Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Somebody One-Starred My Baby! by Kara Isaac

In my last blog post in June I asked the question "Should an Author Read Their Own Reviews" (the short answer: it depends!) When I wrote that post, I had received a few *ahem* constructive reviews for my debut novel, Close To You, but hadn't yet managed to achieve that ultimate basement one-star ranking.

Well, that was soon fixed! The same week as I wrote that post I received two one-star reviews on the same day. GULP. I had to go back and read my own blog post to take my own advice. Especially having perspective and not relying on reviews as my primary validation as a writer.

Ultimately, writers have a choice about what they read. Just because you know your book got a one-star review doesn't make it compulsory to read it. I did (because I'm a sucker for punishment like that) and I'm glad I did because parts were actually quite funny. For example:

Two people find love on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand. That seemed like a must read for me! Boy, how I wish this was a lousy, cheesy Hallmark movie. I would only have wasted an hour and a half of my life. Seriously. The story had some potential, but it fell shorter than a hobbit.

I laughed out loud. I write romantic comedy so I can appreciate funny even when it's skewering my own book.

Then there was the criticism I'd been waiting for...

When the characters started speaking directly to God and God began answering, I just about threw the book across the room. I can't believe I finished it.

I'd been expecting this one. The truth is there is nothing on the back cover blurb that tells a reader there is a faith element to the story (above the barcode there is a Fiction/Christian/Romance classification but let's be honest - who looks at that?) 

That was a discussion my editor and I had during the formulation of the back cover blurb and ultimately my publisher decided not to include it because (a) there is more of a cultural element to faith in the US than there is in NZ/Australia so people are generally less offended of it being mentioned and (b) the primary target audience for the book is the US. 

I talked about how here Down Under, there isn't that kind of culturally ingrained Christianity and so there was the risk that we would get some kick back from readers who purchased the book and would feel blindsided to there being a faith element. 

Now, I have no idea if that reviewer was an American or a New Zealander or from somewhere else but I can totally understand it. For some people, buying what they expected to be a light hearted romantic comedy and finding halfway through reading it that it has a "religious" component would be offensive. On the flip side, I've also heard from readers who would never in a million years pick up a book that was clearly marketed as "Christian fiction" who have loved Close To You

Writing this blog post I discovered I'd recently added another one-star to my collection with what was deemed to be offensive content to readers on the other side of the divide...

There was a line that seemed to be a hint at lesbianism, which is something I never expect to be in Christian fiction books, because it goes against the faith the genre was built upon. The line was, "Her sister couldn't have stunned her more if she'd announced she was leaving Grant for the nanny." It's insinuations such as this one that can destroy an otherwise charming tale.

Um, yup, it's true, that line is in there. I'm going to be honest, having watching some of my fellow romance authors get skewered by conservative readers for things that didn't even get me raising an eyebrow, I had thought about all the things in Close To You that might potentially cause that kind of reaction. That line was not even on my pretty long list! But that doesn't mean her point is invalid. 

As an author, I want to be as open to correction and constructive criticism. As a Christian author, even more so. Ultimately, I'm accountable to God for all the words that end up in my books - the ones that offend liberal readers because my characters have a faith and the ones that unintentionally offend Christian readers, alike! 

Reviews that touch on the faith or Christian/moral content of my books always resonates more than any other comment because, for most of us, there is nothing more personal than our faith and desiring to be a good witness with our writing. My biggest learning from my one-star reviews is that first and foremost, those elements need to always be an open conversation between me and God. I am far from perfect - as a writer or as a Christian but ultimately the only thing that I can do is continually check my conscience on what I am writing and leave the rest up to Him.

And be thankful that out there in writer land some genius author started a tradition that you get to indulge in the dessert of your choice when you receive your first one star review for every book! 

Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Her debut romantic comedy, Close To You, is about a disillusioned academic-turned-tour-guide and an entrepreneur who knows nothing about Tolkien who fall in love on a Tolkien themed tour of New Zealand and was an April 2016 release from Howard Books. When she's not working her day job as a public servant, chasing around a ninja preschooler and his feisty toddler sister, she spends her time writing horribly bad first drafts and wishing you could get Double Stuf Oreos in New Zealand. She loves to connnect on her website, on Facebook at Kara Isaac - Writer and Twitter @KaraIsaac


  1. Hi Kara, good on you for reading your reviews. Yes, it does hurt - I remember my first review was a 1 and it simply said something like "it's just awful, don't read it." Ouch … I carried it around for a day then at night in bed the Lord nudged me and made me question it's importance. The Lord still loved me like crazy and thought I was pretty neat. And He thinks the same about the reviewer, too!

