The one where I get my first ever 1-star review on Amazon

I’ve done it! After nearly 4.5 years as a published writer with ten books out there, it has finally happened. Today, I received my first ever 1-star review on Amazon for my latest novel The Secret to Happiness.

Screenshot 2019-10-10 at 13.35.14In the writing community, the first 1-star review is often joked about as being the ‘rite of passage’ or it’s said that you’re ‘not a real author’ until you’ve received one. That might all sound very flippant but it’s a way of dealing with the blow of someone telling us that they thought that the novel that we spent months or even years creating with blood, sweat and tears is, quite frankly, a turd. Ouch. It hurts. But it happens.

Every big name from classics like Austen and Dickens to multi-billion contemporary best-sellers like J K Rowling, Stephen King and Dan Brown has 1-star reviews. So that puts me in pretty good company.

I am quite astonished that I’ve ‘survived’ this long without the lowest rating but I will admit that I smarted when I received it today and not for the reason you’d expect…

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One-star reviews happen and, as authors, we need to accept that not everyone is going to love our story (would be a boring world if we all loved the same things). Some readers will come from the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” school of thought and keep it to themselves whereas others will happily voice their negative opinions and some of those will do it with venom! Which is absolutely their right. Maybe not the venom part but it’s certainly their right to share their opinion.

No, what irked me was that Amazon have changed their rules around reviews. I obviously missed the memo about this and I still believed that it was not possible to just give a rating; words had to accompany it. Not anymore. Now a reader can simply give a rating with no explanation whatsoever and this is difficult to swallow.

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I still have a day job in Human Resources. As an HR Professional, one of my two specialisms is learning and development. I’m therefore all for a bit of (preferably constructive) feedback and I will happily learn from this in my writing career and action it where possible e.g. if a reader has spotted an error. What I can’t do is learn from a 1-star rating with no explanation. And neither can potential readers. I personally don’t make a buying decision based on reviews but there are plenty of readers out there who do and having low ratings without explanations doesn’t help them or the author.

I’ve seen 1-star reviews for other authors along these lines:

Book didn’t appear on my Kindle

Formatting seemed to go funny

Paperback didn’t arrive on time

Not read it yet so can’t rate it

It’s possible that the formatting is down to the author or publisher but not necessarily. The other scenarios above are definitely out of the author’s control and, if a prospective reader is looking at the reviews for a buying decision and the reason for the low-rating is explained as one of the above (or similar), then they can effectively discount that review as it’s not about the story itself.

I’ve also seen 1-star reviews for other authors that state something like:

Absolutely loved it. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Can’t wait for the next

In this case, the reader has clearly misunderstood and clicked on the wrong end of the rating scale. Oops. But, again, a prospective reader looking at reviews as part of their decision-making will see this and be able to discount that 1-star rating too.

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Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

But when a 1-star rating simply appears without a review, who does this help?

  • It doesn’t help the author because it brings down their ratings and gives them nothing to work with
  • It doesn’t help prospective readers because there’s no information to support the rating and factor into their buying decision
  • And, actually, it doesn’t help the person who left the rating because they haven’t had their rant!
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Image by an_photos from Pixabay

I therefore find myself mystified as to why this system would be introduced by Amazon.

Maybe there is a case for just leaving a rating on certain products. For example, if you ordered a pack of 12 x Bic biros, does that really warrant you having to write a review? They’re mass-produced pens. What more can be said? Either you can write with it or you can’t. But for books, is this really an improvement? I’d suggest not but I’d very much welcome your thoughts.

I’m concerned that it opens the system up for abuse. When someone places a review, their Amazon identifier comes up. Sometimes this is their real name but, more often than not, this is an identity they’ve created for their reviews like glitterunicorn or loves2read. Either way, we have no idea who these people are and the unspoken rule is that we don’t communicate with reviewers, even to thank them, but they do have some form of identity on the system and, if curious, we can see what else they’ve reviewed and maybe take comfort that they never give high ratings for books or they clearly don’t enjoy a certain type of book. However, when they just leave a rating, they’re completely anonymous – we just know the rating and nothing about the source – and this surely opens up the opportunity for an individual with an axe to grind to randomly give a low rating to an author they dislike or even of whom they’re jealous whilst appearing completely invisible on the system.

