by Kim Kelly



“One star? Seriously? What the flying freckle for?” a fellow author shook her fist at the cyber sky in outrage at having received such a rating on a certain book site recently.

It’s an outrage I share. There should be a special place in the boiling nether regions of eternal darkness for those who give others a cold, dismissive, commentless one-star.

“But some books are total rubbish, deserving of splintered stars, no stars or deep reaching black holes!” I hear a plaintive cry.

And I can’t really agree with that cry. One-stars belong to inanimate, insentient, bloodless pieces of shit, like that cheap and nasty hair straightener you bought online, or the $20 pair of stockings you treated yourself with that got a run in them on the first wear. Or the Federal Budget.

One-stars do not belong on people. Books are people. It usually takes at least a year or two for most books to be written. A year or two of brain-twisting heart and soul. No matter how much you hate that book, it’s a large piece of a person in there.

If you’re a committed misanthropist, then I suppose you could be excused. One-star away in that nether region all of your own: we understand from your rating history that you just can’t help yourself. But it seems to me that most people in the book-reading community aren’t hate-filled grumps. They are thoughtful and curious and generously wondering folks. Of course they are: they read books.     

Oh all right, I suppose there is the odd book that will really give you the pip. You can’t understand how the author, much less the publisher, ever thought it should be let loose in the world. Maybe it does deserve that single star. It probably deserves your silence and ignore far more than anything else if it’s really that bad, but if you must give the one-star, please, please, please, I beg of you this one thing: tell the author why.

Or this might happen to you: when I received a one-star (just the one so far), my own curiosity overrode my pride and I sent a message to the reader asking her why. Oh lordy, the writerly fourth wall had been crossed – what mayhem would ensue! We ended up having quite a nice chat about it, as it turned out, and she raised her one-star to a two, with a bit of an apology for being a crank thrown in. Sweet outcome. But it could have been far worse, of course. She could have given me a private and most jagged piece of her mind. Or I might have lost it myself and unleashed on her.

With the full force of all the nearly twenty years I’ve worked as an editor, caring for other authors’ work, and this past nearly decade I’ve put into my own. I’m a big girl, though. I can handle criticism. Most authors who’ve earned a few stripes actually appreciate criticism plenty and profoundly: it usually means that people are reading their books, and this is a good thing. When one of My Authors (as I call those I’ve edited, as if I remain forever their doting mad aunt) recently copped a one-star with the comment, ‘Terrible. Didn’t like this,’ after the impulse to slap the reader passed, I reflected on My Author’s sales figures and said to myself simply: ‘Heh. Suck it up, trollster.’

But young authors just out of the blocks, or struggling authors, or those skating close to the edge of sanity do not deserve contempt. Ever. And you’ll never know just who the fragile are. It’s usually not written in the blurb. WARNING: THIS ONE WILL HAVE A BREAKDOWN WHEN THE HARSH REALITIES OF THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY HIT, AND THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN NOVEL THIS AUTHOR MIGHT OTHERWISE HAVE WRITTEN WILL BE LOST TO HUMANITY FOR ALL TIME.

So if you must give a one-star, please be kind. If you can’t be kind, please be reasonable. Put a little something of yourself into a review to throw the author a chink of light – something they might use to improve their skill. After all, the author put rather a lot into this book, this gift of themselves to you. Remember that next time your cursor is hovering over those five empty ones in tortured indecision. Fill as many with gold as you can. Too often, it’s the only significant gold that author will ever see.