Eek! A One-Star Review!
“There is one good thing and only one good thing about the novella Automaton by Amanda Clemmer. It’s short, so at least I didn’t have to suffer through it for long.”
Such was the sentiment of the first one-star review I received after releasing my debut story, Automaton, onto the market five years ago. I had submitted the book to a series of mid-level reviewers shortly before my release so that I could have a book blog tour, and most of the reviewers who agreed to read it left me with rather favorable reviews. But I can't please everyone. And that single one-star response from a respected book reviewer and blogger really stung.
I had questions about how I was supposed to deal with the review. Should I write to the blogger and apologize? Should I fight back? Should I ignore the review altogether and instead focus on my more positive feedback?
I felt upset that the reviewer had bothered to read my book at all. After all, if I don't write the kind of things you want to read, I would never want to force an obligation on you to read my book. It's supposed to be a choice, and I was completely all right when some reviewers I’d pitch refused to read my book regardless of the reasons they gave. Earlier rejection was a lot easier to deal with than this.
My debut writer plight wasn't a rare one. Scathing reviews are something all writers face sooner or later, and they make for an uncomfortable dilemma. How are you supposed to deal with criticism? What happens when someone reads your book and doesn't like it? What do bad reviews imply about you as a writer, and about your books?
Let’s take this one question at a time.
First, why would someone leave such a bad review?
Do writers really have personal enemies that wait out in hiding to attack? Or do readers not know how bad it hurts to see your ratings drop because of a single one-star?
Negative reviews sting, but they're not always supposed to be personal. Most critical reviews come from readers who thought they might like your book, downloaded and read it (or started reading it), and then changed their minds. The reason for not liking your book could be anything, including a simple difference of taste. It’s not worth getting up in arms over.
Some readers are also very picky and very critical. In my case, I looked up the reviewer who read my book and found that she had left another one-star review on the other book she had just read, with almost identical comments. In her case, she admitted in her blog that she really didn’t like any book that was shorter than about three-hundred pages, and was repeatedly reading shorter books and then criticizing them for not being the longer books she wanted.
There was nothing I could have done in that case to change her mind--but neither did her review, in the end, mean anything about my writing abilities.
How common are super-negative reviews?
I've gotten a handful of bad reviews in my career, and most have been reviews of experimental books that I've written under a pen name. I can't tell you that if you experience enough success with a book, you will definitely find yourself with some scathing critics. A bad review here and there isn't anything to worry about.
What if you get a string of bad reviews? If these reviews were well-written and include details about your book, you might want to give them a read. Don't start crying yet, either--your solution may be as simple as making sure your book is properly spelled checked.
Every time I review a string of my critical reviews, I find that they have something in common, and it's something that I can address much more easily in future books.
What’s the best response?
Don't spend too much time gaping at your one-star reviews. It's not worth it, even if you're studying them for the intent of learning more about your books. These reviews are reviews that are written by people who are not your ideal readers, and should only have a limited say in what you write in the future.
That being said, what is a good response? When I first receive the one-star review I mentioned above, I was tempted to hunt down the reviewer, apologize, and ask for her forgiveness. I might have even tweeted something to that effect.
Truth be told, she didn't care if I apologized. She simply didn't like the book, and had no interest in me as a writer. She had other things to do with her time, and I had other things to do with mine. Besides, why apologize for what I'd written when many more people actually loved my story for what it was?
the best thing to do when you see one-star reviews is to accept them and move on. Don’t respond to critical comments in blog posts, don’t look these people up on social media, and don’t expect to change anyone’s mind.
You’re still on your journey as a writer, and your own fans are worth much more to you than the odd critic.
How do you handle negative reviews of your books? Please sign in to comment below or join my Facebook group here for further discussion!