Perspective on Unhelpful Criticism

Sadly, this is true.  There are a lot of people out there who don’t read the description of the book they are buying.  This means that when you get the reviews from people who complain about a factor you already warned them about in the description, it will unjustly bring down your average star rating.

For example, I see 1-star reviews like this a lot on books that are clearly labeled as short stories in the description, “Nice story but too short” or “Didn’t realize it was a short story.”

Or…  “I didn’t realize this wasn’t suitable for children” when the author specifically put in the description “Intended for adults due to violent content.”

There’s nothing we can do about this except hope the people reading the reviews will look at the description and realize that the reviewer had been warned about the thing they complained about.  And don’t be surprised if you get emails from people who make the same complaints.  You could have “short stories” plastered all over your website or blog and get the email saying, “I didn’t realize you wrote stories that are short.” Or you could have a header on your blog with a man in a dark coat with blood dripping from his fingers and “Horror Author” written in red and get an email saying, “I don’t think your violent content is appropriate.”

So what’s the solution?  Personally, I ignore these types of emails.  What’s the point?  You’ve disclosed it to them.  It’s not your fault they either don’t get it or don’t want to get it.

But one thing I’m sure about (and this where my stubborn nature creeps in): I am not changing the way I write my books or their length just because they don’t like the way I handle it.  I went into self-publishing so I wouldn’t have someone telling me what to do with my books.  I went into this for full creative control.  I think most self-published authors went into it for the same reason.  If there’s nothing else I’ve learned from all the emails and reviews I’ve gotten (and studying other authors’ reviews), it’s that for everyone who hates something about our work, there is someone else who will love it.

In the end, what matters is whether you are happy with your book.  This means you take pride in your work and make it the very best it can be.  This means you will read your book in the future and think, “I’m so glad I wrote that story.” When you can be your own most enthusiastic reader, your book is exactly as it should be, regardless of what others say about it.  This is why self-publishing is the best choice for a lot of authors.  We can write the books we’re most passionate about the way it’s supposed to be.  😀

*steps off soapbox*



  1. AMEN!!! And if your book/story is free or reduced, it’s even worse! People are in such a hurry to “grab a deal” they don’t even look at what they’re grabbing… it’s nuts!

    1. Sometime I wonder if people even bother to read the free preview of books they buy as well.

      Personally, I can tell if I am going to like a book by 2 things: Reading the blurb and – Looking at the first few paragraphs. If I can’t take the opening paragraphs chances are I won’t like the story. I think the interment makes people impulsive.

      But I’ve had this experience with a fantasy – Well sci-fi story I wrote. The person didn’t read the blurb.

      1. I wish they would read the free preview. That’s why it’s there. Like you, within a few paragraphs, I can tell if it’s a book that will interest me. I don’t know why so many people think they have to “suffer” through a book to finish it. I don’t have that kind of time.

        It’s not fair to authors when people don’t take the time to read the blurb and turn around to give the book a low rating. Sadly, there’s no way to stop it from happening.

    2. I agree. I think people click the “buy” button on the free or reduced priced books without paying attention. They probably figure, they’ll dive into the book later and find out what they got.

    3. I thought I answered your comment, but I don’t see my reply anywhere. 😦

      I agree. The free or reduced books do get hit the hardest, and I think it’s because it’s so easy to click and get the book downloaded to your device. While there aren’t any risks in doing so, I wish people would think about whether or not they ever want to read the book or realize it wasn’t the kind of book they would usually be interested in (which would alter their perception of it).

      1. Oh, I see my reply now. LOL Don’t mind me. It’s been one of those days. 😀

  2. If someone doesn’t read the description before they buy something, that’s their problem, not yours!

  3. M T McGuire says:

    That is just a top post. Tip top. There will always be the Daily Mail reader types out there who seem to gravitate towards things that will offend them and read them just so that they can be offended. I’m way off your demographic, I write fantasy but I really enjoy the sound sense you talk on this blog. You have put that so well and so tactfully… so now I don’t have to!

    Nice one.



    1. Thanks, MTM. 😀

      I agree. There has to be a segment of society that wants to spend time reading things they know they won’t like. Some people love drama and seek it.

  4. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Great post! I’m always careful to clearly mark adult content or the style of the book I’m writing. It’s not because I think it’ll stop silly people from writing silly things, it’s just so I personally know I’ve made it clear, and I can dismiss any stupid comments 🙂

    Thanks for sharing Ruth!


    1. Also, you have the benefit of letting people who do take the time to read the description know that the person who unfairly reviewed your book was wrong. That’s the only reason I bother to add disclaimers. We might not be able to stop people from giving us these kinds of reviews, but we can let other people take a look at what is going on and see the situation for what it is.

      1. Rohan 7 Things says:

        Yes good point!


