A 1 star review is an ATTACK on a book, apparently

Dylan Saccoccio isn’t happy about a 1 star review he received for his book The Boy and the Peddler of Death (Tales of Onara book 1) on Goodreads. He is offended that someone could be immoral as to leave a 1 star review, which is clearly an attempt to ruin his dreams and hurt him financially.

No, seriously.

That’s the archived page behind that link there. Mr Saccoccio has deleted his comments in response to the offending review, having eventually come to his senses and realised what a mistake he’s made.

“Do not engage.” This advice is given to authors who receive bad reviews. When an author ignores this advice, the results show why it is given. Whether that advice should be considered gospel or not is another matter (I see no problem in thanking a reviewer and politely asking for more detail on why they disliked a book). It is advice Mr Saccoccio should have followed. But, since he didn’t, he has provided both entertainment for us and a cautionary tale.

The offending review, by a user called Cait, is as follows:

This was just…so unnecessarily wordy and pretentious. I just did not enjoy it at all. Which makes me sad because the summary says it’s for fans of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and World of Warcraft. Aka three of my favorite things. So how did I loathe this so entirely from page one? I don’t know.

This seems like a normal enough review. A statement describing what was wrong with it, followed by an opinion, then an expression of expectations disappointed. Short, perhaps, but not mean, and containing no personal attacks or indeed anything out of the ordinary for a brief review of the kind written by someone who is not a professional reviewer.

If that had been that, I suspect it would have had minimal impact on the author’s sales. If it had even been seen, it may have turned one reader off, but left another intrigued. Poor ratings on books don’t always have a negative impact on how willing other readers are to read them.

But the author had to respond. And those responses are both amusing and somehow tragic, and also worthy of commentary.

The first response apologises for “evok[ing] such a horrible response” and asks how Cait came across the review, then continues with this:

I’m an indie author. I work over 100 hours a week to get my books to succeed so that I don’t have to be a slave anymore. This review is not good for my business, so unless your desire is to ruin my dreams, it would mean a great deal if you could remove this review from my work and forget about it. But if it’s your desire to hurt me financially and ruin my business, then it’s understandable why you would post such a harmful review.

Well, kudos for working hard (over 14 hours a day, apparently – which would be all waking hours minus a little time for eating and basic hygiene), but effort does make something immune from criticism. I dare say Uwe Boll worked hard on Bloodrayne, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to opine that it’s the worst movie I ever saw. Nor indeed does stating that I disliked that movie mean I actively desire to undermine Uwe Boll’s source of income.

Saccoccio assumes that the only possible motive for posting a negative review is active dislike of the creator and desire to hurt them financially. Yet Cait merely gave an opinion; she didn’t even say “don’t buy this book” – a relatively tame recommendation I have seen reviewers make, without being accused of attempting to crush an author’s dreams and/or source of income. Saccoccio is clearly overreacting.

In response to this, Cait is pretty mature. She explains it’s not for her personally, and comments that she doesn’t think a single 1 star review by someone who does not have much of a platform is going to have much impact. I agree with her. When considering a new book, I will look at the reviews. If it has more negative reviews than positive, it might influence me. If a negative review is both detailed and well-written, without being rude, then that might influence me. But a simple opinion that is concisely stated would not deter me from, at the very least, looking at the sample. In fact a review like Cait’s might make me more likely to read the sample.

Cait also says this:

I’m not going to remove my review because that would be a lie. I read it, I did not enjoy it, I’m within my rights to say so.

Spot on.

Everyone has a right to an opinion. Everyone has a right to voice that opinion in the appropriate locations – such as their personal blog or a review site like Goodreads. And they have a right to stand by that opinion when it is challenged and when others try to silence it, as Saccoccio did by asking her to remove it.

This, however, seemed to be a kicking off point for a tantrum.

Leaving a 1 star review on a book says much more about what kind of person does such a thing, and then attacks it for being “pretentious,” which is an erroneous statement that is defamation at best.

