Slings and Arrows: Handling 1 Star Reviews

sadLong-time readers of this blog might remember a wee bit o’ ire I’ve shown in the past for reviews of the one- and two-star variety, like the guy who gave me two stars for my Three Shorts anthology because it was “too violent, too scary”…even though it has bullets on the front cover and is sold in the Crime Fiction section.

A year has passed and I’m happy to report that I’ve attained some perspective on the inevitable experience of receiving a bad review. Through hard work, persistence, and a lot of generous support from readers, both A Reason to Live and Blueblood have over 150 reviews each, with the overwhelming number of the reviews in the “excellent” category (4.6 and 4.3 stars, respectively).

But there were bumps along the road. After every KDP Select free run–and sometimes for no discernible reason at all–I received some lousy reviews that will stick to my works forever. It used to get me down to think of those people, no matter how ill informed, hated my writing.

I’m here to tell those of you despairing for the same reason: hang in there.

As time marches on and the good reviews start to roll in, you’ll start to realize, as I did, that there’s no way to avoid warts and blemishes of opinion on your work of art but, more importantly, they don’t matter nearly as much as the commitment you have to your own work.

A bad review can’t make me stop writing. A one star opinion doesn’t change the project I’m working on or the path I want my current plot to take. A personal attack on my intelligence doesn’t make me less able to construct dialogue or plant a red herring or finish my next novel on just the right note.

Only I can do those things.

Once I realized that, I was–well, not bulletproof, but at least bullet resistant. Scott Nicholson once told me that he never looked at good reviews any more, but that he was “fascinated” by bad ones, and now I think I understand why. At this point, they’re more curiosities in a dusty museum cabinet or something you might find in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. There might be one or two nuggets of constructive criticism, but for the most part, they’re things that–now–I glance at, quirk an eyebrow, then dismiss so I can get back to writing.


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts
6 comments on “Slings and Arrows: Handling 1 Star Reviews
  1. Wow, Matt! Congrats on how fast your career is moving. I saw your books are in the Top 100 and doing phenomenal!

  2. It feels to me like a fair percentage of bad reviews come after a KDP Select free run. For example, if you have a book that is CLEARLY a mystery, you always get a few reviewers who give the book one star and say, “I don’t like mysteries and this was a mystery, so it wasn’t my cup of tea.”

    Um, okay? I’d understand if the book was marketed as something *other* than a mystery and the reviewer wanted to warn other readers that it actually *was* a mystery. But when the book is being marketed as what it is, I guess I don’t get the point of leaving that review.

    Hopefully most readers will see those reviews and understand that it’s not a review to be taken seriously, but it certainly is easy to get caught up in the worry that too many of those silly one star reviews will drive away readers who would have really liked the book.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      All very true. My only message here: when that one star review is just one out of ten or twenty, we as writers give that (sometimes/often valueless) rating more weight than it deserves. With time–and more reviews–comes perspective and hopefully a renewed sense of purpose.

  3. Karen Avivi says:

    Great post. If a not-great review comes in on Goodreads, I peek at what that reviewer likes, and what s/he thought of books I love. Often s/he has panned books I love and given 5 stars to titles I DNF’d. I chalk it up to different taste, re -read some of my top reviews and move on. I’ve also learned to not give any rating at all if I don’t like something. I never realized the pain it caused until it happened to me.

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