When Online Reviewing Is No Longer Fun
Last week I wrote about some of the recent attempts to police reviews and control reviewers, culminating in Anne Rice’s Change.org petition aimed at having Amazon disallow pseudonymous reviews. When I first started participating in the online Romance community, there was a fair amount of backlash against critical reviewing from traditionally published authors. The book community was growing by leaps and bounds back then, though, and there seemed to be enough room for everyone to do their thing.
And it was fun. Sure, we complained about over-marketing and pressure by authors to “be nice.” Sure there were some alarming incidents in which authors went after readers or readers went after other readers on behalf of a favorite author. But book blogs were growing, readers were getting more opportunities to review books via NetGalley and other venues, and for the most part I think people felt like they could have honest, controversial discussions without fear of major reprisal.
Now, though, it feels like a lot of the fun around talking about and reviewing books has died. Although there has always been a large portion of the reader community hoping to get published themselves, there was, I think, a stronger sense of a reader community online. And we were united in our love of books. In fact, I think many of us looked forward with unabashed eagerness to the possibilities that self-publishing were going to bring to both authors and readers, because traditional publishing was not doing the best job of diversifying the genre fiction marketplace.
So there’s some sad irony in the fact that so much of the current reviewing woe is emerging from the self-publishing community. And although I would not define it as a self-publishing problem, per se, I find it even more frustrating that authors who know better than anyone how much being artificially limited can dull inspiration and creativity want to be so aggressively controlling over reader responses.
And yet, in the process of devising various strategies to give advantage to their books (what many call “gaming the system”), more than a few self-published authors are fueling the backlash against reviews that don’t fit a certain limited set of criteria (i.e. at least 4-star, only positive comments about the book, etc.). And to many of us, it’s become just another attempt to “game the system,” by manipulating the reader community into artificial, even coerced, cooperation. In other words, it has gone beyond the ‘good girls are nice’ rhetoric we’ve been fighting for so long in genre communities, and into a space where reviews are almost seen as author property, or at least as something owed authors.
For example, a commenter on my previous post shared her experience:
I’m on a lot of author email lists, simply because I like to read, and hey, authors give stuff away sometimes. Happy coincidence. :) Twice in the last month, I have received announcements from authors about recruiting for new “street teams” of reviewers. Both announcements were similarly worded, and asked that anyone who wanted to be on the street team be willing to either post a five-star review or email the author directly and say why they couldn’t do that. I found the requests offensive, and emailed both authors to say so, politely, of course. Both replied with carefully worded denials – that they were specifically talking about pre-pub ARCs and both stated emphatically that anything less than five stars would hurt them in the ratings. That left me wondering where exactly they thought the reviews would get posted. Amazon doesn’t allow reviews on books until the publication date.
On the author side, note this discussion regarding a book publicist who promises to place his clients books on various lists – for a substantial fee – and who is now under fire for being a “scam artist.” There is extensive discussion of this individual’s alleged credentials and the problems one author had with his service, but nowhere in the discussion is there any questioning of whether this is an ethical practice to begin with. It reminds me a lot of the justifications for paid-for-positive reviews – that they’re a normal part of publicity, similar to the quid pro quo that traditional publishers have relied on for years with author blurbs and recommendations. However, there is a broader question here about whether any of that is ethical, and how, when you have dozens, maybe hundreds, of authors attempting to advantageously position their own books, how any of these practices fare, and how far authors need to go (especially as time wears on and the marketplace becomes more crowded) to gain “success,” however that is to be defined.
In my last post I mentioned the possibility of long-term, systemic research on the way reviews affect a book’s success – and let’s note that success can be defined on a number of different registers, not just money earned. However, I’ve lately become less and less convinced that research would change the mind of authors like Rice and others who have participated in her position. In fact, I wonder how much this issues overlaps author views on piracy, because no matter how many studies demonstrate that piracy does not harm – and may, in fact, help – many authors, there is still a very entrenched belief that piracy is A Very Bad Thing and Must Be Eradicated At All Costs.
One commenter noted an almost “Pavlovian” character to the negative responses of authors toward readers, and we know that even an author’s fans can take up that charge, especially when the author urges them to it. However, if you read this post by author Ella Fox, in which she defends the right of readers to say whatever they want about a book without feeling harassed, you can see how many of the comments simply repeat the refrain of how awful it is for these readers to be mean to authors. It feels like a cycle that continues to become more urgent and more outrageous, with more authors pushing harder to control the entire market in which they release their books.
And it’s killing the fun that got a lot of us reading and reviewing online in the first place. Fun may seem like a simple, even trivial, motive, but it’s not; many of us engage online with books in our leisure time, and when this time ceases to be enjoyable, when it becomes a burden instead of a reprieve, where is the incentive to remain engaged?
As I argued in my last post, it is incredibly illogical for readers, who have the least economic interest in a book’s sales, to be on the front lines of author publicity and experience pressure to conform their views to a certain standard. I know many readers who have become unmotivated to review, or at least to write critical reviews of books when a) they don’t know of the author, or b) they know the author or his/her fans might come after them. For those authors who believe negative reviews hurt their books, this is success, this is achievement of the agenda.
But at the very least it’s a very myopic definition of success, and at worst it’s detrimental to the book community as a whole, inclusive of those authors currently trying to make that community serve their market goals (see Sunita’s post on creating a market for lemons). Once we can no longer rely on reviews for authenticity, the value of reader responses becomes unreliable and undermined, and the point of all of this “gaming” behavior – to create reader buzz – is moot, because readers will, in turn, feel tricked and manipulated, and beyond a very core group of fans, they will look elsewhere for their entertainment — maybe to other authors, maybe to other ways to spend their leisure time. You can already see a certain instability in the self-publishing market, where one book will sell really well, but later books suffer from a substantial drop in sales (you even see a version of this in the way all of Hugh Howey’s books since Wool have performed). Or authors who screamed onto the scene as stars drop off the radar within a year or two (aka where is Amanda Hocking?).