I love this line. I love the irony in it. I love the unsubstantiated claims implied within it. I love the insinuation that leaving a 1 star review is a window into the reviewer’s soul. The phrase “what kind of person does such a thing” is usually used when referring to some horrific act of cruelty of the kind that gets reported on broadcast television news. It is used about those guilty of animal cruelty or child abuse. Here, though, it is used about a one star review. What kind of person would do such a thing as publicly declare they don’t like a thing? Oh the humanity!

It’s like Yelp, where essentially the only people that use it for negative reviews are those that have nothing better going on in their lives.

Apparently that’s the kind of person who leaves one star reviews: people with lives so empty they don’t have anything else to fill the time. What a sad sad person Cait must be, to be willing to publicly express she didn’t really like a book.

I would’ve rather you got your money back than curse my book with your toxic opinion of it because it’s “in your rights to do so.”

So now apparently “I just did not enjoy it at all” is a toxic opinion.

Do you have empathy? Do you know what it’s like to make something for a living? Are you human? Or do you just look at other people like they’re automatons that you can slander as though your actions don’t manifest consequences?

I don’t know what to say about that. I think it can just speak for itself.

That’s not even the worst, though. This comes from the second response Saccoccio made. Further down there are some truly outrageous statements.

It’s after that post that others start to respond besides just the author and reviewer. Saccoccio responds to one asking him if he’s embarrassed.

And all of you who are taking Cait S’s side, what you’re doing in the bigger picture is waging war on the consciousness of humanity.

That’s right. I’m waging war on the consciousness of humanity because I don’t think an author should be so precious about their work that they become hostile towards someone who posts a fairly mild negative review. But he goes on:

What bothers me is when people that operated at a low level of consciousness defame the work of people that are trying to help humanity, and no one helps humanity better than artists.

So not it’s not just waging war. People who don’t like his book operate at a low level of consciousness. What’s more, criticism of creative works is defamation and it undermines humanity in some way. You can’t criticise art! Art helps humanity and therefore is pure goodness! No matter how pretentious or badly executed it is, apparently.

A poster called Valerie pointed out that Saccoccio’s response was unprofessional and that someone incapable of taking criticism shouldn’t be an author. Does she have a point? Of course not.

You’re immoral for defending this 1 star review.

So now it’s not just Cait who is immoral, it’s anyone who thinks she has a right to post it. Wow.

And then we get to the randomly capitalised words and excessive punctuation:

What is wrong with your POISONED WORLDVIEW where you cannot understand the damage that that [a 1 star review] does???

That’s right. Anyone who thinks a 1 star review isn’t something worth getting in a tantrum over has a POISONED WORLDVIEW. Can’t you understand the damage that it does? Well, frankly, the author’s done more damage here than the reviewer ever did. As I said above, I don’t think individual reviews have much impact, especially once there are a few up. What does have an impact is an author being unprofessional. This one is just acting like a child.

Someone that leaves 1 star reviews on someone’s work who didn’t wrong them, who they’ve never met, that’s IS THE MEASURE OF A BAD PERSON.

Okay, now, mockery aside, this is actually something I want to address.

One thing my mother said many times when I was young – something I suspect a lot of mothers said to a lot of daughters and sons – was “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s something I try to stick by, most of the time. Being mean for the sake of being mean makes the world a meaner place, a place I don’t want to see created.

But without criticism, a creator cannot improve. And without honest opinions, a reader cannot make an informed decision on how to spend their money. Stating an opinion of a creative work is valid – and it’s not necessarily an act of cruelty.

And someone saying “I didn’t like this creative work” doesn’t have any bearing on their opinion of the creator. “I didn’t like this” doesn’t mean “the creator is a stupid poopy face who should never write again”, which seems to be how Saccoccio interpreted it.

I don’t like giving negative reviews. I don’t like making people feel bad. But that doesn’t mean that giving a negative review is an immoral act, and I have been quite happy to give negative reviews of products I have found to be sub-par. Where something is low quality, I think I have a degree of responsibility to help others make informed choices about whether to buy it, because I think it is immoral to stand by and let people be scammed out of their money.

