Blessings From A One-Star Review

What possible good comes from a one-star review? 

I promised last month that there was more.  That I would explain how the experience of being publically criticized can make us stronger. 

Is the pain worth it?

Absolutely yes.  Here are three reasons why.

No. 1 – Criticism Tests Our Passion

We must be passionate about writing.  We must really want it.  Why else would we subject ourselves to this insane process called publishing? 

Think about it.  As writers, we are either the stupidest people on the planet, or we actually have a dream.  When we count up all the hours we spending outlining, writing, re-writing, editing, and trying to publish (not to mention marketing and networking) we’re earning less than minimum wage.  Throw in some harsh critics, and you’ll meet the ultimate test of your will. 

Criticism brings us to that moment of reckoning.  That moment when we ask ourselves.  Is this gig really worth it?  I have a nice life.  A good job.  A stable family.  Why do I want to upset the apple cart?

It’s a beautiful moment.   A moment when some of us finally feel free.  When we wrestle with passion and look our dreams squarely in the eye and say, “I don’t care what people think!  I am in this race and I am going to finish!”

Boy, that felt good.

No. 2 – Criticism Tests Our Relationships

I need to correct myself.  I actually do care what people think.  Granted, that group is much smaller than it used to be, but there is a core group of people that I don’t want to disappoint.  Like my husband.  My immediate family.  My closest friends. 

Here’s the point.  When we are publically criticized, we learn who our allies are.  We learn who our allies aren’t.  And our closest relationships – the ones we really care about – will likely become stronger. 

The silver lining?  In addition to shoring up my closest relationships, I actually met some new friends in the process – people who came along side me and defended me just because I stuck my neck out there. 

No. 3 – Criticism Starts A Dialogue

Why do we write in the first place?  So that everyone will agree with us?  I think not!  Don’t we want people to wrestle, to debate, even disagree?

In my case, Chasing Superwoman is a faith-based memoir about being a working mom and trying to do it all.  Nothing like hitting a few hot buttons all in one sweep.  Parenting?  There are few subjects we feel stronger about.  The choice for mothers to work outside the home?  Now, I’m really getting personal. 

The point isn’t whether my readers agree or disagree.  The point is that I’ve made them think.  Don’t I want to start a dialogue?

I’d like to introduce you to my Amazon buddies.  Five women I’ve never met before went on Amazon and wrote responses to the one-star review.  Several of these women sent me encouraging notes and personal emails.  One of these women became my Facebook pal, and another started her own blog.  These are the kind of fans writers dream of – all because of a one-star review!

Are you ready to test your passion, test your relationships, and start a dialogue?

Why are we really writing?  Who are we trying to please?  And don’t we want people talking about our work?

25 Replies to “Blessings From A One-Star Review”

  1. For me, the criticism that stings the most is when one of your core group, your allies — the ones who you want to please — tells you work is not good or misses the mark.

    1. Yes, it happens Peter. And I agree — it’s the hardest criticism to deal with when it hits close to home.

    1. It’s so interesting. I have clients who get trashed in the press and they tell me that sales go up, just because of the name recognition. Who knows. But when you are an unknown author I suppose just about any press is good!

      1. It’s interesting. I’ve actually seen one-star reviews where people in the comments said they would now put the book on their reading list. I once read “a widely-read one-star review will do more for a book than an obscure five-star review.” I’m starting to see the truth in that.

  2. There are times I’ve wondered whether I’m a masochist. I love your point about it testing how passionate we are. I agree. It also tests our ability to be humble—to learn and grow. And it tests our resilience.
    Fun to see you here.
    ~ Wendy

  3. Susan, I like hearing that people wrote responses to the one-star review.

    The rise of lay reviews is another aspect of the publishing “brave new world.” Twenty years ago, authors only had to hear professional reviews and get the occasional reader letter. We didn’t see all these lay reviews on the internet, so the experience of receiving reviews was quite different. Professional reviewers don’t usually do “drive-by shooting” reviews, or write a review with a lot of spoilers, and they also judge a book by professional standards rather than by their personal taste. So authors today have to read many types of reviews that authors didn’t face in the past. But I think in the end, it’s worth it because we also get to know so many wonderful readers through reviews in a way we never would have before the rise of social media.