In fact, despite the continuing insistence that readers have the power to drive the market, this is a situation in which more and more readers feel powerless. How many more examples will we see, in this market, of the brilliance that was SB Nonnie’s C review of Carla Cassidy’s Pregnesia at Smart Bitches, as well as Cassidy’s equally brilliant and classy response – a combination that generated wonderful reader buzz for the book, the kind of buzz that spontaneously sells books. How much fun can reading and reviewing be in an environment where readers don’t feel safe to speak without giving second thought to every word and opinion?
No, this is not a problem that readers can solve. This is a problem that I think only authors have the power to address, although, unfortunately, not immediately or directly. Not engaging in these destructive behaviors is essential, of course. But there’s another, relatively simple, thing authors can (and some already) do: let readers know they’re safe to say whatever they want about their books. Telling readers directly (on Twitter, Facebook, websites, reader boards) that they support the right of readers to speak their mind, and to do so in whatever way suits that reader’s style – whether that be snarky, gif-filled, short and sharp, long and ponderous – can give readers a much-needed safe harbor. It may even help sell a book or two — assuming that the author backs up the message with action (or the lack thereof). Along with that, authors who value authentic, open book communities can discourage their own fans from feeling the need to protect the author’s books by going after other readers. Authors have an incredible amount of influence over their fans, whose loyalty can be marshaled to fight for an author’s economic interest as their own. That authors can get readers to do this speaks volumes about how much potential authority can be leveraged over loyal fans.
The book community is at a crossroads right now. Publishing is at a crossroads right now. There is very much a wild-west aura to the self-publishing landscape right now, with authors rushing to stake their claim. And like its historical namesake, this gold rush will come to an end, too, and the market will shake out, sacrificing many along the way. There is no guarantee that the authors who remain will be the “best” writers with the “best” books. However, the pendulum always swings, and it’s going to swing here, too. No one knows what the future of publishing holds, but as everyone tries to make their fortune in this new, uncharted territory, readers are being trampled.
I often hear authors say that they are readers first. Well, if that’s true, then this is the time to put on the reader hat and stand up for the basic rights of the reader to talk about books without the fear of reprisal by authors. Honest reader reviews are a natural resource in the book community, and one that needs to be protected on behalf of the literary ecosystem as a whole. And, as that Ella Fox post indicates, it can’t be a one-time thing — there needs to be sustained effort, and partnership among readers and authors, dedicated to cultivating an environment in which readers feel safe to be honest. Honest feedback can be one of the most powerful natural marketing resources for authors, but that resource has to be cultivated, not threatened and attacked and harassed. It wasn’t that long ago when, at least in the Romance community, there was a lot of pride around the wide expanse of readers who engaged openly and critically with books. I don’t know about you, but to me that environment feels like it’s contracted significantly, both in size and spontaneous enthusiasm.
But you tell me: are you still feeling the fun? Do you feel inhibited in what you say about books? What would you like to see happen in the online book community re. authors and readers?
Isn’t this a cyclical thing though? Authors, regardless of whether they’re self-pubbed or not have always been resistant to online reader reviewers. In my ten years of blogging, this has never changed. Some authors are delicate creatures who just can’t take criticism. *KanyesShrug*
I think the difference is, with all this author/reader interaction, reviewers may feel more pressured to give positive reviews so that they don’t get targeted by certain authors. Some reviewers also love that they’re good pals with a string of writers, and perhaps don’t want to jeopardise those relationships.
In my opinion, the reason reviewing is no longer fun is because the venues that we used to go to for good old fashioned snarky reviews have become overly sensitive to criticisms from Special Snow Flake butt-hurt authors.
Freedom of speech goes both ways. As a reviewer, you should be able to post what you want, but equally as an author, if you want to show your knickers to all and sundry because somebody didn’t like your book, have at it. But it’s also ok for people like me to mock you for being an utter tool.
I’m avid reader and I’ve learned the world of social media is not a safe place to criticise any book or even an event that takes place in a book (ie. taking drugs or cheating). The carry on and bullying that is happening is a turn off.
I’m a small press author and I want everybody to leave reviewers alone damnit! It’s embarassing enough approaching bloggers for reviews without also having to reassure them I’m not going to flip out if they express an opinion.
As a reader I wouldn’t even dare post a negative review.
As terrifying and disappointing as a negative review is, it is one person’s opinion. As you say, more data into how much people are actually influenced by reviews is much needed. Perhaps the most frustrating review I received was not that someone simply didn’t like the book or characters – that would be fair enough – but that the book was full of misspellings, which it isn’t. I am English, therefore write using British English – something which, it would appear, not everyone is aware of and therefore assumes mistakes on the author’s part. This review therefore is factually inaccurate and is more cause for concern than if the reviewer had simply said that they hated it.
The dilemma is, do I say something? Should anyone say anything in any circumstance? With horror stories washing up on Twitter almost daily, and having the results you discuss in this brilliant article, I’m hesitant to correct something that I feel should be corrected. On the other hand, some idiot authors charge in like maniacs over people simply disliking something in their book, tainting the whole thing for the rest of us. The reviewer/author/reader platform is very unstable and it is hard to know which way to step anymore.
Perhaps a site such as yours, with the large reader-base that you have could make an appeal for more info from readers in an attempt to glean more data into purchasing habits and reviews? It would be fascinating, and in a changing and ever-evolving area, much needed.
Thanks for the thought-provoking piece :) Will re-tweet as soon as I locate the phone that my toddler has hidden.
