Well, it finally happened. I received my first one-star review for one of my books. Being 18 words in length, it really didn’t qualify as a review. Frankly, it struck me more as a protest sign than a review.
I’ve received about 100 reviews posted to Amazon and Goodreads, so it’s not like this one-star rating would sneak by me. I notice them all. While 80% of my reviews are 4 and 5 star, I’m not new to receiving 3-star reviews. I’ve even been able to cope with a couple 2-star appraisals, but for some reason this 1-star slap in the face was different. It bothered me.
I’ve read blog posts from authors addressing the subject of one-star reviews, each offering advice on how best to absorb harsh ratings. I agree with most of what they recommend: Don’t respond to poor reviews. Don’t contact the reviewers. Accept the criticism as “part of the territory” of being an author. If possible, learn from the criticism. There are exceptions to these recommendations. If the attack on your work becomes repetitive, lacks constructive content, and/or appears to have destructive motivation, it’s reasonable to contact Goodreads and Amazon to alert them to the problem.
It’s human nature to be disappointed, even hurt, by these punitive reviews. How could anyone be so critical of something you spent months, possibly years, creating? The book (a short story collection) receiving my first one-star review had a 4.5-star average prior to this blemish. It even received contest awards for several of the stories included in the collection. Still, my first reaction to the one-star rating was to be hurt rather than angry.
Another typical reaction is curiosity, wanting to know more about the person who would tell you your child is ugly. Are they outside my intended audience? Are they experienced reviewers? Could they have other motives for being so critical? As I said earlier, it’s not wise to contact the reviewer or to publically react in any way. It might escalate the situation. However, it’s not hard to learn more about an Amazon or Goodreads reviewer without contacting anyone. There are few secrets on the Internet.
As an author, I have principles regarding giving and receiving reviews. Every reader has the right to critique my books. In fact, I welcome ALL reviews. I also believe reviewers should provide constructive feedback and a reason for their rating, regardless of the number of stars. I will never give an author an overly harsh critique of their book or one that doesn’t include a balance of positive and critical comments. I’ve posted 2 and 3 star-reviews, but I’ve offered constructive comments as to why the book didn’t meet my expectations. I’ve yet to give another author a one-star review. After all, who am I to levy such a punishing literary verdict? Instead, I’ll send her/him a private message with my comments.
I wrote this blog post for a couple reasons. For one, it helped me calm down and move on. I also hope readers will better understand how important reviews are to authors. We are just people, proud of our work. We don’t anticipate that everyone will like what we produce, but we hope they’ll take time to let us know why or why not.