How to Avoid 3 Star (or lower) Reviews

As a Top Reviewer for Amazon, I read and review about five books per week.  Most of them  are Self-Published.  I choose these because they need the reviews more and I want to support the industry.  I start every book with four-stars.  If the book is exceptional in writing style, has engaging characters, and an original plot – I’ll give it Five-stars. So what do I give Three-stars or lower to?

DEAL-BREAKERS (One Star Reviews):
These are problems that keep me from  giving the book less than a 10 page read and setting aside without review.  Sometimes I am  forced to read it to completion to review it and if I do, it will get a one-star review:

1- Formatting Errors: Minor ones are forgivable but major ones are so distracting how can anyone read it?

2- Grammar or Spelling Errors: If in the first 10 pages it has one error, I might forgive it.  But if there are two or more – I won’t continue.

3- Author “Errors” – There are certain “sins” that every writer should know about – (e.g. “Show, don’t tell”; “No Info-dumps”; “Delete Adverbs”; “No redundancies”) and if even one of these is committed, it’s hard for me to continue.  If you are an author, it is your JOB to find out what these rules are – and FOLLOW them!

1- Books that “LIE”:
When a book is well written but fails to fulfill promises, the reader feels robbed.  If a person is special, it is the author’s job to explain why he/she is special.  If people fall in love – there is no love at first site – you must explain why.  Problems do not magically resolve themselves – there needs to be a logical reason for things to turn out well.  And leave no one dangling on the edge of the cliff in the end.  Readers HATE cliffhangers designed so that they’ll buy the next book.

2 - Agenda-Driven Fiction:
When a book preaches to the reader, it becomes didactic and ridiculous.  This goes for Christian Fiction as well as Secular.  Ever read the “Inheritance Cycle” that starts with Eragon? This Secular fiction pushes the reader toward pantheistic worldview and veganism, and gets worse with each book.  “The Golden Compass” is an awesome book, but the series itself becomes more twisted and agenda driven as it progresses.  If you are going to have an agenda in your book – state it from the beginning and put it in your blurb.  This is how you avoid the reviews from readers who say your book is too “Preachy”.  Do not hide your agenda, your reader will feel robbed of a good story because you tried the ‘bait and switch.’

1- Minor Author “Errors” in an otherwise well written book.

2- Occasional Spelling or Grammar Errors in an engaging book – but still enough to be mildly distracting.

3- Formatting Errors that I can live with, but would much rather not.

How to avoid it:
  1. Read!  Read well-reviewed books in your genre and see how they are done.  Read books on “how-to” write in your genre and self-edit your book.  Read books on formatting your e-book.
  2. Edit, proofread, rest, and repeat – at least three or four times on your own.
  3. Get at least four “beta” reads. These eyes on your edited project will help you to see the lies you are telling.  They will see the holes you are leaving and confusing parts you are leaving. Don't do all of them  at once.  Give your book to two beta readers, then take the advice you think is right and do a re-write.  Then send it to the next two and re-write again.  The more beta readers you have, the better.  But don't forget to make corrections as you go so you're not just hearing the same corrections over and over. This is an invaluable step, and only one beta read by your spouse is not enough!
  4. Find a proof-reader/line editor – someone who knows grammar and spelling rules by the droves and is willing to fill your book with red marks.

The Self-published market is filled with mediocrity. And the CHRISTIAN self-pub market is WORSE!  Why? Because Christians believe that God led them to write the book, so everyone should forgive their errors and bless them with praise.  They believe Christians should support each other with good reviews because they are ‘brothers-in-Christ’.  So they become hard-headed and don’t listen to advice.  (And the givers of advice feel the need to tone it down so no one’s feelings get hurt.)  Let’s not mention that they also tend to write agenda-driven fiction and then hide it in the hopes of reaching some long lost sinner who needs saving.  Don’t fall into any of these traps.

