How 1-star 'bad' reviews can sell books.

I am and always will be a reader first, then a writer.*

goodreadsI love goodreads for two primary reasons. One, because now that I’ve gotten in the habit of almost always listing books that I am reading or listening to, I have a list I can turn to. If I have a vague memory of reading a book and can remember anything about it–its genre, its author [or even part of the author’s name]–I can go to goodreads, search ‘my books’ and find it fairly easily.

Two, goodreads is populated by people who love to read. That’s simple, but it’s also wonderful. Yes, many authors are also there to be ‘available’ to their readers, but that’s just a mere sideshow. The real blood of goodreads is its user-base, people who love books. I can go there and find recommendations for other books to read, follow little rabbit trails to discover new books, and those rabbit trails often go through reviews. I look up a book. I skim a few reviews, and pretty much figure out that it is not my kind of book, it might be my kind of book, or something–

Dadgum, this reviewer is wonderful!

And I start following them.

Today I share one such reviewer with you. I don’t know him. I am not sure how I stumbled across him, except it had to have been as I mentioned above because we don’t seem to have any facebook friends in common, which is pretty telling.

I offer for your reading pleasure: Jason Koivu.

Oh. Will you look at this? He has a website.

Here’s what I can tell you about Jason Koivu, though. When he reviews a book, it’s fun. I may never read the book. It may not be a book that appeals to me. But his reviews almost always do. Have a few snippets!

“Too many static scenes drag on, too many words are wasted in describing plans instead of just enacting them, and too many insignificant actions are pondered upon. Once I even scared myself into thinking I’d accidentally started reading a James Fenimore Cooper!”


“Dave Barry! Dave Barry! Dave Barry! The lame IT guy at my old job kept going on and on about Dave Barry, so of course I wanted nothing to do with him (Either of them, but mostly Barry). How funny could he be, especially since he was being recommended by a mundane white dude who sat simpering and gurgling behind his computer in a closet of an office all day?”


There was a clear and present danger that I wasn’t going to finish this.

I don’t watch soap operas. I used to. I’d get home and General Hospital would be on (Mom was heavily invested in the Luke & Laura saga,) so I got stuck with it. Consequently I know a soap opera when I see one and Clear and Present Danger is a soap opera.

Note: I happened to like A Clear and Present Danger. Which is probably because yes, there was a time when I liked soap operas, and let’s face it, aren’t many nighttime dramas soap operas in dress-up clothes?

I love reading his reviews so I follow him there. I love that the reviews have attitude, have voice. And that last one? It’s a perfect example of why good reviews aren’t reviews that say the book is good. [Authors, really, this is true.] Good reviews tell me enough about the book to let me recognize it might be my kind of book.  So whether he gave that book 1 star or 5 isn’t important. What is important is he said “soap opera” and if I hadn’t already read the book, I might have thought, Huh, never read Tom Clancy before, but I’ve wanted to, maybe this is the one to read.

He actually gave it 3 stars. But my point still stands.

Warning: I’m not a good reviewer. If I say anything it is usually very general, very brief. I don’t want to work hard enough to write a good review. Also, I rank books by a very subjective scale that may have nothing to do with how you would rank them. It’s probably influenced by my mood when I read the book, the age I was at when I read the book [I will give 5 stars to a book I loved at 14 even if I discover it’s really not all that great now, because I loved that book at 14 and I refuse to treat my 14-year-old love that way]. So many things can influence how I feel about a book. My one saving grace is that I am usually clear about that. You will usually know that I gave it 5 stars ‘because,’ especially if my 5 stars are very unlikely to be your 5 stars. I am even more nervous about lower ratings, because I don’t want to say anything that would negatively influence someone from reading a book, because they may love it. When I wrote an honest review of a book saying it wasn’t as good as the previous in the series, but it was still really, really good, and fans would love it? And a friend later said, oh yeah, I never read that after I saw your review because I didn’t want to be disappointed? I can’t stand the pressure. She might have LOVED that book, and I cost that author a sale, and robbed that friend of an awesome reading experience, because I dared say, ‘not quite as good as’ even though I followed up with ‘but fans will love it, I’m so glad I read it, can’t wait for the next.’

Do you read reviews? Do you write them? Do you feel pressure to do them well, or do you just jot down your own disjointed thoughts to help you remember later?

*I want to carve a little space of the reader-pooks on Fridays and try to post something about reading. This sometimes will lead to something about writing, because I can’t totally separate the two. But it will be about reading first. If you’d like to share your own thoughts about reading, your favorite book, anything at all about reading, let me know (planetpooks [at] gmail [dot] com) and if it looks like a good fit, I’ll let you guest post here as room allows.



Filed under Reading, Reading Fridays

4 responses to “How 1-star 'bad' reviews can sell books.

  1. denise

    Sometimes I read reviews on books when I’m not familiar with the author. I’m less likely to buy a book if the review say it has serious formatting or grammatical errors.

    I write reviews all the time. Or, at least, a lot of the time. I’ve recently learned, the hard way, that short and sweet is better and sounds better! I’ve never panned a book–I’d rather not write a review than pan a book–that’s for critics to do, not readers who read of the love of books! That’s how I roll.

    And, his reviews–lmbo!

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