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How to respond to that one star
Kenley Tan
Posted: Friday, September 2, 2011 12:27 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 27

Okay, I'm a rookie and my first review here is a one star.

It feels bittersweet actually. I finally got what I wanted. Someone to tell me what was wrong. The problem is that it feels over killed.

How do I properly react to it? I always get the same thing. It is confusing. Maybe I formed a barrier against logic, but I feel it is a bit vague.

I just want to ask three questions.

How do I properly respond to getting the lowest possible rating here?
How do you get advice from the one that gave you a bad review to improve?
How can you PM someone here? I seriously don't know.

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, September 4, 2011 3:04 AM
First, you remember that we all start out not knowing which end of the crayon goes on the wallpaper. And remember, too that we all write crap and we all write gold. We just change the ratio as we do.

Part of the problem is that we all leave school certain that the only thing we need to be a successful wrier is an idea and talent. After all, we all know how to write—or think we do. And because we do it never occurs to us that the library has books on writing technique that we might need to look at.

And like you, I used what I knew and started writing. But unlike you, because there was no Internet, I churned out six novels, certain that I was close and getting better before I learned there was more to it than just writing what came to you. Then, I bit on a scam agency. The good part was that they were selling high priced editing services so they had a, “Send us your first few chapters and a chunk of money and we’ll evaluate it,” offer. I sent in the manuscript, and waited, sure I was going to see lots of punctuation suggestions and a, “Great story idea.”

A week later my envelope came back and I opened it, anxious for the good news. What I got was a sea of blue ink. There were markups between almost every line, and billows of blue overflowing the margins and threatening to drip off the page. I literally froze, and tears came to my eyes. I was devastated. And a look at page two showed the same situation.

In shock, I slipped the manuscript back into the envelope and put it into the drawer. For three days I walked like a zombie, unable to force myself to open that drawer, and unable to think about anything else.

Finally, I took a deep breath and opened the envelope. This time I would read the comments to see if I could see a common thread, or anything that would save my pride.

The first thing that caught my eye was a comment on a line where I said “the old lady unbent enough to…” The editor said, “Oh? She was bent over?”

This time I slammed the envelope back into the drawer, furious. That editor was an idiot. She couldn't understand simple language. She misunderstood the obvious. I stormed out of the room and pushed it out of my mind…only I couldn’t. So the next day I said, “Maybe if I look at the comment and the text I can see why she stopped and made a comment. After all, the prose was supposed to be so good that she couldn’t stop.

And that day I took the first step toward learning how to write. She was right. The old lady wasn’t being stiff and formal so she couldn’t “unbend.” And further, I was thinking cinematically, and writing as if the reader were sitting with me. My character’s motivations were pop psychology, shallow, and driven by the plot not their personalities and needs. It was both a relief and an eye opening experience, and it opened up an entire new world to me. And of even more importance, it got me started on the path toward publication.

As one of the causes of your pain let me point out some things that matter:

1. Virtually every new reader uses exactly the same approach as you’re now using because it’s what we all learn in school, where they’re training us in skills useful on the job, not for a specific profession. And in reality, about ninety percent of the critiques I give say the same thing: “You need to do a bit of study and add some tools to your box.

2. A critique isn’t about you, your fitness to write, your talent or your toilet habits. It’s about that story as it is on that day.

3. You will never learn a thing from people who agree with you.

4. Every time someone reviews your work, someone is taking time they don’t have to give you, in an attempt to help you become a better writer. That’s a good thing. And it’s a hell of a lot better to have someone do that BEFORE the agent or editor sees it.

5. People don’t review work when they think the writer hasn’t a clue, so the fact that you did get reviews says that people think you’re capable of making it, once you get a bit of craft that your talent can use to make your prose take wing.

6. As a new writer you’re focused on the plot, as we all are, and you hurry the story to get from plot point to plot point—the exciting stuff. But plot is easy. And people mostly say yes to a book or reject it in three pages or less. In that time there’s been damn little plot. So what the reader is buying is the moment-by-moment reading enjoyment. They’re buying the writing. It gave your plot to Stephen King he’d make something readable out of it. But give you and I the best plot ever conceived and we’ll probably be rejected before the end of the second paragraph.

It’s about the writing. It’s always about the writing. So for now, that needs to be your focus.

Kenley Tan
Posted: Sunday, September 4, 2011 8:57 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 27

@Bob when I wrote it, I thought it was good, until some people said it was a bit confusing, so I thought maybe it needed a little polishing. It's probably just a few tweaks and I'm done. Of course, I never expected a one star, so I definitely will rewrite the entire thing. Sorry for making you suffer through my book.

