I’m posting this in response to a first-time author post in a fiction co-op I participate in, who is coping with her first one-star reader review. These are my all-time-fave words on this struggle, written on the blog of New York Times bestseller Caroline Leavitt (author of eight novels, most recently the Pictures of You), in her interview with National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon (four novels and collections, most recently You Remind Me of Me). Let’s just say neither of them should ever be one-starred by anyone, but they have been. Is there a writer who hasn’t?
You can read the full post (definitely do!) on Caroline Leavitt’s wonderful blog. Part of the reason I’m putting it here is because I have searched so often for the post to recommend it to friends, and always spend forever finding it. Do read through to the end for a great laugh! But most importantly, heed Sheila Schwartz’s (Imagine a Great White Light) advice about who we should be writing for. – Meg
Caroline Leavitt: The reviews have been absolutely phenomenal for this book. Do you ever read your reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads ( the from-the-masses reviews?) Have you ever gotten a bad review and if so how do you deal with it? Do you take it to heart or just laugh and go make yourself a sandwich?
Dan Chaon: It’s foolish, but I read everything. I have been warned against it, but ultimately I am really curious to know what readers have to say. It matters to me.
Of course, sometimes the people that write reviews for Amazon or Goodreads or whatever are idiots, but that’s actually pretty rare. Most of the time, if someone cares enough to bother to write their response to your book, they’ve usually spent as much time thinking about it as the average newspaper reviewer. And—realistically—those online reviews are likely to reach more readers than any newspaper ever will.
Some of the positive reviews on various social networks have been incredibly heartening and inspiring. And some of the negative reviews have hurt pretty bad, especially when I can see their point– you’re right, I suck–to the extent that I actually wish that I could give those people their money back, or reimburse them for the time they spent reading, or erase the memory of having read my book from their mind.
My wife, Sheila, had a wise thought about this. “You’re not writing for people who don’t like your books,” she said. “You’re writing for people who love your books.” And that’s the most comforting advice I’ve ever received.
Still, there are the nasty and stupid reviews, where I fantasize about hunting those people down and torturing them in some kind of Saw IV way. Of course, they think they are safely hiding behind some fake Internet identity, but someday I will find them, and they will be sorry. That means you, (Name withheld) from (town withheld), (state withheld.) I think you’re a dick.