While most of my reviews have been positive, I came across a few stinkers of books that were practically the opposite of the book blurb and wondered just how many blurb writers actually read the book. The book purported to be about a stereotypical librarian who goes to Mexico and becomes a feisty heroine (I know, but the review gave it five stars so I bought it against my better judgement) but the reality was that the damn woman went from spineless and pathetic to whiny and idiotic. I was insulted enough to pick up my keyboard and shoot off a bad review, which was quickly responded to by a reader who hysterically accused me of not understanding romance because being so dumb that you repeatedly almost die and need rescuing is somehow romantic. I responded with examples of what I considered to be feisty yet romantic women who managed to keep their IQs throughout the story. I have to admit that at first I was taken aback by the angry fan but in the end I believe that the whole exchange was a positive thing because people like her, who like reading about unassuming women being swept off their feet and rescued, could see our exchange and decide to buy the book while others like myself could elect not to buy the book and be saved from ranting about it in a review.
Similarly, I once read a review that took the romance of a book and broke it down as the heroine pretty much raping the hero, then both of them falling in love after being forced together because of the resulting pregnancy. I am very grateful not only for being prevented from buying the book , but for the reviewer pointing out that if the genders had been switched it would have created an uproar. As far as I’m concerned, she did a public service by calling a spade a spade.
I hope it helps you to know there are a lot of authors out there like me who let the reviews fall where they may.
Street review teams? Wow. I have author friends with street teams, but it’s not something I have the time or inclination to recruit. Although I might ask fans who take the time to kindly comment on my FB page about my books if they would perhaps write a review to tell others what they thought, I would never try to “stuff the ballot box” by having teams of people leave great reviews.
I’d honestly rather know what real readers think.
This comes back to the age old questions: Why are authors reading their reviews in the first place? And why does an author assume a reader or reviewer is being mean if the reviewer dares to point out issues they have with an author’s book?
Authors are selling a product, not their “baby” or their “precious precious”. Authors really need to think of themselves as CEOs or owners of a company, especially if they are self-published. Can you imagine if a CEO of some big company like The Gap, H&M or a restaurant like The Olive Garden or TGIF’s attacked their customers vocally, accusing their customers of being haters or being too mean because they had issues with their meal or an article of clothing?
Also authors are artists, just like singers and actors. In the entertainment field, you’re going to get a whole lot of criticism, both good and bad. Critics, reviewers and fans are 100 times worse in their opinion when it comes to actors and singers, and say some of the most horrible and cruel things, making it very personal. Look what is happening to Lady Gaga as an example. 2 years ago she was praised and bowed down to, now she is the butt of so many jokes and harsh on-line criticism for her latest album and her artistic merit.
Why should authors be held above approach and handled with kids gloves when other artists or companies aren’t?
Is it possible that this is a few crackpots (on both sides of the divide) making a lot more noise than their numbers justify?
I mean, Anne Rice has rarely been known for her calm and reasoned approach to reader feedback, right? So surely she’s an outlier. Are there significant numbers of other authors jumping on her bandwagon? I know there are SOME, and I honestly don’t know what I mean by ‘significant’ numbers, I just wonder how many authors do NOT agree with her but aren’t getting the same amount of attention for their quieter stance.
I mean, you say “this is the time to put on the reader hat and stand up for the basic rights of the reader to talk about books without the fear of reprisal by authors.” So… what does that look like? I think the sort of loud proclamations and bold statements that get attention in the current milieu are the tools of the more hysterical elements – what do the calmer elements do to combat their message without becoming just as strident and unreasonable?
I think a lot of authors are just keeping our heads down and focusing on our writing. Diving into this kerfuffle seems almost to defy the message we’d be trying to spread… Reviews aren’t the authors’ business, right? I would argue that policing other authors’ reactions to reviews is ALSO not the authors’ business. I can sympathize, but can I really be part of the solution?
I’m new to doing online book reviews. But, I’m not new to giving my opinion online.
When I first put up my blog I was told by a publisher that the purpose of such blogs was to promote books. She very kindly gave me a format for the book review and promised I would get more attention if I did them in a certain way.
That was okay with me for about five minutes. This was after I had written maybe 1 review. My website was nothing at all. It still doesn’t have much on it.
What this publisher said to me made me uncomfortable. Mind you, she wasn’t from a publisher that I’ve ever heard of. Yet, when I looked her up she did appear to be from a legitimate publisher.
So, I sort of put the whole reviewing thing on the back burner because I am one of those people with a book review websites that writes. But truthfully, separating writing and websites from me at this point in my life would be a strange thing. I’ve been writing online for 20 years. I’ve been typing online as though I’ve had nothing to lose since before you could get on the internet by pressing the blue E.
In the meantime, there was an author whose writing I liked but whose story I did not. I felt she was a talented writer but had written a bad story. I gave her a bad review on goodreads. I gave her a bad review on my website.
For me, a book, particularly a genre book, there are two elements (at least). Was it well written? Was the story compelling? Language and story.
After giving this writer a bad review for what truly amounted to me being irritated by the poor story elements of her book, it occurred to me that she is a real person. She isn’t just an ‘online’ person. She really wasn’t on equal footing with me. She could not really freely respond to my review. This was the first time I had been in this sort of situation.
In the past my online writing has consisted of bickering with people over subjects like god, love, truth. Essentially – philosophical type of topics. This was about 10 years ago but we practically started wars. However, online reviewing is different. See above.
It is a different world than it used to be. What author, who has worked tirelessly over a book, poured their heart into a story, deserves to have me, who has no credentials whatsoever, rake it over the coals? Yet I can. There is nothing stopping me.
it’s not the same situation as my little verbal wars or discussion with people over ‘philosophical’ issues. They can’t fight back. Nor is it the same as my rants on my personal website.
Anyone can start a blog. Give me five minutes and I’ll start you five blogs. Give me an hour and I’ll start you five with their own domain names.
So, in a sense it is unfair to authors to have us amateurs reviewing their story.
Your website, is one of the few book review websites I have come across that is a little more thoughtful. You don’t give every book a positive review. I’ve come across some lovely and exciting blogs. They look like a lot of fun and they give every book a positive review.
Having said that, I think that new reviewers have to be careful not to go to far to one side or the other. We don’t want to be mindless promotional mouth pieces but we also have to be careful to give whatever we are reviewing a fair shot.