  5. Is this a symptom of cheap eBooks – people no longer consider their purchases before buying them?

    1. I don’t think it’s that so much as instant gratification. People are used to getting something right away, so they no longer bother to take the time to read through the description and check out the sample. They hurry through and click the purchase button. I do see how free and cheap books make that behavior easier, though. I think another factor is people go to the lists and click whatever cover or title they see that attracts them. Since it’s on a list, it’s easier to find, and the story really could be good, but they later realize it’s not their kind of story (ex. swearing might be in it or it’s not a certain length they prefer). I don’t know how many 1-star reviews I’ve seen where the reviewer said they liked the book but didn’t like the length, and I’ve seen that even on the traditionally published books which are priced higher.

  6. Tasha Turner says:

    I wonder if putting the blurb and warnings at the beginning of the book – 1st thing the readers sees when they open the book would help. As a reader who has downloaded a lot of content its rare for me to remember the book blurb and warnings. Before leaving a review with complaints about language/violence/sex I do go back and reread the book blurb. I’m a writer also so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit after reading negative reviews and talking with people on Goodreads in general discussions.

    1. I don’t know if it would make a difference. I have put in a disclaimer right before chapter one that states two books previously published through a vanity press have been combined and placed into the book that they are now reading. And I still get people who email me and ask about those two vanity press books. I’m beginning to think that most people don’t start reading until they see “Chapter 1” in the book.

  7. Oh, I just HAVE to share my two one-star reviews on B & N. Haunted Lake has a solid four-star average, so I can laugh at this. I really suspect these two reviews were written by the same person. The good thing is people checked them as unhelpful. Here they are for a good laugh:


    Another DUMB book !!!!
    How dumb…and I am even dumber for having wasted my time and money on reading this. Buy a Coca-Cola instead…you’ll get more kick and enjoyment out of it and your money’s worth !!!

    1. That has to be one of the worst reviews I’ve ever seen. They probably are written by the same person. You know, if someone doesn’t like the book, why can’t they state why in a way that shows they actually read the book and can be objective about it? I don’t get the need for the snarky comments like the whole Coke thing. That shows a huge lack of professionalism. (And you’re probably right about it being from the same person. The wording is too similar.

      1. And what was with all those symbols in the first review? LOL

        1. Okay. Those symbols were funny because it made it look like the person had no idea where things were on the keyboard, Nook or whatever she used to write the review. LOL My guess is she didn’t want to look like the Coke person, but who knows with the way some people think?

          Thanks for the good laugh. I needed it after a trying day. 😀

  8. I can handle a bad review, but there’s a difference between an honest bad review and a straight-out nasty one!

    1. Yes, exactly. A bad review that is well thought out and void of emotion is one that is worth having. Those are the kinds that I can see being a benefit to a prospective reader. But something like “buy a Coke instead” tells the prospective reader nothing about why the book wasn’t worth reading.

  9. I received a scathing review because my book cost too much and there wasn’t enough sex. The reviewer got the book free. I lowered my price later. In her review, she mentioned she would have given it a much higher rating if it were cheaper. I am sure no one read past the one star rating.

    1. Good grief! Those reviews with the “if it was cheaper…” make me cringe. I’m not opposed to books with bargain prices or free books, but I don’t know why that should even be brought up in a review. It has nothing to do with the content. As for the sex, that’s also a ridiculous point to criticize a book for, whether it’s there or not. I wish people would focus on the actual story.

  10. Hi,

    Apologies for posting this comment here, but you’ve (understandably) closed comments on the Jamie McGuire post. I am writing to ask for your permission to repost your blog on my website. We are a team of writers who work through Elance, however, many of us are also published authors. We have a good following of writers whom I’d like to get the word out to – with your permission.

    I will, of course, link back to your blog and website and if you like, write a little bio about you.

    Thank you,

    1. I’m fine if you want to post the blog. A simple link is fine. I just hope no one thinks I know for sure what happened. It’s just speculation, but I do think the possibility is there that this won’t be an isolated incident in the future. I’m not saying it would ever happen again. It’s just one of those things I never thought would happen and it did. it makes me wonder what would I do if something similar happened to me. (I hope that makes sense.) I’m the kind of person who tries to prepare for the unexpected. 😀

  11. dm yates says:

    I agree totally with you. That’s why I’m self-published – to write what I want in the style I want. I also agree that many get books without taking time to read the descriptions. there’s just no way to please everyone anyway. Great post.

    1. I think the hardest hurdle we face as authors is getting over the need to please everyone. It’s not possible, and yet it seems to be something we strive for. I’m with you on self-publishing. It’s nice to write what you want in your own style.

  12. Thanks for a good take on the topic of readers should know what they are reading, I have a funny story on the topic. I checked out a historical romance for the first time in many years from the library just because I liked the title. Back in the day when I used to read them, bodice rippers were a lot less graphic. The book now in question featured a character named Lord X, where X was also the last name of an older lady friend of mine. I was only 1/3 through the book when my friend became very ill and home-bound. I thought to cheer her up and sent her the book via Amazon with the note, “I’m hoping you will like this book, because it reminds me of you!” Imagine my horror when just a few pages further I started running into the most graphic sex scenes I had read in my life. The story was really good, but I couldn’t imagine what my friend thought of my comment. She laughed later and said her late husband could have given Lord X a run for his money!

    1. ROFL That’s so funny! I love her comment about her husband. 😀

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