The one-star review

Build a Better Business Book has 33 reviews on Amazon. Of these, 32 are five stars, and one is one-star.

This really pisses me off. And it’s not because I hate criticism.

It’s because the bad review didn’t teach me anything.

Hate a product? You can do better than this.

If you truly think a product is worthless or terrible, then by all means, wax poetic about it. People love to read witty complaints. This one, which I wrote for the Qingdao Kilin Crown Hotel, in Qingdao, China, has thousands of views:

I am gagging as I recall the smell. It was truly disgusting, the worst place I ever stayed — and that’s saying something.

A traveler who is choosing a hotel in Qingdao might choose a different hotel because of this. I am doing that person a service. Or they might look at all of the other reviews and think, ah, this Josh B person just had a bad day. But at least they have some context.

As for the hotel, it didn’t bother to respond to the review, but perhaps based on this and other reviews that mention the smell, the hotel management knows in what ways they may be able to improve. Or they could hand out air fresheners at the check-in.

One-star book reviews are a rite of passage

Every author will tell you about the first one-star review their book got on Amazon. We are human, and these reviews cause us pain. But as I said, I like to learn from criticism. Reviews teach me things.

Here are some one-star reviews for my books. Groundswell:

Groundswell is indeed outdated. Anyone in 2023 who buys a social media book from 2008 for any reason other than nostalgia is making a mistake. Baloo is right.

Ouch. Not very helpful, though: I have no idea why Mike hated this book, and neither does anyone else. Maybe he hates green and yellow covers?

Empowered, a two-star review since there were no one-star reviews:

Completely fair criticisms. We did stretch the acronym. We did use examples that were well known. I learned a lot from coauthoring that book, and these are mistakes I will not make again.

Writing Without Bullshit:

True, a lot of the advice in Writing Without Bullshit is available elsewhere. But I can at least take solace in the fact that this writer cannot form a full sentence properly and has trouble with difficult spellings like “pucrhase.”

Not sure what to make of this, but BethRN has 4 other one- and two-star reviews for other products, so maybe she’s just grumpy. None of her other reviews are of books — perhaps she’s just not used to reading.

Build a Better Business Book:

I’d like to show you the one-star review, but there is no text. It’s just an anonymous rating. Not much to learn from that. Perhaps I have an enemy; I’ve made a few over the years.

If you can’t take criticism, get out of the writing business

Learning to benefit from criticism is a crucial skill for writers. It’s how we learn.

The trick is distance yourself from the work. Look at the critique and ask, is this valid? Could I make things better next time based on this? Why did this reader have a problem?

Don’t take it personally. Books, regardless of the effort invested, are just blocks of text. Most people will like what you write, and that should be enough to keep you going. A few bad reviews are a badge of honor: they are signs that somebody had an emotional reaction. If you’re not pissing a few people off, you’re not trying hard enough.

You can take solace in a fact I learned from Todd Caponi in The Transparency Sale: buyers are more likely to trust a product with an average star rating of 4.5 than one with a perfect five-star average. A few bad reviews actually help sales.

And to the coward who posts an anonymous one-star rating with no text, I blow a single heartfelt raspberry. You are unworthy to read the books of any serious author. Real writers write thoughtful reviews. That’s not you, so my book is not for you.

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  1. “I’d like to show you the one-star review, but there is no text. It’s just an anonymous rating.”

    So we don’t even know if the anonymous one-start rater made a “verified purchase.”

  2. Great advice Josh. Some 1-star reviews I read are extremely positive – making me think that the reviewer is thinking that 1 star is the best out of 5 stars. Something to check for.