Current eBook Series: Short Vowel Shorts

What Sucks: Your Book Or The Vampires? How NOT To Handle Your First 1 Star Rating

By Tate Johnston on October 30, 2013 in News, Self Publishing

Or: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But That One Star Rating Really Bites

In my son’s Reception classroom, there is a chart.

It helps the children be aware of their behaviour and has made a big impression on him during the first two weeks of school.

The chart is made up of five A4/8.5 x 11 size colour pictures placed vertically next to the classroom door. My son listed them as:

  • Golden Star
  • Sun
  • Rainbow
  • Grey Cloud with the Sun Poking Out
  • Really Dark Cloud

Everyone’s name starts the day on the Rainbow.

Last Friday, I felt like my name was put on Really Dark Cloud.

That 1 Star Rating?

It’s not a star.

It’s Black Rain Cloud.

If you’re not careful, it could become a black hole, sucking the optimism and motivation and soul right out of you.

So what do I do with that?

My rational self goes for:

1. Lofty

and quotes Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Take that, anonymous critic!

I’m practically Russell Crowe in the Colosseum.

Et tu, Brute?

Rational self mentally assents to this.

Emotional self feels …

Exactly like Fat Cat!

Like a Bad Bat flew out of nowhere and, for no apparent reason, just spat on me.

Now I’m Sad Cat.

Now I’m Mad Cat.

But with the complete anonymity of a 1 Star Rating, there’s no Splat! of retaliation.

(Which doesn’t solve anything anyway, but only leads to one logical conclusion: nuclear apocalypse – like teenagers at summer camp who are insulted by boys from another cabin and then cut the top off a Gatorade bottle, deposit Number 2, and put it in the other guys’ cabin. This is not going to end well. It’s only going to get worse without intervention or somebody involved putting an end to the escalation.)

Anyway, with complete and utter anonymity, there’s no recourse to retaliation, even if it would help, which it wouldn’t, as Fat Cat finds out in the yet-to-be-written sequel: Bad Bat Strikes Back (along with his Entire Colony and a Baseball Bat) vs. Flat Flat Cat.

Wondering how emotional self reacts?

Emotional self can (and did):

2. Wallow

Michael Alvear, in his book Make a Killing on Kindle: Without Blogging, Facebook or Twitter

(Yeah, I know. I bought it and read it. Irony. It’s actually worth checking out even if you like/plan on utilizing a blog, the fb or twitter. I took notes.)

Anyway, Michael Alvear writes that Yale professors Judith A. Chevalier and Dina Mayzlin found that “1-star reviews have a greater power to depress sales than 5-star reviews have to increase them.”

Just climb on into the quagmire.

Feel the black muck of decaying sales squish through your toes.

Breathe through your mouth as you try to prevent the stench of your book’s sales’ premature death from entering your nostrils.

3. Obsess & Speculate

Become completely unproductive as you enumerate each and every possible reason someone would call your baby ugly.

  • Maybe they thought the illustrations weren’t good.
  • Maybe they didn’t like the storyline.
  • Maybe they thought the characters were underdeveloped.
  • Maybe they didn’t like that there was spitting.
  • Maybe they didn’t think it was funny or useful or, or, or …

4. Explain It Away

First, convince yourself that you’re a rational person. Then, rationalize it.

  • They probably didn’t “get it.”
  • They weren’t in the right mood, place (physical or otherwise) or life-stage.
  • Their child wasn’t ready for it.
  • They didn’t understand how to utilize it.
  • Create a conspiracy theory about vicious competitors trying to sabotage your sales.
  • Insert other quasi-rational explanations for why they didn’t like it … at all … and, if there were one, would have clicked the “hate” button on the fb.

Slightly less rational: “I know what happened. Their four year old accidentally hit the 1 Star button after successfully and delightedly reading the whole book by herself….  Yeah, that’s the ticket!  Wait. No, that’s not it. It wasn’t an accident. Actually, the four year old thought that 1 Star was good, like when she gets a gold sticker in preschool or goes from rainbow, to sun and finally reaches the pinnacle of goodness (eyes widen like little green Martian toys beholding …): Golden Star.

How to Handle It Constructively: Maybe He’s Just Not That Into You

What’s tough about the 1 Star Rating is that there is no explanation.