I’m obviously still trying to figure it out and your blog has given me things to think about.
I value bad reviews by other readers because I feel like I can trust them. I also agree that I have purchased books because of bad reviews. The either thing about the romance community has been the ability to laugh at itself. Sometimes a review gives us an opportunity to do that.
What a great article! As a reviewer, I have absolutely felt pressure to stifle negative reviews. I am a big believer in keeping my blog open to review requests and submissions from tour companies. I have found some really good books in the small press and self-published ranks, and it is important to me that those pitches get the same consideration that the traditionally published and publicist-backed books get. But some authors and even a tour host have requested positive only reviews. To which I say… no.
If you want a review from me, as a tell my kids, you get what you get and you don’t have a fit. Self-pubbed and smallpress books are not the “little sisters” of the publishing world. They don’t need different rules than the books I get from Penguin or Harper Collins. Each and every book must be judged upon its merit.
And for those who would say that a negative review hurts book sales, I call B.S. As an Amazon affiliate, I sell just as many books from bad reviews as good ones. What I absolutely hated about a book may light someone’s else fire in equal measure. Authors need to have faith in their products. You can’t guide reception to your books. You can only write the best damn book you can and then see if the world loves it as much as you do. Be glad it got reviewed. If people are talking about your book, that means more people are hearing about it. If no one knows your book exists, you can be sure no one is buying it. But a meaningful dialogue about what you wrote –whether positive or negative– will at least make potential readers think about it.
As a reviewer, i could never agree to positive-only reviews, because not every book is an A or B read. And to say otherwise, would be a lie.
But, Amber, criticizing a book isn’t the same as criticizing a person. A book is a product. It’s (hopefully) the author’s best effort at the time of writing, but if that best effort doesn’t work for you, I think you have the right to say it doesn’t and explain why!
If you’re talking about god. love, and truth and criticize someone else’s approach, I think you’re probably getting closer to the person’s heart than you are when you criticize a book they wrote. I mean, those are core values and issues, right? A novel is… it’s just a story. It’s some made-up people doing made-up things in an effort to touch and entertain an audience. If that effort doesn’t pay off for a reader, I think the reader should feel free to say so without worrying that s/he’s criticizing a person themselves.
I rarely read five star reviews. I tend to read the 3 star and 4 star, they are much more likely to explain what they liked and didn’t like and reflect a thoughtful reading of the book.
I will amend that to say I do read five star reviews for authors I think are great, but if the review doesn’t reference other books by the author and have some thought to it, I’ll ignore it. If I’ve clicked on 4 or 5 very positive reviews and haven’t found some substance, I’ll assume they’re robo-written and the book’s a clunker.
@Kate Sherwood: “I think a lot of authors are just keeping our heads down and focusing on our writing.”
Exactly!! Why throw ourselves into that kind of melodrama? We already have more than enough on our hands! :)
Don’t you think this is just part of a much larger problem, where it’s no longer okay to use words like ‘retard’, ‘fat’, ‘black’, blue, yellow, brown… Everything else is subject to political correctness, so why not book reviews?
Isn’t it also symptomatic of the fact that book reviews are now a business? I’ve been looking for reviews for my book for a couple of months now and I’m staggered by the number of bloggers who ask for monetary compensation. I was never a book blogger and have only recently become a published author but I did write reviews for a local magazine. They couldn’t afford to pay me, but I did the reviews because I got to keep the books in return.
I think that because sales on Amazon hinge on getting as many reviews as possible, this is a situation that had to occur. And I have to admit, authors are to blame, somewhat, for the craziness that’s going on. When I first created my online profile, I was approached by an author who asked me to swap reviews. She seemed to like mine, but I hated hers. She was extremely offended by my review because I gave her 3 stars (in an effort to be polite). After a fairly futile email exchange, I finally told her to take down her review of my book; I took down mine and we went our separate ways. I wasn’t aware that swapping reviews meant they had to be favourable or a minimum of 4 stars.
Authors banding together to give each other only favourable reviews (regardless of whether they liked it or not) is bound to backfire, and its resulted in trolls and angry readers who are, in turn, banding together to bring Indie authors down.
Unfortunately, good authors and real reviewers are caught in the crossfire.
Fun, book talk is still fun. Blogging is my home business. I have not been slammed on opinion and I make it clear to authors that I will give my honest opinion. But, I also say what I feel civilly and hopefully with diplomacy.
If others want to be negative to the point of incivility, mean and bombastic, that is their right.
If reps, agents, publishers and authors choose not to send ARCs to reviewers who are uncivil and unprofessional, who personally attack an author well that’s not too different than not going to a service person who is a jerk.
If you give someone a book it is out of your hands. I contend that it is not how MANY STARS a review gives it’s the number of reviews posted that propel a book from sleeperdom to promoted. It’s the google rank that gets one noticed outside Amazon. If that were not the case publishers wouldn’t ask me to post even unfavorable reviews on Amazon.
I have been, and continue on a couple of street teams. These are authors I believe in very strongly. They know I am tough but fair. When they get pushy I push back. But I am also thinking of leaving all the teams.
What I resent is the demand to post reviews on Amazon which claims ownership of anything on their site. Since I claim ownership of every review I have written on my site it means I have to write another review for Amazon. That’s a pain.
Some authors have personal issues being critiqued. Everyone has issues with being bullied. That’s a tough line to define and not up to me. I will just keep doing what I do until it stops being a pleasure.
@Natasha Ahmed: um, I don’t actually think it’s a problem at all that “it’s no longer okay to use words like retard” etc. Calling someone a retard is not okay. I don’t think that’s the same thing at all to expressing an opinion about a book. I’m going to stop now before I say something that breaches the comments policy,
I’ve never reviewed books, so I don’t know from experience what it feels like for reviewers in this new climate. But I do know what it feels like as a writer, and I can understand why and how so many have declined into this behavior. When writers put out books today, there’s often this build-up of brewing desperation as they watch numbers and rankings…and sometimes that desperation erupts into what I would consider bad (or at least inappropriate) behavior.