I recently downloaded a collection of short stories onto my Kindle Fire, for free, and found that the stories are badly written by authors whose first language isn’t English and who haven’t hired a proofreader to make sure what’s written is in fact proper English. And it’s awful. Would it be immoral to say as much, in conjunction with giving a one star review? No. Especially since it seems to me that the five star reviews are most likely not genuine.

But also, if leaving a one star review was immoral, why would Goodreads allow it? The star system is just a scale that measures opinion. It’s not hooked up a missile system that launches a rocket at a kitten orphanage every time someone clicks “one star” and sends food to starving children in Africa every time someone clicks “five stars”. It is a measure of opinion. It is not immoral to hold a negative opinion. How could it be immoral to state that negative opinion on a site designed to allow people to state opinions on books?

Anyway, back to the fun quotes.

Passively or actively condoning an individual to leave a 1 Star review on someone’s work and for that author to just accept it is WRONG. It’s like telling someone who just got hit to keep quiet and accept it because it comes with the territory.

That’s right. Stating a negative opinion, or stating support for a negative opinion, is akin to physical abuse.

In response to Cait pointing out that she has offered to add detail to her review and restating that offer along with a new offer to take the review down (presumably because she’s tired of the backlash and nonsense it’s spawned), Saccoccio responds:

NO. I don’t want you to do anything because you’re immoral. Leave this up so that every person henceforth can see ALL OF YOU for what YOU ARE. DESTRUCTIVE to consciousness and humanity.

I think what we have here is a man who has never really been challenged. He can’t take criticism of his work, perhaps because he has no experience of receiving any. He can’t accept that criticism of his work is not a personal attack on him, it’s not motivated by immorality or hatred, and it’s not a statement that someone seeks to act against whatever ideals he has based his book around. He has been sheltered from negativity, and the result is he cannot handle it.In the process of attempting to defend his book, he has made himself look ridiculous, and he has shown exactly what the problem is with responding negatively to a negative review. He started out pompous and indignant, and upon facing opposition he developed a victim complex, insulted and accused his reviewer and those defending her, and spiralled out of control.And he may well have done far more damage to his career than a single one star review could ever have hoped of achieving.

7 thoughts on “A 1 star review is an ATTACK on a book, apparently

  1. I just heard about the whole thing and read the whole conversation – it was ridiculous!
    I think the author didn’t get the memo that readers from Goodreads are free to rate a book whichever they want…just crazy really.

    The author just dig his grave. He should think about a new pseudonym if he plans on writing another book methinks…

    1. You’re right, Paddy. A new pen name might be the only way to rebuild his writing career. Or maybe he’ll be best served pursuing other options for a while.

  2. Would anybody be interested in the flip side of this tale? I got caught up in it too, just for trying to explain it to the Goodreads thread. There were no insults and no threats, just an attempt at reasonable discourse. These people went onto his Goodreads page and Amazon and posted a slew of false one-star reviews, effectively destroying him. I found that quite chilling. I was then banned from Goodreads just for raising the issue with them. In conclusion, it is clear that Mr. Doccoccio was simply a highly-emotional individual in some considerable pain, who was shown no mercy. Perhaps he should’ve let the matter go, but what I saw was totalitarianism, and one of the most disturbing examples of unforgiveness and inhumanity I have ever experienced.

    1. You’re right, it is chilling that reviewers can and do gang up like that. Posting one-star reviews on a book you’ve not read because you don’t like the author is immoral and mobbish. It’s one thing to try to reason with, or justly criticise, an author acting unreasonably, but quite another to then maliciously attempt to sabotage a career by posting false reviews where potential purchasers will definitely see them. A book review should be a review of the book, not the author.

      1. That was exactly my point. Alice. Thank you. For saying it, I was banned. Moreover, none of them seemed to acknowledge what I was saying. I was continually accused of declaring that nobody has the right to leave a genuine negative review – which was completely untrue. There was simply no reasoning with them. i won’t be joining anymore book forums after that.

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