Oct 01

Do one star reviews hurt sales? Or “how I spent a morning reading hilarious 50 Shades reviews”

I read an article last week (well, the majority of an article) on top-selling Amazon titles with huge numbers of poor reviews. The article stemmed from the paid reviews scandal headed by John Locke and his ilk, but it got me thinking. Do negative reviews hurt sales? I know when I see a poor review hit for one of my books, I read it thoroughly (while I unscrew the top to the MD 20/20), trying to see something I can improve upon for a future work, or if the dude who left the review was just having a bad day. But I also wonder in the back of my mind if that review could impact future sales. (And then out comes the second bottle of the Mad Dog.)

There are many (myself included) who will start by reading the one-star reviews of a book before deciding to purchase. If they are isolated, unrelated complaints, fine; but if there is a trend, or similar issue, then the book itself might not make the TBR list. One of the most controversial and talked-about best sellers recently has been the 50 Shades series, so I decided to take a peek at the one-stars for the first in the series. You know, to see if they’d hurt sales.

Two hours and a cramp from laughing later, I couldn’t take it anymore. The reviews are scathing, and probably better written than the book itself. And darned if they aren’t downright hilarious. There are currently over FOUR THOUSAND one-star reviews of that first book…and here are some of my favorite snippets (no, I didn’t read all 4,000…I would be undergoing emergency spleen replacement surgery right now):

“I’m convinced the author has a computer macro that she hits to insert one of her limited repertoire of facial expressions whenever she needs one.”

“I feel stupid for reading this book and wish I had spent that ten bucks on socks.”

“If crap had an a$$hole, this would be shooting out of it”

“I want to give this book to someone I hate and tell them it’s awesome. That’s how bad it is.”

“Take Stephenie Meyer’s ham-handed, awkward writing and turn down the “quality” dial about four – maybe five – notches.”

“There’s no plot. I have never actually experienced a book with no plot.”

“My inner-goddess turned fifty shades of crap as I bit my lip and rolled my eyes.”

“Try to imagine of the smell of a large crate full of month-old eggs in the dumpster behind a questionable greasy spoon diner on a muggy, sticky August morning. With a dead skunk on top. And garbage juice dripping onto the pavement. And a drunk guy urinating onto the whole thing. Now imagine rolling in that dumpster. Naked. That’s how this book made me feel.”

“And yes, you don’t drive through Portland to get to Seattle from Vancouver.”

“The redundancy is infuriating. It’s a wonder Ana didn’t gnaw her own lips right off her face or Christians hair didn’t fall out from constantly running his fingers through it.”

“Fifty Shades of Grey is not the first book I’ve thrown across the room – it’s the second – but it is the first book I also kicked after it hit the floor.”

“Ms. Steele and Mr. Grey. Aren’t those clever last names? What were the chances?”

“James has accomplished the unthinkable: making Stephanie Meyer’s writing look worthy of the Pulitzer by comparison”

“Zero stars. I rather read iTunes user agreements.”

And my all-time favorite:

“This is like Ke$ha of literature.”

Feel free to list your fave in the comments section…or hey, to keep me in perpetual cramps, some one-stars from The Casual Vacancy…there seem to be a few. Like outnumbering the five-stars by almost 50%.

I don’t think Ms. James is worried about the one-star reviews; right now, the 50 Shades books occupy the 5th, 6th, and 8th spots in Amazon’s overall Best Sellers for Kindle. So I doubt she’s pulled herself away from making sure to ward off the coming autumn chill by stocking up on royalties invoices and hundred dollar bills for kindling (no Kindle pun intended, but it worked, didn’t it?).

Before anyone rises up and defends popular literature *cough* by saying I’m making fun of the books themselves and how dare I, I’m not. None of these are my reviews; just the ones that others wrote that caught my eye. I’m simply passing on the good word. And wondering if reviews mean anything at all, sales-wise, in the long run.

Oh, and the wife read all three 50 Shades books, and said to me…aloud… “Is this all you have to do to get published??” I think she holds me in less esteem now…


About the author

Steve Umstead

Steve Umstead has been the owner of a Caribbean & Mexico travel company for the past ten+ years, but never forgot his lifelong dream of becoming an author. After a successful stab at National Novel Writing Month, he decided to pursue his dream more vigorously…but hasn’t given up the traveling.
Steve lives in scenic (tongue-in-cheek) New Jersey with his wife, two kids, and several bookshelves full of other authors’ science fiction novels. Gabriel’s Redemption was his debut novel, published in February of 2011.


