So Avril Tremayne's talking on the Pink Heart Society today all about one-star reviews, and why not to give up when someone doesn't like your book!
I had a reputation in my old corporate life for being tough.
One or two people have suggested over the years that I can’t possibly be as tough as I appear – and I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.
I was the chief media strategist for one of my country’s highest profile corporate brands – and believe me, after day-in-day-out, year-after-year public scrutiny and criticism…? Well, let’s just say that without a hide as tough as a crocodile’s, I would have had a nervous breakdown PDQ.
That tough hide stood me in good stead when, within two months of my first book being published this year, I was hit with the 1-star stick!
Yeah, it stung – ouch! – but after a short reflection and shot of whisky, I borrowed Brad Pitt’s attitude after his Chanel perfume advertisement was parodied to within an inch of its life, and said: ‘Fair play.’
The bald truth is, I already knew not everyone was going to love my books, because nobody’s books are universally loved. I used Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram as my guide in this. A 900+page tome that was lauded as ‘A masterpiece’ (The Age) and garnered 5-star ratings aplenty…but also, to my surprise, generated a swag of scathing 1- and 2-star reviews.
Yeah – thanks, Mum!
Actually, I didn’t even need a shot of whisky for that DNF, because Mum’s partial to a long, heavily dramatic saga – and that's not my forte.
In retrospect, I’m glad Mum gave it a go though, because there’s something worse than people not liking your book: nobody reading it!
Obscurity is not a problem for well-established authors – but it is a clear and present danger for a newbie!
On that basis, I developed my six-point new-author philosophy:
1. Produce the book
2. Hope people find the book
3. Hope people buy the book
4. Hope people have an opinion about the book
5. Hope people tell their friends about the book
6. Hope more people then buy the book
And the only thing in there that I have any major control over is #1 – produce the book.
Everything else is in the lap of the gods.
Well, in the lap of the gods and on the keyboards of the reviewers.
Because it is reviewers who help give our books visibility. They bring our books to the attention of people who might not otherwise have found them. And perhaps warn others who may have similar likes/dislikes to theirs that our books might not be for them (hello Mum!) – and there’s nothing wrong with sounding that warning, if our goal is to build a base of readers who actually like our books.
As a passionate and voracious reader, I consume a lot of books – and even though I can't remember a time I thought a book was a 1-star effort, because there's always something to admire, I’ll confess that there’s no way I could give every book I read 5 stars, either. Even author-specific I couldn’t do it.
I’m a huge Georgette Heyer fan, for example – but amongst her uniformly good books, I have my 5-star favourites, including Venetia, Friday’s Child, Frederica, Sylvester, The Grand Sophy, and Devil’s Cub. I would feel I was doing those books a disservice if I starred every other book of hers the same as those.
And surely that’s the principle at the core of book reviews: different people like different things.
As a real-life illustration, I’m going to share five snippets from the Goodreads ratings/reviews of my latest book Turning The Good Girl Bad:
2-STARS: …Didn't like the writing style and couldn't connect with the two characters that didn't seem real...
3-STARS: …I assumed it wouldn't be that well written but was delightfully surprised at how structured and erudite it was. The characters were well thought out...and the situation they were placed in was interesting…
4-STARS: …Tremayne has attempted to throw the spotlight on quite a few serious issues in this short romance. I think the playful fantasy role-playing, in regards to the infamous book featured in the story, doesn’t balance well with the serious intent…
5-STARS: …I highly recommend this read for all fans of romance with a twist! This author knows how to grab your attention, entraps you in her world and once you're there trust me you will never want to leave!…
Quite a range, right? And in response I say: fair play. (And okay, I'll admit to preferring the 5-star review because I'm not a saint.)
An author’s most valuable asset is his or her voice. And a strong voice is like a strong opinion – some people are going to agree/love it and some people are going to disagree/hate it.
Some people will give you glowing 4- and 5-star reviews that have you walking on air. Others will give you a 1- or 2-star review – maybe with some thoughtful criticism, or maybe more in the vein of an indiscriminate pasting! Perhaps you’ll be frustrated by readers prefacing a negative review with the words ‘I don’t normally read this kind of book, but…’ Or you’ll be left mystified with a low rating without any reason given.
I've experienced most of these things this year. And each time I go back to my 6-point philosophy and remind myself that I have control over only one thing: producing the book. Once that’s done, I have to hope like hell someone is going to want to read it, and that – if I’m really lucky – they might also want to share their opinion by reviewing it.
Because much as I love to get 5-star reviews – and I really, really do! – even a 1-star rating is a little twinkle for me.
And remember, fellow authors, it could always be worse. You could be a celebrity reading a mean tweet on Youtube…
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Spending time and saving lives together is bound to break down barriers. Yet with so much heartbreak and loss to overcome, can their fling ever lead to forever?