Monday, March 24, 2014

5 Things I learned from 1 star reviews


Hi...my name is Emilie and last week I spent almost 45 minutes reading 1 star reviews on Amazon.

Yes, you read that right. I spent almost and hour on Amazon reading 1 star reviews. At this point you may be questioning my use of free time OR wondering why I would do this (or maybe both). At first, I was doing a little reconnaissance on some books I was interested in purchasing. I'm a review-reader for most products so I thought, Why not for books too?

Now, some of you authors out there may be thinking, "Don't judge my book by the reviews!" I agree, and I usually don't. But, it is helpful to see what others say. I'll assure you that I'm a fair review-reader. I don't only look at reviews when choosing a book but several factors (which will be a whole different post to come later). Anyway, back to the 1 stars.

I was reading through various reviews in all levels (1-5 starts) and, to be honest, the 1 star reviews were the most entertaining things! I started to notice some patterns emerge as I read them (I was reading 1 stars for multiple books, not just one). I started to take note when I noticed a few things mentioned several times by different reviewers and thought, This stuff is so helpful! And thus, this post was formed. I hope it's helpful!

||5 Things I learned about writing from 1 star reviews||

1. Don't be cliche or predictable
One of the main things people point out in their reviews is whether or not the story was cliche or predictable. Readers want something new and fresh--something that will take their breath away with creativity unexpected elements. No matter the genre, they want to be surprised. As a reader, I can completely relate to this. As a writer, I know how difficult it is. You start to think about that old adage, "There's nothing new under the sun", and wonder how you could ever come up with a completely new idea. I believe it's possible! We are all unique with our own special creative spice (as I like to call it). The trick is taking time to figure out what that looks like. I think the answer is having a good plot (with unexpected twists) and creating solid (and believable) characters.
Taken from Pinterest

2. Go deeper
Readers just aren't satisfied with the typical motivations. She's in love with. He thinks she's attractive. The bad guy wants to "win". Those may be true of your characters, but readers want something deeper, something that they can identify with. A great novel doesn't portray the perfect human, it shows the hero/heroin's flaws and deepest desires that motivate them in all of their actions (especially the bad decisions they make). It's time for writers (myself included) to dig deeper into our characters in a way that still allows readers to identify with them, but isn't afraid to make them genuine, flawed people. 

3. Make it believable/realistic
This goes hand in hand with number 2. Are your characters believable? Is the driving force of the plot realistic? This can be as simple as how a scene plays out or as complicated as the driving motivation of the hero.
Some tips for this:

Scenes: Make sure they could actually happen the way you describe them! This is one of my pet peeves as a reader. I am such a visual person that, as I'm following along in the story, I'm picturing how the scene is playing out. I will "see" if it isn't possible.
{See my post about word photography on Melissa Tagg's blog here}

Plots: This is infinitely more difficult than a scene because it traces back to the basic foundation of your novel. Is that believable? I have often found myself working under the guise of thinking, "It's Christian fiction, I can get away with an element of surreal events" just because God is involved. I'd say yes and no to this. I've read great novels that include an element of the Lord's interaction (check out Rachel Hauck's books) but at the same time that doesn't mean you can leave large gaps in logic. I personally believe God works in logical ways as well as the miraculous. To make your novel-life believable, apply those same principles. 

Taken from Pinterest
4. Make it good
Seems like a no-brainer, right? It's not like you're trying to write poorly, but for this lesson I'd say the key here is to take your time. Too many people publish before they are ready. It's extremely easy to get a book up on Amazon now and too many authors are jumping ahead to publishing an ebook when they should take additional time to make sure it's publish-ready.

Here are a few things to think through before taking the next step to publishing:
  • How much critique has my novel/work had? 
  • Has it been edited critically or just casually?
  • Am I ready to pursue writing actively (think about social media, seeking reviewers, and interviews)
  • Have I invested time in my novel/work to make it good? Is it the best work I can put out on the market at this point in my writing career. 
These are though questions, but ask them for the sake of growing and producing the best product you can at this point in your career.

5. You can't please everyone 
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but you can't please everyone. No matter what, there will be those that love to tear about even the best of books. I think the best way to handle those reivews (or critiques) is to ask 2 questions:

1) What was the motivation for this review/critique?
This helps establish if someone just had an axe to grind with you (for no specific reason even) which will color their review. Establishes how seriously you should take their comments.

2) Is there anything of substance or truth in this review/critique?
Look for the nuggets of truth nestled among the sharp thorns of harsh words. Could you revise your dialogue? Are your characters shallow? Did you plot require leaps of logic? If so, take these things into account for your next novel and move on in confidence!
Taken from Pinterest

Let's face it - getting a bad review or harsh critique is painful! The best thing you can do about it is look for the positive and press on.

**Just so you know this is not a complete list. I just pulled elements from various, random reviews. Some 1 star reviews are terrible and just plain mean. I tried to glean from the ones who appeared to be writing a helpful review, not something out of spite or anger.

Have you received a 1 star review or harsh critique? If so, did you learn anything from it? How did you cope with it?