Let Me Tell You How I Really Feel About… One-Star Reviews

Edit note: This week on The Ball we’re talking about reader reviews and how we feel about them (especially the bad ones). Seeing as how I wrote a post about that very topic for Passionate Reads a few months ago (coupled with the fact that I had way too much pinot noir last night), I’m using my two favorite shortcuts this week: copy & paste. Enjoy!

imgresBeing a new author is kind of like being a new mom — I get tons of advice from other authors who have paved the trail before me. And probably one of the most common refrains is: DON’T READ THE REVIEWS.

To which my response is: “No, I totally won’t. That makes perfect sense.” All the while thinking: OF COURSE I’M GOING TO READ THE REVIEWS.

Maybe it’s a new author thing, but how can I NOT look at what other people are saying about my book? The authors who don’t read their reviews must be the same people who can pass a Krispy Kreme when the Hot Now sign is lit and not stop. Who are these people? And where do they get their willpower from?

I get the reasoning, of course. Not everyone is going to like your book; bad reviews are inevitable. And subjecting yourself to reading them is kind of like stepping on the scale in the morning and seeing a number that’s 15 pounds higher than you expected. It can ruin your whole day.

But obviously, I like to torture myself. And then go eat doughnuts.

So now that I’ve established that I actually read the reviews, I want to say that I’m grateful to every reader who picks up my book, spends hours of their time reading it and then more time writing a review— yes, even when it’s a bad review — because there are millions of other books you could have chosen, but you picked mine.

That said, bad reviews still sting, so here’s the unfiltered version of what I think when I read reviews, from the best to the worst:

5-star: It goes without saying that the people who write these reviews are the SMARTEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD and obviously know that I’m the BEST WRITER IN THE WORLD and we should totally all be best friends. And I want to buy them all the doughnuts.

4-star: These are great, too, and they make me feel all warm and fuzzy. But there’s a small part of me that still wonders: What was missing? What was the one thing they thought the book lacked that could have pushed it up to 5-star status? And it’s kind of frustrating when the reviewer writes something like: “Couldn’t put it down! Totally related to the characters! Cried buckets at the end! Will definitely recommend to friends! 4 stars.” In those instances, I tell myself that they just accidentally clicked the wrong star button when rating it and I count it as a 5-star.

3-star: I find that these are usually the people who just had a different expectation of your book. “I thought it was going to X, but it was Y, so it was just OK.” It happens. But honestly I don’t mind these reviews when they’re thoughtful or if the reader still emotionally connected to the book in some way. Like one reviewer was really frustrated at my main character and wanted to throttle her for most of the book. I kind of thought that was cool, because she still connected with it, and to me, that’s what reading is all about.

2-star: Ouch. OK, I know not everyone is going to like my book. There is no book in the history of time that has 100% 5-star reviews. I get that, logically. But emotionally, it’s like this person just balled up their fist and punched me in the gut. And then laughed at me. I’m gonna need a dozen more doughnuts.

1-star: One star. One star? ONE STAR? As in the WORST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ? I mean, shouldn’t I get points for the effort? For spelling my name right? For writing 320 pages of a story with a beginning, middle and end and putting all three bits in the correct order? I feel like this rating should be used for only two types of books: ones that are literally incomprehensible —like maybe they’re written in a made-up language that only the author can understand — and books by Rush Limbaugh. Bottom line: No doughnuts for you.

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Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at colleenoakley.com.

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