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On Tuesday, I shared the above tweet to say that 35 of the 36 reviews on Amazon were 5-star. Is it a coincidence that, within two days, an anonymous 1-star rating appeared (bearing in mind it usually takes a couple of days for ratings/reviews to materialise)? Yes, quite possibly. In fact, I hope it is. But I wouldn’t be an author if my mind didn’t work overtime and constantly ask ‘what if…?’ What if someone decided to take me down a peg or two after that tweet? What if someone was sitting there saying, ‘Nearly all 5-star? Well, not anymore. Ha ha ha ha ha!’ I just don’t know. I’d like to think that nobody could be so cruel but we live in a world full of hatred and unkindness exacerbated by keyboard warriors and trolls who don’t think about the impact their words might have on others. Or don’t care.

Can I just emphasise that I’m not upset at receiving a 1-star rating (she writes through the blur of tears before ripping open her second box of tissues for the day). After all, 36 readers disagree. I’m just a bit bewildered by Amazon’s change to allow ratings instead of reviews. Please do pop a comment below and let me know what you think.

Edit: I meant to say something which I put on my FB post about this earlier and that there may well be a whole pile of positives to this change that I’m simply not thinking of because I’m too blinkered by the 1-star review. Huge thanks to Shalini, a prolific reader and reviewer who has been so supportive of my writing for giving another perspective on this. It’s well worth reading her comments for an alternative take (click on the option at the top of this post to see comments).

Jessica xx

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Image by Ka Young Seo from Pixabay

Sharon Booth is my very first guest. Eek!

Welcome along to my very first guest slot! I’m very excited to welcome my good writing friend, Sharon Booth. I met Sharon about two years ago after my writing friend, Alys, connected with her on Twitter. We’ve met up regularly to eat cake and talk about all things writing-related. We invited her to join The Write Romantics last year and have been very excited to be part of her writing journey.

It’s been two months since she released her debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ so it seemed like a great time to invite her onto the blog and explore what’s been going on since her launch, and a whole lot more.

Over to Sharon …

Thank you very much for having me as the first guest on your blog, Jessica. I’m honoured to be here!

picture of mag for Jessica's blogIt’s been two months since There Must Be An Angel was launched. What’s happened during that time?

Quite a lot! I’ve been very lucky to attract some really positive reviews, which have boosted my confidence and made it all worthwhile. I’ve had messages posted on my Facebook wall, and my writer’s page, from people thanking me for writing the book and telling me how much they loved it. I really wasn’t expecting total strangers to go to all that trouble. It’s amazing. My work colleagues have been really supportive, buying the book and talking about it in the office, and one of the bosses is always asking how it’s going and congratulating me. My mother actually said she was proud of me. I never thought I’d hear her say that! I had a mention in the food and drink supplement of the May edition of Yorkshire Life, as there was a feature about Art of Mallow, the gourmet marshmallow company who inspired me when I was writing Angel. I’d got in touch with the owner, Philippa Quayle, and asked if she minded me mentioning that her company was the inspiration for Eliza’s mallow-making venture, and she was lovely. She even donated bags of marshmallows as prizes for my Facebook launch party, and then she talked about Angel in her feature for Yorkshire Life. I gave Angel away for free for five days and over seven hundred copies were downloaded in that time. Since publication day, I’ve been getting the second Kearton Bay novel, A Kiss from a Rose, ready for editing, written a novella, and started work on book three in the series.

What’s the nicest thing that anyone has said about Angel?

I’ve been very lucky, as I’ve only heard nice things about it! I’ve had people say that it made them want to visit the area that Angel is set in, as I’d really brought the place to life in their imaginations, which is lovely. People have said that the characters and dialogue are realistic and that they really warmed to Eliza and were rooting for her. One said she wanted to climb into the pages of the book and punch Harry! Another said I’d gone straight on her list of favourite authors. I’ve been really touched and surprised by how involved people have got in the story. It’s a wonderful feeling. I have to say, though, that the nicest thing was said by my daughter. She doesn’t read books as she always insists she just can’t get into them and can’t concentrate long enough. She read Angel from cover to cover in less than a day, and was so full of enthusiasm about it afterwards, wanting to know more about the characters and what was going to happen next, that it made me quite tearful!

Angel cover for Jessica's blogWhat’s been the most unexpected or challenging thing to happen since the launch?

