Did you ever fall totally in love with your own book?
I sure hope so.
But as all the romance novels suggest, love makes us vulnerable. In this case, vulnerable to… our readers.
Like that one reader in however-many who comes along and absolutely hates your book.
It happened to me two days ago, and I’m still reeling.
Let me tell you a little about my book Penguin Rosh Hashanah. It’s all about the Jewish new year, and it’s also all about penguins. Light on facts, heavy on cute. [The Kindle version is free until Wednesday, Sept 24, 2014 if you want to check it out!]
I made the book light on facts for a reason, by the way.
Having celebrated the Jewish New Year for 2 days out of every year of their lives, my little kids, at 6 and 9, know this holiday inside and out. They don’t need to be taught that we eat apples and honey, or blow a shofar (a rams-horn trumpet) or pray for forgiveness (yeah, it’s a bit heavier than the secular new year).
Not only do they not NEED to learn these things from a book… they’d be bored with any book that tried to tell them these basic facts. A book that tells them how to celebrate Rosh Hashanah? Yawn.
Instead, the book shows a little penguin getting ready for the holiday.
Sometimes, he’s naughty.
Sometimes, he forgets to tell his parents how much he loves them.
Whatever the book is or isn’t, it is exactly the book I set out to write. But I was still surprised how deeply I fell in love with it when the actual proof copies arrived.
And I was even more surprised that someone came along and provided its fourth review… and gave it a SINGLE star, saying it wasn’t “worth the money,” it had no plot (um, okay), and “It left me wandering what Rosh Hashana was about.”
I totally don’t believe every book is every reader’s cup of tea. Yet I can’t help ranting inside my head: “Didn’t she look inside the book before buying? Didn’t she wonder how the heck penguins were going to instruct readers about how to observe the holiday?”
(Even to me – and I love the book – the idea of penguins and a sacred occasion is more than a bit of a non sequitur. That may even be why I love the book so much.)
I want to scream or cry, but I won’t.
Every reader has every right to both have and share her opinion. I will defend her right to express her one-star opinion on Amazon or anywhere else. And I, as the book’s writer, certainly have an obligation to reflect on what she didn’t like, and try to improve in future.
Am I going to respond? No! And neither should you. Writers gain nothing by adding comments or feedback to “explain” a book that their reader simply didn’t like.
I always love to see what saner, sager minds than mind have to say. And then share it with you so you’ll know what to do if a one-star review ever happens to you.
(OMG, that last sentence was a Seussian masterpiece of a poem: stop for a second and read it out loud!)
Here’s some of the best advice I found:
- “…here are my three steps to deal with it: 1. Ignore it; 2. Ignore it; 3. Use it as motivation to make your next article or manuscript even better” – Hugh O. Smith, via The Write Life.
- “… ignore them. If they really hurt, talk about it with your support network, and have a beer. Never have any sort of contact with a reviewer. There's no reason. Everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid to the person who has them. Life is too short to worry about what anyone thinks of you, or your work. In fact, you shouldn't be reading your reviews at all.” – Joe Konrath, via this hilarious article on dealing with bad reviews.
- “…you don’t actually have to “deal with bad reviews.” They rarely affect sales of your book, should not inform how you write your next novel… That’s not to say you should ignore all reviews about your book that are anything less than glowing. I read 4 and 5 star reviews to make myself feel good. But I pay very close attention to balanced 3 star reviews, because occasionally I can pick up some good advice from them. I don’t always agree with everything that’s written, but if I see a recurring criticism… I might take that criticism on board.” – Matthew Dunn, via his blog.
- “When you've gotten that horrible, terrible review saying your characters are cardboard and your writing is worse than a first grader's, come on over here and read these” (check out her list of funny 1-star reviews for very popular books by authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling) – Victorine Lieskie, via Victorine Writes.
And then, there is my absolute favourite form of solace… the hilarious YouTube series, Children’s Authors Read Online Reviews of Their Own Books.
“If I were given the choice between reading this book again and cleaning my teeth with sulfuric acid… I would choose the acid.” – Review from Sharon Creech’s Ruby Holler. If you enjoy this clip, there are a few more like it on YouTube.
If these guys can take it, and share their one-star reviews with a smile, then certainly the rest of us can learn, too.
When that one-star review inevitably hits you, try to step back and not let it hurt so much. Smile… be grateful that somebody read your book, even if it wasn’t their cup of tea.
If it’s clear from the review, by the way, that they didn’t read your book, then you can report the review to Amazon and have it taken down. Sometimes, it’s very obvious. I have even seen reviews where the “reviewer” admits something like, “I did not have to read the book to know….”
There are also many reviews in which the reviewer complains about things that are not related to you. Perhaps the book arrived in poor condition from Amazon, or didn’t arrive at all. I have seen one-star reviews for both, and you may be able to flag these to Amazon’s attention and get them removed as well.
The most frustrating kind of one-star review is the “whoopsie” review.
The reviewer raves about your book, saying, “It was wonderful! incredible! i loved every minute! Couldn’t stop turning pages!”… and then clicks the single star by accident. So you end up with a glowing, wonderful, one-star review. Ick. I honestly don’t know if there’s anything Amazon can do about this, even when it’s totally obvious that that’s what has happened.
However that one-star review happens to you (and you’d better hope your book gets enough attention to earn at least one), make sure you ignore the haters, don’t put too much stock in reviews… and head back out there all fired up to write more terrific kids’ books that you – and lots of kids, even if not all of them – will fall in love with someday.