The thing is, more than any other time I can think of in publishing history, books can be commercial successes now without any legitimate claims of quality (or even, at times, mediocrity). I’m sure I’m not alone in seeing solid books and really good books by writers who do everything right not sell much at all. And also seeing book after book rise astronomically in the rankings–sometimes books that are simply not good by even the lowest of standards. All writers will see this happening, so they might say, “If that book can make it, then there’s no reason mine can’t too.” So then maybe they’ll consider whether it’s the genre, trope, and style that lead to high sales, but they’ll see huge numbers of books with exactly the right genre, trope, and style for the market that aren’t moving at all. So it’s not quality. And it’s not market niche. So what is that elusive factor that makes some books move and some not?
And so writers start looking at marketing techniques. Well, this bestselling author has an aggressive street team, so street teams must be the way to make a book move. Or, all the bestselling books have a hundred 5-star reviews in the first week, so I need to do everything possible to get as many five-star reviews as I can, even if it means soliciting them in dubious ways. Or, bad reviews are going to keep people from buying my book, so I need to silence reviewers whenever they say something negative about my book. It’s this downward spiral of desperate scrabbling for that miracle solution for making a book move.
There has always been an elusive factor in publishing success, but it’s never been as elusive as it is now. I shopped romances with publishers for fifteen years without success, and I was convinced (and still am) that it wasn’t a quality issue that was holding me back. I did, however, have some sort of an explanation for it–my writing didn’t fit the established patterns and expectations publishers were looking for. I really think the market was more knowable back then. But, more and more, it defies explanation for why some books are successes and some aren’t, and I think this just feeds writers’ desperation, which in turn leads to fewer boundaries on behavior, which in turn leads to a difficult climate for book lovers.
I didn’t mean that it should be okay to go around calling each other ‘retards’. :) When used in a derogatory manner, however, every word is politically incorrect. My point is that there is no good way to draw a line and say, on the one hand, it’s wrong to call me ‘fat’, but perfectly okay to call me ‘brown’. For all you know, I’m very sensitive about my skin colour!
By the same token, there’s no way to draw a line for book reviews. How do we decide, and who decides, what is acceptable or not in a book review?
This sort of behavior baffles me. Reading is subjective and some folks may like your book, but some won’t. Do some authors think that everyone must love their book, just because they feel they put a lot of effort into it? Personally, I have become careful of books that have too many five star reviews. If I ever read reviews they are maybe the three star reviews. That is on the rare occasion that I read the reviews. If Authors are worried about getting bad reviews then they should focus more on making sure that the best quality of their work is out there.
The bullying makes me so upset. We are always telling our children how bullying is bad and how we need to learn when to take criticism. However, we don’t really mean that. Instead as adults we make sure we put out our best temper tantrum and moan about people being unfair. Put your best work out there, and let that speak for yourself. If I ever know of any author bullying other authors or putting readers down they automatically enter into my do not buy and do not read list. I left high school a long time ago, this sort of behavior is unacceptable.
I know of at least one author with the 5-star syndrome. Strangely enough, she’s a lovely person. I am not a “professional” reviewer, but I have to admit, I seriously hesitate to post reviews below 4 stars. Because of retaliation mostly; sick, isn’t it ? But also, sometimes I wonder if my lower-starred review isn’t a bit harsh, so I don’t post. I guess I don’t like to be hated, LOL ! But if Amazon decides we have to post our full names, I will have to seriously think about reviewing, or definitely post only 5-star reviews. And then again, some readers will hate me because they hated the book. I’m confused… Although, I understand why “street teams” and such post 5-star reviews. Obviously, they are a fan of the author’s, thus …
Thank you again for a most illuminating post.
I try not to read reviews of my books. As far as I am concerned reviews are by readers, for readers. I also understand how subjective it all is, I don’t like everything I read and I certainly don’t expect everyone to like what I write.
I think the biggest issue is the lack of common decency and respect for others and their opinions. Reviewers should be able to review how they wish without having to worry about being attacked or picked on for their views. Debate is good, abuse is not. Unfortunately, with social media the way it is, it is all too easy for people to attack others without thinking about the fact there is a real person at the other end.
As a reader, when I read a review I don’t just want to see that someone did or didn’t like a book. I want to know why which is why I appreciate blogs like this.
@Noelle Adams – Your comments really summarize what I see going on in the market.
I only post reviews on Amazon, so they are essentially anonymous. They are usually fairly succinct and simply highlight what I liked and what disappointed me and why. Hardly anything gets five stars from me. It’s particularly important to me to review what I found to be average or mediocre reads in the hope that this will help some other reader make up their mind whether to purchase. In my mind I’m always speaking to readers, never the author. I’m giving my opinion on a product; the person who produced it never enters my thoughts.
Reviews are just personal opinions; it boggles my mind that authors would be so thin skinned as to pursue negative reviewers. If we all lied, and raved about every book, then every review would be meaningless and people like me would buy far fewer books.
Great article. Briefly – yes I am still having fun, but when I am reading not a m/m book, something of best seller variety and I hate it , I often will think twice before leaving negative review. Not that I did not see rabid fans attacking in m/m, but by now I usually know which authors to avoid in the first place and surprises are rare. In the non m/m world the only way I learn of authors attacking the reviewers is here on DA and i am kind of worried whether this author will be ok with my negative review or he will post it on FB and next time I know I will have to argue with a bunch of unpleasantness. Surely not fun in that aspect so there are times when I walked away without reviewing the well known book.
I am primarily a reader. I am writing something, but it may never see the light of day, so I cannot yet speak to the author experience. (I hope, however, that I would treat reviews and reviewers with respect if i do eventually publish). I find dishonest reviews to be a very shortsighted strategy. If I read a book that has been highly praised by a reviewer and I find my response to it to be quite different, then my response is likely to be twofold:
1. I will probably not read a book by that author again, unless there is a compelling reason such as a strong recommendation from a reviewer I trust, who I know has tastes similar to mine.
