Not even the greats get all five-star reviews, and they wouldn’t want to either.
A book with straight five-star reviews is highly suspect. Real life is a variable bell-shaped curve. Whether it is skewed good or bad, there will and should be differences in how people see your book. A perfect score looks artificial because, quite frankly, it is. It implies that not enough people beyond family and friends have read your book. Worse, questions could be raised about whether you paid for reviews, a definite no-no in the publishing world.
Put simply, a book with only five-star reviews is going to draw attention and not the good kind. Before long, Amazon is going to sweep down on you and delete all those seemingly perfect reviews. They have certainly done so in the past, and their campaign to decrease abuses in the self-publishing market is only intensifying. It would be a shame to be stripped of your Kindle privileges because you are caught purchasing fake reviews, not that you would ever do that in the first place.
That is not to say that you do not want five-star reviews. Of course, you do! You strive for the highest rating, the best possible average. You want people to fall in love with your writing, to think your stories are the bee’s knees, to say that the information you shared changed their lives. It’s great when that happens, but it isn’t going to happen all the time. It may not even happen at all.
In the real world, you are more likely to have a mix of reviews, both good and bad.
If they’re all bad, there could be a lesson to be learned. Is your writing up to snuff? Did you really put out your best work? Is there something in the body of that book review that talks about what went wrong? Is there a recurrent theme among reviewers? Can you use that feedback to better yourself in a future book? There could be something to gain from these unpleasant reviews in the long run.
The conspiracists out there might think they are being sabotaged. After all, it’s not unheard of for people to give one-star reviews to downgrade their competitors. Look at Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened. Within hours of its release, more than 1,500 reviews hit Amazon, only a third of them “verified purchases”. With odds low that so many people read the brand spanking new 512-page book on its first day, Amazon took down hundreds of one-star reviews. In accordance with its policy, “when we find unusually high numbers of reviews for a product posted in a short period of time, we may restrict the number of non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews on that product”.
Even a stinker of a review can be good news though. At the very least it means you got an emotional reaction from a reader. You struck a chord. Be thankful that someone took the time to share their opinion, good or bad, and remember that even the New York Times’ best sellers get terrible reviews from time to time.
With all the time and effort you put into writing, you cannot help but be emotionally invested. Self-doubt creeps in when the naysayers dig into your work. Shaking it off can be a challenge.
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Through it all, you have to remember that your work is first and foremost your own. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. What other people think about it may color your experience but it doesn’t change the fact that you created it. If you have done your best, if you set out to do what you wanted, accept the positive with the negative and move on.
Who knows? People may even change their minds. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of an editor who rejected a story she wrote but then accepted it years later, unchanged, as the greatest thing since sliced bread. A review is an opinion in a moment of time. Your work is a constant.
My point? Try not to take it personally. Book reviews can be a helpful marketing tool. They can guide you to be a better writer. They may even boost (or deflate) your ego, but in the end, it’s really the work itself that counts.