My First One-Star Rating, Or: The Unintented Problem With Book Giveaways

I got my first one-star rating the other day.

I logged into Goodreads the other morning. Since I’m a Goodreads author, I have access to an Author Dashboard; I can see the stats pertaining to my book, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run, on the top right of my screen. I noticed there was a new rating for my book. This new rating dropped the approval ratings to a little under three-and-a-half-stars.

Uh-oh. This means I got a bad rating.

I scanned the book page to find the culprit…err…new rating. And there it was: A one-star rating.

I wasn’t angry, which surprised me. I was annoyed, not so much by the one-star rating, but by the astonish lack of context behind the review, other than the “I won this book via a Goodreads giveaway” comment. More on that in a moment.

I understand my anthology of blogs, many of which are pretty edgy and contain the kind of foul language that would make stand-ups like Louis C.K. and Dave Attell nod in approval, isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t have a wide market, but then again, neither does my blog. On the flip side, my blog is read by a lot of people, and it has been in its different incarnations on the other platforms its’ been hosted on. I pride myself on crafting a blog post that’s entertaining and thought-provoking, and Out Where the Buses Don’t Run ascribes to that same ethos. Out Where the Buses Don’t Run was inspired by both bloggers I’ve become very close friends with, as well as pop culture essayists like David Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman, whom I admire greatly. So I wondered why this reader, who won a copy of my book through a Goodreads giveaway, gave me such a shitty rating. Better yet, I wondered why she couldn’t be bothered to write a few sentences why she hated my book so much. Was it my vicious takedown of hipsters? Was my ode to the mixtape as a biographic metaphor simply too self-indulgent for her tastes? Was my imagined look into the sexual deviance of Paul McCartney just too disgusting for her? Maybe. A simple “I HATED THIS BOOK. GUS SANCHEZ SHOULD NEVER WRITE AGAIN!” would have sufficed.

I couldn’t resist looking at her profile, to get a better understanding of her literary tastes. She lists the Harry Potter books as her favorites. The Lemony Snicket books, too. Alright, so she prefers YA.

(She also gave Dan Brown’s books favorable ratings. But not mine. THE FUCK?)

Alright, then, so given that she prefers – and forgive me for the crass generalization – more escapist fantasy fiction, why then would she have opted to enter to win a copy of my book, knowing what she knew about my book? See, just before you throw your hat into a Goodreads book giveaway, you can read a synopsis about the book in question. I’ve entered a few giveaways myself. I wouldn’t enter to win a Dan Brown-style conspiracy thriller, or some Sex and the City-regurgitated chick-lit novel. But a lot of people will enter a giveaway just for the sake of winning something for free.

And therein lays the problem with the giveaway. On the one hand, you want to reach out to as many new readers as possible. It’s one thing if your friends get behind you and buy your book; I’m grateful for the support I’ve gotten from my friends, and for the very nice (I’d even say excellent) reviews I’ve received so far. But I’m not interested in just preaching to the choir. I want to reach out to the unconverted masses. That’s the reason why I ran a Goodreads giveaway, and I was ecstatic that my book, even with its topicality and tone, still managed to attract more than 500 entrants.

On the other hand, just how interested are those entrants in your book? Do they really want to read your book, or do they just want something that’s free? Because one thing that’s nagged me to no end is seeing the same people enter giveaways, no matter what the book. I enter a giveaway because I’m interested in reading that book, period. I created a giveaway because I wanted to reach an audience. I didn’t intend for my book to get into the hands of people who entered a giveaway simply just to win a book. That’s shitty. This giveaway wasn’t free for me, after all; it cost me money – no, it didn’t break the bank – to send five copies of my book via the USPS. Two of those copies went overseas. A mistake I’ll never make again. Sorry, friends in the United Kingdom; if you want a copy of my book, I’ll see about getting you a discounted copy somehow.

(A side note: years ago, I used to get free albums from record companies. Simple task, really; all you had to do was get in touch with any record label’s marketing department, concoct some cockamamie story about how you were the entertainment editor for a local newspaper, and they’d send you free CDs. Why the hell not? That’s what marketing and PR departments did. Except that about 80% of what they sent you was crap. At least I thought it was crap. The only reason why I did that was so I could box them all up and take them down to a few used record shops and get some cash for them. I’d get some grocery money for the ones they’d buy, the rest I’d simply donate to the Salvation Army. Why am I telling you this? Because I can understand the “giveaway” mindset when it comes to certain people. Sure, I don’t mind if it’s something I’m really not all that interested in reading, or listening to, as long as it’s free.

