In the perfect publishing utopia, each author who puts in the effort, investment, and heart to produce the best story possible would receive nothing but glowing five-star reviews.
Unfortunately, that isn't how the publishing industry currently works.
Still, I know it's disheartening when that first one-star review hits your book's page. And it's hard to not wonder why you put in the effort at all, especially if they follow the rating with paragraphs of reasoning for their dislike. It's hard not to feel the vitriol in the language where none might be intended.
It's just as hard for your editor. We've been there with you every step of the way. Most likely, we've helped you through the developmental phases and the line and copy editing corrections. We've gushed with you over that perfect book cover, we've shared our favorite inspirational quotes when you were caught off guard by just how much work we did with our red pens, and we've sung your praises over our social media when your novel went live. As your editors, we're invested in your success, and when that first one-star review hits—which it inevitably will—our hearts are going to drop in our stomachs for you.
But we're going to be able to see this for what it is, whereas you might be too close to see the forest for the trees. That's where this blog post comes in! The other day, a client popped into my mind. I hadn't spoken to him in a couple of months, but his story resonated with me. I loved everything about it—the eeriness of his narrative, the relatability of his characters, the stunning cover. And when he released it, I was absolutely certain everyone else would love it too. And for the most part, they did.
Except for one...
Yes, there were a couple of one- and two- star ratings. That's to be expected—you won't ever be every reader's cup of tea. But this particular reader left a scathing review attacking this author's characters, his story development, the ending, the hook, and his syntax. I don't know that there was one craft element the reader didn't mention. And yes, my heart fell when I read it.
But then I put my editor hat back on...
Want to know how to look at bad reviews like an editor? Here goes!
1). Most reviewing platforms like Amazon and Goodreads have review histories for each reviewer. When you click on the name of the reader who left the review, it will take you to this page, or sometimes there might be a link to the books they have reviewed. Go check it out! If you see a majority of one- and two-star reviews, you might be safe to assume that this reader is just a really harsh critic. It's not you; it's them. You might also see some novels by some big names also receiving lower reviews by this reader. If that's the case, you're in good company! This will also be an indicator if that reader normally reads novels from your genre. I once received a one-star review on a horror novel. The reason behind it? Because it was horror... Umm...
Back to my client—this particular reviewer only left one or two stars on everything, from books to household items. As unfortunate as it was to have received that rating, you simply can't escape the reviewers who will never leave anything positive. Find peace in the assurance you did all you could and produced the best work possible, then keep writing the next! Maybe that reader will buy the sequel too! No matter what, it's a sale!
2). Look at the other reviews for that book. Even good reviews can give an indication of an issue within a novel. Those readers might have simply thought the story or characters overshadowed anything they didn't like about the novel. If you see some of the same issues mirrored within the good reviews that were mentioned in the lower review, it might be worth looking into and adjusting something for future editions.
3). Breathe. Take a moment away. Reviews are for readers; they aren't for authors. But I haven't met an author alive who was capable of refraining from reading the reviews of their novels. Then...I want you to laugh about it. Sounds crazy, I know, and maybe it is. We're all a little crazy—putting our hearts and souls on paper and then distributing them into the greater beyond for every human on the planet to have access to, to judge. It doesn't get much crazier than that. But again, you're in good company.
4). Look at how it enhances your marketing technique. There have been some authors, especially within the horror community, who have received reviews they've been able to turn into marketing ads with a great deal of success. But even if you wouldn't be capable of that, look again at your novel's landing page on Amazon. Let's say you have forty five-star reviews. Fantastic, right? Maybe not so much. Think about it from a reader's perspective. How might that reader see that? Would they question whether you had purchased the reviews? That you have a large, loyal ARC team? Would they be more likely to purchase a book with forty five-star reviews or a book with thirty-five five-star reviews and five one-star reviews?
Shockingly, they'd most likely choose the latter. Having a spread of reviews adds authenticity to the novel's rating. The reader is more comfortable purchasing your novel because the reviews were obviously left by real readers, not bots. And while a couple of one-star reviews might hurt our little author hearts just a smidge, one thing never fails to make it better—more sales.
Now that I've shown you how an editor looks at reviews, let me tell you what not to do.
1). This is the most important. Do not ever let this affect whether or not you continue to write. This should never be a question. You are an author, and your stories matter. Your career matters. The effect you have on this community matters. You matter. And no reader can take that from you.
2). Do not respond to the reviewer. In recent weeks, social media has been aflame because an author berated and demeaned an ARC reviewer for leaving a four-star rating instead of a five-star rating. The reader community then went to that author's book and left over 700 one-star reviews.
Don't be that author.
Each reader you come across is entitled to their own opinion of your work. They won't all be the same, and they won't all be nice. But as long as you put your all into the novels you produce, those lower reviews won't affect the trajectory of your career—but your response to them might.
Let's put this into perspective. The Stand is Stephen King's highest-grossing novel. On Amazon, this novel has 41,761 ratings. About 2% of those reviews are one- or two-star reviews. That sounds low, but that comes out to about 835 low ratings that the King of horror received on his most popular book. Like I said before...you're in good company.
3). Find a trusted author group and vent if you need to. The absolute best author group I have found for horror is Get Writing Horror, run by Joe X Young and admins. I will forever sing this group's praises. I have never met a more supportive group of horror authors who are so focused on their craft. They give wonderful advice and are a fantastic, uplifting group.
For those of you who write in other genres, what are some other groups you suggest?
Remember, you've got this. That one low review will not break you. Keep writing! If you found this helpful, don't forget to like the blog post and comment below!
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