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.
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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