by Tamela Hancock Murray
Have you ever received a one-star review? Or do you dread the day that might happen? Or perhaps you are hoping to be published so you can get a review. Any review. When you start receiving reviews, some of them might not be as stellar as you had hoped. So what, if anything, should you do?
Good, Bad, Indifferent?
When I look at reviews of sites such as Amazon, I think it’s healthy to see a range of reviews from five stars to one star rather than all fives. Why? Because a reasonable mix of reviews indicates that strangers are reading your book. Any author can find a few friends to post five star reviews, but a mixed reaction shows that a book is being marketed to a variety of readers. It’s nice not to receive any one-star reviews and keep your mix in the five to three range, but a few lower reviews mixed in with positive comments shouldn’t mark the end of your career.
That doesn’t mean one-star reviews take you to a happy place, though. Instead, you may feel angry, defensive, offended, surprised, and perhaps tearful. No matter what, don’t let your fingers hit the keyboard to respond publicly to any review when you are feeling these emotions. Call a friend and gripe, cry to your spouse, play catch with your dog, but never post any comments until you are calm. In fact, this applies to any form of posting comments online.
A Gracious Response
The idea for this topic occurred to me when I spoke with one of my authors, Angie Breidenbach. Angie has a positive outlook on life and she wasn’t upset by her one-star review on her book, A Healing Heart.
Instead, she posted a gracious response that even gained her at least one more reader:
Thank you for your review. The character reactions are actually based on the study of people I know in real life. And to be honest, Mara is based on my own journey back from being angry with God. So I suppose it’s simply a case of whether you’ve ever experienced it or seen it happen to someone you love, or not. I wish you a delightful and joyous life – one that never has to face these dilemmas. May yours be a peace-filled, happy journey :)
That’s not to say that a well-mannered response will always be successful, though. We’ve all met the person who just won’t like us or our books no matter what we do or how we write. So how to decide?
Not All One-Star Reviews Are Equal
Some reviewers will state what they disliked about the book in an honest way. The nicer ones will also say what they did like about the book as well. Chances are, as the author, you won’t agree with a negative review. Very few people would be able to respond without appearing defensive or argumentative. Approach responding with extreme caution. Or better yet, don’t offer a retort at all.
Other reviewers are looking for a safe way to vent their own anger and frustration and may attack you and your beliefs personally. There is no reason to respond to them. By virtue of name-calling, the person has lost the argument.
In the Christian publishing world, we have a problem peculiar to us in that some people will read our books and then become mad that they portray a Christian message. These readers didn’t properly review the promotional material around your book before deciding to purchase. That is on the reader, not you, as an author. No need to respond to these reviews.
I’ve seen many one-star reviews commenting that the electronic format was poor so they rate the book one star for that reason. Sadly, this will bring down a book’s average but the author’s only safe response is to alert the publisher to the problem.
Still other reviewers will rank a competing book with a one-star and then try to convince readers to buy their books instead. Usually they’ll get called on this unethical practice by other reviewers. No need to comment on such a transparent ploy.
Remember, You Have a Team
If a reviewer has made an unjustifiable attack on your work and you really feel you need to make a correction, I still recommend not responding in any way until you speak with your agent and/or editor. For example, if a reviewer says your book misstates facts, defending the integrity of your research may be in order. But by all means, consult the team of publishing professionals behind you before engaging in any public defense or explanation.
Yes, you are obligated to your readers in that you must deliver the best quality work you can at all times. This shows you care about your reader and her time. But you are not obligated to respond to your reviews at all. Many authors make a firm practice not to read their reviews. The flip side of reviews is that too many glowing ones may make you feel overconfident. Sort of like the old Hollywood expression about the star who believes his own publicity.
Whether you keep up with your reviews or not, don’t take any of them too seriously. Better to spend your time writing your next wonderful book.
Do one-star reviews keep you from buying a book?
Have you been disappointed in a book with glowing reviews?
What book or books do think have really lived up to their reviews?
Have you ever written a one-star review?