Are You Ready For A One-Star Review?

It’s no fun getting a one-star review on Amazon.  What’s worse?  Having your 10-year-old son read it in front of you.

When Nick looked up, he was fighting the tears.  Trying to stay strong.  Trying to act like it didn’t matter.

Then he gave his own critique.

“You know, Mom, some of this is probably true.  But, you know what really upsets me?  She didn’t criticize your book.  She criticized you.  And she doesn’t even know you.”

Like Nick, I was fighting the tears.  Trying to stay strong.  Trying to act like it didn’t matter.

But public criticism is a big deal.  And first-time authors are never prepared.  I wasn’t. 

Now, at this point in the blog, I’m supposed to give you the magic formula.  You know, the three-step plan to prepare you for a public flogging.  The things I wish I knew.  Wish I did.  Want you to know.  Then, you’ll walk away with some value added, and I can bask in the comments.

But I’m not going to do that. 

Don’t get me wrong.  If I had a secret sauce I would probably share it.  Heck, I’d probably write another book and maybe even make some money off of it.  But since that’s not in the plans (and Rachelle would probably give me a hard time about platform), the best I can do is share my story and let you draw your own conclusions.

Here’s how it works.  When you’re an author, you are supposed to actually say something.  If you’re lucky enough to get people to read what you have to say, some people may actually like it.  Others won’t. 

Certain gluttons for punishment, like me, end up writing memoirs.  So if readers don’t like our story, it means they don’t like us.  Plain and simple. 

In my case, Chasing Superwoman is a very personal story.  It’s my story about my struggles (and failures) being a working mother who admits she is trying to do too much.  And while I love Jesus madly, I don’t always act like it.  This apparently offended a few readers who told me both publicly and privately that I should really set my priorities straight, act more like a “Christian” and hang up my “worldly” ambition.

Sure, I could feel sorry for myself.  I don’t deserve the criticism.  It’s not fair.  These readers haven’t met me (or my darling children!).

But let’s face it.  I kind of asked for it.   Didn’t I?

When we tell our stories, we put ourselves out there.  We make it personal.  We pour out our lives on paper, give people loaded guns, and yell “shoot”! 

Which means we have no business complaining about it. 

Now, if you’re a fiction author, you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with me?  I write fiction.  It’s not my story.” 

Think again. 

We all know deep down that your first novel is secretly autobiographical and that all the characters are based on your family and friends.  So when people criticize your book, you are equally going to feel like they are criticizing you.  Trust me.

The good news?  We not only live through it, we become stronger.  I promise.  (I’m going to blog about that next month.)

For now, just know to expect it.  And don’t complain about it, ok?

Aspiring authors, are you ready for a one-star review?  Old-timers, what’s your advice?  And how do you protect those closest to you — like your family — in the process? 


62 Replies to “Are You Ready For A One-Star Review?”

  1. This is one reason I’m SO grateful for my blog: For the past year, I’ve opened myself up to public flogging, creating callouses where only tender skin would have been…

    And while my typical post gets lots of great comments, every once in a long while will appear a zinger. Just tonight, in fact: my latest post has 148 comments, yet I get one that’s not entirely supportive. But what do I do? STEW over it!

    I figure by the time my book is ready, I’ll be used to it. Fingers crossed.

    BTW, I’m curious about the pronunciation of your last name, considering it looks somewhat like my first name. Mine is pronounced like Michelob with a long “e” sound instead of the “ob.” Yours?

    1. It’s a good point. Blogging does prepare you for the public (and I didn’t blog nearly enough before I published).

      My last name is pronounced “De-Michael” — thanks for asking!

  2. If a book gets all 5 star reviews it seems like it could be suspicious. I like a range of reviews to know that the book has evoked some emotions from people. I’ll usually look at the lowest reviews first in order to get a better handle on what people might really be feeling about the book itself and not just feel-good commentary that reflects how the reviewer might feel about the author or the topic.

