On Reading Your One-Star Reviews…and Eating Rat Poison

By Randy Ingermanson 
(This is a two-part series of posts arguing why authors SHOULD versus SHOULD NOT read their one-star reviews. I knew Randy had strong feelings on this, and I think he nearly has me convinced I shouldn’t read mine. Check in next month for the pros of reading low reviews with Julie Cantrell. I respect both authors so much and don’t wish a one-star on either of them.–Heather Day Gilbert
Randy Ingermanson is the award-winning author of six novels and the best-selling book WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES.  He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the creator of the wildly popular Snowflake Method of writing a novel.  He edits the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine and gets ridiculous amounts of traffic on his web site at AdvancedFictionWriting.com.  Randy sits on the Executive Board of American Christian Fiction Writers and lives at an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest where he attends to the needs of three surly cats.
Don’t Eat the Rat Poison
by: Randy Ingermanson

I was visiting my friend JimBob
last month and we were having breakfast.
JimBob was reading the newspaper,
doing the crossword, and I had my iPad out, reading reviews of my latest book
on Amazon.
I slapped my hand down on the
table hard. “Idiot!”
JimBob gave me a strange look. “I
was just about to ask you for a five-letter synonym for ‘moron’ that ends with
a T. You must be clairvoyant.”
“No, I’m furious.” I shoved my
iPad over to JimBob. “Take a look at what this reviewer wrote about me.”
JimBob scanned the review. “Hmmm,
what does ‘soporific’ mean?”
“Sleep-inducing. Which is
JimBob kept reading. “What about
‘tepid dialogue?’ Dialogue doesn’t have a temperature. How can it be tepid?”
I just stared at him. “Do you
think my books are sleep-inducing?”
“Why would you say that?” JimBob
“Well, you didn’t say anything
when I said it was ridiculous that this guy said it was sleep-inducing.”
“Because it was ridiculous.”
JimBob shook his head. “This guy doesn’t like your writing. So what?”
“He’s an idiot!”
“So why do you care what an idiot
I began spluttering. “Because …
this review is out there in public.”
JimBob pointed at the screen. “He
misspelled ‘boring’ right there. He spelled it ‘borring.’ And his grammar is
horrible. I bet he’s 15 years old.”
Acid welled up in my stomach. “Is
my writing really boring?”
“Are you just saying that to make
me feel better?”
I stared at JimBob.
He punched me. “Teasing.”
I wanted to go punch a wall or
something. I knew I was going to have another crappy day. This review was going
to stick in my mind all week. I’d be thinking of all the horrible things this
guy said about my book, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d be so
mad, I wouldn’t be able to write. And it was all his fault.
“Why do you do that?” JimBob
“Do what?”
“Read your 1-star reviews.”
“Because they’re there.”
“That’s not a reason. These
people aren’t in your target audience. You don’t owe them anything. Nothing you
do will make them happy. Why should you care what they think?”
“Because … I might find ways that
I can improve my writing.”
JimBob shoved the iPad back
toward me. “This guy wants you to have zombies in your novel.”
“I don’t write zombie fiction.”
“And cussing.”
“I don’t need cussing to get my
point across.”
 “And graphic sex scenes.”
“That’s not what I write.”
“So how is reading a review by a
guy like this going to improve your writing? You don’t write the kind of things
he wants, and you’re never going to write the kind of things he wants.”
“What, I should just bury my head
in the sand and only read my 5-star reviews?”
“Who writes 5-star reviews?”
JimBob asked.
“Well … that’s obvious. The
people who really like my stuff. My biggest fans.”
“So if you read their reviews,
will it tell you the things they like best, and remind you to do those more
often and better?”
“And if you read reviews by
people who hate your writing, are you ever remotely likely to take their
advice? Have you ever found any useful advice in a 1-star review?”
“It’s just something I have to
The doorbell rang. A thunderstorm
of footsteps clattered outside on the porch and down the steps.
JimBob went to answer the door.
I kept trying to think if I’d
ever found even one helpful piece of advice in a 1-star review.
“Idiots.” JimBob slouched back
into the room carrying a bowl. He went to the fridge, poured some milk in the
bowl, grabbed a spoon and sat down at the table.
“What have you got there?” I
JimBob put a spoonful in his
mouth and began chewing. His face twisted into a horrible grimace, and then he
began gagging. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe.
I pounded him on the back.
He retched up something and spit
it out on the table.
I stared at it. “What is that
“Gift from the neighbor kids.”
JimBob took another bite.
I looked at it closely. “It looks
like rat poison.”
His face twisted again and he
chewed furiously, then took a big swallow of orange juice and forced it down. His face had turned a sickly shade of pale green. “It is rat poison. The
neighbor kids hate me.”
“Last month I called the cops on
them because they were having a huge party with giant speakers out in the
streets at 3 AM. They’ve had it in for me ever since.”
I stared at him. “So they bring
you rat poison?”
JimBob nodded. “They leave a bowl
of it on my doorstep every day.”
“And you eat it?”
“Why in the world would you eat
rat poison?”
“Because it’s there.”
“That’s not a reason. Those kids
hate you. You don’t have to eat what they give you.”
“Well, I might figure out what
they don’t like about me so I can be a better person.”
“JimBob, that’s nuts! You already
know why they hate you, and that’s not going to change. You’re not going to
become a better person by eating rat poison.”
“What, I should just bury my head
in the sand and only eat things made by people who like me?”
“That’s a whole lot better for
you than eating rat poison from your enemies.”
JimBob put another spoonful in
his mouth. “It’s just something I have to do.”
“Well, you’re crazy if you eat
rat poison.”
He chewed and chewed and chewed
and finally gagged down the mouthful. A terrible look crossed his face. He went
running into the bathroom and I heard the sound of vomiting. JimBob was
moaning. “I’m gonna be sick all day. And it’s all those kids’ fault.”
I shook my head. That was the
weirdest thing I’d ever heard of.
I drank the rest of my orange
juice and scrolled down to the next 1-star review of my book.
My face started getting hot. Here
was another guy who didn’t get my writing. Didn’t like the kind of books I
wrote. Wanted something completely different. And insisted on telling me all
about it.

***Thank you for that well-written and very convincing post, Randy! Authors, I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts on reading low reviews–do you or don’t you, and why or why not? Watch for next month’s follow-up post!***