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How Smart Writers Deal With One-Star Reviews (Hint: Not By Crying Yourself to Sleep)

by | Oct 9, 2013

I’d written the manuscript for my novel, Willows, about two years prior and promptly abandoned it, leaving it to lie dormant in my Dropbox. One day my writing partner discovered it and blew the dust (or whatever digital files gather when they’re abandoned) off it.

“Get it out there,” she said.

“It needs to be seen,” she said.

“Publish it on Amazon,” she said.

So last year we embarked on our self-publishing journey, and soon the book was ready and uploaded to Amazon and ready to set the world on fire.

After initial sales from friends, family, and well-wishers, Willows settled into a groove. I’ve had more sales than I thought I would, and on my free days the book was downloaded more than 2,000 times and earned a few good reviews. I wasn’t quite in Lee Child or Stephen King territory just yet, but for my first effort I considered it an OK start.

All in all, I’ve loved my first foray into self-publishing. Despite my complaints and some infuriating moments (like MS Word somehow reversing all my changes and auto correct reversing my edits and changing a character’s name mid-novel), I’ve enjoyed it.

However, the thing I looked forward to, more than anything, was my first review. After all, I wanted what all writers want: to know if I’m any good. I needed to know if I was just fooling myself with this writing jazz. Should I chuck the whole thing? Would people enjoy my work? We would see.

When those first reviews start trickling in

I expected some initial good reviews. Family and friends eager to support you will give you five-star reviews and say things that make you sound like the next big literary star. I truly appreciated these, but the reviews I treasured the most were the ones from complete strangers, who gave honest, constructive criticism.

So, when I got my first one star review, I was shocked! I reread it a few times to make sure I’d read it right.

The reviewer had downloaded my book on a free day, read it (I assume) and was not thrilled. I was flabbergasted. Willows was my first novel; I knew I would be no danger to the authors on the bestseller list, but I never expected that kind of review.

I laughed it off and chalked it up to someone who didn’t give the book a chance or maybe didn’t care for the genre, and resolved to ignore it. Twenty minutes later… okay, two minutes later — when I was supposed to be writing — I read the bad review again.

Does one bad apple spoil the whole bunch?

Then, just like we do in many other areas of life, I totally disregarded the sincere encouragement and kind words I’d received from friends, family and complete strangers and concentrated on my one bad review.

Was there something I could have done to make the book better? I went back to the manuscript and pored over it to see if there was something I missed, or if there were there any edits I could have made to win this lone reviewer over.

I tried to return to writing but the review was on my mind. It buzzed around my head like flies at a picnic, distracting me from my work.

Too distracted and annoyed to write, I picked up my favorite book about writing, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I opened the book and my eye fell on this quote:

“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

That is exactly what I tried to do: please some of the readers. I had tried my best, and it pleased some of the readers. Reading King’s quote took me out of my bad review funk and focused my attention on where it should be: on my work.

Dealing with a negative review

If you’re a writer, especially a newbie, and you’ve received a bad Amazon review, here are my three steps to deal with it:

1. Ignore it

2. Ignore it

3. Use it as motivation to make your next article or manuscript even better

Use negative reviews as motivation

Thanks, Ms. One Star Reviewer, for your message. I’ve gotten you out of my system and used your words as inspiration. I hope I don’t ever encounter you again, but if (when) I do, I’ll know how to handle you.

Have you ever dealt with a negative review? How did you respond?