    One star reviews are often easier to see through than raving 5 star reviews.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Lee, I understand your perspective here because that’s how I used to think too. I thought the five star reviews didn’t mean as much as the more ‘objective’ lower ones. Then, I read more reviews of books I had actually read, and finally, my own debut novel came out. What I’ve learned is that the best critical reviews are the ones that are balanced. If you see a reviewer who tries to state both the positive and the negative about a book, that review tends to be more likely to be accurate. (Of course, I also love the very specific raves, but who doesn’t?) 🙂 But when I see a review that completely trashes a book or its author and says nothing positive, most of the time that review is not the best. It usually speaks to the subjective state of the reviewer–not that it becomes invalid, just that it’s less likely to be accurate. I have read very few books that have absolutely no redeeming qualities. The second thing I’ve learned is that potent books produce strong reactions, one way or the other. Blander books are sometimes more likely to get uniform positive reviews (for example, perfect heroes and heroines attract less criticism than flawed heroes and heroines, but they’re also less affecting because they’re less real). So, if we want our work to affect people, we have to be prepared for a mix! Any bold choice will attract criticism as well as praise. I find what my editor said once to be true–authors soon become less sensitive because we get such a wide variety of reactions to our work that it’s obvious we can’t please everyone. Great post, Susan!

  3. I found this post refreshing because it was open and honest and I know darn well this type of thing is going to happen to me, Not that I’m intentionally pessimistic but I bet this has happened to every author. Your post helped me feel more realistic about the future.
    Thank you.

  4. You seem to have the right attitude, Susan. The only way to avoid getting publicly criticized is never to share anything at all, and that would just be sad. Better for an author to realize up front they will never be able to ‘please all of the people, all of the time’. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ a bad rating or review will come through, it’s ‘when’. It won’t necessarily make it any less painful when it happens, but at least they’ll know they are in good company. (:

    By the way, I was happy to see all those 5 star reviews on Amazon. You must be doing something right!

    1. Thanks Rebecca for taking the time to read all the reviews — I’m grateful for the good reviews and sometimes forget that they far outweigh the negative.

  5. Ok….I ashamed to admit this but the first thing I did after reading this blog was read the one star review. You forgot to mention how pathetic that lone star looks amongst all the other reviews. It doesn’t deserve your time of day.

    1. Funny, the first time I drafted this post, I actually linked to the one-star review because I thought folks (like you!) would be curious. But then I took out the link and thought to myself, “wait a minute, why do I want to promote this?”

  6. Unfortunately, the Internet seems to encourage nasty people to attack others. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior and most people understand that that type of review is more a reflection of the sad state of that reviewer than it is of the book author. It’s best to ignore those people and concentrate on all the others who have written reasonable opinions and critiques of your work. They are the ones who count, and we all know it. BTW, when I see a bad review for a book I’m about to write a review on, I try to rebut it (without being too obvious).

    1. Linda, you make a good point. In fact, I had several supporters respond (right on Amazon!) to the one-star review. Several of these women even contacted me personally. So it’s a good chance to extend grace when we see those around us getting flogged!

  7. This is a great post, a keeper for those times when they try to offend us.
    We need to remember there were those who didn’t like Jesus either!

  8. Susan, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This reminds me of something a seasoned author told me early in the game: “I still remember my first one-star review…but I don’t remember the most recent one.”

  9. Susan, I applaud your bravery in telling it like it is. Ouch! That opening with your son was a real grabber. I have been cooking a memoir in my head for a while, probably because I love to write about my past. Brings a warmth to my innards. Hadn’t thought about how I might be attracting negative moths to my flame. Thanks for the insight. I think I’ll just keep working on my first flashes of historical fiction.

  10. Hey Susan, I haven’t read your book yet (but I will) and from what I’ve read in the summary, I love the concept of writing about not being a perfect Christian or creating the illusion of someone who is. Honesty, I just can’t keep up with books like that. I’m not perfect, I yelled at my kids the last day before I left for my current Hong Kong trip, I should have been more patient, they know somethings up when the yellow suitcase comes out. I am chasing Superwomen as a Christian/Business woman and finding I fail alot. But my point, and I suspect yours may be in the book, is that we recognize our mistakes and keep trying! Don’t let this review get you down. Do all things unto the glory of God, not people. Remember that.

    1. Ah, yes, the dreaded travel schedule. Very hard on both kids and mom. I just had a travel marathon for eight days and I was more than cranky when I returned. Thank God for grace — and that He is ultimately in charge of my children. I am taking your advice to heart — my heart’s desire is to please God, not people.

  11. Thank you for the transparency of soul in this post, which I’m betting reflects the transparency in your memoir. 🙂 I don’t know what it says about me, but I really want to read your book now (yes, I know, go get it, please!) because if you are a flawed human that seeks Christ in your life but not perfectly– I can relate. 🙂

    And bless your son’s sweet heart for trying to be brave while he read it and to encourage you after. I have a little guy like that in my life. He’s the first to jump up and down when I do well, and the first to console when it hasn’t gone right.

