Priceless Lessons Learned from
Scathing 1-Star Reviews on Amazon

image of diamond star

It isn’t hard to write about something you hate.

What’s hard is to do it well.

Hello, my name is Julien Smith, and I have a sickness — I’m absolutely obsessed with 1-star Amazon reviews.

It started with reviews of my book, Trust Agents, but it has since developed into a full-blown addiction.

Now I can’t stop reading them. I seek them out. I even bookmark them.

But here’s the thing: much as they can hurt, those 1-star reviews have made me a better writer. In fact, I suspect it’s one reason I’ve gotten good at writing about things I hate.

Now, you too can learn from 1-star reviews. :) I’ve even packaged a few of them here for your convenience.

These reviews are from books of friends (who I know won’t be offended), but you can definitely seek out your own anytime. In fact, I highly recommend learning from those who offend you.

Sometimes, they offend because what they say is true. Other times, they’re just haters. Either way, it’s an entertaining and educational experience.

Let’s begin …

“This book cured my insomnia.”

[Trust Agents] is “like reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment while munching stale meat” might be the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. It is like the most epic forgotten line from a modern version of Dante’s Inferno.

We could only hope to write something so great. I love this review, even though it’s about me.

Lesson: Go big or go home. People don’t want to hear how bad it is — they want to hear you compare it to the Hindenburg disaster.

In moderation, hyperbole works. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you really feel, especially when there are so many other things competing for your attention.

“Like ‘The Secret’ for Aspergers patients”

This review for Gary Vee’s Crush It! might be my favorite headline I’ve read this year. It made me laugh out loud even though it’s totally gratuitous.

Lesson: The other night I was at my father’s house and a copy of The Power of Now was sitting there on the table, so I picked it up and read about six pages before realizing that it was utter crap.

Yet, as Eckhart Tolle himself points out, millions of others have had their life transformed by what he does.

Look, if what you write works, there will be haters out there, and they can be vocal.

You need to accept this and move on.

In fact, you can polarize on purpose to create these people. It can be good. Better that than bore everyone to death.

More power to Gary, and to you, if you can do this.

“Never heard of Google? Then this book is for you!”

My friend Mitch sent me this book review, which included this great sentence. It does something amazing, which is pretty subtle, but important to know. Check it out.

Lesson: This reviewer uses an amazing sales technique which basically forces you to to agree with him. Everyone’s heard of Google, so obviously this book is for idiots! Well, not exactly.

Good salesmen know that a little yes (especially one as easy as this) can start you on a series of bigger and bigger agreements. It’s like mental sleight of hand to get you to agree.

The way he implicates you in his thinking is a kind of cold reading that works so well, most people don’t know it’s even happening to them.

Why you should learn to write from things you hate

I had a friend named Mike in the early days of podcasting.

I didn’t understand him very well. I saw him as an alarmist. He often got upset about the company we worked for, when I saw no reason to be upset. It bothered me that he was always freaking out about nothing.

But I learned something.

Whenever Mike was upset about something, a few months later, I would become upset about it. When he would rage about a way we were going to get screwed over, sure enough, we would get screwed over a little while later, just as he predicted.

Mike was right, and I began to see his anger as an early warning signal. It was a kind of canary in the coal mine for what would eventually happen.

Something amazing happens when you decide to turn off your jealousy, your insecurities, and your judgement.

Sometimes, we don’t like things because they remind us of ourselves, or because they make us insecure.

But we can’t see clearly until we turn those emotions off

Why does a review make you laugh?

Why does it persuade you?

Or why does it make you angry?

Has your writing ever been criticized? Mine sure has, more than once. I happen to be sensitive as hell about it and you probably are too.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen.

The web brings you closer to those who agree with you and further away from dissenting viewpoints. Therefore, in order to grow, you must actually seek them out.

Why you should seek to polarize

As Gary Vaynerchuk wrote in his new book, the Thank You Economy, you must play to the edges to get any traction on the web.

