The Psychology of Bad Reviews vectorstock_1117818

*I’m not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV.

Now that my third book, Broken Pieces, is out, I’ve experienced the highest of the highs (contacted by a few publishers to create a print version, several award nominations and an honorable mention, and 5-stars from Midwest Book Review and two Amazon top 10 Hall of Fame reviewers), for which I’m frankly kind of stunned and truly honored.

On the other hand, I’ve been the target of some rather bogus-looking one and two star reviews which, I’ll be honest, suck. More from a practical standpoint than anything else: it’s not the cruel and often outrageous remarks which have nothing at all to do with the writing that hurt as much as how it affects my overall star review ranking, which people glance at quickly prior to purchase.

And believe me, I’m not the only one. I see bogus reviews everywhere, on all types of books – a virus on the organic nature of art. (Please note: valid bad reviews are fine. That’s NOT what we’re discussing here today.)

We are all more inclined to purchase a 4-5 star reviewed book than a 1-star. That’s a fact. Before you think this is another article about authors whining or behaving badly, it’s more a study into the psychology of readers and types of reviews.

Let’s deconstruct.


I did an article recently for, which discusses sites like Fiverr whereby an author can purchase multiples of fake 5-star reviews of their own book, and negative reviews of other authors’ books.

For $5. Yes, really.

After the revelation last year that bestselling authors have done this for a while now (John Locke, anyone?), many authors seemed to jump on the bandwagon to pad their reviews. And here’s the thing: Amazon and other sites have ways to track this stuff:

  • Too many reviews showing up at once is a red flag;
  • Grammatical and spelling errors is another – since many of these companies are overseas;
  • There’s no guarantee you ‘get what you pay for,’ meaning the reviews may come in and go back out just as quickly.
  • Since they don’t read the book, the review is filled with inaccurate fluff (i.e., great book! I loved it! Will recommend to others!).

Psychology: many authors I’ve talked with privately say they see nothing wrong with this practice. What is capitalism after all if not chasing the buck? And if padding their reviews (or hurting another author) will help them pay their rent, who cares? If others are doing it and benefitting, why shouldn’t they? In other words, cheating is acceptable.

This horrifies me not only from an ethical standpoint but also as an author of integrity. Paying for fake reviews shows me they are not writing for the love of the art, but simply to make money. Sure, it’s a great benefit! Don’t get me wrong. But the justification is weak. It also reeks of insecurity. Plus, if you’re looking to sign with an agent or publisher, believe me, they check EVERYTHING.


I love this description from author friend Martha Bourke:

Sometimes I feel like our review pages are like graffiti walls, you know? ‘Come on by if you need to get something off your chest – doesn’t even need to be related to my book. Upset with Proctor & Gamble? Feel free!’

And that describes many of the reviews we get. I recently had someone write a ‘review’ of one of my books they admittedly hadn’t read, and she posted it to complain that the book she thought was free wasn’t at that moment (which is an Amazon customer service issue, not the author’s). I explained that even though I created free days, ultimately it’s up to Amazon what time that day they make the book free.

Psychology: Many people just want to vent, and they choose to use the wrong forum for it. If you have an issue with mistakes or holes in the writing or formatting of a book, fine. Put it in the review. It’s the responsible thing to do. If you just want to bitch, find another venue.

Point is this: buy (or download free if available) the book, review the book. That’s how it works. Save your complaints about Amazon for ya know, Amazon. Or your dog. They are generally very good listeners I’m told.


I’m an avid reader. I read a few books per week on average, and if they’re good, I review them. Not as a favor to anyone; simply out of my desire to pay it forward. I pay for my own books but let’s make this very clear: I’m NOT a reviewer.

It’s important to make this distinction between readers and reviewers for one main reason: reviewers receive books free and their job is to review them. They follow review guidelines. They look for certain things as they read and share their thoughts and opinions with us. There is no guarantee whatsoever of a positive review.

Readers like myself however, and yes, this is a generalization so shoot me, don’t follow any type of formal review guidelines (my only guideline: if it’s god-awful, I won’t leave a review but I will contact the author privately). We write from the gut: did we love the book? Did we fall in love with the characters? Did the author make us feel something? Like that.

Most reviewers I know will rarely give a 1 or 2 star review publicly, preferring instead to work directly with the author or publishing company to give their feedback. Most reviewers know this is how we authors make our living (or supplement our day jobs), whereas many readers leave reviews that would leave them running for cover if someone had written that about them.

Psychology: I’m no shrink, but like the person above in the graffiti section, for whatever reason, people leave poor reviews for well-written, top reviewed books for many reasons:

  • They have an axe to grind with the author
  • They see the author and their books as competition to them or their favorite authors
  • Jealousy (sorry, but someone has to say it)
  • No other outlet in their lives to be judgmental or name call

I always encourage authors NOT to take negative reviews personally. This is one of the biggest lessons any author learns early on. Certainly there can be valid criticism and I love that type of feedback! I’d rather have a 1-star that says ‘I hated the use of tweets to open the chapters!’ than ‘didn’t like it, didn’t read it. Not sure what it’s about’ (and I have more of those than I could share here); or as mentioned above, the judgmental statements about us as people.

Bottom line: humans are judgmental beings. We have to be. We have so much information flying at us every second, we have to decide quickly what is worth our time and what is not.

Our job as authors is to provide the best work possible and then move on. People won’t love it, even if our dog does. Get over it.

What do you think?