May 7, 2023

One of the most instructive pieces of research a marketer or copywriter can do is to study 5-star and 1-star reviews on Amazon for the books their core audience is reading.

It’s one of the best ways (in addition to joining forums and groups where your customers and prospects hang out) to get into the conversations going on in their heads…and ones they might be willing to share with a broader audience…maybe even with you.

And more importantly, you can get a better idea of how to communicate with your audience…both figuratively and literally.

As Gene Schwartz so aptly said:

There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.

But I have another use for those 1-star reviews that is a little more personal for me…and maybe for you too?

I love my 5-star reviews as much as the next author…but it is the 1-star reviews (if they are written as constructive criticism rather than a rant against you and your family) we learn the most from…and I maintain you will too.

And if you don’t have a book on Amazon getting reviews, reviews about you and your work are getable everywhere…but you must seek them out…especially the bad ones.

The purpose is not to defend ourselves against bad reviews or to make the case that others are wrong.

On the contrary, we need to take them to heart and learn something from all of the “disdain.”

Again, as long as they—and you—can disagree without being disagreeable.

It sounds counterintuitive to give strangers this kind of platform…but once they have one (e.g., Amazon), and you can hear it, why not begin with believing them…for starters.

Trust me…there is a huge upside to this exercise.

As I mentioned above, this goes for “reviews” of you or your work anywhere…Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on opinions (although it seems like they have a monopoly on everything else). 🙂

Have you ever heard of Facebook? LinkedIn? Instagram?

Believe it or not, there are equivalents to 1-star reviews there as well.

Or at your dinner table at Thanksgiving.

So, if I’m not going to defend myself against these criticisms or make these people wrong, what is the payoff by dwelling on my 1-star reviews?

I’ve got a few reasons:

  • To get a completely different perspective from what all the “fans” are saying. Fans are easy to attract since many are friends and they would give you 4 or 5 stars no matter what. It’s rewarding but not always the truth. Reading only your positive press will get you into trouble. Read this for proof of that.
  • Reading and analyzing 1-star reviews (assuming they are not nasty for nasty’s sake), is a cathartic experience. Because they are raw and real, I take them all at face value, I assume they are true, rather than “they don’t know what they are talking about.” Kind of like never saying “yeah but” when you are sitting on a hot seat. You must shut up and read (or listen).
  • If you don’t have haters, you’re probably not pushing the envelope enough. Love your haters.
  • It’s always a lesson in a life of continuous learning …because even if some of the criticism is unjustified (in your opinion at least), by simply taking it in and processing (even the sometimes-hurtful words), it can create epiphanies.
  • And most importantly, reading and listening to the bad news (both from strangers and friends) keeps you humble. That’s why your real friends always tell you the truth with love never leaving the room. Of course, 1-star reviewers who are strangers might have less love in their heart for you. But staying grounded is the key. Spend time reading your positive reviews for grins while you are hearing what the naysayers are saying as well.

The first time I did this exercise three years ago, there were five (5) 1-star reviews (out of around 150) for my book Overdeliver.

Today there are now double the number of total reviews—310 to be exact—and the total of haters is now six (6).

Did embracing the first five get rid of the hate and only one more person had something negative to say after that? Not sure.

Here are 6 of my “best friends” (who I have never met)…and what they had to say about Overdeliver:

  1. “Grandpa’s Advice to a Teenager” (from “Tim”)

While I try to avoid “Grandpa syndrome” in all of my writing (and I bring it up often)—that “I am not the wise sensei telling my young grasshoppers what to do”–I loved hearing this critique.

I’ve even emphasized this exact point (sarcastically) in various presentations…and here is a slide I’ve used:

I am not being defensive about Tim’s critique. Just the opposite.

I believe that when you teach or express yourself in the first person, it can always be interpreted this way no matter how much you try to avoid it.

Especially if you have some age (and hopefully some wisdom) behind you.

This criticism is totally valid.

I can say till I’m blue in the face “I am a lifelong learner” but when you are in teaching mode, crossing the line in anyone’s eyes from serving them to lecturing them will be viewed as being pedantic or dogmatic…and there is no way to avoid it.

And once you cross that line you are no longer serving your audience; rather, you turn them off completely.

The fact that Tim ended his review with the following softened the blow that was never really a blow:

“You may pick up a flake or two of gold from this book, but I didn’t find anything new or revolutionary that would propel my own business forward.”

Most books I read are written by flakes…with no gold.

At least I’m a grandpa and not a flake…and I delivered a gold nugget or two.

Thank you, Tim, (although I doubt you are reading this). 🙂

  1. “Full of cliché” (from Mark)

“Very tiring to read. I found it a real struggle to keep on reading because there’s no point on a lot of things—just general mantras such as work harder than everyone else etc…”

While I learned throughout my career that clichés (and different takes on clichés) work in direct response, Mark saw through that which is fine with me.

It’s proof that not every reader responds the same way…like we didn’t know that already.

Different strokes for different folks. Oops…cliché again.

When I go full out cliché in the book when I say things like: “Marketing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (working off “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”); “Outworking is generosity”; “Everything in business (and in life) is not a revenue event…but everything is a relationship event”…I thought I was being clever.

But not to everyone.

Thanks for the reality check, Mark.

  1. “Not a single original idea” (from Best Marketing)

I must admit that this one hurt…and written by someone named “Best Marketing” made it even worse.


However, I also wear it like a badge of honor…since I am all about attributing my success to my mentors.

“Best Marketing” wrote:

“Unfortunately, the book delivers nothing new. I’ve read the majority of the classics (and many not so classics) over my 20-year career. This book disappoints on so many fronts especially on teaching completely outdated methods and total lack of originality. I like Brian but this is by far one of the poorer books written by Marty’s sidekick. Save your time and money.”