    This feels like the old Christianese adage proved false again, in my opinion. There isn’t always some beauty or nugget of God’s purpose in the painful things. Sometimes, they are just plain painful. God can redeem it for sure, but sometimes they aren’t put there by God and they really do wound.

    I’m so glad that you’ve got the buffer of the 5 stars to cushion the barbed 1 star. And I sure hope you continue to be honest with your readers when you write. Because even the most properly-prioritized Christian is still failing, maybe in self-righteousness (ha!). If that weren’t true we sure wouldn’t need grace, compassion, or redemption.

    May God continue to bless the words you write.

    1. Thank you. I decided a long time ago that if I was going to write publicly, I just had to be myself. It feels good and right to be honest. Yes, sometimes it is painful! Bless you for your encouragement. God knows I need all the redemption I can get!

  12. I think that every author has one star reviews at one time or another- even the big guys. What jumped out at me with this post is the precious interaction with your son. His love and concern should outshine anything that the “one star bandit” did! Focus on that and your good reviews. By now that reviewer is probably quite busy making someone else miserable.

  13. What a great post Susan. No one likes to be criticized, and certainly by not by a stranger who doesn’t know you (or your darling children.) And I laughed at your comment about Rachelle and platform, being a regular reader of her blog.

    Sounds like you are doing just fine. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Good post, Susan. As an aspiring writer/wannabe author, I sayto the one-star review, “BRING IT ON!” Any sort of review means I got published in the first place. Yahoo!

    I tend to lean toward the writers who say, “Don’t read any reviews, good or bad.” Maybe the five-star reviewers are idiots, suck ups, posers, or bleeding hearts who could never say a critical word about anything for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Similarly, maybe the one-star reviewer gave you one star because, the day before they wrote the review, their dog died, they lost their job, and had a huge fight with their significant other. Don’t tell me even a professional reviewer isn’t affected by their real world when writing reviews. Everyone has got some sort of bias on any given day.

    Finally, some people are just plain mean and don’t like anything that isn’t their own product. Nuts to them and their negative world. Life’s too short to obsess over what other people think about you or your work. Live the best you can, do the best you can, with what you have to work with.

  15. Unwarranted criticism and personal attacks do sting. At those times when I am doing well, I am able to see what is behind their words, realizing that their own issues – be it wounds, snubs, jealousy, or an unchecked agenda — are rising to the surface. And then I can dismiss it. However, when I am not doing well, I completely lose that ability.

    (Once I gave a speech at a business meeting and had one short faith reference towards the end. The only two people who criticized me were other Christians. By extension, I think it is harder to write to a Christian audience then the general populace.)

  16. This is a fantastic post, Susan. Thanks for sharing it. My wife (a writer, but mostly former writer…except on Facebook) talks about the “10 mean church ladies” who are looking for people to skewer. She’s faced them in the past and still gets shaky thinking they’re going to pounce. The truth is, if you’re saying something different, or living different, or perhaps have made a mistake or two in life…they’re truly ALWAYS going to pounce. Expect it. Count on it. Embrace it. Then look into the eyes of Jesus in the best way you know how and ask Him what He thinks. Expect a smile, a warm touch, an embrace, perhaps even a “well done.”

    As Teddy Roosevelt said, when you’re “in the arena” you’re allowed to say and do things and not give a thought to those who are on the sidelines. Early in my faith journey I heard a speaker say, “I want to be doing something for the Lord, even if it’s making mistakes.” Been doing that ever since. But I’ve also done a few good things, too. I guess this all makes me human and thankful I have a savior.

    The truth is, you wrote a very honest book and people (mostly those 10 mean church ladies) can’t handle honesty. Publishers tell me it’s not good for an author to have all 5-star reviews. Having a few 1-stars actually provides the balance that…yes, makes your reviews more honest. So rejoice for the few bad reviews. People will read them and likely realize it’s just someone odd being mean. It’s often the thing that convinces a reader to buy the book.