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  1. C.T. Westing

    I did the same thing a few months back. Lots of laughs. “If crap had an a$$hole, this would be shooting out of it” was by far my favorite. Great post.

  2. kimmydonn

    I LOL’d out at the reviewer who kicked her copy after throwing it across the room. My boss says she has experienced a book with no plot, the OED. hehe. Great little piece and I’m glad you had a good laugh. :)

    1. Steve Umstead

      I’ve thrown a couple myself; never thought about going over and kicking it. I have to remember that one for the future.

  3. William Ockham

    The. Most. Devastating. Review. Ever. [Imagine those words read by William Shatner]

    “I rather read iTunes user agreements”

    1. Steve Umstead

      I was actually torn between that one and the Ke$ha quote…

  4. Chuck Suffel

    Great article! I have to admit that as I was reading it I kept thinking that negative reviews never really hurt blockbusters, be they books, movies, or politicians. The negative reviews can do serious damage to those that exist on the edge of obscurity. And lord knows a couple of positive reviews can change a non-selling book into a blockbuster, if the right person likes it.

  5. Start Your Novel (@StartYourNovel)

    I won’t touch 50 shades with a 50-foot pole (ah, what a clever thing I did there) and I’ll take your post as encouragement to stay the course.

    Thanks for the hilarious snippets, however. I’m sure they’re a lot more entertaining than the material on review.

    A side note on reviews — I always check out the four-star reviews first when I want to see how a book goes down with people. 4-star reviews tend to be fairer, more balanced and typically not as gushing as five-star ones.

  6. Marjorie McAtee

    Irrefutable evidence that negative reviews do not hurt sales. :) I know whenever someone throws a hissy fit about my blog, views skyrocket. It’s almost as if everyone wants to see what all the fuss is about.

  7. AJ Powers

    Oh these are classic reviews! You know, the author may be filthy rich from the sales, but I gotta say if I was wealthy from a book that had reviews like that, I’d be a bit embarrassed still. Haha.

  8. Leah Petersen

    Love those. Did you see this review:


    1. Steve Umstead

      Oh myyyyy…will have to brew up a pot and settle down for that one. Nice.

  9. George Edwards

    She is a brand new author and this is her first publication. It just happens to be wildly popular. I wouldn’t be that hard on her… I’ve read some indy stuff that is bounds worse than the free preview on Amazon.

    Also, it looks as if a lot of reviews can be made using just the free preview. I think some people are hating just to hate. I’m NOT saying that it’s a good book… and I guess that millions she’ll make from it can alleviate hurt feelings… but sometimes one-star reviews of popular things are people projecting their own insecurities.

  10. John Chapman

    I think 50 shades is wonderful stuff. I use it constantly to promote better books as in ‘Unlike 50 Shades, [book name] has a plot and deals with romantic love. You’ll need a box of tissues rather than a barf bag.’

  11. Inion N. Mathair

    I have to say Steve, this was by far my favorite post this month. Well done, take a bow!!! I was offered the book by a friend, who I won’t mention, and refused, soley on bad reviews. Coarse, I live on a budget, so wasting money is something I try to avoid doing. Perhaps there are those, whose curiosity get the best of them, and they take a chance unable to harness that temtation of, “Is it really that bad?, How bad can it be? I’ve known reviewers to be pompous….”

    For me, I will say this, although I do want a hearty reputation that will make me want to purchase a book, I have bought books that’s review reps were less than kind, and found them very good. But as a southerner, and daddy’s girl, I find myself constantly reverting back to his teachings and remember. “If it look’s like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are…”
    To those who bite the bullet and fall prey to their curiosity, I would remind them of this..Curiosity never worked out well for the cat. lol. Coarse I would imagine E.L. James is laughing her way to the bank while the rest of us bite the curiosity bullet big time! Love the post Steve, please keep up with the great ones like this. My favorite by far this month.

  12. william

    The problem is, Amazon is removing legitimate 5-star reviews and allowing fraudulent negative reviews (from competitors, haters, etc.) to remain, and this definitely hurts sales.

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