When Reviews Go Bad: Handling the Dreaded One Star Review

I stumbled upon an interesting story that’s making the rounds of the interwebs today (h/t @Kara_Malinczak for sticking her leg out).  Basically, one of the more respected reviewers on Goodreads hammered a novel rather forcefully with a one star review.  The author and her agent flipped out, proceeding to bash the reviewer mercilessly on twitter and other social media (including posting anonymous criticism on the reviewer’s blog).  The whole sordid affair is cataloged on this blog.

I’m not so interested in discussing this particular event (the blog linked above does a fantastic job of laying it out), but it did make me think about how authors react to really bad reviews.  And by react, I mean over-react.  The thing is, if you write a book that’s worth anything, somebody’s going to hate it.  If they don’t, you’re doing something wrong.

Yes, the fact that you never "connected" with this book has to be because it sucks. After all, you ARE an English major.

As I’ve pointed out before, The Great Gatsby has over 30,000 one star reviews on Goodreads, and it’s probably the greatest book ever written.  (It has almost 200,000 five star reviews.  And yes, you can tell how smart you are by which side of that spectrum you find yourself).

For most authors though, it seems like that first one star review provokes an existential crisis.  Seriously, the next time you see a blog post entitled “Just Got My First One Star Review,” make sure you read it.  If it’s anything like I’ve seen, it will start off with an almost suicidal recital of the author’s day:

So I woke up today feeling pretty good, like maybe this would be the one where my life turned around.  I went downstairs, ate some toast and drank some orange juice.  I was feeling it, man.  The world was my oyster.  And then I opened my computer.

Dun dun dun.  Our intrepid author pulls up Goodreads and notices that his book’s overall rating has dropped precipitously.  And then he sees it.  What follows is something akin to the five stages of grief.  First is denial.  Maybe they didn’t mean to give my book one star. Maybe it was a mistake.  That doesn’t last long though.  I mean, the guy just called your title character a piece of cheap cardboard.  Anger though, that sticks around longer.

And you can understand why, right?  The fact is, most one star reviews are horribly written or contain absolutely no useful criticism.  I mean, if you spent a year working on a project and got this review, how would you feel?

There is really only one reason i didn`t make it through this book, the edditing.

Wouldn’t that just make you want to pull your hair out?  Other times, the reviewer has a secret agenda.  One of my friends received his only one star review after the book was nominated for an award.  Come to find out, the review was written by someone associated with an author my friend had beaten out.

Personally, I’ve only received a single one star review.  The review itself was almost apologetic, and really didn’t bother me.  In my view, it’s hard to get upset because someone doesn’t like your book.  To each his own, and all.  What bothers me is when people say things that are incorrect.  For instance, I had one guy criticize the book as “poorly researched” because a historical figure never would have written the kind of book I credit him with in my novel.  Only problem?  He actually wrote that book.  Had another guy who tried to criticize my use of Latin (nerd).  I was right and he was wrong, but there’s no real way to address his error.  The last thing you want to do is get into some sort of shouting match with a reviewer.

Which I suppose is the point of this post.  People are going to say some horrible things about your work.  It’s just gonna happen.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter and you can’t do anything about it even if it did.  Just let it go.  And the next time you write a murder scene, think of them.

They're coming for you, pwner37!


Filed under Tips for Authors

5 responses to “When Reviews Go Bad: Handling the Dreaded One Star Review

  1. No book will please everyone. I could not ‘Stand’ Stephen King’s, “The Stand”. My poor opinion does not matter, as his book does a bit better than my own. 🙂

    A one-star review can be a learning tool. They only have value if the reviewer puts some reasoning to their score. Perhaps you WANTED your readers to dislike a certain character or situation, and suddenly a reader feels exactly that way, and drops the single star. That is a win in my opinion.

  2. brettjtalley

    I’ve never read The Stand. Tried to get into it. Just couldn’t.

  3. I just found this blog post. Thanks for the shout out. And I completely agree with everything you said. Even when the reviewer is wrong (and it happens often), just let it go. If you call them out or try to correct them, it will never end well. They will always be the consumer and you will just look like the ranting, crazy author. It’s better to walk away. And please, PLEASE, authors–if you can’t handle reading negative reviews without getting pissed off and responding, DON’T read them. A negative review won’t ruin your career or your sales (maybe a little), but I CAN promise you that attacking a reviewer will hurt your reputation and sales a lot more than one bad review.

  4. I think that when you publish online then taking the good and bad is all part of the business. People are entitled to their opinion and they are entitled to express it. However, a one star review is essentially saying the book is garbage, and to do so without any sort of explanation or justification is disgraceful. A one star review can wreck an average score.

    So in conclusion, a one star rating with some genuine critique is fair enough (most seasoned authors have broad shoulders, and if not, should get themselves some) but 1 star reviews without any explanation are simply unacceptable.

    Best wishes to all,

    Rob White
    Agent to Julia Bell

  5. This blog post brightened my day! I returned from a great vacation yesterday only to read my first 1* review on Amazon for From One Place to Another. I decided to share my grief on Facebook and then Brett replied with a link to this post. It truly lifted my spirits!

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