Look at my face. Seriously. Take a good long look at this face. It’s blue. And why is that? Why is my face the colour of childish summer skies, frozen computer screens, and musical moons?
It’s because I’m BLUE IN THE FACE telling you that 5-star reviews do not sell books. Stand-alone 5* reviews (rather than bunched together in aggregate, which I admit wield pens of power and therefore refuse to deal with here) are as much of an incentive to readers to buy a book as broccoli yoghurt is to naughty children to behave. They are meaningless: often vapid: frequently regarded as fake, and I have blogged about them so many times that my fingers are weary and my face is blue.
You know what can sell your books, though? A bad review, that’s what. And why is that? Because bad reviews contain 97.5% more useful information than good reviews, that’s why.
A bad review – for the sake of argument, let’s just concentrate on 2* and 3* reviews, here, because 1* reviews have so many of their own problems that they’re on a waiting list for counselling – will generally go out of its way to tell you why it’s bad. It wants to justify itself. It will list at least two things that the reviewer really did not like about the book. And unless your book is truly bad (and if it was, you wouldn’t be here, reading this), it shouldn’t hurt you. Because other readers will not agree with their preferences.
How I Buy Books *
My review sources depend on whether I’m actively or passively seeking something to read.
When I’m passive, I’m reading reviews for the sake of entertainment: as content in its own right. These reviews will either be in newspapers, for big commercial and literary titles, or published by book bloggers online.
But when I’m actively seeking something to read I go to Amazon and GoodReads – which incidentally will also carry the book blogger reviews – browsing with intent, following trails of bright and shiny things.
And after I land on a book, I head straight for the reviews. My eyes will glaze over at the first 5* review. But a 2* or 3* review will grab my attention straight away.
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many books I’ve bought because of 2* and 3* reviews, because it’s too many. With one or two exceptions (generally because a huge proportion of hundreds of reviews were 4* or 5*), I don’t ever buy books on the back of a 5* review.
Here are 10 so-called bad reviews which will actually sell me your book. With some cheap shots at reviewers while I’m at it, because, you know, Me.
- ‘I Hated The Ending, Can’t Understand Why The Author Did That’
Well, now you’ve just gone and forced me to read the damn thing so I can form my own opinion regarding the ending so that I can come back to re-read your review and either agree or disagree with you. Presuming you haven’t also included spoilers in your review, in which case I am already very, very angry with you.
- ‘I’m No Prude, But There Was Too Much Sex/Violence/Blaspheming In This Book For Me’
This reviewer has just told me in one short sentence that we will never meet in a place of public recreation and laugh at something together until we are holding our sides, as we beg each other with many swear words to stop making each other laugh because we are seriously worried that one of us is going to throw up. I hold nothing against them. But we are not destined for a long and fulfilling understanding. And we are not destined to enjoy the same books.
- ‘I Didn’t Like The Main Character, He Didn’t Have To Be So Mean’
I dislike Mary Sues and I detest fictional characters who are nice all the time. Well-meaning and hapless is fine, but actually nice? Ugh. Mine’s an anti-hero, thanks. I’ll take several.
- ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey Was Better For My Money’
Well, your money is no good here, let’s make that quite clear. And this isn’t a genre-specific comment about erotica: this is you saying that any book I hated on every level is better than the book you’ve written this review of. We come from vastly different countries, you and I, and I’m going to buy this book to confirm my suspicions that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. I like feeling smug.
- ‘Not My Cup Of Tea’
If that’s the full and complete extent of your review, you’re not my cup of tea either, so I’ll have what absolutely anyone else is drinking. Ta.
- I Thought It Would Be Like The Author’s Other Books. She Should Stick To Those’
Yes, nobody should ever try to do anything different. That is a most excellent point. Switching genres is a capital crime, everyone knows that, particularly if we like someone’s writing style. I’ll have three generic crime thrillers and a bland romance, please, with a side order of literary inaction. Or not.
- ‘I Didn’t Know This Was A Series. I Hate Series’
- ‘A Corner Of The Cover Was Torn. Very Disappointing’
Stop writing reviews. Seriously. Literally nobody has to hear what you have to say about anything. I admit I am a little concerned that something about this book attracted you enough for you to decide to buy it, but as you’re so fixated on the cover, I’m going to bet that your technologically-challenged loved one asked you to get it for them so it was never destined for you anyway.
- ‘This Book Is So Depressing. Don’t Read It Unless You Want To End Up Miserable’
Well, what if I want to feel depressed? For fictional reasons? As opposed to real ones?
- ‘So Much Swearing. Why Did He Have To Use The F Word So Much?’
Because it’s fucking hilarious when done properly, that’s why. It’s also representative of most of the people I hear on the street on a daily basis, so, you know, reality, etc. On the other hand, the main reason this book upset you wouldn’t upset me in a million years, so, here’s my wallet.
This is why I frequently beg authors to stop freaking out about low-starred reviews. They do not mean what you think they mean. Please believe me… and breathe.
*Before anyone gets upset here about my book buying methods, I do not buy all my books online. I do, however, read the majority of reviews online, after which point I may well enter an independent bookshop and purchase from a list I carry around handily in my notebook. Please don’t beat me.