Part of my daily ritual is a look at my website, my sales and my book reviews. Most days the numbers for all three are modest, to put it mildly. But, hope springs eternal for the self-published author, so I continue to check my numbers with the same optimistic anticipation a lottery player feels just before he checks the numbers on his ticket. After all, somebody’s got to win, right?
Having accepted that my first book is not likely to support me in the lifestyle to which I’d like to become accustomed, I have adopted smaller scale dreams, and can get quite giddy when I discover I’ve sold four books in one day, or had 8 visitors to my website. But nothing thrills me quite as much as seeing that I’ve garnered a new review. Unless, of course, it’s a bad review.
I’ve heard other authors say that even bad reviews are good, because you can learn something from them. And I know that’s true. I’ve had a few written reviews, as well as several conversations, wherein a reader has pointed out some things she thinks could be better, and why. It’s a little painful at the moment, but in the long run, helpful for the next book. Sort of like when your sister says “Yes, you do look fat in that dress.” Hard to hear, but useful, because it gives you time to make the necessary adaptations: find a new dress, lose 10 pounds, invest in Spanx, or get a new sister.
But the reviews that are of no value, except for purposes of making you feel bad, are the 1-star ratings, with no commentary. You’re left to wonder why the reader relegated your novel to the “This book is terrible” ranks. Was the plot too farfetched? The characters too flat? The dialogue unrealistic? The writing awkward or ungrammatical? It’s easy to fall into a lone-star state of mind, fretting about the whys of a negative review when there are no reasons given.
Recently I received a 1-star rating (not my first) that gave no clue as to why the reader ranked it so low. I decided to try and figure out the reviewer’s rationale myself. I checked other books she ranked, thinking maybe she was just a really hard grader and always gave low ratings. Nope. Her average rating for a book was 4.65. Ok, maybe she just didn’t care for the genre. Uh-uh, not that. She identified mysteries as a favorite type of novel. Well then, perhaps the subject matter was too dark for her. Mmm, don’t think so, she gave high marks to several books with rather gritty themes. Clearly I wasn’t going to find any answers that way.
So next I spent some time researching the ways other writers respond to negative reviews. Most had very sensible advice about accepting that people have different tastes, realizing readers respond through their own experiences and filters, and refusing to take bad reviews personally. All good suggestions. Then I came across an article by an author who really couldn’t let go.
In a story that ran in The Guardian last fall, she detailed her fixation on a bad review of her book. It became an obsession that led her to pay for an online background check of the reviewer, to spend many, many, many hours tracking her down, to call her at work, to show up at her house and to engage in other stalker-like behavior. Ok. Clearly that way madness lies, and a possible segment on Forensic Files. My takeaway from the article was, “Just walk away from the one-star review, Susan. Just walk away.”
And so, my equilibrium restored, I’m resolved to stop trying to find out the why of a bad rating or negative review. Instead, I have internalized a simple truth all authors can embrace: Sometimes, readers just aren’t that into you.