Also, I shouldn’t be a hypocrite when it comes to “free.” You know those free App/Book/Song download cards you get from Starbucks? Yeah, I take those. I download those apps. I’ve downloaded several apps that I’ve been using a lot. Like this one called Sky Guide…man, it’s this sweet astronomy app…anyway.)

I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I did what I set out to do with the giveaway, and that was to “reach out to the unconverted masses.” Too bad this one particular reader rejected my message. The truth is, I’d do another Goodreads giveaway.

I’ll close this post with a message to the woman who gave me a one-star rating: no hard feelings. You won the book, and while it did cost me some dough to send you a copy of my book overseas – the winner of the book hails from Northern Ireland, so maybe some of my humor might have been lost in translation? – I’m glad you read my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t to your liking, but I do ask that you find my book a new home. Perhaps your local library, or a used book store? Or a friend with a more perverse sense of humor? 


Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes, and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere is currently available in both paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Get yours today!


41 thoughts on “My First One-Star Rating, Or: The Unintented Problem With Book Giveaways

  1. I can’t totally relate to you, Gus. Some must think that authors have also given away our hearts, therefore, we no longer have one to feel the pain from harsh words, or “few” disheartening words as in your case. So, even though some must believe we don’t have a heart, they must not care that the slug in the gut still doubles us over in pain. Ouch, been there. o_0

    • I’m pretty thick skinned when it comes to criticism. I can take a bad review. I don’t care for the star system that Goodreads employes. I think it allows readers to get away with lazily “reviewing” a book without actually reviewing it, thereby depriving an author of any real criticism. Not that someone like, say, Patricia Cornwell needs it, but for someone fledgling like me, a written review, even a bad one, has real value.

      But, yeah, that one-star rating stung. Totally unmerited, I think. I mean, my book is as bad as what Paris Hilton has (ghost)written???

      • Thick skin can get weak. I can vouch for that. It took a week before I could touch the second book in the series after reading how unhappy someone was. You know, without book one, there’s no book two. Grow skin! Grow. Hang in there, Gus.

        • This book that’s out there is sort of a guinea pig, something I put out there to test the self-publishing waters, and to see what it takes for me to market my own material and myself. It’s been an eye-opening experience, to say the least, but it hasn’t detered me one bit.

  2. I think that a lot of people on GoodReads sign up for giveaways to get free books to sell. One of the copies of my novel ended up on an Amazon storefront that way, which ended up driving down the price of the paperback. I personally won’t do another giveaway on Goodreads, there are book review blogs for specific genres that do those sort of promotions.

    • Wow, I had no idea people were doing that. Not that I think someone would do that with my book, but, yeah, that would absolutely drive me to the brink of violence if someone tried to profit off what I wrote and produced. Food for thought, Misha, thanks for sharing.

      Now I feel really bad for selling all those CDs I got from the record labels just to buy groceries.

      • But on the other hand, people like me bought them at the thrift store and got exposed to some top notch garage bands that way, so at least the music still got to the listener.

        • Yeah, I still buy a lot of my books and CDs and DVDs (and, vice versa, sell the ones I don’t want) at the used book/music stores. It’s a win-win for everyone, I suppose.

  3. Gus, I find this worrying. On Goodreads free giveaway blurb they claim that they check out the people who’ve entered for the giveaway and try and match the book to the reader. They claim it isn’t a lucky dip. So what went wrong? Were they asleep?

    • Hmm…I don’t recall reading anything like that. I assumed the giveaway was all random, the winners simply generated by some computer code.

      It would be nice if GR allowed the author to have a say in the giveaway, but then that would bring about accusations of collusion.

      • Bullett point three under Goodreads giveaways says “Goodreads will collect interest in the book, and select winners at our discretion. Our algorithm uses member data to match interested members with each book.” I understood this to mean that someone reading chick-lit was hardly likely to be offered your book, not out of 500 applicants. Call me stupid but I thought GR were having a say, just like you suggest that it would be good if the author had a say, after all in a bookshop this person probably wouldn’t even go down the shelf with your book on it.

        Just as a gripe I got 1 starred on Kobo…before anyone had even purchased my book! I took issue with Kobo and they commented they did not feel it was right to censure someone’s opinion of my book…Yep..I was angry. Welcome to the 1 star club.

        • I never bothered to read the fine print. I assumed it was all random. In fact, at one point, I thought I would be the one to pick out the winners; I’d done this kind of thing before using, but I thought dropping 500 names into a virtual hat would have been nuts on my behalf. Still, I think it’s a pretty crap way that GR chose winners so indiscriminately.

          Again, I’m not complaining about the one-star rating, but I am wondering what was it that so prompted this reader to dislike my book so much as to give it such a lousy rating.