At least in a 1 Star Review, as harsh or irrational as it may be, you may be able to understand where someone is coming from or possibly discern if they are totally missing the point.

The 1 Star Rating though: no explanation.

Just the lingering feeling that someone thought that you made their life worse.

A little black spot on the sun today.

Maybe that one (or even a couple now that it’s been a few more days) person didn’t like it.

Maybe that person is just not that into your book.

It’s probably gonna be okay.

To handle it constructively, consider it:

1. In Context

Are the majority of the ratings 1 or 2 stars?

You probably need to rework your book.

Is this the exception?

Then realize that not everyone is going to like everything.

I absolutely detest grilled cheese and tomato soup.

The smell alone triggers my involuntary gag reflex.

But other people LOVE them, all the way from elementary school lunchrooms to swanky boutique artisanal cafes.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup aren’t taking my dislike personally.

No hard feelings, GC & TS?

What other evidence do you have?

A) Is there Hard Data?

How many downloads in the past month? (Have you given it a month?) What’s the trend? What are your other ratings?

B) Is there Anecdotal Evidence?

Has anyone (outside your immediate family and closest friends) given you anything specific about what they like about your book?

If not, maybe you need a Simon Cowell to tell you not to waste your life because your family and friends can’t tell you the hard truth.

But maybe “He’s Just Not That Into You,”

And someone else is totally into you. Truly. Madly. Deeply.

Thankfully, I had a number of non-family members give positive feedback before going public. Some people did it of their own accord without prompting or prying:

  • A four year old read my book and said: “Can I read another?” In my experience, four year olds haven’t learned how to hide their true colours yet. If they don’t like something, they still spit it out. In your hand.
  • A preschool teacher told me that she was including my books in her preschool program.

Pretty strong endorsements for me to fall back on.

2. Give It Some Time.

A week. A fortnight. A month. More than a couple days, at least.

Friday, I got my first 1 Star Rating.

Monday, I got a new 5 Star Rating along with a fabulous review:

These are a great series of very short books for kids learning to read. I discovered with my daughter a huge part of the reading process is just building confidence and identity as a “reader.” She was able to read these books right away after just learning all her letter sounds. Her first comment after reading this was “Can I read another one!?! Not only are they confidence builders but they are fun, silly stories. It’s pretty cool how he crafts these stories with just short same sounding words. Well done Tate Johnston! We are big fans. – tinkermum10

If I’m not careful, this adventure could become significantly more volatile than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

3. Here Be Vampires!

Ah, the part you’ve been waiting for since the ambitious title.

Recognize that anonymity creates opportunity for animosity.

Having worked with teenagers for 20 years, I can tell you that, as good as the internetwork is for connecting people, it also is medium that desensitizes and depersonalizes.

For good or for ill, the fact that someone doesn’t have to say something to your face and then see how their words affect you allows them to be harsher than they probably would be in person.

As Chris Guillebeau notes in 279 Days to Overnight Success, “Perhaps it’s the anonymity of the internet, but there’s nothing like a popular blog post to cause vampires to crawl out from their castles and start looking for blood.”

That applies to books, too. The anonymity part anyway; I wouldn’t say I have a popular book … yet.

(Definitely worth checking out Chris’ free manifesto, including the section in Part 3 entitled “The Vampire Chronicles” with helpful thoughts on handling “Energy-sucking Vampires.”)

4. Be Honest. With Yourself.

Did you do your pre-release work?

Did you use an editor?

One piece of advice that I came across read: “if you have to choose between paying an editor and paying for marketing, pay for editing.” I think it was either Guy Kawasaki or Mark Coker, but I can’t remember. It might have been Michael Alvear.

Did you solicit honest feedback? Remember critique gives the good, the bad & the ugly. Critique isn’t critical in the sense of senseless bashing; critique affirms the positive and is also honest about anything that could be holding the book back. It takes fortitude to really be open to critique, because mostly I want people to like everything about everything I do, but let’s be honest. It’s not always the best or my best. And I have to be able to be honest with myself about it so that I can learn and improve.

Did you utilize Beta Readers (beyond your immediate family and closest circle of friends)?

(If these are new terms or new thoughts, check out APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How To Publish A Book by Guy Kawasaki and/or the various free resources from Smashwords founder Mark Coker including the 37 Tips in Smashwords Book Marketing Guide. I read and bookmarked and highlighted a bunch of stuff in their books. (And I don’t currently use Smashwords, but benefited from loads of Mark’s thoughts and advice. Thanks, Mark!))

