Getting Stronger: 2013 365 Challenge #154

Just keep smiling

Just keep smiling

Yesterday I received my first one-star review for Dragon Wraiths. Aside from being aggrieved at the effect on my average rating, because I still don’t have many reviews, I was okay about it because the reviewer said ‘not my style’. Fair enough.

But, as if one-star reviews are buses, low and behold there’s another one today.

And this one’s a proper attack from someone who has read the book (as they’re quick to point out, possibly in retaliation to the five-star reviewer who reviewed while still reading.)

I’m obviously a bit low about it, but only because I’ve inadvertently wasted hours of a person’s life (as they were also quick to point out!). I’m appreciative that they read my novel to the end – I certainly wouldn’t have done if I’d disliked a book as much. And I’m grateful for the honest feedback. I’ll particularly take note of the bit that suggests the climate change theme is preachy and inaccurate.

But I’m not devastated by the review.

Hard to be sad here: The Mill House at Sacrewell Farm

Hard to be sad here: The Mill House at Sacrewell Farm

Which isn’t like me at all. Lost keys or finding a typo can leave me sobbing. I’ve been trying to work out why I’m not upset. I think some of it comes from the fab support I got on my Facebook page in response to the first low review. There are other factors too: Partly it’s because I’ve come to believe in my writing, partly because I’ve thought books and films were awful and been in the minority, and partly because at least it got a reaction. At least someone bothered to tell me what they thought.

Surely every artist wants to know what the world thinks of their work, good and bad.

Not that I want every person who buys or downloads a free copy of my book to leave a one-star review. But at least this person bothered to give a reason, unlike some of my one-star reviews on Goodreads. Now that is annoying. I cannot learn and grow as a writer if I can’t accept criticism, and I certainly can’t learn what to fix if no one tells me what’s wrong in the first place.

Ironically I’ve never been strong enough to join a critique group, because my low self-esteem hears critique of my writing as an attack on me as a person. Having such an attack come from someone who doesn’t know me at all makes it much easier to keep the two separate.

Besides, I was also nominated for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award today, (thank you and, as an author, you take the good with the bad and Just Keep Writing…


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Morning, sleepy head.”

Claire turned towards the noise and prised open sticky eyes. Kim was standing beside the bed, a cup of tea in one hand, a plate of toast in the other.

“I thought you might be hungry, as you said you didn’t eat dinner yesterday.” Kim slid the cup and plate on the bedside table, then perched on the edge of the bed.

“How are you feeling this morning? How’s the wrist?”

Claire wriggled upright, blinking her eyes into focus. “How are you so fresh and awake? What time is it?”

“It’s around 11am.”

“What?” Claire jerked, as if to leap out of bed. Kim held out a restraining hand, and smiled.

“Shhh don’t get up. It’s fine, you needed sleep. Sleep is the best healer.”

“Kim, I haven’t slept in until lunchtime in years.” Well, not without an incentive to stay in bed at any rate.

“You’ve had an accident, you need to rest.” She tilted her head, and grinned. “Besides, I need you awake to discuss wedding plans with me later. My concern is purely selfish.”

Claire looked up at her friend, noticing for the first time the blonde roots showing through the bright red hair. As if sensing her scrutiny, Kim put a hand to her head and smiled sheepishly.

“I had to stop dying it, when I found out I was pregnant. Looks like I’m going to have to wear a wig after all. Not sure what I’m going to do for the wedding. I can’t decide whether to get a blonde wig and look like me, or get you to pin it up so the roots don’t show.” Kim stopped abruptly. “Sorry, I’m wittering on again. I talked your ear off last night, when you arrived, didn’t I?”

Claire shook her head, hoping it seemed sincere. She reached for her tea, to mask any expression on her face that might give her away.

“I did, I know. I’m sorry. It’s just I seem to be bottling words at the moment. There’s so much going on in my life, in my head, and Jeff isn’t here all that much. We’re in rehearsals stage at work, so there’s no time to chat…” She trailed off, as if unwilling to explain her need to talk with yet more words.