  17. Don’t forget the one star review was couched by several four and five star reviews. I my profession (HR Director) when I do surveys I always delete the lowest and the highest score to get the true value. The books sounds great. I will probably buy it. A five star review to your son for his sensitivity! That in itself was worth the agony of the review was it not? Keep writing! Cheryl Dale

  18. I’ll be honest, I am so not ready for the public flogging! I can’t even handle the private flogging! But this is really, really good to read, Susan — I need to give myself a major talking-to, because as a memoir writer with a bit of a gritty faith history, I’ve got to prepare myself for personal criticism, should my book ever get published. You’ve given me a lot of ponder today. And I really appreciate that you put yourself out here so honestly.

  19. Susan – I’ve been writing in newspapers and now a lot online in a column for years and have found that the vast majority of people are kind and caring and even when they have a differing opinion they can state their case without getting personal. And I write about politics so that’s a really good litmus test! (Although there was that one week where I had to go looking for a little perspective closer to home after a bagful of vile mail…)

    However, there’s that handful of people whose hobby seems to be throwing verbal or written rocks at writers just because they can. We saw it on Amazon when they started letting ‘readers’ leave opinions and just this past week an author friend of mine noticed a one star rating on GoodReads and saw that the reader had suddenly read 6,000 books and every last one of them had a one star review. It’s unfortunate that some people leave their integrity at home but frankly, Rachelle is a great judge of a good book and if she likes your book take all the rest of it in perspective.

  20. It happens so many times, those one-star/two-star reviews. I often wonder if the people giving them even read the entire story. I’ve also learned that it’s important to make sure our books end up in the hands of reviewers who read our genre. No use giving a sci-fi story to a romance reader because you know they won’t enjoy it, and that’s just setting yourself up for disappointment.

  21. Susan, thanks for sharing so transparently. I’m new enough in the business that I haven’t considered any reviews. Well, not really. 🙂 I appreciate your perspective and wisdom. Thanks for showing me the importance of being ready to face 5’s and 1’s with God’s grace.

  22. Good post, Susan.
    Wow, this has happened to me. But mine was from somebody who didn’t finish the book. I struggled with it, thinking it wasn’t fair because they didn’t read the ending. And it takes awhile to even out that low score. To be truthful, it really grates! The thing was, mine seemed personal, too, because even though I write fiction, I’m writing from personal experience as a Mennonite woman. And this reader had trouble relating to a character who had been so sheltered in life. She said it wasn’t realistic. I was being real. That scares people.
    What I’m try to say is that when something hits a chord, people can react by throwing blame at the story or the writer. That just means our subject is either controversial or convicting. And sometimes this can cause a “BUZZ” and buzz is good for selling books. When some hate a book and others love it, that stirs up plenty of interest. It can bring a book to the top.
    So I hope, in your case, God uses it for some positive results. I sooooooo appreciate your honesty because it’s something we will all face at one time or another if we write from our hearts. And from our hearts, we need to find forgiveness. I love the glimpse we just got of your humble and forgiving heart!

    1. Thanks Dianne for this glimpse into your heart as well. Sounds like I can learn a few things from you — like humility and forgiveness. Keep writing. (I have some lovely Mennonites in my family and they always teach me a few things ….)

  23. Thank you Susan for such a great post. I am just finishing up my first memoir, and my editor is working on my book proposal. She told me from the very beginning, that I need to have the skin of a rhinoceros. Am I ready? Well ready or not, I have come too far to turn back now. I will accept rejection as hard as it is, but I will not give up. I have a story to tell that I feel will help many people, and I have faith that someday, somehow, someone will publish it. That thought is what motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing. May God bless you!

    1. God bless you as you write your memoir. Just remember it is a personal and spiritual journey — regardless of who “likes” it and whether it sells. A memoir is a gift you can pass on. Don’t give up!

  24. How could a book like yours get one star? Hell, I was a single father for 10 years, starting when my son was 4 and during that time I held down my job as a civil engineer, obtained professional licensure in two states, learned guitar, hosted birthday parties, sewed buttons and arranged for piano lessons. You get 50 stars in my book.

    And since I am now writing again, please be there for me when I get my first one star review.

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. My dear Susan, you are a blessed woman. You have a son and a true heart. I once had a pastor who could have 499 warm wishes for his superb sermon, but 1 who made a negative comment and it threw him for the rest of the day, sometimes longer.
    ‘Act more like a Christian and hang up your wordly ambition’!!!!!????? Anyone can ACT like a Christian, it takes a ‘superwoman’ to live the truth. Jesus knows how much you love him and he knows your true heart. You carry on girl, your book will touch many, many women struggling as you did and Christ knew that when you wrote it.