  4. I think that writers write from a deep need for self-expression and to find the truth. While harsh criticism is harmful, ideas from others who disagree add fuel to the discussion. I say this without yet being a published author. Hopefully, I’ll still be open to others’ ideas after my first published work!

  5. Any setback is a gut-check, but those that are public, like 1-star reviews…the pain can linger for awhile. Okay, a long while, if we let it.

    Thanks for the reminders of the upsides of those setbacks. 🙂

  6. Don’t forget, bad reviews help us learn how to write better. Dig through and find what you think are valid points and work on those aspects in your future projects. I love reading bad reviews to get a more balanced perspective of what to expect from a book, and they do not particularly deter me from reading it, especially if it is a professional review. Pro reviewers are a different breed from regular readers who are your main audience, unless you’re trying to win the Nobel. And, to me, all reviews from regular folks (Amazon reviews) have to be taken with a grain of salt, unless all those reviews are negative – then you’ve got some learning to do.

  7. Well Susan, I read the dreaded one-star review, and what was glaringly obvious to me was that the reviewer didn’t agree with you. I saw little that had to do with the actual quality of your writing, your ability to communicate artfully and effectively. So while that may be cold comfort, I’d say it’s far better to take some lumps for WHAT you say, rather than HOW you say it. And like you said, it starts a conversation which is always a good thing. I see a win here.

  8. Great discussion, Susan! It’s so important to have good people around you, to keep a healthy perspective, and to develop a thick skin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. I’m not sure I could have as good of an attitude as you. When a blogger wrote a BAD review of my book, I cried for days. Then I got mad. I’m working on the acceptance and growth from it. Great post, Susan.

  10. I usually do not pay attention to criticism any more like I did when I was younger. Years ago, I received a rejection letter on a poem I submitted to a magazine that said, “nice but not exceptional.” So I write blogs instead, with an occasional sharing at church of my stories. My family thinks I am exceptional. 🙂

  11. Susan,
    I just read the “one star” and the subsequent reactions. I agree with Lisa Welch who commented here that your quality of writing wasn’t the focus of the review. It was done by a “lay reviewer” as Rosslyn Elliot commented here and does have the feel of a “drive-by shooting.”

    One of my favorite quotes is: “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, please restrict your remarks to the weather.”

    I’m so glad you were able to move beyond the reviewer’s venting tirade (after a good cry)learn valuable lessons from it, and focus on what is important.

  12. Hi,
    It is quite natural to receive a scathing review of one’s work especially from an amateur, though it is not restricted to them. A wise response would be for the writer to reread the offending(?) piece with an open mind (after a good cry, lol) and honestly analyse the points raised in the piece. If the points raised were appropriate, you would close the issue with gratitude in your heart for the writer.

    To prepare oneself for such gut-wrenching blows, writers should fortify their egos with the knowledge that there would be people who WILL NOT like their books or the way they told their story.

  13. Such an interesting point of view. Until today I was not familiar with your work but my friend, Joanne Sher pointed me toward your blog. We’ve all heard it before- “If you want to write, you need to have thick skin.” Easier said than done when you’re actually getting reviewed on something significant. Yikes! Well done for taking the high road. One of my mantras- our greatest triumphs are often a direct result of our greatest trials. It must feel good to know that you won anyway 😉 By the way, I’d be tempted to pray for this person like David prayed. There’s a not quite so Christian song on country radio right now that I think of whenever I end up in places like this. “I pray a flowerpot falls from a windowsill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to…” Somehow just hearing that song always makes me feel better when I’ve been sucker punched 😉

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