For Writers - 8 Lessons from The Hunger Games' Worst Reviews

I finally got around to reading the Hunger Games, just to see what the hype was about, and got totally sucked in. The writing was great, story compelling, and characters very real.

A lot of other people thought it was great, least the first book. Let's take a look at the statistics:

Hunger Games got over 13,000 5-star reviews out of over 17,000 total reviews.

Catching Fire, book 2, got over 8,000 5-star reviews out of over 10,000 total reviews.

Mockingjay, book 3, got over 6,000 5-star reviews out of over 11,000 total reviews.

Having more reviews for book 1 than books 2 and 3 is not abnormal, considering a series almost always has a lot more reviews for a first book than the following. However, what is abnormal is the ratio of good reviews to total reviews, and particularly the fact that there were more 1-star reviews for book 3 than books 1 and 2 combined.

This is particularly significant because most people decide about a series on the first book. If they don't like the topic or genre or writing, they won't bother reading the rest. People who go on to book 3 likely really enjoy the story and want to know how it ends. They feel emotionally invested in the characters and have a high opinion of the writer/writing.

In other words, book 3 disappointed loyal fans. Here's what two readers had to say on Amazon:

"Unbelievably disappointing."

"Too many possibilities for a better ending and the fact that we were left with emotionless / depressing / rushed garbage I just can't give this book a good review because I don't see myself ever reading it again."

One word or theme I kept noticing was that readers felt "betrayed." It's a harsh word for a fiction story, but readers had come to care for these characters and felt the author let them down in the final third of their story.

There was so much more that should have developed in the end, particularly with Peeta.

What does this have to do with us and our writing? Here are a few lessons to be learned:

1. Set the bar high with great writing on your first book, but know that means the bar is set for future books as well.

2. Don't be in a hurry to finish. Better to write something great than get something out on the market quickly.

3. Care more about your characters than writing memorable plot. Great stories are made by great characters, not intense scenes.

4. Developing a huge fan base is great, but know it comes with accountability. Authors need to earn respect and then keep it.

5. Don't ever decide you've arrived. Keep learning, stay humble, utilize and learn from what your readers have to say.

6. Create an ending that leaves your reader smiling or contemplative when they close the book, not confused or disappointed.

7. Develop your ending as much as your beginning. Leave a good taste in readers' mouths.
And the one I consider the most important:

8. Get reader feedback. Had book 3 been sent to 100 readers, I think the author would have been informed about the major holes that would disappoint. She might have even been given a few ideas on how to fix the problems, or at least be aware of what they were.

What do you think? Have you ever been disappointed by a favorite author? Why? Share so we can all learn from their mistakes rather than making them ourselves!


  1. I've been disappointed more in movies than in books, but I have to totally agree about The Hunger Games. And where was the editor? I think we saw something similar with Harry Potter and even Left Behind. They were all so wildly popular, it felt like the editors just let them do whatever they wanted. I hope this is also a lesson for editors, as well. I would not want my editor to let me do whatever I wanted, strange as that may sound. I want to be accountable. I want to know where my plot is weak and my characters are stupid. Will I change my mind someday? Maybe. But I want to learn the lessons from The Hunger Games, too. Thanks for a great post!

    1. I totally agree, Pam. I had an editor recently basically tell me to rewrite a 2nd book in a series. Her reasons were good and I'm glad she did. The rewrite is so much better. I'm much more proud of it. I'd rather my book be good than my author ego stroked. =)

  2. Nice post. I'm working on a third book in a series right now and finding it difficult to figure out plot points b/c I'm so worried about character development.

    As for Hunger Games, I thought of all the series I've read, HG was the best one. Yes, I had a different ending in mind, but when I'm able to step away and look at the book as a whole, I can see that she resolved the conflicts of the story, which is what the resolution/ending should do. Maybe I would have done it differently, but they were logical conclusions to the problems. I didn't feel betrayed or anything. I think sometimes readers get into their heads what they want to happen and feel betrayed when the author hasn't read their thoughts and carried them out. Personally, I want to surprise people with the unexpected, but still give a logical conclusion. I feel Collins did that in HC.

    Having said that, we as authors still need to be aware and to put our very best foot forward as we write series.

    1. I love surprises and love it when readers tell me they expected a certain direction and I surprised them by going another way. Well, with plot anyway. With the Hunger Games, I didn't feel betrayed either, just disappointed at how she had Katniss ready to kill Peeta rather than trying to help him. It fit with her character as presented in the book 1 (survivalist), but I would have hoped she'd have grown by then, particularly in regard to him. And her ending just jumped from the end to the section about being married to him.
      I did that once in a series, ending it at a certain place so readers could imagine the scene following, but when I sent it out to beta readers, the one comment I got the most was they wanted to experience that one scene. So I added it and it made the book better. I think leaving it out would have left readers feeling the story hadn't quite finished, and that's not the way you want to finish a series! Anyway, I'm rambling, but it's fun to talk with other writers who know what I'm talking about. =) What is your series about? Do you have any favorite readers you can trust to ask feedback on as you work on it?
      Thanks for taking the time to post. I should get back to work, but it was fun to "visit" with you! =)

    2. My series isn't pubbed yet. My agent has it with a few major publishers, and we're waiting to hear back. :) It's a dystopian. The first book centers around Kate, who discovers the Institute is using unapproved DNA to create babies in test tubes and destroying the ones they don't want. Yada, yada, yada-- Dystopian chaos ensues. The second one starts the moment the first leaves off and reveals the father of her baby as the antagonist. Love triangle... yada, yada, yada, dystopian chaos ensues. The third one, I'm tying up loose ends, creating extreme growth in the three major characters and bringing everyone together. And of course, dystopian chaos ensues. :)

    3. Sound intriguing! I really like Dystopian fiction. Never knew there even was such a genre, but I'd read The Giver and loved it, and then reading about Hunger Games I found out there were a whole bunch of them like that. So I've been catching up since then.
      I like all your yada yada parts. =)
      Best wishes to you and your books!

    4. I taught The Giver when I taught middle school. One of the best books out there! I also love 1984. Dystopian has been around a long time (Farenheit 451, Lord of the Flies) it's just warped over the years. It got big with HG and Matched, and now Divergent. (I'm currently reading Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. I LOVE dystopian. I would have loved to have written one long ago, but never had an idea until a year or so ago. Unfortunately, I'm hitting the tail end of the market for it, so we've been having a little bit of a hard time finding a home for Unviables. I keep hearing, "This is great, but dystopian is on its way out." Apparently I have impeccable timing... or not. :)

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