Sad times: behind the one star review


What are examples of shelves that will be deleted?


From a Goodreads announcement on shelves being deleted from the platform.

So there’s a pretty sad episode going down over in Goodreads land. You may have read about it here. Between scary stalking behaviour and Goodreads needing to specify that the shelf names above are personal attacks on authors it seems the community has gone to a bad place. It also makes me worried about being so open with my identity online, which I do for work anyway.

Here’s the thing. I hate writing negative things about books. I hate it. I don’t want to. For this reason I have only given one book a one star review. But if I write fraudulently glowing reviews of everything I read none of them will be worth anything. Not to me, not to other potential readers and not to authors. I am a writer by trade, I consider my words to be important. I even try to spell them right most of the time, which is more than I can say for some novelists who need to have a stern conversation with their editors.

What I hate most about writing negative reviews is that I can imagine how I would feel if I were that author. It would hurt, I know it. There’s nothing wrong with being “butthurt” as the good people of the internet would phrase it. If you didn’t care you wouldn’t feel butthurt, but what’s the point of doing something you don’t care about?

However. Why should we read authors who make us feel frightened? I read a comment by a reviewer who claimed the author she gave a negative review to went to her town and hit her on the head. What are these authors doing to their business?

The point of this rambling post is to ask you, be you reader, reviewer, author or both, how do you feel about negative reviews? Is there a way in which I can write reviews, positive or negative, to be more productive than hurtful or enraging? Are reviewers or authors actually in jeopardy or is this a big beat up?

Update: This is one of the best responses to the whole debacle I’ve read. 

About Rachel Watts

I am a writer from Perth, Western Australia. My speculative fiction novella Survival will be released in early 2018. View all posts by Rachel Watts

7 responses to “Sad times: behind the one star review

  • Ben Aveling

    Someone once said that the difference between film reviews and restaurant reviews is that a negative review of a film will save people money but a negative review of a restaurant won’t do anyone any good Because there are more restaurants than films, the odds of a review reader randomly going to film in question were high, but the odds of a random reviewer going to the restaurant were low. And therefore, there are reasons to write bad reviews of movies, but not, perhaps, of films. I guess books are somewhere in between.


    • leatherboundpounds

      This is a really good point. Writing a less than favourable book review is so different from panning a film. Does it mean we shouldn’t do it though?


      • Ben Aveling

        I don’t think it does. Maybe one needs to be more careful, more careful to be certain that the criticism being offered is constructive, more careful to be sure that the claims are defensible, a bit more ready to to self-censor anything that isn’t 100% necessary. End of the day, you are reviewing and explaining your experience of the book. I once went to see a movie that I’d been planning to avoid. What changed my mind was a reviewer that hated the movie – but they explained the reasons they didn’t like it, and I decided that for precisely those reasons, I would enjoy the movie, which I did. End of the day you have to be true to yourself and your audience – if you are reviewing because you want to help people find things to read, then stick to books you can give a good rating to because a bad review will not suit your purpose. If you are reviewing because you enjoy engaging with the literature, the ideas, the delivery, then by all means, review anything that goes past, not just for what it is, but for what it could have been. Or, for what it could have been to you.


  • Jane Bryony Rawson

    This whole kerfuffle has made me realise I’ve been using Goodreads wrong all this time. I thought I was reviewing books for the seven people who are both my real-life friends and my Goodreads friends. Why would anyone else read or care about my reviews (except maybe the authors, and then only if they, like me, can only expect to sell a few hundred books so the opinion of a nobody on the internet maybe matters a small amount to them)? Anyway, I now understand it is a hotbed of stalking, intrigue and loathing designed to destroy the careers of authors, bloggers and everyone in between. I suppose I should stop using it.
    But regarding my reviews – I don’t say mean things about other debut/midlist authors’ books even if I don’t like them. I sometimes say mean things about successful authors’ books because no one but my friends will ever read or care about these reviews.
    As a reader, can I just say I don’t think I’ve ever read a review before deciding to read a book. I always go check reviews for a restaurant before I go there, but the risk is so low with a book. Just read it. If you don’t like it, stop. If you’re not sure it’s for you, borrow it from the library. Who cares what other people think about books? They’re not going to give you food poisoning, after all.


    • leatherboundpounds

      If only Goodreads users could use their power for good instead of evil?

      But seriously, the best thing about the site (and about blogging) is the conversation between readers, reviewers and authors. I know authors are advised not to engage with bad reviews, and I understand why, but I can’t see the problem with a more open dialogue provided we can all try to be grown ups about it. That’s true of people who pointlessly pan novels too.

      I’ve actually come to put more stock in Goodreads reviews than on the blurb of the novel, strangely. I’ll still read a book that has less than favourable reviews but if Goodreads users points out an overblown romance plot that dominates the novel (for example) I know I won’t like it.

      One of my favourite blogs is Bad Books, Good Times, which makes a point of reading and giving a chapter by chapter review/mockery of bad books. These are mostly hugely successful authors like EL James. Which I suppose goes to show that just because your novel is struggling to find a cohesive plot with two hands and a torch people will still read, enjoy and turn it into a film franchise.


  • Olivia

    I have read about the ordeal and it is really sad and never should’ve happened. I think the author was out of order, and in this world we should be able to speak freely, so if we are cruel than we can be cruel and easily corrected online. However, there are nicer ways to post one star reviews. I always try to say what was good, what was bad, and ultimately why it wasn’t for me but might be for someone else.

    Check out my review and giveaway:


  • In defence of five star reviews | LEATHERBOUNDPOUNDS

    […] month we spoke about negative book reviews – the one stars. The truth is I give far, far more positive reviews than negative. […]


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