@Jay At least now I understand why most authors seem old.Thanks for being really patient and professional. Thanks for the advice. I will definitely keep #3 in mind. It's probably the most useful. #6 probably explains everything wrong with my writing.

Thanks to your reviews. I tried other sites and they mostly said it's good, but a bit confusing. Of course, they were amateurs like me. On the other hand, you guys are professionals, so I will definitely follow your advice.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, September 4, 2011 3:22 PM
There are a few resources I can suggest:

These articles talk about a few techniques that will help you look at the story from the character's viewpoint—and place your reader there, as well.


You also may find a few tidbits here:


I created it for the new writers in my RWA chapter, and people have told me they found it useful. There's also a series of articles called The Grumpy Writing Coach that I wrote for my publisher's newsletter that might help.

And if any of that makes sense pick up a copy of this:


It's one of the best books available on the nuts and bolts of putting a novel together. It's easy to understand and will make you say, "Why didn't I think of that?" every few pages.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:45 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Hi Kenley -

Something that may help you in accepting a one-star review is the philosophy behind our site. At Book Country, we encourage people to look at a piece of writing the way an agent or an editor might. Instead of "How much did I like this book?" many of our reviewers are thinking "How much work does this project needs before it's ready to be queried or sent to a publisher?"

We believe that a constructive one-star review that contains thoughtful advice on how a writer can improve a book is much more helpful than a short, superficial five-star review.

I hope that you find this site to be a place where you feel comfortable revising your work, and reaching out to other members like you did in the post above.


Kenley Tan
Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:56 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 27

Hi Colleen,

This site really does make me comfortable doing those things. I tried other sites and the reviews really are superficial. Maybe because this site has writers that are really that good or maybe some of these people have their work published. Either ways, people here really have some great advice.


I'll definitely follow your blog. It has some great advice. Thank you for taking time to help amateurs like me.
Joe Bridges
Posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 10:20 PM
Joined: 12/18/2011
Posts: 25

Oh, man, can I ever identify! I have received two reviews on my book so far, and both of them were very low. I had some one star categories.

Like you, I thought my book was very good before I uploaded it. I have people reading it, waiting for me to write the ending, begging for me to hurry because they like it; so how could someone give it one star? Well.... In my case, the reviewer gave me one star because I was telling the story instead of showing it, and for various other reasons, such as the story was not compelling them to keep reading, etc. I admit, it didn't make me feel so good.

At first, I was determined not to change anything. That was stubborn. Then, I thought I MIGHT change some things. After two days though, I realized I needed to fix it. So, I've fixed the first three chapters so far, and I'm working on the fourth. It's much more readable and compelling. I cut about 43% of the first chapter. I guess I was trying to made an explanatory synopsis rather than jumping into the story. I had some things going on that were simply not working.

You are absolutely right in your response to Colleen just above this: Book Country is a great place to get advice to help your writing skills.

Also, when I get time I'll look at your project.

Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 3:19 PM
Kenley Tan: You ask, how do I properly respond to getting the lowest possible rating here?  My answer is, try writing a book that'll knock the reviewer's socks off. And bear in mind that all reviews are subjective. One man's meat is another man's poison. Read something from classical literature and try to figure out why it has endured so many years and transcended so many generations of readers. Do you need a recommended book? Try My Antonia by Willa Cather; or The Great Gatsby, a remarkable book unblemished by even a solitary excessive word. But bear in mind that Fitzgerald's book went through many drafts to achieve near perfection and total greatness. I dare say the first draft of Gatsby would have gotten no more than a single star also. The most important lesson to learn from Fitzgerald's experience is that great books do not come finished right out of the gate. The writing of a successful novel is a long, arduous slog from gestation to the finished product. Every other step by the author is a misstep. Every sentence that sings is followed by one that gurgles. A chapter that read swell yesterday reads like a rash beginner's indulgence today. The words that made our hearts sing just a short week ago make our eyes weep today. But we don't quit, because we have a burning passion that drives us to keep going, that promises a better tomorrow of writing that sings with the angels. You got the lone star probably because you deserved it. If it makes you want to quit writing, you had no business writing in the first place. The truth is Kenley Tan, you have to write badly, and plenty of it before you write good. If you were born to write, you just may have a great book waiting somewhere along the line. But if you give up, the world of creative writing will never know and never care. Once you understand that good writing is the hardest thing you'll ever do, you just may have your own Gatsby waiting in the wings.
Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 4:34 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014

These are comments to pull me out of the blackest of black funks. Thanks.


--edited by Mimi Speike on 11/26/2013, 4:35 PM--


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