    And next time I get a 1 I'll sure use that excuse to indulge in a great dessert. Love that idea.

    And Close to You is a fabulous debut novel. I could have sworn it was written by a veteran. BTW, the thing about lesbianism is hilarious … we are funny creatures aren't we?


    1. Sorry for my delay in replying, Ian. I was off the grid for most of last week! That is so true, at the end of the day it's just one person's opinion. And there are far more important opinions to be concerned with :)

  2. We've all heard it's a good thing to have some bad reviews. And I believe it. If a book has 4.5 and up, I immediately suspect friends and family are the only ones reviewing the thing. I vote for tiramisu with an espresso on the side ;) P.S. Please remind me of what I just said when people start one-starring my debut.

    1. I will remind you, Patricia!

      My choice was baked lemon cheesecake. Mmmmmm :)

  3. "shorter than a hobbit". Gotta love that one. Here's hoping her review is prophetic and Close to You does get to become a Hallmark movie.

    The lesbian one had me scratching my head. I had to read it three times to get what she (I assume it was a she) was talking about.

    I can only assume neither reviewer is your target reader, and that's okay. Your target reader is going to ignore both because they don't get the lesbian reference either and they LIKE cheesy Hallmark movies.

    And thanks for the reminder that it's all about God. If we're writing what we believe He wants us to be writing, we can leave the rest in His hands.

    1. LOL. Wouldn't that be great, Iola. I would be more than happy for Close To You to become a "cheesy" Hallmark movie! And I had to read the sentence a few times as well to understand the reference :)

  4. Great post, Kara. My first one-star for Irish Encounter has a phrase something like, "religious propaganda." The writer was angry that she'd spent money and wasted an hour and a half of her life. She also called out Amazon for not warning her that the book was Christian fiction. Isn't that what the back cover copy is for? After a few minutes of hot and cold flashes zinging through my body, I remembered my prayer for my book--that God would get it into the hands of the people He wants to read it. So maybe there was a purpose to the scathing words. It also helped me to read a few of best-selling author, Liane Moriarty's one-star reviews. I remember one well--"The book had book mites." Book mites? Really? Thanks, Kara, for writing about another part of this writing journey.

    1. Hope, your comment had me jumping over to Amazon to read your back cover copy. Um, it's clearly obvious to anyone who bothers to read past the first paragraph that there is a faith component. Maybe God has a plan for her not seeing that part, as much as she may not like it :)

    2. Yep, Kara. That's what I thought, too. Blessings on your writing!

  5. What a great post, Kara. I remember the day the Christmas box set my one story was in got this remark: I was a little annoyed with the last story [YES, THAT WAS ME, BEING 'U' I ALWAYS LAND AT THE BACK LOL] as it almost made it seem as if Santa was real. I never taught my children to believe in Santa, because I believe it is a very deceitful practice, especially for Christians, and takes so much glory away from Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. Rearrange the letters of Santa and you get Satan!

    Despite her tirade about my story, she still gave the set a 5 star review ... didn't knock off any points because of my Santa.

    Um, and if you rearrange the letters of god, you get dog ... doesn't mean anything.

    I didn't head for the dessert, although I love chocolate ... I'll have to remember that next time. Instead, when I was tempted to reread this review, I'd hurry on over to ones that said things like this, because that was the purpose to the story:

    - Really enjoyed the Santa story on forgiveness. This is not always an easy option and the author brought that out effectively. The author made you want to help her realize it was more for her than the one she was forgiving.

    - The author has combined the magic of Santa and the true meaning of Christmas to write a story that is guaranteed to put the reader in the Christmas spirit.

    - I was impressed how the author wove the wonder of the man in red with the hope and joy of the real CHRISTmas story.

    PS. This solo novella is available for free until tomorrow if you want to snag it and see how real Santa is, or isn't.

  6. So true Marion, you can rearrange anything to make it almost anything that you want. Someone commented to me recently that there are always people who aren't happy unless they can find fault with something, no matter how unreasonable. Maybe you bore the brunt of that :)

  7. Kara, I love you attitude :) Thanks for sharing your pearls of wisdom with us.