Friday, November 20, 2015

Reviews: Honesty Vs. Inflated Truth

Most authors go out in search of reviews for their books
Publishers often send out free copies to random reviewers
Many Indie authors ask friends (or established reader base) to review their work

This is always true, but...
What do you do about bad reviews?

Recently I was given a free copy of a book from an indie author in exchange for my honest review of the work. I opened the document, started reading, and... Oh. Well. Sorry. I can't give you my honest review because I can't read the document. Forcing myself to read unedited, unformatted, character-tag-less, description free, plot free mumbo jumbo is a waste of my time and gives me a headache. I understand that the author's done their honest-to-goodness best and it's their personal masterpiece, but the review isn't going to happen. There are no stars that I can award to broken, unpolished literature. 

I explained myself to the author and, instead of giving them a review, suggested what they could do to improve their craft. I even offered to edit their future work. I'm not a professional editor, but I'm confident in my knowledge base to say that "yes, I can help you improve." (And to be honest, I want to help other authors. The best source for learning comes from other people in your working environment, even from those who aren't equally talented.)

I didn't review, but others did. The manuscript in question has over a dozen 5 star reviews on Amazon, and yes, a recent 1 star review. The author posted their displeasure to social media and the author's supporters trashed the reviewer, going as far as picking at her chosen name and calling her dirty words. The reviewer in question was so thoroughly trashed that people have outright blocked the reviewer without question.

This isn't cool. Just... I mean... DUDE! 

Review: Definition: A critical appraisal of a book

Did you read that right? CRITICAL. This means that when a book is given to someone--anyone--for review, that the reviewer should come back with remarks that analyze the work for both its merits and its faults.

Positive reviews makes an author feel good about their craft and help them to sell more books. Negative reviews can make an author feel crappy, but even negative reviews aren't all bad. Having your shortcomings pointed out by others is part of the business of writing. Everyone experiences a poor review at some point because literary works--like art--are subjective to the reader. Not everyone is going to like a particular book. This is something that has to be accepted in order to push forward. Grow from it.

The Problem with Indie Authors and Reviews

Indie authors: please STOP asking your friends to review your books. Your friends are biased. They love you, want to support you, and are willing to lie right to your face that your book is the best thing they've read since the newest release on the New York Time's Best Seller's List. Your friends will give you 4 and 5 star reviews to placate you so you don't lash out at them and/or kill your dream of being a famous author. (Hate to break it to you: only 10% of authors worldwide make enough money off their writing to support themselves). Inflated reviews might puff up the author, but they piss off readers who go out in search of well received books only to find that what they've purchased is complete crap.

(Note: Duh, this isn't how all indie authors go about things. This blog post is simply my reaction to what I see too often)

How Traditional Publishing Gets it Right

A good publisher has a list of reviewers that they work with and who request specific types of books (by genre) for review. The author usually doesn't know the reviewer and vice versa. This is the  BEST way to get that honest review that both indie and traditionally published authors crave. Perfect strangers are far more likely to say "this was great because..." or "this didn't work in the story because..." and "this sucked because...". You can absolutely trust a stranger's first impression. 

AND SO CAN OTHERS. Honest positive reviews will send other readers your way. If someone learns your work is filled with inflated opinions, they're going to hate you and probably share their experience about you as an author with other readers. Word of mouth is a big deal. It can make you or break you. 

The point of writing is to tell a good story, be read by others, and hopefully make a little cash on the side, all of which is better accomplished by honest reviews. If you're done the hard work as an author (good story, beta readers, some editing, easy to read formatting, a little marketing), the good reviews will come.

What Do You Do About Negative Reviews?

1) Thank your reviewer! They put in their personal time and energy to have a look, and they kept up their end of the bargain. You asked for their opinion and they gave it to you.
2) Analyze why you were given poor marks. Understand that you have things to work on
3) Accept that you're not Steven King and might never be as equally successful 
4) Keep writing. Take a deep breath and move forward. 

Where To Find Reviewers Who Aren't Friends

Search engines are your honest friends. Social media platforms are your honest friends. There are entire groups on Facebook and Google+ devoted to giving reviews, and bored housewives with numerous kids are creating blogs all about their favorite genres and the books they crave. Don't be lazy. Do the research. You'll be all the better for it.

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