Waiting for the first reviews was absolutely terrifying. I was so scared that people would hate it. I also got quite obsessed with sales and Amazon rankings. I quickly got over all that, though. There’s no point worrying about it, as the book can be riding high one day and plummeting the next. Besides, I never expected to sell a lot of books first time out. I’m in this for the long haul. It’s quite a shock to learn that, just because you’ve had a book published, the world doesn’t change. When you’re dreaming of seeing your book in print, you think it will be the biggest thing to ever happen to you. It’s surprising how quickly you realise that life goes on and not many people really know or care that you’re a published author. You still have to go to work and trail round the shops for something for dinner. No lounging on a chaise longue, eating luxury chocolates, dictating the next book to a willing secretary, after all.

Do you tell people you’re an author or do you, like so many writers out there, struggle to admit that you write?

I never say I’m an author, though we had a new lady start at work and she asked me what I would be doing at the weekend and I replied, as usual, working. She asked me where I worked at the weekends and one of our colleagues called, ‘She’ll be writing. Sharon’s an author!’ I went very red, I can tell you. I still feel uncomfortable saying I’m a writer. I don’t know why.

rhb for jessica's blogYou describe Kearton Bay beautifully. It’s a fictional version of North Yorkshire’s Robin Hood’s Bay. Would you like to live there?

Kearton Bay or Robin Hood’s Bay? I love the inhabitants of Kearton Bay and would absolutely love to live there in an ideal world. I don’t actually know anyone in Robin Hood’s Bay, although I have joined some Bay Facebook groups and one of the residents very kindly gave me permission to use his wonderful photographs of the village, which I’ve shared on Pinterest. I’ve visited Robin Hood’s Bay several times now, and it’s stunningly beautiful, and absolutely full of character. However, it’s packed with tourists in peak season and I’m not sure I could cope with that! It’s also extremely hilly, and, with my dodgy knees, it’s quite challenging. The area is gorgeous, though, and there are several coastal villages that aren’t as busy as RHB that would make a more comfortable alternative. Maybe if I win the lottery…
How did you come up with the idea for Angel?

I wanted to write about a woman who was forced out of her comfort zone. Someone who’d been sleep-walking through her life, accepting second best for so long that she’d stopped noticing, until she was jolted awake and made to look at the reality. I wanted to know how she would cope. Would she sink or swim? How would she deal with starting again? How would she manage if she had to leave behind her home and family, and everything that was comfortable, to go to a strange place, and meet new people? Would she be thrown into panic? Or would she find a strength she never knew she had, and rebuild her life? The book centres on Eliza’s search for her father, but, initially, Eliza went to Kearton Bay for a different reason entirely. As the theme of fathers and daughters grew, with Harry and Amy’s failing relationship, and the strength of the bond between Gabriel and Lexi, I began to realise that what was missing was Eliza’s own relationship with her father. So I rewrote the beginning and the book quickly took shape from there. In searching for her father, Eliza is also searching for herself, trying to discover who she really is and what she wants from her life. Of course, being me, I saw the funny side of things, too, so, although there’s a bit of soul-searching and some sadness, there’s a lot of laughter and a good sprinkling of humour to ease Eliza’s journey.

Angel contains a wonderful cast of characters. Who would you snog, marry, avoid?

What a fabulous question! It’s very tricky, though, as I think my answers would be different if you were talking about the characters across the whole series. I’ll stick to the characters who feature in Angel. I’d snog Will because he’s kind, sweet, a really, really good kisser, and I’m terribly fond of him. He’s got a lot of growing up to do, but by the end of the series he’ll be a serious contender for marriage. I’d avoid Harry, because, in spite of his twinkling eyes and good looks he’s an absolute rogue and best kept away from. I’d probably marry Gabriel, because he’s gorgeous, sincere, decent, and has a passionate streak behind that cool façade. Ask me again when the series ends and you’ll probably find I’ve chosen to marry someone else, because, although I’m a little bit in love with all my heroes, one of them is extra special to me…

If you could be best friends with any of the female characters, who would it be and why?

I have to admit, I love all my female characters and could happily be friends with any of them. Well, perhaps not Melody Bird or the awful Michelle…Eliza is a girl after my own heart, especially with her love for Maltesers and her complete inability to iron clothes. Rose is down-to-earth, funny and warm-hearted, and you know exactly where you stand with her. Lexi is lovely but she’s too young for me, and is far too leggy and gorgeous to be around, without losing what little confidence I have left. Sophie is kind, but a bit interfering, and always thinks she knows best. Then there’s Rhiannon, who is certainly interesting and very good with the advice. Although I’d have to watch her around my husband…Hmm, maybe not, then. I’ll go with Rose, because she’s good for a laugh, but always on your side and great with practical advice as well as tea and sympathy.

