August 29, 2020

One of the most instructional 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 even more importantly, they can get a better idea of how to communicate with them.

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 to you and to me.

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.

The purpose is not to defend ourselves or to make the case why they are wrong.

On the contrary, we need to take them to heart and learn something from their disdain.

It sounds counterintuitive to give folks like this (who I assume for most of you are a small minority) not only a platform but to believe them first with no questions asked.

But trust me…there is a huge upside.

And 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 of “1-star reviews” on those platforms as well.

I’ve spent some time recently asking you, my online family, to promote Overdeliver.

Today I might give you pause (more pause?) to do that now based on what folks said negatively about the book.

But I am not embarrassed to share these with you today…actually I am proud to do it.

So if I’m not going to defend myself against these criticisms or make these people wrong, what is the payoff by dwelling on these particular 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 me 4 or 5 stars no matter what. It’s rewarding but not completely true (all the time).
  • Reading and analyzing 1-star reviews (assuming they are not nasty for nasty’s sake), is actually 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 just have to shut up and read (or listen).
  • If you don’t have haters, you’re probably not pushing the envelope enough–and that’s coming from someone who titled a chapter, “How paying postage made me a better marketer.”
  • It’s always a learning lesson in a life of continuous learning …because even if some of the criticism is unjustified (in my eyes), by simply taking it in and processing (even the sometimes hurtful words), it turns into a tremendous education.
  • 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 might have less love in their heart for you. But staying grounded is the key. Spend time reading your positive press clippings while you are hearing what the naysayers are saying as well.

Fortunately there were only five of these 1-stars  (out of around 150 total reviews for Overdeliver).

Here they are and my perspective on each:

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

While I try to avoid this in all of my writing (and I even bring it up often)—that “I am not the wise elder in the back of the room 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:

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

Lesson: However 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 to them in a pedantic or dogmatic way is dangerous.

And once you cross it you are no longer serving your audience at all; you instead turn them off completely to what you are saying.

I don’t think I said this on stage ever…but the reality is in the eyes of the reader:

Again…totally sarcastic…but some folks might not get it and that’s fine.

And why did I take this review so seriously?

Because he ended with:

“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.”

And he also admitted that he is not the target market for this book.

This was a solid 1-star review for me.

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

2. 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 shows that not every reader responds to this technique, which is always good to be reminded of, among other copywriting techniques.

When I say, “Marketing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (working off “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”) or that “Outworking everyone is generosity” (and I explain why), I thought I was being witty or clever.

But not to everyone. It’s a good check to hear it.

3. Not a single original idea (from Best Marketing)

“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 a bit 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.

But it actually reinforces something I say often:

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

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.

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

And I was 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.

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

4. Recycled information (from Didi)

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

I LOVED this one!

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 did my job! (But not for “Didi”). 🙁

Since I am so careful to check my ego at the door (before I write something, speak, attend a mastermind etc.), the fact is we all have healthy egos which is not a bad thing. It is part of being human.

It’s what gives us confidence…but it is also not a reason to offend anyone.

I know I use “I” too much in my writing and this is part of the ego taking over as well.

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.

5. I absolutely hated this book (from Mystic Mainifesting)

The fact that this guy or gal is manifesting mystically, I had to take him/her seriously.

“Kurtz has definitely 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?”

Answer according to “MM”: 14

I happen to agree with him 100% on his assessment of Chapter 2 (“Original Source”)…and I only wish my editors had noticed some repetition in that chapter.

But it’s my book and my bad.

That “MM” admits that he only made it to page 87 when I lost him completely, allows me to take him a little less seriously because he officially only hated a third of the book.

However 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. Very instructive.

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

I don’t know about you but that was cathartic for me…and hopefully educational for you in some way.

If nothing else, I hope this is your one takeaway (and I hope you had others):

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.

I know that the 90 or so 5-star reviews of Overdeliver (and the hundreds of emails I receive from readers who think the book is fantastic) tells me that I didn’t waste my time (or the time of many readers) by writing it.

The majority is fine with me playing “Grandpa” a bit, they like my clichés, they did get some innovative ideas even if not shockingly new, they liked the reminders of “recycled ideas,” and they were O.K with a little repetition.

I feel the contribution I’ve made with my book is only heightened through these (and I’m sure many other) justified haters. Or let’s call them “very disappointed readers.”

In 75 years or so, the five 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 from all of them and I hope you did as well.



P.S. My good friend Carline Anglade-Cole, an A-List copywriter and wonderful human to boot,  just wrote her first book…with 14 out of 14  5-star reviews so far…and I doubt she will get any 1-star reviews like I did! J

The title is as compelling as the book:

My Life as a 50+ Year-Old White Male: How a Mixed-Race Woman Stumbled Into Direct-Response Copywriting and Succeeded!

I am letting you know about this spectacular new book for a number of reasons:

  • While Carline has had this book in her head for years, it was at Titans Master Class last November in Arizona (where she was a featured speaker) where it all came together. At some point during the event, she had an “inadvertent hot seat” and she was off and running…finding partners to help her…and she had a new book 8 months later. What a force she is!
  • It is endorsed by some of the best copywriters and marketers she worked with over the past two decades including Clayton Makepeace (her ultimate mentor), Caleb O’Dowd, Katie Yeakle and Layne Lowery. And some also-rans like myself. 🙂
  • When you purchase the book you will also receive $850 worth from her swipe file…you’ll be able to download some of her classic controls, past and present. Just follow the instructions in the book.
  • Of course I receive nothing for telling you about this wonderful book and swipe file…just the satisfaction that you hear Carline’s story which is unique, instructional and entertaining too.

Click here to order the book today!

Even the cover is compelling…designed by world class designer Rob Davis who I’ve used a lot in my career as well. I just love it.

Order here now. 

P.P.S. And my compelling offer still holds (despite those 1-star reviews above)…

If you would like to promote Overdeliver to your own online families—using as a killer offer—I would love it and appreciate it more than you know.

And I think your families will love it too (even if they hate the book)!

Check the site out and send me an email if you are interested.

I promise you something special from my collection of hard-to-find direct marketing resources for doing anything to help re-launch the book…and you will also be my friend for life.

Actually you are already my friend for life. Nothing more you can do about that. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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