Giving Yourself Stars and Stickers: On Book Reviews

Giving Yourself Stars and Stickers: On Book Reviews


Figure 1. My third book! Whee!


So, Cut Both Ways got another starred review, this time from Booklist. It’s very nice. I’m very pleased.

But receiving this good news made me want to talk about more than the book and its review.

It made me want to talk about how I’m almost 41 years old and my life is about getting “STARS.” Also, “STICKERS.” Sweet suffering Jesus.

I mean, yeah. I want to be successful at writing in that people keep paying me to put out books and other people keep reading them. I want to be successful at writing in that smart people say they enjoy my books.

But I can get really hung on up STARS and STICKERS. And it makes me feel like a psycho.

My first book got a couple stars and one sticker. Not “The Big Sticker.” But it has a sticker. My second book got a few stars. Not as many as the first. And no sticker. My third book got more stars. The stickers don’t come out for a while, but I’m willing to wager it won’t get any stickers. So what does this mean? My first book is the best and that it’s a quiet downhill ride from here on out? My second book sucked? I didn’t work hard enough on it?

This is only to speak of institutional or trade reviews. The stars on GoodReads for all of my books? Well. You don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. Some reviews on that site make me want to lay down and die.

“Extremely profane and not worth your time…”
“I literally did not care about anything in this book…”
“The main character is such an asshole…”


Christa one star review shirt

Figure 2. My dear Christa Desir, who made t-shirts of our one-star reviews (soon to be for sale on our website for The Oral History Podcast)


Do you see how batshit this can make a person? It’s like a potty chart you make for a kid learning to use the toilet. Except, instead of making shit in the commode, I’m trying to recreate the world how I see it in an artful way. Except, I’m middle-aged, not a toddler.

Still, there’s also this point: the people who give out stickers and stars are people who read a lot of books. They are librarians and teachers and scholars. They KNOW books. So you want those people, the ones who’ve trafficked in books their whole lives, to read your book and put a sticker or a star on its chart. You want it to be distinct, distinguished, special. It’s not meaningless, this star-and-sticker business.

But sometimes I want to give myself stars or stickers for parts of my books. For my second book, I want to give a sticker to the ending. It’s my favorite ending of all my books. I also want to give a star to its ladyhead scene. That was a bit that remained almost unchanged from its first drafting.

For my first book, I’d give a star to the part where two characters make out in a bathroom. Goddamn did I work hard on that scene! I’d also give a star to the scene where the guys are eating fried chicken and watching A Clockwork Orange and the one guy says, “Dude, you’re such a cock to your dog.” Dunno why, but I love that line.

For my third book, the sticker would go to the scenes with Will’s step-sisters. I loved writing them and I loved those little pain-in-the-ass girls.

So, maybe this is only a post that other writers will care about. Maybe this is a post that will make people say, “Oh, poor Carrie, with your book deals! Waaaah, we’re so sorry for your precious feelings!”

Say that, if you’d like. It’s totally true. I’m a lucky fucker and complaining about this could surely come off bratty and ungrateful.

But the reason I wrote this is to put it out to all writers, published or not: what would you give your stars and stickers to? What parts of your stories or essays are you especially fond of? What scenes have you written that please you every time you read them? What opening or closing lines still make you proud? Leave me a comment, make a chart on your refrigerator, or just ponder it privately in your heart.

Remembering how your own work pleases you is a good thing which begets more good work. I hope you’ll endow yourself with many stickers and stars in the future.



Figure 3. Love yourself, baby. Just as much as Sensitive Sam Winchester loves you.




  • Jackie Lea Sommers on Aug 08, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for this, Carrie. My debut comes out September 1st, and reviews have been driving me crazy. The trade reviews didn’t get it. Goodreads seems to love it. But every once in a while there’s just a nasty review that leaves me reeling for a week. So I blocked my Goodreads page and had it auto-redirected to It’s better for my writer soul to having a giant ol’ manatee offer to brush my hair and grab some wine than to read the reviews. 🙂

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Aug 08, 2015 Reply

      That is a good strategy, Jackie! Blocking GoodReads has also been helpful for me, though I didn’t realize this for my first two books. I guess I wanted to see how bad it could get, to toughen myself up. I don’t know if I’m toughened up and I don’t want to say that reviewers are wrong or don’t have the right to respond to books – they obviously do. But it certainly doesn’t help my mood on a daily basis to be reading some of those words. So now I just hope that my books find the readers who like them and try to focus on that. TRY being the operative word here…

  • Trudee Romanek on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

    Thank you, thank you for this. As a writer waiting for reviews of her first novel to surface (Good review? Bad review? Will anyone review it? Will anyone even READ it?), your post helped me feel I’m not alone. And I won’t suck for all time if those who read this first one choose to shoot it down. Of course, it also proved that this feeling doesn’t necessarily go away even after success is achieved! But your words will help me deal with it.

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

      You are most welcome.

      It doesn’t go away. But it doesn’t have to control us, either. Much luck as you embark on this bewildering beautiful road.

  • Helen Landalf on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

    I love the idea of giving yourself stars and stickers to particular scenes or even lines. What I love about it most is that it’s YOU acknowledging the worth of your creative output, not someone else passing judgement.

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

      “YOU acknowledging the worth of your creative output, not someone else passing judgement.”

      YES. So many writers I know that aren’t published spend so much time thinking they aren’t good enough. I want them to ask themselves, “What about my writing do *I* like? What am I proud of having written?” It doesn’t lessen the hurt of rejection but it brings back the delight of the whole enterprise.

  • Chase Night on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

    This is such a great post and a nice idea. I give CHICKEN a star for its sensual river baptism scene, and another for having a cool horse.

  • Natasha Sinel on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

    I love this post. I love the scenes you starred and stickered (and also the books the book people gave stars and a sticker to).

    I’m so glad you asked this question because this here comment may be the only place I’ll get stars and stickers, so I’ll take them right now and I’ll put them on my potty chart and stare at them for the rest of the day!

    I’m pretty proud of the scenes with Macy and her younger brother Gavin, especially the shaving one. I like that one.

    And, even though it was seriously difficult to write and may be tough for readers to read, the bathroom flashback scene.That’s kind of THE scene, really.

    The other thing that’s pretty much the star of all the stickers is that you, THE Carrie Mesrobian, read my book, got it, and liked it enough to blurb it!

    PS I love the t-shirt.

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

      We’ll be making t-shirts for our shop this fall, so store up those shitty reviews and prepare to submit!

  • Beth Fama on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

    The discussion I should be having with myself is, Why do I care so damn much about stickers and stars when they’re practically negatively correlated with sales dollars?!

    But I’ll play your little game. I’m giving myself a star for the way PLUS ONE is such a gem of a libertarian allegory. Not a single professional reviewer mentioned the social and political implications of the story, even though my publisher included the phrases “individual liberty” and “civil rights” in the jacket synopsis.

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Aug 07, 2015 Reply

      “Why do I care so damn much about stickers and stars when they’re practically negatively correlated with sales dollars?!”

      ain’t that the truth, Ruth

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