em coming!

    (BTW, ‘stressing a novel’ means that I am currently trying to write a novel that always goes the opposite direction of where I want it to be, and it just doesn’t seem to reflect the theme I want for it. Solution? Sticky glue. Works all the time!)

  • Penelope Dyan

    Bravo! I write little learn to read travel books for kids–no more than 34 pages–they have photos in them–not glossy–they have 30 point print–big sized for little eyes–They are children’s picture books. I get “This book isn’t good for a nine year old. I can’t read the words (from an adult). This page isn’t Helsinki (which it is.) My 11 grandchildren could write a better book than this on Florence. I can’t believe this book was published.(Then do ‘it.) The book is full of errors, and has double the and is (when the book doesn’t). Now when I get something specific in these reviews, I make corrections–I actually look for the misspelled word or point of confusion and correct it because I am also a publisher (370 titles–19 authors)–I actually spend the money to do this and the only reason I can is they are POD with offset capability—Now these people who are so concerned sometimes email me and I will actually correct the book and mail them a new one. But the last person who did this never responded to my offer. I sent three emails. My guess is they want to give a single star for one of two reasons: 1) They are paid by a competitor or are a competitor; 2) They want to read the book and return it, like a library; so they have to have an excuse. Now if the words sound funny to them, it is probably because you are using correct English grammar. Somehow that also makes this hard to read, along with correct punctuation. The attack is on—and Amazon systematically removes all good reviews because those are obviously from friends and relatives–forget the fact you don’t now any of these people at all!

  • alexxi_gumparr

    You suck big meaty wolf knuckles steamed in urine and that was a terrible post. I’d give YOU 0 stars if I could you piece of garbage

    • Meaty wolf knuckles steamed in urine?! Great, now I’m hungry.

      • Cantankerouspinner45

        I would have like to have heard you address the hyperbolic 5 star reviews too.

        • True, a lot of five-star reviews are equally worthless, especially if they’re empty enthusiasm devoid of any insight on WHY the book / product in question is great. I don’t find those very useful either. Especially the “buy this, trust me! – signed, Total Internet Stranger” type reviews. Fortunately, a lot of the positive reviews seem to go into more detail, although you can never be sure they’re not plants or the author’s mom or what have you.

  • Chris

    you’re a disgusting molester. you should be ashamed of yourself you sick pervert

  • Penny

    One star review hurt. Amazon needs to monitor them. There is something called libel about which no one seems to care–and yes, I have been libeled. People think this is ‘getting in your face.’ It is rude. Then they ask why you don’t sell on kindle? Why? So I can get libeled for fifty cents? No thank-you—

  • Max Carter

    Are you one of the guys that wears the three wolf moon shirt?

  • Guest

    I need to vent. I am really tired of people buying my picture books and then saying they aren’t for a 10 year old or a 12 year old–I think when you purchase a picture book–you should not expect it to be anything else—These are kids’ travel books and for a long time I had to fight with Amazon to remove the age they (not me) put on the books 9-12–but I still get this stuff–these one stars from people who expected 32 pages to tell them everything about Rome, for example–and who do not understand the teaching process–and one person has double whammy’d me on the USA and UK Amazon sites—-I want to scream!!!!!! And Amazon has removed nearly all my good reviews—I have newspaper reviews, etc. that I did not pay for that are really good reviews–not fake ones—but this? Reviewing has gone too far!!

  • Lowell Thomson

    Good post Daniel. I just had my first one-star review for a book that’s been up on Amazon for two years, and it claims it’s because the book was technically broken. But given that Amazon reviewed the contents two years ago and tens of thousands have bought it since without that problem, I’m somewhat doubtful. Will Amazon remove the review? They should, as it’s obvious from the book’s own history that this is a “shipping” issue between Amazon and the customer (or the customer is a full-of-crap author spamming other authors). Either way, that’s a hell of a way to get your first one-star review after that long, let me tell you.