Have you ever gotten a less than great review on one of your stories? Well, I have, and let me tell you it’s not the best feeling in the world. After the initial shock of wondering how someone could find your story confusing, or with characters that lack growth, it turns into asking yourself if what they say is true.
There’s a distinct difference between critiquing a story with constructive feedback versus being downright abusive of the author and their work. So, how do we tell the difference between these two things? Let’s talk about it.
It’s easy to be offended when someone gives you a 1-star review. But if we take off our emotional reading glasses and dive into what the review says, you may be able to glean some insight off of this unfortunate event. Let me say this before we get into the nitty-gritty: not everyone is going to love your story as much as you do.
Some people have different tastes (or no taste, you may be thinking) and that’s perfectly fine! It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible author, but simply that story didn’t resonate with that person. Now, some things that I see many reviewers mention are the plot, characters, settings and descriptions, and grammar.
The plot is very important to a story and if a reviewer is telling you that it’s confusing, unimaginative, boring, or anything else, then I would say try to figure out why that is. Some people are top-notch and give a lot of feedback about specific things they find and in this case, listen to them. If you have multiple reviewers saying the same thing, then they may be on to something! The wonderful thing about being a self-published author on KDP is that you can revise your story to your heart’s content and Amazon will automatically update it. But if you’re having trouble with plot development, I would suggest employing beta readers before you hit that publish button because this could make or break a story.
As mentioned, a lot of reviewers will go after character development like it’s an Olympic sport. If you have one-dimensional characters who don’t add anything to the plot, they’ll be ripped to shreds. If you have a main character who has no flaws, is perfect at everything, and never has any real struggle, they will also be ripped to shreds. No one likes a Mary Sue which is just a fancy literary term for an absolutely boring character who has everything handed to them on a silver platter. If your characters are mentioned as unrelatable, it’s probably because they’re too perfect for your audience to feel any sort of emotional connection with them.
While readers love to be transported to a fantastical world, they also like characters with flaws. Bella from Twilight was awkward and clumsy (and made poor choices), Katniss from The Hunger Games had no clue what she was doing, and even Harry Potter had a school bully. These flaws and character dynamics made these characters more real to the reader because they could find a trait that mirrored their own, whether that be physically, emotionally, or mentally. These could be internal or external struggles, but still, it’s a struggle, nonetheless.
Another aspect of a story is description and setting. If a reader can’t see where the character is, how they’re fighting, where they’re going, then it’s hard to stay focused on a story. Dialogue is great, but your movement is also equally important. There are still some people who prefer the literary approach which is more scenery than dialogue, but I believe a healthy balance of the two is needed. If you’re going to write an epic battle scene, make sure there’s enough detail to keep your readers buckled up for it.
And the last part of this boils down to the grammar. I’ve seen reviewers dock whole stars because of this, so make sure your final product is as clean as possible. If you can afford an editor, get one. If you can’t, invest in Grammarly Premium or get friends to read over it for you. Proofreading goes a long way! And if any reviewer says you have too many grammatical mistakes, believe them and go back and do another edit.
But what about if they’re being just plain mean about your story? Amazon and other sites do a pretty good job filtering for abusive language, but not everything gets caught in the algorithm. Any review should be about the book only, not about the author as a person. If you have a reviewer attacking you, personally, then that’s grounds for abuse. If you receive multiple 1-star reviews from different accounts in a successive manner that are not verified purchases, you may also have a case. If the reviewer is suggesting other products in their review that have nothing to do with your story, that’s a spammer or a competitor which Amazon also doesn’t take kindly to. If the reviewer is being disrespectful or slandering you, that’s grounds for abuse as well. And of course, if they’re posting sexual or illegal content, then go ahead and click that report button.
But other than those examples listed above, the review will stay intact. So, make the changes you feel are necessary to your story. In the end, you’re the author and you can choose to change things or keep them the way they are. It sucks getting a 1-star review, but it’s not going to keep your story from being heard or prevent you from writing other books that people love. In the end, keep writing and don’t let them get you down! Happy writing!