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.