    1. Thanks Dee. I am blessed indeed. Truth be told, I probably do need to get my worldly ambition in check. But the good news is that my son sees that and he still loves me!

  26. Another great blog post! I guess you never really know if you’re prepared until it happens. But we do have to remember we can’t please everyone, and everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion. Personally, unless there is something really faulty about the material,something that would want you to ask for your money back like maybe half the pages in the book are missing or printed upside down.. I have my own opinion about people who write one star reviews. I mean, if its electronics and the darn thing doesn’t work, yeah. But if its something as subjective as a book simply close it up and stop reading. Personal attacks merely expose the aggressor for who they are. But then, that’s my opnion. I doubt if I would ever write a memoir!

  27. Hi Susan! First of all, I loved your book! It was an inspiration to me as a working mom who really wants to do it all and doesn’t know how to do it. And, while one or two people may not like it, I think many, many women do.

    I’ve also had a bad review…a blogger totally slammed me on her blog telling everyone my book was self-centered and that I “spent the entire book whining and moaning about what should be a gift from God.” GULP. It’s hard to read… but I just have to remember that one person is not everyone. So, I try to ignore that review and focus on the positives.

    1. Whining and moaning? I’ve never done that! (Not!)

      Who doesn’t whine and moan when they’re pregnant?

      I loved your honesty and wit in your book – I think we just might have the same sense of humor.

  28. This comes at an ironic time. No, I didn’t just get my first 1 star review. I’m not published – yet. I’m signed up to get weekly writing tips from author Holly Lisle ( This week’s email came just this morning. In it she talked about how you, your desires, your fears, your dreams, and your nightmares are all going to be in and affect your fiction writing.

    So when you came to “Now, if you’re a fiction author, you’re thinking, ‘What does this have to do with me?’ ” It really struck home how much it does have to do with me. Thank you for your article.

  29. I think nobody is ready for criticism so we should try to embrace those comments that add to our writing as to our life… People like giving their opinion and sometimes they don’t do it with a good heart. Forgive and forget…
    I also believe that a lot of people want to be good christians and yet, try to do too much in the world… I’m guilty of that too so you are not alone 🙂 And I’m pretty sure those who judge you are dealing with the same “priority issue”. God bless you!!!
    Amalia from Argentina

  30. Oh, Susan, the dreaded ugly review– none can escape it. I’m so sorry for your experience, though. If it helps, I really do think the first ugliness is the hardest to accept. The one thing I’ve taught myself to do is to stop and think of the ugly reviewer as the person he or she is and ask Father to give me perspective on why they feel the need to demean someone’s work publicly. (I’m not talking about industry reviews here, which are necessary and part of the landscape, but more the individuals out there with axes to grind.) The practice of praying for the unknown face that He knows so well tends to take the sting out! Another thing I tell myself is that this type of experience balances all the good reviews and reminds us to write for an audience of One but share it with all! 🙂 Blessings…

  31. I completely see and feel what you are talking about. Am so proud of you. You did not take it personal but became stronger and ready to reach the top of the Leader. Great job and super encouragement. Love your story and I will review you as a 5star.

  32. Super post, Susan. I don’t know if I’ll ever be prepared. I try to protect my family by never showing their photos and keeping all they do very, very private. But the rest of it? If someone criticizes the heart-on-paper part? I guess I’ll just have to read your post next month on how it will make me stronger. You are amazing. Your words are gleaming arrows cutting into the hearts of working mamas who so need that encouragement. Greateful for you and your wisdom!

  33. I hope you hugged on your little guy a lot that day. Perceptive of him to pick up on when the review shifted from being about the book to being about the author.

  34. The best way to shield yourself from the sting of a bad review is not to read them–any of them–good or bad, and have whose opinion you trust read them for you. If they know you and your writing, they’ll be able to wade through what’s fair criticism and what isn’t; decide if it’s information worth passing on to you. Typically, it’s not.

    1. It’s good advice, for sure. Of course, I’m a pro at learning the hard way. I did end up having my niece read all the reviews and do the “screening” — something I would highly recommend.

  35. Thank you so much for this post and for your transparency. I’d love to read your book…
    I guess I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that there is a probability that I could actually get published one day. I have thought about responses, but your post was very enlightening.
    May God continue to bless and inspire you.

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