  4. In a weird way a 1-star review is a badge of honor. It proves your book isn’t for everyone (only for the elite with exquisite taste) and all the reviews weren’t ringers or relatives.

    Plus, if the person had actually written a reasoned and articulate pan then the review would have had some weight. You actually dodged a bullet.

    Good work!

    • I agree, a bad review is a badge of honor. Everyone gets them.

      Still, the masochist in me would have liked to have known WHY she disliked it so much. It would only make me want to prove her wrong the next time around. Of course, that’s a stupid way of going about things, but its’ an excellent way of motivating yourself. Tell me I suck? I’ll prove you otherwise.

  5. I feel your pain 100%! I think many of the people who agreed to read my book weren’t really interested in the kind of book it is, therefore they HATED it. Then they act like the description didn’t do it justice, but it mentions that suicide, panic attacks, college parties and harsh language are all part of the package, so how can that be a surprise to them when they find these things inside the book? Also as an easily reached assumption (in my mind) seeing the description mentions these things, it’s gotta take a lot to get to a place where suicide is your best option, so expect a bumpy road! But no, people expect an easy fluff novel. Hello??

    People should definitely only enter a giveaway if they have an interest in reading the book, period. The same thing applies to asking bloggers to read your novel or giving it away for free, you’re definitely liable to get people who aren’t really interested in the content of your book, like you said, they just want something for free and then they feel “free” haha to shit all over said free book that they weren’t really interested in reading in the first place. BAH. I say, leave it for sale, those that want to actually buy it and read it because they have a genuine interest are the ones who will give the best reviews, be they negative or positive. That’s my new philosophy anyway, after trying all of those things…the giveaways, freebies and sending my book to bloggers.

    • I admit I haven’t finished reading your book yet – I’ve only gotten about 40-50 pages in – but what struck me most was the immediacy of your writing, how you were able to place the reader right inside your mind as you were in the middle of another bout of panic and anxiety. So I know what I’m to expect when I’m reading your book. Hardly a fluff piece. So I’m surprised to hear that some people who agreed to read it reacted so negatively.

      I just can’t stand the whole “if it’s free, I’ll take it” mentality. I couldn’t care less if Burger King were giving away Whoppers; all the money in the world couldn’t get me to wait in line for some of their shit. And there’s no way I’m going to jump through hoops for something free that I’m not interested in. If there’s a book giveaway I’m interested in, I’ll throw my hat in the ring. Otherwise, see ya. But for people to take something for free that they’re really not all that interested in, and then dump all over it as if they paid top dollar for it, well then fuck you and fuck you hard.

  6. As soon as you put anything up for public consumption you are bound to get some crap. Sounds like she just wanted a freebie…like the people standing in the lines running down the street outside the 7-11 here in Boca yesterday to get a free Slurpee. But, since your book went to Ireland, there is a good chance (as you mention) something was lost in the translation.ok

    • I still think it was the former; she wanted a freebie, regardless of the content. After reviewing her bookshelves, there was nothing on her virtual library that suggested she would have been interested in my book, so I think it’s shitty she won something she didn’t really want in the first place.

      Slurpees? Jeez. Some sheeple, I tell you…

  7. Maybe this is narrow-minded, but I think if she gave favorable rating to Dan Brown you can consider all subsequent opinions invalid.

  8. Been there – nothing at all wrong with critisizm … it’s the ones that really don’t speak to the writing just say things like, “what a stupid story” … blah, blah, blah – Online reviews are tough because truthfully, they can be manufactured … generally, however, I do believe that MOST people overlook the bogus reviews as well as the completely out of line ones … (my first book was non-linear – so it skipped from 1972 to 1995 to 1988 etc … someone reviewed it and said they hated stories that jumped around … so why the f did they read it anyway?) Anyway, stay strong … vent on your blog – it helps 🙂

    • I’m completely overlooking the review. I realize my book wasn’t to the reader’s tastes, so there’s nothing I can do to make her change her mind. I’ve gotten my book out there, someone’s read it, and had an opinion, even if it’s unfavorable one. Not all the criticism can be favorable.

  9. (I left this for you on your blog post on GR.)

    Well, for the record, your mix tape entry was pretty bad. Not so much how you wrote it, but the selection of music that you driveled on about was hard to take. For the record, not everyone was in love with INXS you know. Some of us were in to real music. Yeah, I went there. Early Anthrax, pre-douchebag-sellout Metallica, Iron Maiden. Bands that would have taken your fluffy Guns n’ Roses twinks in a severe choke hold, strong enough to drop Axl Rose’s balls.