“What about your Mum, can you talk to her? Not that it isn’t nice to talk to you.” Claire’s words slurred with tiredness, and she took another gulp of hot tea.

“I don’t really feel comfortable talking to Mum. I know she isn’t thrilled about the pregnancy, and the wedding being all rushed.”

“I thought it was Jeff’s parents insisting you get married before the baby arrives.” Claire cradled the mug and let the steam warm her face.

“They didn’t insist, we guessed. No one has really said anything, it’s all just dark looks and sharp intakes of breath.”

Claire tried to remember Kim’s parents. From what she could recall, Kim had a great relationship with them. Much more open and loving than hers. She remembered hearing Kim’s mother call, ‘I love you’ as Kim ran in to school. Kim would yell her answer over her shoulder, long hair flying, face bright with joy. I don’t think I’ve ever told my parents I love them, or heard them say it to me.

“Maybe you need to sit and have a good chat with your Mum. She doesn’t seem the disapproving type. Perhaps she’s worried about saying the wrong thing, or getting in your way, over-stepping the mark. It must be tough for her, too.”

Kim stared at the floral duvet cover, a crease between her brows. The girls sat silent for a few moments, the only sound the slurp of Claire’s tea.

“You’re right.”

Kim’s sudden words made Claire jump, and she was thankful the mug was empty.

“I need to call her. I don’t want to plan this wedding, or have this baby, without my Mum. Will you excuse me?”

Claire nodded, envious of Kim’s decisiveness. Her friend disappeared from the room, leaving Claire to eat her cold toast alone.


26 thoughts on “Getting Stronger: 2013 365 Challenge #154

  1. Can I just say how much I admire your attitude to your reviews and how you have spun the negative into the positive which is what we must all learn to do. Criticism is hard and I am like you in that if someone says something negative about my writing, I take it personally rather than accepting that we all like different things. I love the fact that you have belief in your writing and yourself and that is undoubtedly the key. I have hopped over to Amazon and had a read of your synopsis and it sounds good so if it’s available in the UK, I shall look to download it and then I’ll leave you a review too (if you like?). 🙂

    • Thank you so much, and yes the book is available in the UK, on Amazon and Smashwords, and that would be lovely as long as it is an honest review! 🙂 I don’t think I could take the criticism so well if it hadn’t come after I’d also had lovely reviews. My best review isn’t on Amazon (because written by a fellow author – come on Amazon, we’re not all fakers) – and it makes me smile every time I read it. I am slowly learning in life that you have to be your strongest advocate because there are too many people trying to pull you down to make themselves feel better. It happens to me most as a parent, because more people can relate to parenting than writing, and it’s taking longer to have that confidence as a parent, but I’m getting there…

  2. Indeed, if its in you to write, just write. People leave their opinions whenever they can, in whatever mood they happen to be in. Seen too many keyboard warriors to waste an ounce of energy on the bad. If it rings true, accept it. If not, pass on by. Never let it stop you writing. You’re too good for that.

    • Thank you, it means a lot to have you say that. I find there is a weighting scale to reviews and feedback: the more you know and respect the person leaving it, the more it means. Reviews from other writers always mean much more to me. I do also read other reviews by people who leave negative comments and it’s generally their style. Some people like to rant. Actually, that used to be me I guess, until I became a writer myself. Once you know the effort involved you’re far less quick to judge!

  3. I think you’re making amazing progress as a person with worries n tears in past! That’s one way to look at it. Plus, growth is uncomfortable ! You’re just growing!

