Wednesday 28 September 2016


Yeah, yeah, shock horror, water is wet.

But browsing Goodreads I found quite an impressive numerical example.

Pat Rothfuss has written two of the most successful works of Epic Fantasy of all time. They have shockingly high average ratings on Goodreads. 4.55 and 4.57 respectively. It should be noted that average ratings decline sharply over a book's first few thousand ratings and tend to bottom out around 20,000, so you will find plenty of books with 50 ratings and a 4.5 average. Rather few with 500 ratings and a 4.5 average, and almost none (outside YA fiction) with 5,000+ ratings and an average of better than 4.5. And Rothfuss's books have 370,000 & 240,000 ratings respectively.

These are hugely lauded and commercial books. One in one hundred of the ratings given to these books are 1*.

And yet, if you look at the most liked reviews:

The clear message here is that if you want attention for your review, hate something. We are, as a species, more interested in seeing someone insult and belittle something than in praising or lauding it. We are more motivated to 'like' negative reviews. We are more moved to seek out and support opinions about things we did not like than about things we did like.

Water is wet.

Don't drown.

Join my 3-emails-a-year mailing list.


  1. I disagree with your conclusion, Mark. Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist, but there is another possible explanation for what you noticed. That those who thrive on negativity have a bigger propensity to band together, feeding on each other's bile, while the rest of us are content with reading reasonable reviews and then enjoying reading the books themselves, without the drama.

  2. I know all about that, working in retail. :-(

  3. My book has one 5 star review on Goodreads and that is it. Even though I have sold nearly 30 copies on Amazon...where it also has one review, by the same person!

  4. I don't think that it's necessarily that people enjoy negativity, so much as those who feel underrepresented tend to be the most vocal and supportive of those who share their views. When you think something is shit, and you see legions of people lauding it as brilliant, I think it's only natural to throw your lot in full force with those who see things as you do.

    Pat Rothfuss is a very good writer, though not without flaws. Whether or not the KKC (unfortunate initials btw) deserves its 5 star rating depends, to me at least, in large part upon the conclusion of book 3 and whether or not Kvothe is really an unreliable narrator (as many suspect) or simply the most over the top (albeit well written) example of a Mary Sue in years.

    If you look at Chris Paolini's page you will see a similar phenomenon. An overall high(ish) rating, but the most liked reviews all call Eragon out as the borderline-plagiarist crap that it is. He took the plot of Star Wars, pasted it over Tolkien's world, and outsold every other fantasy author of his publishing "generation". As a discerning reader, it can be very frustrating seeing dozens of reviews pop up that all expound upon how brilliant and unique Eragon is. So of course, when I see a review that calls it like it is, that is the one I am going to "like".

    Not, btw, that I'm comparing Rothfuss to Paolini. As I said before, I think Rothfuss is a very good writer. But there are some aspects of his work that I could see alienating more discerning fantasy fans (the crowd at, for example). I think he also has an attitude problem that puts a lot of people off. This shouldn't affect the ratings of his work as a writer, but it probably does. One thing I notice is that in every other interview he gives he finds a way to bring up J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter in some way that presents it as inferior or childish compared with his own work. When you consider the juvenile second act in TWMF and the fact that Ambrose is basically a carbon copy of Draco Malfoy, this sort of superiority comes off as unearned. Compare this with George R.R. Martin's relatively innocent joke about Rowling having "his hugo" a couple years back, and the disproportionate amount of shit he took for it by the fans.

  5. I often write reviews for the books I absolutely enjoy and for the ones that I absolutely loathe. I always try to give the author some sort of star rating. It's hard for me to write about something that screams mediocrity and leaving 2-4 stars feels appropriate.

    When it comes to the negative reviews, it has to be BAD. IE some of those Chinese books that have made there way onto Amazon and are almost illegible bad and the review is more of a warning to others not to waste their money.

    If someone, takes the time to write 300+ pages and turns those 300+ into a story. They have accomplished what some 95% of Americas (hard to find world stats for this) have not. That deserves at least a couple stars and should not in any way be grouped with an illegible mess.

    Now-a-days people can harass someone online via gaming or reviews anonymously with little or no repercussions while at the same time if you offend someone publicly you will probably lose fans and your job. Anymore shame rating seems like the only way someone can "act a fool" so no wonder there are so many negative ratings.

    Trolls are out there and they feed off each other. Each one masticateing on the others negative thoughts building a cesspool of bile and regurgitated ideas.

    So yes and no. I agree that Trolls are those people who thrive on the belittlement of others greatness. While most of us still believe good books get good reviews.