Getting Over the One-Star Review

One StarBad reviews are something many authors fear, and for the ones who don’t dread them, often they arrive as a biting surprise. What is the best way to handle negative reviews?

The Validity of the Bad Review

I recently received my first one-star review. It came as a bit of a shock, considering that this novel has received mostly 4- and 5-star ratings (and the book is still at a 4.5 overall, which is significant). I’m still trying to decide how I should feel about it.

On the one hand, a one-star review is something of a rite of passage. It takes time for a new book to gain readership and begin accruing reviews, especially if it’s an author’s first work. Most books get a small number of high ratings right off from friends and acquaintances who purchase and enjoy them. But getting beyond those first dozen or so reviews is often difficult, especially without soliciting reviewers. When a book’s reach expands, it’s only natural for the ratings to expand, too, and often this means having a sprinkling of negative reviews in with the positive ones.

In most ways, this is not a bad thing. As long as the book’s overall rating stays high enough, bad reviews don’t directly hurt sales. In fact, they help legitimatize it. When two- and three-star reviews start popping up, it lets potential readers know that more people have read the book than merely the author’s eighteen cousins who all promptly gave perfect ratings.

You Can’t Please Everyone

Any long-published or often-read author gets bad reviews, be it Stephen King or Ted Dekker or Hugh Howey. It would be phony and completely unbelievable for an author with a large fandom to have only four- and five-star reviews. Having varied ratings actually enriches a book and validates it.

Sometimes one-star ratings can actually help a book sell. If I’m on the fence about purchasing a book, I want to read reviews on both ends of the spectrum. I will often discount bad reviews that are written poorly, contain errors, or sound like emotional attacks on the author. They actually sometimes persuade me to give the book a try.

Moving Forward

My book was read by test readers and professionally edited, so my confidence in the quality of the story isn’t shaken by this one review. Still, I’m not flawless, and I have no illusions that my book is perfect. Like most authors, I’m working hard and developing my craft. I expect that each book I publish along the way will get better as I gain more experience.

Despite knowing all that, reading a bad review is hard. I have to remind myself that it’s only one person’s opinion. The real danger here is that I get so discouraged that it makes me stop wanting to write. While that may sound extreme, it is an internal struggle.

Instead of giving up, I’m choosing to first, take a step back, and second, use this as motivation to keep working. Instead of considering defeat, I am choosing to keep improving myself and to keep putting stories out there.

Have you received a bad review? How did you handle it?

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5 thoughts on “Getting Over the One-Star Review

  • I have a two-part answer to this. The first is how to handle it publicly — which is to do absolutely nothing. I never, ever respond to reviews on Amazon or Goodreads whether they’re good or not. I think the author should stay well clear. I almost see the author as having no right to be there on the product page, which is supposed to be for the benefit of readers only. I’ve seen a respected author like James Dashner (for The Maze Runner) defending himself in the comment section, and it just comes across as very… sad? Desperate? So rise above it and leave it alone. All readers have a right to comment, as long as the review is genuine and not some random spam.

    The second part-answer is how to handle it privately. It definitely hurts to have 1-star reviews. I’ve had some on Goodreads, although not on Amazon. It makes me think, “Well, jeez, thanks for that. Way to go. Why couldn’t you just keep that to yourself? Bah!!” But you just have to shrug and move on. I know you will anyway, but the worst thing you can do is get hung up on it. I once knew of an author who dissolves into floods of tears at the slightest bit of criticism, and I just think that’s a terrible mentality to have as a writer. I mean, a writer wants his/her work to be seen by millions, right?

    The review you received is at least informative. The reviewer aired his honest opinion, and I think that’s great even you may not agree with it (and I don’t either, for the record). It’s not a positive review by any means, but still, it’s better than one than just says “it sucks” or doesn’t give any explanation at all. Those are far worse in some ways… although admittedly a reader is more likely to ignore the ones that says “it sucks.”

    Anyway, my oh-so-helpful friendly advice overall? Suck it up and move on. LOL. 🙂

  • Good article. The way I see it, I can’t possibly write a book everyone will like. The more passionately I write the book, the more it might tick off someone. At least it’s not a boring book with no response.

    As to how to handle it? Some people say to never read reviews. But then, why miss all the 5 stars and the people who want to tell you they loved it? 1 and 2 stars come with the territory. Since my work is professionally edited, most of them are disagreeing with the content, and that doesn’t bother me too much, since everyone has a right to speak their opinion.

    The worst thing that happened to me is an author who repeatedly e-mailed me about a 4 star review I wrote. She didn’t like that I was disappointed that my favorite character was not in the book that much and that I didn’t like her main characters, but liked the woman she portrayed as the villain. She wanted me to mark my review “spoiler”.

    The worst thing an author can do is to harass reviewers, because you are disrespecting them and telling them their opinion is not valid. So, never ever comment on a review in public, and never contact the reviewer to “explain” or “disagree.”

  • Stephen King’s latest novel – 11/22/63 – has 112 one star reviews. The Velveteen Rabbit – 12 one start reviews out of 300+
    Just a little perspective …
    It still is rough and also hard not to jump in and defend, but I agree with Keith’s comment that you really don’t want to do anything publicly. Privately, you, a cup of coffee or something stronger, that’s a different story ;-p
    However you handle it, though, keep writing!

  • Hi, Becca.

    I agree with all comments above. Sometimes a one-star helps to sell a few more copies and acquire readers.
    As you did, I too care to put out the best possible product there, beta-readers, proofreading, and working with an editor.

    My rule is: never comment reviews, positive or negative, others will do. As Melinda said, everyone, EVERYONE gets lots of one-stars, bar none.

    A small story: I got a one-star on goodreads by a girl who trashed the story, the plot, the writing and ended with RECOMMENDED TO NO ONE. Her review was full of grammatical errors, typos and fragmented sentences. Who knows, maybe the story struck a chord and it provoked a flood of rage (there is a betrayal and a extra-marital affair described).

    Well, it created two readers who then commented to her review essentially telling her to get real. I have 30 ratings on Goodreads and 20 on Amazon and floating around 4.5 average.

    A two-star reviewers said a revealing thing: “I cannot understand how this book is getting so many sterling reviews.” Exactly, “understanding”. No one will be able to write the perfect story that will talk to everyone’s heart. For some it will be a melody, for others…they’ll hear nothing.

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