Harry presents a property programme. What’s your favourite property programme and why?

I watch loads of property programmes. I have a guilty addiction to Escape to the Country because of the locations of the houses, but I have to confess to getting a bit irritated by the constant whines of “Oh, the kitchen’s a bit small” when it’s the size of my entire house! I’ve been watching a lot of Country House Rescue for research purposes lately, and find that strangely addictive. I’m not sure it counts as a property programme, though? I loved the Sarah Beeny programme, Restoration Nightmare, as Rise Hall is only a few miles from where I live, and I really like Sarah’s presenting style and admire what she’s done to the house. I also love A Place in the Sun: Home or Away. I always root for the UK location, and my heart always sinks when I see how fabulous the houses abroad are! I probably like Location, Location, Location best, mainly because Phil and Kirstie’s relationship is so funny and they’re both so likeable. Also, the budgets are a bit more realistic in a lot of cases.

Rose for Jessica's blogAngel is the first book in a series. What else can we expect, and when?

You can expect three more books. The second in the series, A Kiss from a Rose, will be out in September. Here’s the blurb:

In spite of managing to get a black eye at her best friend’s wedding, Rose MacLean knows she’s never had it so good.

As a partner in a thriving business, her financial problems are easing, and her eldest daughter has finally found employment, while her youngest is doing well at school.

But Rose’s life never seems to run smoothly for long, and, sure enough, her eldest daughter has soon walked out of her job, while her youngest appears to have had a personality transplant. To make matters worse, her mother is back on the scene, and she seems to be reliving her misspent youth with her oily-haired, horse-faced ex, Alec Thoroughgood.

With her best friend preoccupied with the arduous task of baby-making, Rose finds herself relying more and more on the quiet Flynn Pennington-Rhys, who seems to be everyone’s hero. But Flynn has his own problems, and as events take an unexpected turn, Rose realises that she may not always be able to rely on him.

Will the quiet man come through for her? Will her daughters ever sort themselves out? And will Rose ever get her bedroom back from her mother, or is she destined for a life on the sofa?

I’m hoping that the third and fourth books will be out next year. There will be lots of excitement ahead for some familiar characters, some new characters will arrive at Kearton Bay, stirring passions and causing mayhem, and there’ll be weddings, births, village events, surprising relationships, redemption, a legend, a mystery, and just a touch of magic!

You can see pictures of Robin Hood’s Bay, the inspiration for Kearton Bay, and other things which inspired Sharon while writing There Must Be An Angel here:

https://uk.pinterest.com/sharonbooth1/there-must-be-an-angel/

Find out more about Sharon at http://sharonbooth.co.uk/

Follow her on Twitter as @Sharon_Booth1

Or like her Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/sharonbooth.writer

A week of being Jessica … Rabbit

Last Monday, I posted my new pen name of Jessica Redland. A big decision but it felt right. It’s been a whirlwind of activity since then. I moved the blog over to my new name which is quite a challenge for someone who isn’t always the best with technology. Trying to change my Gravatar was probably the trickiest bit because I thought I’d changed it all yet it still kept appearing on the page as my old one. Grr. Someone solved that. Twitter was surprisingly easy and Facebook was about setting up a brand new profile off my new email address so that was easy too.

Remembering to log on and off between names is difficult, especially for someone with a memory like a sieve. But I’m getting there.

My husband keeps calling me Jessica Rabbit which amuses me greatly. (If you don’t know who she is, click here). There are several comparisons I can make to Jessica Rabbit – the name, the red hair and the curves. Unfortunately the red hair isn’t real but out of a bottle in a desperate attempt to hide the grey and the curves are about four dress-sizes too big! I started a very, very, VERY strict diet yesterday so hopefully it won’t be long before it’s three dress-sizes too big, then two …

This name-changing thing has caught on as another fellow-Write Romantic has decided to change her writing name too. You can read about it here. Loving the new name of Harriet James. Very writer-ly! Out of the nine of us, four have pen-names and one writes in her maiden name so we’re on very common ground here.

Names aren’t the only thing that have changed for The Write Romantics. We launched a new-look blog which has received some great comments.

Have a great week 🙂

Jessica xx