One-Star Reviews Don’t Suck
Until midway through last year I had an unpleasant reaction to one-star reviews. Partly it was because, being a newer author, I had not received any. So the first one stung. The next one was worse, not because of the review, but because more than one meant the first one wasn’t a mistake.
As writers we are told (and tell others, and tell ourselves) to “have thick skin”, but let’s face the music, that can be a very tough thing to do. And nothing tests our resolve and the depth of hide as does the one-star review. I’ve seen authors deal with them in a number of ways. Some lash out at the reviewer. Oh God, please, whoever you are, no matter how much what the reviewer may have said to infuriate you (yes, even up to and including remarks about your grandmother) WALK. AWAY. Nothing (and I do mean nothing) has the potential to harm you as much as getting into an online, documented, verbal battle with a reader (this includes on your blog, too, by the way).
For one thing, it screams to other ‘Net haters, “HEY, here I am and I have one hell of a WEAK UNDERBELLY!!” Seriously. You want to see one-star reviews come raging out of the woods like a pack of angry chickens, start arguing with a reviewer publicly (now if you can get his ass in a vacant alley with no witnesses, the fucking gloves are off). Juuuust kidding. I would never advocate the use of violence to give a much-deserved beat-down to a spineless creature who can only manage to walk upright through building power by hurting others. Seriously. I wouldn’t. Well, hmm, if the alley is definitely deserted—
The worse thing your falling into the honeypot trap of Mr. or Mrs. Internet Grizzly Bear—furry, mean-tempered, capable only of eating other living things—is that it accomplishes only that: it feeds them. They subsist on negativity and reaction to their negativity is better for them than a slice of the Factory’s Chocolate Tuxedo Cream cheesecake is for you.
I’m probably going to pull some one-star reviews just for stating the obvious, but I’m willing to risk it because you need to use logic, not emotion (and not even snarky banter) to reason out the situation. BTW, I write the way I write. I don’t know any of the one-star reviewers personally; I use sarcasm and snark as a style. Many like it, many don’t (I guarantee you one-star reviewers don’t, particularly when it refers to them—whether or not they react shows their personal mettle). Just remember this as your mantra: everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that includes hating your writing. Let’s get to the logical thinking:
What is one-star supposed to say, ultimately? I’ll paraphrase, but it’s something along the lines of the worst product that was ever create. Most people wouldn’t dream of giving a one-star review unless something was truly the worst thing they’d ever encountered and needed desperately to warn off others. At worst they’d throw in an extra star for encouragement. Logic balm: is your book the worst piece of crap available on Amazon? I truly doubt it. So why concern yourself with it? (Caveat: if all you have are one-star reviews, and a lot of them, you may want to consider a better editor or another way of expressing yourself artistically).
What is the ratio of five, four, and three-star reviews to one-star? I finally realized when I got my first one-star review, I had landed on the scene! Not Walt Whitman yet (bad example; I don’t write poetry), but I was like the “big” authors”: I had haters. I present this challenge: fine me ONE famous writer with no one-star reviews (and the book can’t be three days old). I read every Stephen King book when I was a child in the seventies and eighties. By the nineties, King had given up Horror and I had outgrown King. No matter what you think of the writer, however, it’s pretty difficult to deny he’s the most prolific writer of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century (350,000 copies sold) and that he is a household name.
You think he has haters? I just did a totally random experiment. I’ve met few King fans who don’t feel The Stand is his best work. I even know a large number of King non-fans who still love The Stand. Let’s just agree for the purposes of this lesson that it’s his best book (he’d probably think so). Until this moment I had no idea what the reviews for The Stand looked like. I went and checked. Fifty-three ONE-STAR REVIEWS. I want you to think about that for a moment. The most well-known author of our time; the best book he’s written.
Fifty. Three. One-stars.
That’s a larger number than I have total reviews on a few of my books. So use the logic: bigger, more popular the writer, larger the number of one-star haters. I like to think of them as battle scars. You can’t win a war without a few scars from which to remember how hard were the constant sieges.
Not all one-star reviews are crap. I categorize them into three different types:
Non-sequitur: these are the reviews that I’ve gotten on my Detective Bobby Mac series that say, “I loved the Detective/Mystery part until he ruined it with a bunch of demon crap.” Actually you could call this the “sequitur” review. It’s the logical conclusion that’s non-sequitur: it’s described as a Mystery/Thriller with a twist of Good versus Evil paranormal in the SYNOPSIS. Oh, that, and the whole Prologue is about possession. So in summary, these are the reviews that actually slam the reviewer for buying a book and not reading what the book was about. Why should a writer about mountain-climbing get a one-star review because the reader hates mountains?
Personal Problems: One of my recent on-star reviews started by saying she LOVED the book “until the swearing started”. My book is not listed in the Christian Fiction genre. And I use profanity where it exists in the world, not like some teenager who gets a thrill using the F-bomb every other word. Why does the author’s writing ability and book quality deserve one-star because the reader has a distaste for profanity of any kind? She literally stopped reading the book because it has swear words in it. Again, not a reflection on the quality of a book. (Dear authors, so you see where I am going with this? Well hang on for category three.)
Honest Haters: The most recent one-star I received was actually someone who hated my writing. Hated my “four-dollar” words; said I couldn’t find a plot if it bit me in the testicles (my words, not his/hers); though my ending stunk like a pile of rotting corpses (again, my paraphrase). Here’s the thing: not everyone is going to love your writing, even if they’re in the 1%. And they have every right to hate your style, your plot, your ending, and even your name. Here’s what I do with “Honest Haters”: I see if there is anything useful in their criticism, just like any other review. Sometimes there is!
TheStandTo summarize, don’t see the one-star as a negative. If it was clearly written to spit on you for no apparent reason, why should you care? If it’s about the reading (disliking swear words, or buying a book in wrong genre) then why should you care? And if it’s actually a well-written (“hated it”) review of your book, my guess is it’s in the 1-2% and you should see if there’s anything in it worth considering for cleaning up your writing.
This much is true: I’d take fifty-three one-stars of my books against one thousand one hundred and twenty-one five-star reviews any day of the week and a dozen times on Sunday. What book, you wonder, received so many sterling reviews?
Yep, The Stand.
Lay siege, dear authors.
Be fair, dear readers.
Yes, we can all get along.
The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.
Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)