Featured, Writing

Dealing with One Star Reviews

Today I got a notification email from Smashwords alerting me that ASTRAL TIDES: RIMWARD - EPISODE ONE just got a review. And not just any review, it was a review with a rating, the first official rating for any book in the Astral Tides series. I was excited and also terrified, and when I clicked the link in the email my heart was in my throat with anticipation and anxiety.

Click HERE to read the review, and then check out the rest of this blog post.

Not great, right? How awesome to start the reviews for my space-fantasy series with a 1 star review. The thoughts that raced through my head within the span of the next minute after finishing the review could be summed up as follows:

  • F*ck you, reviewer
  • I'm a terrible writer
  • I should stop writing Astral Tides
  • It's space-FANTASY! Not hard Science Fiction!
  • Again, F*ck you.

Reasonable responses when taken on an emotional level. Yeah, this series that I've been pouring myself into just got stepped on by an experienced science-fiction writer, who basically said it presents some neat ideas but doesn't support those ideas very well. But while these responses made sense emotionally, once I calmed down, took a step back, and looked at what this review meant logically, I had a very different approach.

First off, I noticed that a number of the things the reviewer pointed out as unexplained or unqualified were, in fact, qualified in that book. Why some space ships had masts and sails (because of a brief period in ship design where manufacturers wanted to inspire feelings of adventure and excitement in potential pilots and owners), why people could walk around on the main deck of such a ship and survive in the vacuum of space (because the main deck of the ship is protected by a nearly invisible force field, called in this universe an 'AtmoShield'), and why someone could lean out the open window of a shuttle and fire a handgun into a much larger prison ship (because the shuttle had actually crashed into the prison ship, and the prison ship's safety fail-safes triggered, sealing the breached hull around the shuttle, which was now lodged half in, half out of the prison ship) were all covered in the book. But this review made it clear that, while such points may have been obvious to me as the writer, they apparently aren't obvious to all readers. A new priority was placed on revisiting these moments in the series and more clearly defining how and why the technology of the universe works the way it does.

Secondly, this review told me that the tone and feeling of the story was clearly received, even if it was marred by the glaring holes the reviewer was distracted by. The story took on the excitement and adventure of daring high-seas piracy, transporting many elements of such a story into the vast reaches of outer space. The reviewer also took note of the presence of specific avenues of space/time, existing like highways through the various systems of the galaxy. My ideas were good, my execution was a bit more sloppy. All things I am glad to know for when I sit down to write again.

Lastly, I wrote an email to the author who reviewed my book. And as cathartic and oddly satisfying it would have been to point out how it was his misreading of my text that caused his issues, I instead thanked him for the review. After all, he is the first person to take the time to review my book, and even if he gave it one star, he perfectly outlined why he gave it one star, thus showing me ways that I could improve it for the future. I even asked his advice on how to better market my book when the genre "Space Fantasy" isn't recognized on many online publishing platforms.

I hope he gets back to me, but if not then at least I have a strong basis from which to correct some minor issues in this book, and to keep myself aware of in future books. I believe I have a talent for writing, and I know there are folks out there who like my books. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be looking for ways to grow as a creator, and reviews like this one are a good way to do just that.