2. I will be suspicious of advice from that reviewer going forward, and will likely stop using them as a guide for my future purchases.
So, the author and reviewer are both likely to lose my business. Frankly, I don’t see the upside to this for the dishonest reviewer.
I usually ignore Amazon ratings – I have no trust in them, and therefore they usually play no role in my decision to purchase a book. I do not understand an author seeking to limit or in any way prevent fair discourse or review of a book. If they are worried about nasty Amazon reviews, maybe they should stop reading them – you can’t prevent people from having opinions, and I am not a sheep whose purchase decisions are driven solely by four star reviews on Amazon.
My comment is not so much in answer to the “fun” question as it is the question of the value I as a consumer of books give to reviews. I have developed the habit in the last year or so of sorting through lists of books on Amazon (I read primarily on my kindle now, books at least) by publication date. I got tired of missing out on books because they didn’t show up on the “this is popular and you will like this” lists. I have a few genres I consistently skim through (e.g., first I sort for mm romance or historical romance) so I don’t have to go through a lot of backlog when searching by publication date. Anyway, this means that I often rely more on blurbs and past reading experiences with the author (if the author isn’t new to me) than reviews, since most don’t have many, if any, reviews written yet.
When I do look at reviews before deciding on whether or not to make a purchase, I go straight to any 3- or 2-star reviews first. Sometimes I end up getting the book despite the “low” ratings, either because I think ” I can live with that” or even “huh, I actually enjoy that thing they are ‘complaining’ about.” Only 5-star reviews? I tend to skip the book if there are a gazillion of them without lower reviews to balance them out.
Finally, I place a whole heck of a lot more trust in reviews on DA or SBTB than random Amazon reviews because I trust the ethics of your review communities. You work hard at being transparent and I appreciate that. I have a great deal of fun reading your reviews, partly because I get the impression that you have fun and find satisfaction in writing and sharing them. So thank you! (& I apologize if this is tl;dr!)
I have been blogging for over 5 years now and have read and reviewed countless books – most of which were sent to me by publishers (small and large).
I have a criteria – I stay away from the so called “big author” names for a variety of reasons, so I review debut authors or authors who have not had the commercial success of a Danielle Steel or John Grisham.
This works for me – and seems to work for the authors and publishers because i have never encountered any major problems with my reviews (and I have given my share of 2 star reviews). The publishers and authors I work with know this and have always encouraged me to give my honest review.
I am not afraid to write what I feel and think about a book – most of the time its good/great and others it can be bad/horrible. No author or publisher has ever pressured me to write anything but the truth (at least how I see the truth of what I am reading).
Books are “fair game” when it comes to reviews and I feel authors should accept that reviews (good or bad) are part of the “gig”.
To be honest, I don’t want to work with whiny, demanding or immature publishers or authors. This may be harsh, but as with movies, TV shows or any other form of entertainment – “if you can’t take the heat, then don’t write a book for the public”.
Actually, I am thinking back on my negative reviews and one author actually contacted me for more details about my review and she was very gracious about it. She mentioned that she took ALL reviews and tried to incorporate the comments for her next book! She even sent me her following book and asked me to “be honest” – fortunately most of the negative issuesI had mentioned in the previous book were gone!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that reviewers should have “super powers” when it comes to reviewing, I do think, however, that they have every right to write the review they want to write after reading ANY book.
This was an interesting post as are the comments. I have been writing very short blurb / reviews for about 4 years and I would say the majority of the books I read receive a 3-star rating. Why? I can enjoy reading a book, but unless there is something truly outstanding that bowls me over, I will not (IMO) over inflate my rating. It goes with the bell-shaped curve. Most books (say 80%) fall under the majority of the curve-3 stars. The rest are in the 10% over and 10% under. For me there are more in the over than in the under. I generally have “looked before I leap” or am reading a book by an author I already know, and rarely find a DNF, or even a 1-star.
I have reviewed ARCs and maintain that same thought process. Of course, I do put more time and words into those reviews, because I agreed to give a review in exchange for the free book. I didn’t agree to bias my views, just to write a fair review.
I will continue to post; there are others who have the same thought process as I do, enjoy the same books and I do not want to lose that. I will not, emphatically will not, post reviews with higher ratings than what I think they deserve.
You know, I never read Amazon reviews and I have stopped reading reviews at Goodreads. And I don’t miss them one little bit. Most of my reviewing attention goes to Booklikes and various blogs like Smart Bitches where I feel the people reviewing are indeed talking about a book they read instead of putting on some kind of smart ass show that just happens to feature a book as the hook to haul people in.
I think this craving, this need, this demand for 5-star reviews from authors comes from the same place that participation trophies for everyone in kids’ sports comes from. It also comes from the same mind-set that demands that children not be given failing grades in school. Current society has not learned how to deal with failure, sadly. Because folks, failure exists.
Authors supply a product, just as Nike supplies shoes, Cusinart supplies coffee makers, Ikea supplies furniture and Dell supplies computers. Sometimes the product is crap, sometimes it’s excellent and most times, it falls somewhere in between. Authors need to let people say that. And if they can’t negative reviews of their product, then maybe they should look into fanfic – everyone plays nice there. *LOL*
(And if I might suggest that some of these authors actually look up the meaning of the word bullying. After all, their craft is supposed to be words, right?)
To Amber and any other people who want to write reviews, negative or positive, but feel they are amateurs and that makes it unfair to authors: did you read the book or part of the book? Do you have something to say about it? Then you are not an ‘amateur’ who should stay on the bench. There isn’t a bench. You may not be getting paid by a review publication (because so many reviewers ARE these days, ha ha), but your opinion is worth the same as anyone else’s. You don’t and shouldn’t take the author or her feelings into account when you write your reviews. You should think primarily of your fellow readers and talking with them about books and secondarily of good grammar and mechanics because I LOVE GRAMMAR! heheheh
@Natasha Ahmed: I am perplexed by your statement that “fat” is no longer used due to political correctness. The volume of fat-shaming in western media is mind boggling and outright disturbing. Usage of that f-word has not diminished.