4. Have a Marmite Attitude.

aka: Embrace it. Own it.

If you’re not familiar with Marmite, the tagline is: You Either Love It Or You Hate It.

Realize that your book isn’t for everyone.

Strong reactions are infinitely better than indifference.

Even God doesn’t like blasé: hot or cold, baby, or you’re jettisoned. (Bad Bat isn’t the only one that’s a spitter.)

If you try to please everyone, you won’t please anyone.

It’s fantastic if you’re Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup.

I’m just not going to eat you.

And remember, my gag reflex is involuntary.

So don’t take it personally.

And if you could use a good laugh covered in a little encouragement with a side of perspective, check out:

Other takeaways from my first one star rating:

1. If You Like It, Then You Shoulda Put A Rate On It.

Maybe you’ve been a lurker, not taking a moment to rate a book you’ve liked.

I have been.

Maybe receiving your first one star will help motivate you to be a frequent (and honest) rater.

It won’t take you long, and it could be a big encouragement to an author, especially an indie author.

2. Don’t Be Drinkin’ the Hater-ade

Similarly, if you feel something really is not quality, don’t just be a hater.

Consider being a thoughtful rater, and instead of just hitting the 1 star rating, take a moment and write a constructive review. Even a super short one. It’s still anonymous, so you’re not sticking your neck out too far.

Critique doesn’t mean be unnecessarily and unilaterally critical. It’s supposed to be constructive, i.e. help build something.

And be specific. “I felt like it asked to much of the reader.” “I thought the ending was abrupt.” “I would have liked the characters to be more fully developed.” (You can probably do even better than those vague attempts.)  Then, another potential user and the author knows why you thought the book sucked.

Like my momma taught me: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Jason & The Ergo – Nots:

You’ll never know why they gave you the 1 Star rating.

Therefore, there is not a thing you can do about it.

Therefore, it is not worth obsessing about.

And if you need some catharsis, share with us in the comments, or write a blog about it.

Commisery loves company.

Even if you don’t, we’d love to hear how you’ve handled a 1 Star, for better or for worse.

Post Script: So you’re saying there’s a chance…

Is there anything actually positive about a 1 star rating?

We’re not talking about false hope here. Something actually good.

After a day of ruminating (read: semi-obsessing) on the dreaded 1 star, I had this epiphany:

1. You’re (almost certainly) reaching a new audience!!!

Let’s assume no one has a vendetta against you nor is practicing random acts of maliciousness.

Your friends and family (who told you that your book was great and other people would like it, too) aren’t giving you 1 star.

Your friends’ friends probably aren’t either. Out of respect for your mutual friends.

So … someone … somewhere … that is at least thrice removed 1) found out about 2) downloaded and 3) (at least cursorily) read your book.

The likelihood is that there are other actual people in other actual places that are, too. They just might not feel like their rating is really that important.

P.P.S. – I’m actually publishing this post a month after writing it to give myself some time to cool off and the ebooks some time to warm up. I haven’t sanitized it, but I thought I’d take my own advice and give it a month. The books now have over 1,000 downloads and are closing in on 100 sales. Not a blockbuster, but still early days and tangible evidence that people that are thrice removed are finding and downloading the book since that’s more than double the number of friends I have on the fb!

Click here to see the “un”spiration for the 1 Star Rating which was the inspiration this post: Fat Cat vs. Bad Bat.

It’s currently free for an unlimited time!

How did you/are you handling your first 1 Star Rating: for better or for worse?

Tell us. Tell us. Tell us.

Got another strategy?

Please share it with me in the comments.

Resources I’ve Used and Found Useful Enough To Recommend:

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How To Publish A Book – Guy Kawasaki

Make a Killing on Kindle: Without Blogging, Facebook or Twitter – Michael Alvear


Since I first wrote this post I discovered


for writing and self-publishing the book you have inside you:


Book Launch

How To Not Suck At Writing Your First Book – Chandler Bolt

And the

Self-Publishing School Mastermind Community

I would highly recommend you check out Chandler’s books and Self-Publishing School!

About the Author

Tate JohnstonView all posts by Tate Johnston


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