Please welcome Tamar Sloan as our guest today. Tamar really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination for psychology. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both. Tamar is the author of the PsychWriter blog—a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. She is also a passionate writer of young adult stories of finding love and life beyond your comfort zone: A Moment for Tara and A Prophesy Awakened.
I have two passions in this world—capturing life in words, and making a difference to others. Becoming a psychologist and a writer has allowed me to do both.
The Top Two Reasons a Reader Will Leave a Bad Review
Personally, I don’t leave a review under four stars. I don’t want to inflict the pain of rejection and self-doubt on others when art is so subjective. And although constructive feedback is invaluable in growing as a writer, I don’t believe it has to be done publicly. On the other hand, I also understand that low-scoring reviews are valuable for other readers. That’s the whole point of a review—so others can learn from those who have been here before. We do it with cars and vacuum cleaners and hairdressers. So I respect those who leave honest reviews, whether they be five stars or the heart-ripping single stars.
But a lone star staring at you from your screen, harsh words marching beside them, can be crushing. I think it’s important that writers appreciate why someone would take the time to record this, publicly, and irreversibly.
- You forgot who you were writing for.
As a psychologist, I see this in my clients as they sit in the chair and can’t figure out why their children are running away, why they can’t get that promotion or why their marriage is falling apart. In a nutshell, our egos get in the way. For writers, ego becomes the barrier to a product that ticks ALL the boxes. We believe that our prose is enough, that the three act structure doesn’t apply to this masterpiece. We design our own cover. We want to bedazzle the reader with our knowledge of the working parts of an AK-47. We forgo editing in the rush to get our baby onto virtual shelves.
But that’s not what writing a book is about. Writing a book is about the reader. Not you. Not your creative genius. The reader. Readers are looking for their escapism fix, an emotional rollercoaster, a character they can root for. They are the ones we’re asking to give up their precious, hard won resources up for. Generally, both their time and their money (and even if your book is “permafree,” eventually you’re looking for them to buy one of your books). If we’re asking them to trade their time, time taken away from other pleasures, their family or their sleep, then it’s our responsibility to give them the best experience we can. That means a well-crafted, impressively designed, professionally edited masterpiece.
Skip any of these steps and you risk letting your readers down because you fail to keep your part of the bargain up.
- The reader has a wound.
I deliberately used “writer speak” when labelling this, even though our readers are the reality part of the whole writing adventure. I could use psych speak, and call it their maladaptive schema, their core belief, their cognitive distortion, but my fellow writers intuitively know what I’m talking about when I say wound. It’s the scars we all carry, the pieces of our past that colour our future. Wounds profoundly affect our emotions, thoughts and behaviours. They cause us to do things that are selfish, thoughtless and sometimes damaging.
The act of ignoring the negative impact our words will have on another, or worse still, deliberately seeking to hurt others, is the product of a wound. It’s wrong and it’s not okay—these people are called trolls for a reason–but lashing out serves a function for these people.
What I’m saying is this particular one star scathing review isn’t about you. It’s not a reflection of your writing or the plot/characters/world building that these people seek to tear down. In my world it’s the product of the motto “hurt people hurt people.” It’s about empowering someone who’s been disempowered. It’s about those who feel unseen being seen.
It’s. Not. About. Your. Writing.
How do you know which one star review is which? That one is a little more difficult to answer. I think those who can smooth the raw edges of the hurt and then step outside of their egos are best able to differentiate.
Does the reader have a point? Deep down, were you worried this was a weakness in your writing? Have they reiterated a sentiment someone else has expressed?
Then it’s possible this reader is in the number one category.
For that scenario, take a deep breath, acknowledge the parts of your craft that are still growing and being refined, then come up with a plan to address that. Maybe a course, some time lost in how-to books, a critique partner. Your writing will be stronger for it, and so will your resilience.
Do the words strike a mismatched chord? Does the reader dislike this genre? Do they even sound like they read the whole book? Have they left other one star reviews?
Ultimately consider what this person is gaining by writing these (scathing) words—superiority? Notoriety? Power?
If any of these ring true then you’ve got a walking wound that is lashing out so they can share their pain. Rail at the unfairness of it all (within the privacy of your walls) then pick up your pen or fire up your computer and keep the passion flowing. This review isn’t about your writing.
Have you ever received a one star review? Have you left one? What did you take away from the experience?