Towards Yesterday got a 1-star review and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s why …

26 Jul

Every morning I go through the same routine: I grab a cup of joe, let my four dogs out into the backyard and then settle into my writing room to check on sales of my novel, its Amazon bestseller rank and any new reviews. It’s a little like Christmas day every morning; you never know what you’re getting but it’s always exciting.

As a full-time writer I’m used to receiving criticism of my work; it’s a welcome element of my chosen career. I already know that I am no Hemingway or Steven King, so constructive criticism is okay by me. Since releasing my first full-length novel in May, I’ve received plenty of five and four-star reviews but I knew one day the negative reviews would appear and, to be quite honest, I was looking forward to them.

You may ask yourself: Why on earth would you want a negative review? My answer is simple: you cannot learn anything from your successes. You can, however, learn much from the negatives.

Well, today was the day. My 18th review was a 1-star and I could not be happier about it.

Here’s the review in question:

1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable, July 26, 2011

Downloaded the trial chapters and thought the plot was good so I bought the book. Although I tried to keep reading this book, after awhile I was just wasting my time. If the author was trying for the record in just describing gore and destruction, he may have succeeded. I finally gave up when I noticed a new Donovan Creed novel was out.”

So, what did I learn from this review? Of course, the most obvious thing is that it isn’t so much a “review” of my novel than a comment on the reviewer’s personal taste in books. He enjoyed my writing style and liked my initial plot enough to buy the book after reading my sample, but he was put off by the “gore and destruction” later in my story.

That’s great news for me. As the author it tells me that my writing has created images and conveyed the kinds of emotions I intended for the particular scene that disturbed my 1-star reviewer so greatly. The end of civilization, especially when it comes as unexpectedly and brutally as it does in my novel, is not pretty.   In fact, it is downright terrifying and should be written accordingly.

The post-apocalyptic genre explores humanity at its basest, most hopeless level.  It examines how we, the survivors, conduct our lives when everything that is most precious to us, everything that makes our lives worth living and comfortable is stripped away, leaving nothing behind but the horror of extinction and the realization of our own fragile existence.

It is never a pretty story, but it can be wonderful in its revelations.

So, I want to say a big “thank you” to my one-star reviewer.  You’ve reinforced my belief that I’m doing my job correctly for all those readers who are looking for this kind of experience. Readers of post-apocalyptic fiction want a journey that will take them to places they hope they never have to go but are inexplicably drawn to travel that route anyway. They are willing to face the horror and devastation because they know that along the way they will experience humanity at its finest. They don’t want me to pull any punches in my descriptions; they don’t need my protection – this is the end of the world after all. It deserves to be spectacular.

They want to experience the raw horror and terror we all know exists mere moments away from these cozy lives of ours, suspended in place only by the slimmest of technological strings. When I tell my stories I owe it to my readers to be truthful about the experiences of the characters they will be traveling with. We are, after all, fascinated by what will happen should that fragile string fray or be cut.

So let me reassure you; I’ve got a really sharp pair of scissors and, as an author, I have no compunction about using them!


7 replies
  1. Raine Thomas says:

    Great point, Paul! As an author who also awaits that first “1-star” review, I really appreciate your frame of mind in addressing it. It’s one I’ll certainly keep in mind!

    • Paul Jones says:

      Thanks for the comment, Raine. I’m sure there will be more 1-star ratings in my future … but hopefully not too many :)

  2. Richard Bunning says:

    Good for you. I am not sure how bravely I will take it on the chin when it happens to me, but I really think your attitude is right. More and more we get only 4 and 5 star reviews on everything, and dozens of them, such that the whole review system is getting discredited.
    If we go on as we are we will be back to the old days of only having journalists (usually bribed reviews) and publishing insiders. You know the sort I mean, 3 on every paperback, all glowing, and usually only vaguely relevant to the content. Everyone with any sense will be forced to ignore all internet reviews, as we long ago learnt to ignore the rubbish on the back of the pulp houses paperbacks.

    • Paul Jones says:

      There really is no other way for me to take it. The reviewer was unhappy with the level of “gore and destruction” in my story … I believe that level was necessary to progress my story forward. The detail was not gratuitous or voyeuristic in its description, it simply laid out the incredible carnage the kind of event I describe in my book would cause. If anything, I think it was probably understated.

      While the star rating certainly has its faults and is obviously open to abuse, I haven’t heard any ideas that would replace it. We seem to be stuck with it for now.

  3. John Pansini says:

    You hit the nail on the head — excuse the cliche, but I am a roofer — when you said it all came down to the reviewer’s tastes. And wth, a sale is a sale. I’ll take those anytime.

    Wishing you continued success,
    Roofman The Spy

  4. Don says:

    If you wanted a one star review writing a book that was hard to put down because of having to see how it came out is not the way to go. :-)

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