But that isn’t the only reason — it’s also because it will make your detractors come out — those who disagree with your opinion, find you offensive, or just outright hate you. You will get these people to take notice, to comment or write elsewhere, and then you will pay attention to them.

Then, and only then, will you hear the things you need to hear.

Whether you listen, afterwards, is up to you.

About the Author: Julien Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of Trust Agents, with Chris Brogan. Subscribe to his blog In Over Your Head to learn to be more awesome and productive, one day at a time.

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Reader Comments (51)

  1. says

    No one should be scared of detractors, because it’s only through detractors do you become memorable.

    Somewhere somebody doesn’t like what you do. Stand up to it, call it out. Because then you get the respect of people who think the same way, and respect is far more powerful than nice agreement.

    I’ll forget agreement tomorrow, but I’ll remember respect.

  2. says

    I recently read a book which teaches writers how to improve their writing. The book sold more than one million copies and is in its 30th edition. The author teaches to cut the clutter and edit the flab. I decided to see if he followed his own advice. To my surprise, I noticed he voilated his own advice over 90 times in the first seven chapters alone. People make mistakes, but this instance truly flustered me. I considered writing a review (blog post), but I didn’t because I suspected people would think I’m a d!c# for doing so. I’m reconsidering now.

    • says

      There are 2 kinds of people, thinkers and doers. If you ever see a great thinker that’s also a great doer, you’re looking at an exception.

      • says

        This author’s book sold over one million copies. It’s traditionally published. The author and publishing house had 30 years since first print to polish the book (as the author advises).

        P.S. There are 23 kinds of people…thinkers, doers, and exceptional Third Tribers.

  3. says

    This is so in line with what I have been going through lately. It seems when you have something good to say it will either make someone happy or irritate somebody else who has not thought of it. Luckily for bloggers we have this little button that says ‘Mark as Spam.’ It kind of makes you feel powerful, but when you get as far as Amazon you better get your back up.

  4. says

    The solution is to become our own enemies (actually, I just posted about this on my blog). If you hate yourself, you can find a lot of mistakes in your work you never seen before. That’s how you perfect your art.

  5. says

    My all-time favorite is headline from a critical user review of what’s supposedly a higher-end steak place: “Ribeye was tough as shoe leather, but not as juicy.”

  6. says

    It is said that a diamond is made under pressure; a clear diamond has been under severe pressure. Bad reviews and critics bring pressure in my life to get better and better and teaches me NOT to compare myself and compete with others. When we compete with ourselves, there is no limit and our lives will be so crystallized that everybody can look at it and see marvelous and great things about themselves. So, let’s invite the pressure?? hmm yeah..

  7. says

    On my book and comic review site, I only write about the stuff I consider good reads. Reading this makes me want to play devil’s advocate, though, and see what I don’t like about the books I read.

    I’d love to see more articles about reviews here on Copyblogger — specifically, on how to write a review. I’ve been trying lots of different things, but I’d really like to know what your take on it is.

  8. Chris Haddad says

    Whenever considering a product, my wife and I have taken to reading the negative reviews first. Our mentality is “if these folks are getting so upset over something I see as small or a non-issue, then this product will fit my needs”.

    Negative reviews also add some authenticity to a product. I can’t trust a product that only has glowing reviews, and would be extremely hesitant to purchasing.

  9. says

    For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed reading “Trust Agents”.

    On my own book, I have one 1-star review from someone who felt that the content of the book could already be found in several places “already on the web”. I chalked him up to having a case of “NothingNewUnderTheSun-Itis” I know that if you searched for hours and hours and spent weeks of your time scouring the internet, you might find the same points I talk about.. But if I can save you that time so you can focus it on growing your business, it’s worth it to me (and others who agree!)

    Personally, I learned more from the couple of 3 star reviews. They told me what I did well, and what I can do better.