  4. I just completed the ‘look inside’ provided by amazon. My opinion. Want to finish. Read chapter 2 some. I was lost in the story. Love it. Problem: ‘not available for sale in Canada e-book store’…I’d love to continue! I’d also pay more to read remainder. I would tell you though guaranteed: the opinions and 1star ratings are not personal. Period. Even though you know that, its kind of like a child: its just not personal how they treat us. It’s about them and what emotions the situation arises for them. Not you. And, the point, because this book is yours, your baby, it is like child, a natural emotional bond with book/creation/character. When people don’t like how I do my job, its not personal. I’m just not the one for their specific needs.Cchinn up ;;)) The reader does not know you, perhaps you’d not even desire to know them as ppl, or be it your best buddy….it’s not personal

  5. At my recommendation, my cousin purchased your ebook for .99. He sent a message to me yesterday “I am really enjoying that DRAGONWRAITH book. Really well written!”
    I told him about your blog, but if you wish to send him a note about where he may review it, he is in facebook under Douglas Jones Hightower.

  6. You’re quite right that a one-star review with substance is easier to handle. It drives me nuts to see the one-star reviews because Amazon shipped it wrong somehow or they didn’t really read, just knew they wouldn’t like it or are vague as to what was wrong. That doesn’t help me decide if I want to buy it or not.

    Unfortunately, criticism is part of the artistic world. Everything is baby steps. Maybe it’s time to reconsider joining a group. If they’re offering good feedback, you’ll learn to deal with the hurt feelings and not get defensive. If they aren’t, you don’t have to go back. I did a Sheila Bender workshop on-line and in general, the feedback I received was very good and on-point. I hated giving negative feedback to my fellow writers, but they took it in the spirit it was intended and I think it improved their writing as well.


    • I don’t mind genuine criticism, in some ways it’s better than vague praise (though I’m guilty of the ‘loved it’ type of reviews!). The time commitment is what prevents me from actively engaging in critique groups

  7. It’s true, working face to face with a writing group does toughen the skin. If anything, I’ve learned to take criticism with grace and humility by being part. My group almost never criticizes unjustly, and then they wrap it thickly with praise. Still, these little hiccups still burn at the back of the brain. Use this fuel to make great new chapters!

    • I do need to try harder to find a group. I have tried to find Beta readers but don’t have much time to offer critique in return. I intend to make a real effort next year, when I’m no longer committed to daily blogging.

  8. I don’t think I’d be as calm as you are. I tend to take everything personally. I calm down later, and look at the facts, and get myself straightened out, but it takes me a while because I’m a very emotional person.and very sensitive. Probably too sensitive. But you are so right – we cannot improve our craft if all people say is that it’s bad. Be specific. Tell me what you didn’t like. I’ve read books in my favorite genre that sucked, and I’ve branched out and read novels so far out of my comfort zone content wise that my hair was standing on end, but I couldn’t put it down because the writing was so good. It takes all kinds. You can’t please all the people all the time, and some people will never be pleased, no matter what.
    I’ve only read two snippets of the continuing saga, but if that’s the style you wrote your novel in, then it can in no way be a one star book. I really like your style, and your voice. Keep at it! Ignore the idiots.
    Tina @ Life is Good

    • Thanks Tina. It’s really hard to put your finger on why you like or don’t like a book. I think my calmness is largely because they criticised the content rather than my writing style, or that the grammar or spelling was awful. Dragon Wraiths is not my normal writing style or genre and so I don’t mind if it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Funnily enough, the first-person present that it’s written in is similar to Hunger Games (which I loved) – my Mum couldn’t get past the first chapter of Hunger Games but loved my book. So even if the style is similar it’s all down to a specific story and whether it grabs you.
      I’m glad you like the style my blog-novel is written in, as that’s closer to the bunch of manuscripts lurking on my laptop that I hope to finish one day!

  9. This is why I don’t like the star rating system at Amazon. I know Amazon won’t change it, but IMO rating a book doesn’t really give a potential reader any idea whether or not they’ll like it. In fact, the star system has been one of the reasons I am hesitant to leave a review at all. If I explain why a book fell short for me, that might be exactly why another reader would enjoy it! But then, I’m forced to rate it which seems arbitrary.
    Is my one star book another’s five star? Do I rate what I think other readers might like as opposed to what I might like? Or do I rate based on my personal feelings, which might not be relevant to anyone else but me because I’m Little Miss Fussy Reader?
    Oh well, I think your strong writing and resolve speak for themselves! You’re learning from the experience which is the most important part. 🙂