Almost every story is a lump of coal.  It needs pressure and time to become a diamond.  Even after it becomes a diamond, it needs polishing, cutting, and setting into jewelry before it becomes wearable.  Do not give your readers a lump of coal – they will throw it in the trash.  If you try to give them an uncut, unpolished diamond – they will wish you’d finished it, because they like it but can’t wear it.  Your story deserves the time and work it takes to become wearable.  Don’t let impatience lead you to three-star and below territory.  Take your time and get the reviews you deserve!


  1. Hey some great advice there.. I'll try to follow it.

  2. Excellent article! Thanks for the practical tips.

  3. Super post, Pauline.

  4. I think this article is great except that I don't believe that a cliffhanger warrants a bad review. After all, many many authors use cliffhangers. George R. R. Martin leaves some big ones at the end of his books. In "Game of Thrones", Eddard has just been killed, Arya is fleeing and a host of other characters are all thrown up in the air until the next book where they go through a bunch and left up in the air. After the third book, Tyrion is fleeing, Catline (sp?) Stark has mysterious returned from the grave after watching her son die which is the last thing we get on that story line and the list goes on and on and on. And I have read nothing but praise for these books and their cliffhangers. In fact, the recent HBO series that follows the first book in the first season ends with cliffhangers that everyone is praising again.

    And the cliffhanger is nothing new. The old serials in the movies had them over and over again. I used to love to watch the 1967 Batman and it had cliffhangers. The Lord of the Rings books has cliffhangers and I know they were one big book broken down but that does not excuse it if a cliffhanger exists.

    Anyway, you might be able to tell that I have a cliffhanger in my book and if that warrants it a bad review so be it. I just don't think of that as a disqualifier. As for many of your other points, I had many back and forths with my editor as she pointed out many of these that needed to be corrected.


  5. I do have another comment. Why is there no love at first sight (site?)? It was love at first sight when I saw my now wife when we were back in college? I am just curious.

    I am not trying to be negative but if we are to follow in the footsteps of those who are published there are many examples of love at first sight (not excluding my own experience) and of cliffhangers in novels that are praised by the critics and fans alike. It just seems that there is one set of rules for an existing published author who can tell the story he/she wants and another set of rules for everyone wanting to be published and that is not fair.


  6. Hi JH - everyone knows the rules of writing are easily bent and there are examples of professionals who break them all. authors who are well known can break all of them and he's considered a genius. but here's the thing ... When you are an indie author starting out you should do your best to stick to the rules. once your famous you cando what you want. a cliffhanger can be done in a good way- the Tolkien novels have satisfying endings each one ENDs even though the journey continues. this is acceptable. Leaving the journey unfinished is good...leaving the protag in a state of peril is not. If you have purposefully left your cliffhanger because you want the reader to buy the next. They will feel robbed.

    Love at first sight doesn't happen. there is attraction at first sight and hopefulness. but until that person fulfills those hopes and returns ithe love it's not love. It is fine for your couple to be immediately attracted Love should be explainable if not the book will read as cheesy. Example - THE PRINCESS BRIDE is about love at first sight that is explained because both characters were lovable.

    I haven't finished your book yet JH I'm about one third thru...if I feel a sense Of completion at the end then your cliffhanger will be done well.

    1. I see your point but it just seems to remind me of when my dad will tell me not to do something because he said it was bad but he did it all the time. LOL!

      As for my book, I hope you enjoy it. On the cliffhanger, I guess we will see. I like it :)

  7. Ugh...sorry y'all I am typing on my mobile - please forgive typos! I tried to edit unsuccessfully...

    1. Gosh I so know what you mean. I am just about to turn off the predicted text because lately it has been predicting the wrong thing and if you don't catch it fast enough your words are alter around and it never seems to be in a good way. And that doesn't even count my fat fingering the wrong letters.


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  9. Hello and thank you for the advise! I was wondering if you ever use grammer software? Is there one you would recommend?