@Noelle: I think it’s exactly this, and you’ve perfectly described what I’ve been feeling for awhile. Things had just started the shift when I debuted back in 2008, and the climate has changed so much since that it feels more like twenty years ago than six. There’s no security anywhere, no matter what publishing path you choose, and everyone’s got a different answer for how to get your book to move, how to hit those lists (none of which involve craft). There is a sense of desperation to all of it, and it’s a tough climate to operate in, especially if you’re an author who would rather just write than spend a lot of time online trying one of the million things that are absolutely guaranteed to increase your sales if you’d just do more of them and do them right next time, because obviously if your books aren’t moving, you’re doing it wrong.
I sympathize with the readers trying to sort this all out, and I’ve seen enough authors defending their own little patches of territory with guns blazing that I feel for the reviewers too. That’s nothing I’d want to deal with, though I’m glad people do because I rely on well thought out three star reviews when I’m looking for books to read myself. However, I’m going to agree with Sandy James above that this is still not the norm for most authors, and it’s frustrating to be continually lumped in with the vocal and poorly behaved minority. Most of us are just keeping our heads down and trying to do our jobs. I’d love to say that there’s something authors as a group could do to change the current climate, but since we’re not a cohesive group in any sense but that we share a profession, I don’t see how this would work. The authors acting up would react just as negatively to a fellow author telling them to knock it off as they would to a negative review. They seem to live on their own little self-sustaining islands, with their own little armies. As long as that strategy doesn’t affect their sales, and unfortunately I’ve seen no evidence that it does, things won’t change.
I don’t know how it’ll all shake out in the end, and I can be as gloomy about it as the next person. But apart from being quietly and perfectly fine with critical reviews of our own books, which again, most of us are, I’m not sure what the average author can do to change things.
I still have fun and I am not afraid to leave a negative review, and yes, other reviewers or fans have jumped on me for doing so. I just state my case, that it’s my opinion and refuse to bow down to any pressure they put upon me to back down from my opinion.
Look folks, it’s simply an opinion. Everyone has one. If I hated your book, then I hated it. If I loved it, then I loved it. I can leave long, critical and well thought out negative reviews which get voted down. But it’s cathartic for me to get off my chest how I felt about a book.
The problem is that reviews = money in writer world. Bad reviews = -money while good reviews = +money. Writers will fight and scratch to get more money. Negative reviews means less money down the track if others agree. That’s all Anne is whinging about.
I am a writer … but I do not and will never comment on a reviewer’s opinion of my books. That is a professional wall which I just won’t cross. I am a reader, too. I was a reader before I ever thought to become a writer and I have too much respect for books to tell people how they should enjoy them. If a reviewer has left an erroneous complaint about your book, ignore it. Other readers aren’t stupid, and they’ll understand what’s going on.
See some writers thought they were top dog, and then real people actually got to have a say, rather than gaming the bestseller lists or with paid positive reviews, and they’re not liking that. Plus books of perceived ‘lesser quality’ are making more money. Other authors get mad at that. But reviews are a story all of their own, a rich culture which has a seed of growth, if writers could just see that. It’s an ecosystem where everyone gets to have a say and readers are not just given books and told these are the type they ought to be reading. The freedom to review strengthens and grows all of us.
What one reviewer likes another may hate, but when someone attacks me, I just state my case plainly and clearly without backing down a bit. I have posted negative reviews on badly edited books, and I don’t give a fig if a thousand other people gave it five stars. I don’t let it upset me a bit if I think all the reviews must have been paid for. So what? I don’t attack other reviews and say they’re wrong. Download the sample and have a read, then have a read through of the negative reviews and take a chance. You can refund if it’s really bad.
If writers and fans don’t like this, well they’re a little too focused on the money side of things, rather than what they’re supposed to be doing, writing something which will appeal to readers all over the world and spread their important message.
A friend of mine who wants to publish said that they’d get all their friends to buy a copy of the book and leave positive reviews on Amazon. I told them to be very careful because if readers find they’ve been duped, they will get mad. The reviewers aren’t there to be gamed with their money. But so many people can’t see that. They’re blind.
I have to admit that I get nervous about posting any review now – unless it is an author I already know (or is so big I would never register as a blip on their radar).
I – and most of my friends – are no longer buying and reading SPA work. Too dangerous and I want gatekeepers again. I MISS TradPub and desperately want it to come back in all its gatekeeperness. Cause the noise is getting overwhelming and the reviews are getting dangerous.
I read 2-4 books a week and almost never review because I’m afraid of all the crazy on the internet. I get my ideas on which books to purchase next from a very small number of trusted blogs (Reviews by JesseWave, I miss you so much!). I’ve learned the hard and expensive way not to trust most of the review blogs. I really appreciate the 2,3 and 4 star reviews on amazon because if every review is 5, unless I am familiar with the author, I just don’t trust it.
@Kate Sherwood: Sure there are crackpots on both sides, but there are plenty of people who agree with them (on both sides). I’m not the most plugged-in person in romanceland and even I hear about the people who are agreeing with the crackpots behind the scenes. And some of those small groups have consequences beyond their size, e.g., when reviewers shut down their blogs rather than run the risk of being targeted. This thread shows that veteran reviewers are thinking twice about writing less than glowing reviews.
I understand the desire to put your head down and avoid confrontation, but what that means is that there is little public pushing back by other authors against this kind of behavior. By contrast, reader-bloggers do push back against pay-for-play reviewers, street teams, and the like. I would argue that “policing other authors’ behavior” is absolutely your business if you want to sustain a healthy reviewing environment. It’s not about policing the *reviews.*
I used to absolutely love reviewing, but as an author, I’ve had to give it up. It’s too stressful for me. A few years ago, one mildly critical review in a different genre resulted in the author going for my throat. I don’t have a lot of time to write anyway, and considering these social implications… well, it takes time and emotional energy I can’t spare at this point in my life.