    • I tend to only read book reviews to find out if the book is full of typos etc. same with movies and music. A review can tell me if a vacuum cleaner works or whether a children’s toy is annoying, but not whether a book will move me. In fact good reviews are having the opposite effect on me at the moment – I’ve got a copy (two copies) of The Humans by Matt Haig that I was really looking forward to reading, having closely followed his Twitter and Facebook campaign. However, the more he quotes five-star reviews on Twitter the harder I am finding it to read the damn thing. There’s too much hype and my expectations too great. Plus I didn’t like the first few pages and now I think there must be something wrong with me!

  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Amanda. You have to take the bad with the good. Afterall, you said it yourself, that’s how we writers grow. I sometimes believe that all the hype about reviews you see on Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, or whatever other social media there is, is just that…hype. They are, let’s say…”forced reviews”. By that, I mean, they are reviews from close friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, it is real gratifing to see all those reviews and “stars”. But you have to take them with a grain of salt, as they say. As one of your commenters above said, it really stinks when you see a one star review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and the reviewer doesn’t really say why they gave your book that kind of rating. I know you read my blog post, “Review or Not To Review”, and that was directed toward all the other readers out there who are NOT close friends or family. No solicitation!

    Let me tell you about the best review I’ve gotten from someone who read my debut novel, Tip of the Iceberg. It wasn’t a review on Amazon or B&N. There were no stars attached. About two months ago, I was doing a book signing at a B&N in Richmond, VA. (My home) This was on a Saturday. Monday night, when I got home from my “day job”, I sat down to check my email. That’s right…email. It was from a gentleman who was at my book signing and had purchased my novel. He wrote me a two page email, first telling me that he had a MA in English, and that his focus was in Literary Criticism. Then he went on and talked about almost every aspect of my novel. Characters, dialog, scenes, grammer, and on, and on, and on. It was fantastic! Here is how he concluded the email, word for word…

    “In summary, “Tip of the Iceberg” shows a lot of promise. You have a knack for keeping your reader involved and entertained. I would gladly read another one of your books. I think that with more practice your writing will improve on a technical level, though by no means do I think your writing is “bad.” I saw on your author page that you are in the process of crafting a sequel. I am already anticipating its arrival because, if this book is any indication, I will be in for another enjoyable read that will keep me on the edge of my seat.”

    As you can see, he mentions that there is room for improvement. But, I looked at the “big picture”, which to me, was a “5 star rating”. As my email address is on the bookmarks that I hand out with my book, I would almost like it if every person who bought a book at one of my signings, would email me directly to comment, rather than leave an on-line review.To me, it’s more personal. So, I don’t worry about the ones on-line at the book sellers’ sites. Yes, they are good to see. But, like I said, take them for what they are.

    Well, I guess I’ve ranted long enough. I hope in some way, my words will make you feel a little better about getting a ‘not-so-good’ review. On a personal note, my advice to you would be to join a local writer’s group. Don’t be shy! I joined James River Writers AFTER I had my debut novel published. I only wished that I had done it before. It has been the best thing I have done since getting my novel published. Good luck in the future and thanks for the follow. I am doing the same.

    • Thank you for sharing this great story. I must have given the wrong impression in my post because I’m genuinely not upset about the one-star review. I was low initially, but only because I had been the inadvertant cause of someone else’s unhappiness. I should probably have explained that I want the reviews in order to improve my sales, not as literary criticism on my book (I would LOVE the email you received). With sufficient five-star reviews you get a better profile with Amazon. As someone who finds it hard to self-promote and has little time for marketing, a few more reviews might make all the difference. They shouldn’t, because – as you pointed out in your excellent blog post – those reviews could all be biased or bogus! I will look for a writer’s group next year, when I’m not doing the daily blog and can get back to my WIP. Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to write such an interesting and informative comment.

  11. Pingback: Advice for Amazon: 2013 365 Challenge #157 | writermummy

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