    • says

      Exactly what I was thinking though. One star reviews may be a ‘fun’ read, and might be from people who are ‘too pissed to piss/think straight’…

      The 3star reviews on the other hand, that’s just too balanced to not owe a very attentive read.
      But Julien, man, you love to take sides, and stay on the fringes of the spectrum…aNNYY spectrum! This makes you, you, I guess.

      Rock on! I hate you all. 😛

  10. says

    I think that some of the biggest (and best) changes I have made for my blog have been as a result of a criticism I received via comments or social media. There’s a difference between straight up haters vs. people who have a negative reaction to something you do that holds a valuable lesson within it. You just have to be able to find that lesson while not getting your feelings hurt.

  11. says

    More than anything, I now want a blog that aggregates the best of the worst (i.e., most cuttingly hilarious) Amazon reviews.

    Tumblr-heads, get on this.

    Oh, and nice work, Julien. As always. :-)

  12. says

    I follow 1 star reviews as well, but I would completely dismiss the opinion of someone who doesn’t appreciate Crime and Punishment ! Of course, I’m not a writer and I’m aware of the fact that not everyone’s a snob like me…
    I don’t trust (sic!) these new books for curing insomnia anyway, it’s best to use old verified methods and read a few pages of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, my father says it works like a charm.

    • says

      I know, right? Crime and Punishment is one of my all time favorites. That guy proved his dumbassery while ridiculing the work of someone else. Triple fail.

  13. says

    One star reviews can also be studied to figure out what you want to include in your marketing material.

    They let you put your finger on the pulse of what people hate about products in your niche. So when you’re building your service or product,you do everything you can to leave out the stuff that annoys people. And as a bonus you’re getting all of their emotional hot button words they use that you can include in your copy to express you’re the solution these horrid experiences.

    And on the flip side, the five star reviews give you all the positive emotional hot button phrases and terms to include in your marketing.

    Wish I could take full credit for coming up with this concept but I got it from Jay Abraham way back in 2006. And I’ve been grateful to have at my fingertips ever since.

    Love Julien’s writing style by the way! His blog kicks some serious ass!

  14. says

    Well, after the mastering the art of not giving a FU**, as was the subject of your latest post, I can see why you would want to seek out those who try to ridicule and criticize you. Your middle finger is strong and your pen mighty. That, or your a thrill seeking junkie with a glutton for punishment.

    Dig your style, keep fighting the good fight!

  15. says

    You had me until the end, and then we diverge, Julien.

    I think it’s fine to read the 1 star reviews other people get. For fun, for kicks, to feel sorry for them.

    But you’re own? Avoid like the plague. You will learn nothing but self-doubt.

      • says

        Hah. The glories of technology.

        Julien is far less plagued by self-doubt than I am. I don’t read my bad press, it makes me stupid and ineffective. I get more value out of doing more of what I’m really good at (and doing more for the people who dig my stuff).

    • says

      I may have to respectfully disagree with the great Seth Godin here. I find reading negative comments almost cathartic. It’s Amazon, not the New York Times. In fact, I recently had someone write on my blog that I was the “problem with America”. It didn’t give me any self-doubt, I just laughed about it and moved on.

      Keyboards are like alcohol to some people. They give people a false sense of confidence and make them feel like they’re simultaneously the smartest and strongest. You can either get really angry trying to convince them they’re wrong, or just brush their useless opinions off and laugh at them when they faceplant into a bush.

      All that being said, I think you are a very wise and handsome man.

  16. says


    No 1 star review for you on this post. This is 5 Star all the way baby. You made a great point and it was amusing as hell!

    Thanks for a great post. Hopefully next time you will really stink up the joint so I can give you a proper 1 star review (and better myself).

    Until next time…

  17. SlowX says

    Yet some 4- or 5-star reviews just fawn over how much they love the book, but the 1- and 2-star reviews (or the better ones, at least) have reasons and explanations. So I often get more info from the “bad” reviews, or at least get a feel as to why they’re not all 4- and 5-star reviews.