This one stung further because this writer says he “likes me” (weird way of showing it) …and he also has had a 20-year career which establishes him as a worthy critic…and he knows something about my history.

But it reinforces something I say often:

“I never invented anything. I just connected the dots from what I’ve learned, invented by others.”

Don’t we all do that?

Fact: Invention is overrated.

I’ve also always “followed the anecdotal evidence”—another cliché! –and innovated from there.

Example: Creating a line of books for Boardroom using a series of borrowed ideas (but ideas never put in the same system before)—that is, buying trade books, running them through an editorial, copywriting and research gauntlet–with a bestselling direct mail book coming out the other end.

After feeling initially stung by this review, I embraced it.

The part about “outdated methods” and “lack of originality” I took as compliments.

It reinforced a lot of what my career has been about.

I was more than OK with “BM” saying there was nothing “new” in Overdeliver which on some level is true.

It’s a lot of tried-and-true ideas seen through the lens of my career with specific examples, experiences and dispatches from the marketing battlefield.

And some entertaining stories mixed in…well, more entertaining to me than
“Best Marketing.”

Nothing new for one reader might inspire a lightbulb moment for another.

  1. “Recycled information” (from Didi)

“Didn’t really care for it. The author seems to be an egomaniac AND too worried about saying something that may offend someone. Kind of a weird juxtaposition.”

I LOVED this review too!

That this reviewer was able to tag me as someone at both ends of the spectrum–arrogance on one end to nice guy on the other–was perfect.

I am so careful to check my ego at the door (before I write something, speak, attend a mastermind etc.). Not enough for Didi, however. But at least I didn’t offend Didi. 🙂

Deep dark secret: We all have healthy egos.

Not a bad thing…just part of being human.

It’s what gives us confidence…but it is also not a reason to offend anyone…and no reason to descend into arrogance.

I know I use “I” too much in my writing which is partly ego taking over.

But I know I do it in the spirit of being a teacher…and it’s OK if some readers get the wrong idea.

How they perceive it is always justified.

Didi can call me an egomaniac who doesn’t want to offend people all day long.

  1. “I absolutely hated this book” (from Mystic Manifesting)

The fact that this person is “manifesting mystically,” how could I not take him/her seriously? 🙂

“Kurtz has…overdelivered in this book [which is] full of redundancy and braggadocio. He repeats his point so many times that I want to throw this book against the wall. For example, the chapter titled “Original Source” encourages us to learn from those who came before us. Why reinvent the wheel? But how many times does he make this point?”

Thankfully “Mystic” told us exactly how many times I made this point: The magic number is 14 (and he lists all 14 in the review).

One good beating of repetition deserves another.

Yes, another cliche. 🙂

I agree with him 100% on his assessment of Chapter 2 (“Original Source”) …and I only wish my editors had noticed the more-than-necessary repetition.

But it’s my book (chapter) and my bad.

“MM” goes on to admit that he only made it to page 87…which allows me to take this review of one chapter less seriously…because officially it’s one star on a third of the book.

Regardless, it’s always a sin to lose a reader for any reason at any point—too much repetition being one—and I am thankful that he brought this out in his review, with lots of reciprocal repetition. Very instructive.

I also hope there was no one between him and the wall when he threw the book…it has a very hard cover.

  1. “Don’t get audio book” (from HVZ)

This review was pure gold:

I can’t imagine anyone paid the audible book narrator any money. It is absolute torture to listen to this guy. Siri would have more inflection. Actual book is great, [my underline]. I just wanted to listen to it while driving. Made me want to run off a cliff

First of all, no one paid me anything extra to read my own book…in fact, I insisted that my publisher NOT use an outside reader because I have always felt that when the author reads his or her own book, the passion comes through.

The only passion HVZ got from my audio rendition was to be put on suicide watch.


The fact that the audio version couldn’t be done any other way (under my rules) makes this review only about inflection, not content…and the fact that he didn’t run off a cliff is a bonus.

Read this for my experience around the audio version of Overdeliver which I titled, “When I stop talking you’ll know I’m dead.”

Obviously, HVZ would have wished I stopped talking much sooner.

If there is one takeaway I can leave you with from this post, it is this:

Be open to the harshest criticism of anything you do (assuming it is not vindictive and not life threatening) …while still hanging on to all the good news as you take in the bad news.

And take in the bad news first.

The 287 five- and four-star reviews tell me that I didn’t waste my time (or the time of most readers) by writing Overdeliver; while the 6 one star reviews give me time to bathe in humility, self-reflection…and possible improvement.

The vast majority seem to be fine with me playing “grandpa at the picnic,” they tolerated my clichés, they were exposed to some innovative ideas (even if not shockingly new), they were O.K with a little repetition (?)…and not everyone was tortured by my voice on the audio version (I assume).

I feel the contribution I’ve made with my book is only heightened through the justified haters, of which there are definitely more than 6. 🙂

The 6 are the only the ones who wanted to share aloud.

The way I see it, in 100 years, the six critics cited here will all be dead—me too—so while we are all alive, we might as well learn something from each other, shouldn’t we?

I learned something from each of them.

Now go learn something from haters of your own. 🙂



P.S. If you have read my book…or tortured listening to it read by the guy who wasn’t paid to record it…it’s not too late to leave a review…anywhere from 1-star to 5-stars is acceptable. 🙂

Go here and do that right now.

And after you do, email me and I will give you access to all of the bonuses available at just in case you didn’t receive them when you bought the book.

For those of you who haven’t bought the book yet, go to and buy it there with all of the bonuses (an epic example of overdelivery).

Even Amazon can’t deliver on those.

But like Amazon, I will forgive you for rating my book any amount of stars…and never forget you for being part of my online family. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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