Surviving the One Star Review

This one punched me in the gut. You know, like the scenarios in that commercial for insurance. Life comes at you fast. My first one star review knocked me on my butt. Although I never cried, I indulged in a pity party for a few days.

Does this mean I’m a real writer now? I didn’t think my book garnered enough attention to elicit such a negative response from a reviewer, especially a fellow author. Why would one author so thoroughly reject another author? We all know how difficult it is to take rejection. We’ve all been there. So why the harsh review? Why post the review on every social media site available? If I read a book that, in my opinion, is poorly written, I will decline to post my thoughts publicly out of respect for my fellow author.

The book never reached the New York Times Best Seller list. Heck, it’s never even reached the Amazon Best Seller list. The topic isn’t controversial. Yes, the book has some flaws. What book doesn’t? There is no such thing as the perfect book. If I had to do it over again, I’d adjust a few things. But then… I’ve learned a lot from being edited and from being an editor.

I had some concerns. How would this extremely negative review impact my sales? My reputation as a writer and an editor? My chances of ever signing a contract with an agent? My motivation to continue writing? My courage to request more reviews?

From this negative experience, I’d like to share a few thoughts that might help other authors survive the one star review with dignity and class and just maybe give some reviewers a few hints about writing a credible review.

Some advice for writers.

It is far more beneficial to the up and coming author to form alliances with other writers than to make enemies.

I’m going to admit it. My first reaction was the impulse to seek revenge. Retaliating would have accomplished nothing except to start a war, and from my personal experience, revenge is an empty pursuit and offers fleeting satisfaction. Revenge, anger, and hatred are bitter poison pills one swallows with the futile hope of injuring someone else. It is far better to avoid Negative Nancy than to engage her in useless debate over the merits of her review.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

I remember when my eleventh grade American History teacher told me I was entitled to my own opinions. What a revelation. I’ve been opinionated ever since! One harsh review is one person’s opinion. The opinion might have merit and it might not. A series of critical reviews all commenting on the same flaw deserves more attention from the author than a single negative review. What have I learned from my reviews? I know now that subtleties are lost on some people. I need to be obvious about how I close my suspense plotlines, especially in complicated plots with several different threads pulling together near the end of the book.

A good agent considers an author’s entire brand.

A writer friend had some great advice. Would I really want an agent that would reject me based on one negative review? If I ever make it to the NYT Best Seller list, I’m likely to get tons of negative reviews. In the long run, one bad review means nothing. I’m going to continue to write no matter what.

One negative review doesn’t impact sales.

My sales actually jumped a bit right after the review posted. Go figure that one! :) So I’m moving on. And…my book could use a few more reviews. Play nice…please. From everything I’ve researched, read, and observed, writers with multiple works published by the same publisher generate more sales than writers with a ton of 5 star reviews. I am going to admit it. I want my books to sell, not because I anticipate getting rich, but simply because I want others to read my work. There is no greater thrill for this writer than when a fan asks when my next book will be released.

Some advice for reviewers.

If you haven’t read the book, please don’t write a review.

Writers work too hard requesting reviews to receive a bogus review. I love it when it’s obvious the reviewer actually read my work. I don’t put much stock in a review if it’s questionable the reviewer ever opened the book. I’ve read so many reviews that appear to be generated from review services, not legitimate reviewers. $5 for 5 great reviews reads just like what it is. You get what you pay for. Most savvy readers can tell the difference.

When reviewing someone’s baby, please be aware there is a person behind the work, a person who may not take rejection well. 

As a writer, an editor, and a member of critique groups, I’ve reviewed other people’s work for years. The old adage works here. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. The “sandwich” review helps take the sting out of critical comments. Layer one—say something nice. Layer two—discuss the plotline. Layer three—make your critical comments. And I do mean critical, not mean-spirited. Layer four—say something nice.

Slamming a fellow author’s work doesn’t increase your book’s chances of climbing the best seller charts.

This type of competition is petty and wasted effort. With tons of aspiring authors out there vying for attention, dissing a fellow author accomplishes absolutely nothing. Slamming another author reveals lack of knowledge about how the publishing industry works and tarnishes the shine on the author-reviewer’s own brand.

Thankfully, I survived this experience, but not without going through the five stages of grief. I learned a lot in the process, and hopefully it has made me a better, more aware writer.


  1. Just had my first 1-star. Initially I was surprised and then I fell about. The reviewer hadn't either not read my book or not understood it. A troll. Erase and rewind :)

  2. Good advice, and kudos to you for not lashing out at the reviewer. The line...nothing new under the sun always comes to mind when I read these types of reviews, and I remember the famous quote attributed to Mark Twain; though I believe there are several references in the bible too... “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference”

    Anyway, even though the reader is entitled to her opinion, I saw nothing that merited a one-star review. And sadly, if I was reviewing someone based on grammar, I'd be darned sure I proofread my review. She made several mistakes.

    "Foul language?" How in the world do you criticize someone for not swearing? I don't swear. And even though I will allow an appropriate "D" or "H" word in my novels, I don't feel the need to use offensive words. I find my way around them so that all readers can enjoy.

    Sex? Is that a prerequisite for a romantic-suspense novel? Sex is not romance. Did you promise her sex? And yes...hmmm...I know of three people off the top of my head who have fallen in love and have married before having sex. I know it's a foreign concept, but yes, it does happen. Sad that she isn't familiar with that concept.

    Overall, I found nothing in her review worthy of a one-star review, so all she did was make me want to read.

    And no, you won't get a one-star review from me. Life's too short. If I don't like a book, I stop reading it and certainly don't take the time to write a review. I continue to read and will review books that are worthy of three stars and up! Anything less and it's to the slush pile they go.

    And authors...seriously? Have you nothing better to do than slam another writer? This is a hard business, and I don't expect a writer to lie, but there are plenty of readers who are willing to hand out one-star reviews. Although, honestly, as sad as it sounds, I believe most of the one-star reviews come from disgruntled writers. Shame on you!

  3. i am sorry - you are a better woman than me - I would have cried.... I don't understand why people have to be so mean. YOu may not love something, and we are all entitled to our own opinions, but....


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