    Couple of points — you just said it yourself, if you gave a fig about someone who had a library full of material that you respect, then getting a one-star rating would have more merit. But it wasn’t. I’m not saying anything is wrong with YA, but I find people who overlap genres don’t know how to do anything else but rate a book bad.

    Fuck, I did with Robopocalypse.

    But I also found that on occasion I had been a moody reviewer. I actually do this day feel sort of bad reviewing Eve so badly. I was pissed off, I had read a slew of like-books with contrived characters, and I just snapped. Actually, no, the more I think of it, the more I think my review stands. But maybe I should have kept my mouth shut?

    I guess people with their reviewing habits sometimes go on auto-pilot and don’t even think that the author is going to pay attention to what’s going on.

    Lesson learned: Indie writers care. In fact **News Flash! Maritime Warning!!** they care more than any writers out there. They want to see how their writing is carved out in the industry and since they are hitting the ground running, they have more of a connection to readers because they just came from that circle.

    Anyway, I get that you’re irritated for the reason (or lack thereof), but I think you’ve already considered the difference between a 1-star rating from someone who matters with proper, constructive criticism, to that of someone who just daydreaming of a love affair with Robert Pattinson.

    • Exactly. Because we’re indie writers, we’re in charge of distributing our own content, so it’s not like we have a greater say as to who gets to read our work. We want our work distributed to as wide a market as possible, and sometimes that means offering it to people who don’t (or won’t) necessarily read the kind of material we write. That’s the marketing risk we take. Yeah, I was irritated at first, but then I realized the reader got a free copy from me, didn’t care for what she read, and considered the material “garbage.”

      Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

      And thanks for the brutal assessment of my mixtape essay. Remind me to send you a mix CD one of these days, which I hope makes amends for what you think (and I agree) was my shitty taste in music then.

  10. Sorry for the 1 star…that’s a bummer! And the fact that it was given to you by someone who apparently isn’t a fan of the genre (which is 180̊ from the style she DOES lean towards) must surely be annoying! It amazes me that someone would start to read a book…realize it’s ‘not their thing’…BUT they keep reading the book and give it a review based solely on their personal likes and dislikes.

    Yes, that sounds like the ultimate oxymoron when it comes to the notion of a review because we, the authors, want to know how a book affected those who have read our books. But ‘preference’ shouldn’t be the crux of a review…a part of…but not the focal point. That’s why when I do reviews, I have 10 very clear cut things I look for while I’m reading. Of those 10, I’d say about half require that my personal opinion come into play…but the other 5 are pretty straight forward wherein the author either hit the mark or not. And when I read something from a genre I might not care for, I state something like, ‘I don’t typically read books from this genre.’ I think it’s only fair to the author who put a lot of mental sweat equity into a book!

    But enough about that!

    I can see the conundrum of the ‘freebie’ giveaway…when you ‘give away’ (hoping to get a good review in return) what you might get back in return might wind up biting your generous, ‘give away’ hand! However, if you want to get your name and your book ‘out there’ sometimes you simply have to live with the nips (and chomps) of those who don’t understand that it isn’t polite to bite the hand that gave! Mentally their thinking SHOULD be… I won a free book, I actually hate the genre…but I WON! Ok, so, I’ll read it and if I like it, I’ll write a good review. If I don’t like it – I’LL LET IT BE, BECAUSE IT WAS A FREEBIE IN THE FIRST PLACE!! 99% of the population is most likely to follow that line of thought.

    But it’s that annoying 1% that just doesn’t get the concept who drive us insane and make our ratings plummet!

    Good luck as you move forward – hopefully the Lemony perSnickety Potterfiles will avoid your book and you can bring that rating back up!

    Cheers to ya!

    • You nailed my sentiments exactly. I do want to know exactly why this reader didn’t like my book. I know my work isn’t for everyone, so I get it that not everyone is going to like it. But, dammit, I still want to know want to know why. Is that too much to ask?

      Still, I’m not upset about the one-star rating. It’s the reader’s prerogative to either give a book a good review or a bad one.

      Thanks for the kind words, Avery, and thanks for stopping by!

  11. Gus- I learned quite awhile ago that there will always be someone who hates your book – always. I’ve made it my personal goal to write stories that at least the majority of folks who pick it up will like it. And my ultimate goal is – I have to like it. If I can honestly say that I’m happy with what I produced, I don’t care much about what others think. I never respond to a negative review. When I get a positive one, I say thanks.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Kent. I write what I want to read, in the end result. I know there’s a readership for my material; it’s just a matter of finding it, and I’m finding it. So a one-star rating isn’t going to make me lose a lot of sleep at night.

  12. Pingback: Why I Decided to Give My Book Away for Free…And Why I May Regret It | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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