4 things I learned reading 1-star reviews of Pride & Prejudice (yes, they exist)

I wish I could claim this as my own idea, but in truth I first heard of this on Twitter, when @elizabethscraig (one of the most useful writing mentors I follow) pointed me to this article by Amber Skye Forbes at The Dancing Writer’s Advice.

Apparently, the best way to conquer your own fear of getting negative reviews is to spend some time reading the 1-star reviews given to your favorite writers on Amazon and Goodreads.

So this week, I tried it. I spent a happy schadenfreude-filled afternoon reveling in negative reviews on Amazon for one of the many free Kindle versions of Pride and Prejudice. Here’s what I learned.

Tip #1: When turning your manuscript into an ebook, don’t forget to proof-read. 

Many of the 1-star reviews came from die-hard Jane Austen fans who threw their hands up in disgust when confronted by the poor formatting, typos, and oddly timed line breaks in the Kindle version of the book. These highly motivated readers all encouraged their fellow readers to stop being so cheap and go buy a real copy. Clearly having a successful, readable e-book isn’t as simple as just saving your manuscript in an e-book format.

Tip #2: No matter how finely tuned your characters are, someone out there will find them to be shallow caricatures of terrible people that no one would want to know anyway.

From Max Montgomery:

“I must surmise from my reaction to this classic that I have no appreciation for the finer things in life. The female characters are a bunch of air heads that are significantly over indulged and have nothing else to do but simper and fret. The male characters are not paragons of thought either. So much of miss Austen for me. Maxmontgomery”

Tip #3: Don’t ignore your genre’s current conventions. Genre readers have specific expectations that most writers can’t afford to ignore.

From Kelly:

“I was completely underwhelmed by this ‘classic’ story. Yes, the writing was pretty, at times. But as for the story…no. It was basically a story about men who rate women based on looks and social standing, and women who rate men based on those two things, plus yearly earnings and house size.

Mr. Darcy was barely in the story. It’s hard to see how this even passes for a romance considering the guy has about 10 lines before they end up getting together. I kept pushing forward because of the fact that this book always comes up on lists of great books. Honestly, now that I’ve read it, I think it only makes that list because people want to seem worldly by saying that they’ve read it.”

Kelly makes a good point. When you boil down its plot and stack it up against today’s best-selling romances, Pride and Prejudice falls more than a little short. There’s very little interaction between the lovers. No bodice-ripping at all–not even by accident on the dance floor, and absolutely no steamy sex. When he’s introduced, Mr. Darcy’s main appeal comes not in the form of cheekbones sharp as knives or eyes like the sea after a storm, but in a neatly packaged account of his annual income and lovely estate at Pemberley.

Clearly, the revelation that Mr. Darcy’s ledger book was always in the black no longer packs the same sort of romantic punch.

Tip #4: You can’t take bad reviews too seriously. 

From Charles G. Meyer comes this insight:

“I disliked they cut out all of the scenes with zombies. This was obviously edited to try and appeal to a wider audience.”

Charles, you have just won yourself a fan for life.

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