    My favorite was a 1-star review for book written by British person. The reviewer hated it because it used British slang and references. It was if the reviewer said “I can’t translate from Tesco to Wegmans, but otherwise it’s an awesome book.” I bought the book, and it’s awesome.

  18. says


    Listening acutely to customers is such a novel idea, leave it to a talented writer to sum it up so well.

    Customers are great at telling businesses what they want and how they want it delivered. Always a bad idea for the business to fail to listen. Listening to and then correcting, to the customer’s satisfaction, any service complaints is a great shortcut for businesses to build brand ambassadors and a sustainable competitive advantage.

  19. says

    Thank you, Julien. This brought to mind a tweet I wrote the other day. Essentially, I want to be fearless in writing. But, not so thick-skinned that some things don’t get through. I still want to be appropriately offended by a few choice comments – those that will help me write better.

    • says

      All the best writers I know have plenty of thin spots in their skin. Some kinds of criticism they learn to laugh off, but I think you’re right, when you get too thick-skinned you lose something valuable.

  20. says

    I learned that the moment you put your content out there – you polarize. Unless it’s some fluffy-pleeeease-everybody-like-me-stuff. Although – they polarize too… I don’t like ’em. 😉

    When there is nobody who says your stuff is aweful – you are doing something wrong.

    It proves that your content is vivid – and alive when you get dissed… 😉

    You just got to learn not to believe a single word the haters say… 😉

    Thanks for the great article!


  21. says

    Hi. la. ri. us. Julien you have an awesome sensibility. I want to play quarters with you and Andrew B. and Brian (dumbassery is my new favorite word).

    One thing though, is to be mindful of not breaking an arm patting ones self on the back because so many people criticize one’s writing. Maybe the writing and the person’s ideas really are terrible.

  22. says

    Great Post, Julien.

    We should always welcome feedback. It means someone is reading/listening and cares enough to respond. In balance though, we need to hold those who respond with the one’s and the five’s, close to our hearts, and we must worry about the three’s who remained unmoved.

  23. says

    I agree, 1 star reviews are often funny. Some have good points but some obviously missed who the book was supposed to be for and shouldn’t have read it in the first place.

  24. says

    Great post — and very true. I’ve written about 40 books under three pen names that I never shared wtih anyone. My best friend — who is now my writing partner for non-fiction books, journalist David Coursey — was teasing me one day about not telling him the pen name. Standing in a bookstore, in front of a table filled with my latest fantasy novel (a best seller), David picked one up and said, “Well, at least I know you’re not (the pen name). You’d never let them publish your work in a cover like that.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry all the way to the bank, so I just said mildly that most writers don’t get veto power on the bookcovers. But I made sure that every contract I’ve signed since then HAS given me veto power on cover art. Now I won’t have to cringe if he ever does figure out the pen names!

    P.S. Trust Agent’s didn’t put me to sleep — I read it in a single sitting. OK, I was on a plane to New Zealand at the time, but still…that review was a bit mean spirited.

  25. says

    If you don’t have any haters, then you’re not significant enough. So by having haters, you actually have an indication you’re getting somewhere :)

    Although you do need to have confidence in yourself to be able to handle those negative remarks. Don’t just shrug them off, but learn from them too. Great points Julien (and great book btw).

  26. says

    This is possibly the best-of-all-time blog post I’ve ever read. It’s got a ton of insight, a boatload of humor, a sprinkle of crapola (just for flavor), and a heavy dose of realistic and powerful advice. It’s all doable, usable, and was a joy to read.

    Good for you, Julien. One. Awesome. Post. Seriously.

    I did miss the cussing, though. Dammit.

  27. says

    Cool. It’s just like looking at someone who is making mistakes, you learn from them. That is the same from not liking a book. Reading a book you don’t like, you’ll actually learn a lot about yourself and improve on things. Thanks for the post..really great.

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