On Reading your One-Star Reviews…because Your Book is a Work of Art

by: Julie Cantrell

(Today, author Julie Cantrell provides a counterpoint to Randy Ingermanson’s blog post last month, which likened reading your one-star reviews to eating rat poison. Even as I struggle to decide which reviews I’ll read as a now-published author, I find both arguments compelling. Again–if you’re an author and you take Julie’s approach, please share in the comments! If you can’t handle reading those one-stars, go ahead and admit that too if you want! And a massive thanks to both talented authors for sharing their strategies with us. –Heather Day Gilbert)

Julie Cantrell’s debut novel, Into the Free, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and went on to become both a New York Times and USA TODAY
bestseller. It received two Christy awards, including Book of the Year, as well
as the Mississippi Library Association Fiction Award. Like Into the Free, the sequel, When
Mountains Move
, was named a top read of 2013 by USA TODAY and LifeWay Christian Stores. Julie is writing her third
novel from her home in Oxford, Mississippi where she operates a sustainable
organic farm with her family. 
Learn more: www.juliecantrell.com

The Author as Artist
by: Julie Cantrell
happens when we watch a film? View a painting? Listen to music? We not only expose
ourselves to a work of art, we react to it at an emotional level. And if we’re
willing, those emotions can take us to a higher intellectual plane as well,
nudging us to think more deeply about our own beliefs and actions in this
person reacts differently to each piece of art based on personal experiences,
psyche, and mood at the time we view it. Art is meant to evoke strong reactions
– whether positive or negative – and as artists, writers must accept and
acknowledge both extremes from our readers without taking any of that feedback
As a
novelist, I separate myself from my work. It’s not always easy to do because
these characters become such an integrated part of me by the time the stories
hit shelves, but I never take a review to heart. I don’t swell when the books
are well-received, and I don’t plummet when they aren’t.
I rarely
read my reviews, to be honest. But sometimes I do visit Amazon and skim through
the latest reader posts. While there, I don’t just read the five-star reviews,
as some authors insist is the only way to maneuver these minefields with my
soul intact. Instead, I go straight to the one stars and then work my way
Amazon lists my debut novel, Into the
, as having 402 reviews. Here’s how it breaks down.
            5 Star               305
            4 Star               69
Star               17       
Star               7
Star               4
So what
did the folks who hated this book have to say about it? I want to know. Not
because I want to get my feelings hurt, I am human after all, but because I
enjoy hearing other people’s opinions.
reader said, “This book has a worldly view of Christianity” and advised readers
not to waste their money or their time on this story, while
another gave it a one-star because: “This is a Christian book.”
said folks should read it “only if extremely bored,” while another thought the
level of abuse described in the beginning was so intense she could “not make it
past the first chapter.”
See how
subjective these are? Those are the comments that make up the four one-star
reviews this book received. And each one contradicts the other. It’s either too
Christian or not Christian enough, too boring or too dramatic.
How can a writer please every reader? The simple answer is, we can’t. (Click to Tweet!) And we shouldn’t
even try. Our job is to provide the art and then to sit back and let readers
react as they may.
I value
those one-star reviews as much as I do the five-star ones. Why? Because those
readers FELT something when they read this book. The words I put on paper
stirred their emotions on a strong level and got them thinking. That is my goal
as an author. Not to convince everyone to feel or to think like me, most of my
characters don’t even think like me, but to get my readers to feel and to
think. Period.