My books tend to get non-five-star but very substantive reviews, and I can only hope that potential readers take time too read the text instead of skimming the numbers. And authors who pay for reviews are assholes, plain and simple >:
I never attack the author. But I have the right to my opinion. I post largely on Goodreads. Most of my reviews are positive because I am reading my favorite authors. But recently I had a negative review of a book, which I received for free in exchange for the review. My beef was largely with the overused and misused novella format. But the author was fine with the negative review. She wanted honest.
As fans, let’s be honest, we have a hard time criticizing favorite authors. For a laugh, check out the review for Republic of Thieves, the long awaited third book by Scott Lynch. We all love the first two books, but we don’t love the third book. It is extremely well written, but the love story sucks because the heroine is a better rival than lover.
@Sunita: “I understand the desire to put your head down and avoid confrontation, but what that means is that there is little public pushing back by other authors against this kind of behavior.”
Authors are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Romance is a small community, and should any author go on the offensive against paid for reviews, there would be a backlash from those who believe the practice is acceptable. If we comment on reviews we think miss the mark, we’re labeled as an “author behaving badly.”
I still think the best thing to do is just allow readers to have their opinions. I won’t pay for reviews, and I would never criticize someone for a bad review. There are some I cringe to read, especially when I think that person is making a personal attack rather than expressing an opinion. But I let them be.
So I guess I’m saying I’ll keep on putting my head down and direct my energy at writing more books for people to criticize–and hopefully enjoy from time to time. :)
@Kendra Leigh Castle:
Thank you, Kendra.
And yes, Noelle. That’s a perfect summary of what I see happening in publishing, too.
I believe the vast majority of authors do encourage and support readers’ right to review or not review however they see fit. It’s frustrating that a few bad eggs are making authors as a whole look bad, and it’s just as frustrating that we authors are all getting lumped together with the few bad eggs because that only adds to the “us vs. them” feel of the reviewer/author relationship climate.
As for me, when one of my books was DNFed on Dear Author, I kept my mouth shut and an eye on the comments section of the review to make sure none of my readers retaliated against the reviewer.
I review just for me. I have 11 Goodreads friends, none of whom read what I do. I don’t even use my real name on GR because I don’t want my IRL friends to find me.
I never hit the button on GR that sends the reviews out in the main stream. But I like my little reviews. I like putting them on Amazon (again, fake name) because I like to read the three and four star reviews so it is a form of giving back, especially if I really like a book that has very few reviews. I read so much, I can literally forget the next day what the story was about, but reading my own review reminds me what I liked and whether it is in the reread category at the moment. (Example: I loved loved loved Nekkid Truth. I remembered I loved it, but for the life of my I couldn’t remember even the basic premise. Rereading my review, I remembered and reread within two weeks, something I never do.) Anyway, all this to say nobody reads my reviews, nobody cares about my reviews and that makes me very happy. That being said, I only review the ones I like or really hated, again, just reminders. No review equals no reread.
I definitely would not want to blog or have a presence in a book community where I have a large readership. Makes me very uncomfortable just thinking about it. I would probably just put my reviews in a file on my computer and leave it at that.
And as a consumer, I hate the whole street team concept. Reminds me of the ’80s when cigarette companies would hand out free packs of cigarettes on the street corners in downtown metro areas. I knew that wasn’t good for me then, and the street teams rallying for books is not good for me now.
So, again, what does that “policing other authors’ behaviour” look like? I don’t really agree that it’s my responsibility, but even if it were I would have no idea how to go about it.
While I am not a blogger I am an avid reader and do post reviews on GR, Amazon and BN. I have left negative comments on a view and not had trouble. I do review ARC’s sometimes and I was actaully offended when a self published author asked me to only give a review if it was 5-stars. Otherwise she would rather I not post anything. You should not be a writer if you cannot handle truthful reviews. Like with anything else in the world not everyone will like the same thing. We are not mindless robots. I take all review I see with a grain of salt because I have loved books others have hated. If an author wants to grow they should do the same.
Aloha! Yes, I am still having fun because I post reviews for me. If a few other readers enjoy them, great. If not, no stress. LIfe is too short to worry about what other think of my opinion.
I also have a blog where I spotlight romance books and military families. I’ve never had a cranky comment. Perhaps my blog is too small to attract any negative comments.
Like any good idea, that evolves organically, there always have to be bad apples who spoil the bunch.
I think the industry CAN police itself. But, it has to WANT to. That means cutting people – volunteers, Street Team members, friends and yes, family members – lose when they become detrimental to the brand. Some authors and book review bloggers have begun to do this, and forbid negative comments against “negative” (3-star or less) reviews, on their “behalf.” The rule of thumb should always be: if you have read the book and can provide reasons for your positive/negative review, write the review. If you have not read the book – move along and say NOTHING.
It also means developing a thick skin. Period.
Sometimes the best action is NO action. Not every post on the internet requires your input. In fact, the majority DO NOT. If everyone practiced some impulse control, the world would be a calmer place.
Kate Sherwood , I am not Sunita but for me it would have been more than enough if you ( I don’t know if you do it do not I am speaking hypothetically) actively discouraged your own fans from attacking negative reviewers of your book. If you just spoke up on your blog, whatever social media you are on that you are against this kind of behavior. I follow Ilona Andrews’ blog for example – they write about all kind of things there and they certainly said there and more than once that they respect negative reviews , that they are against attacking people who leave them ( I cannot quote and I am paraphrasing but I certainly remember the substance of it), that’s what I would like to see other authors do. I had seen few do it but very few.
Everything old is new again.
@Renda, “street teams” pushing cigarettes is nothing new; my mother paid for college as a “Chesterfield girl” in the ‘fifties, and an entire generation of men took up smoking from the free packs given to anyone in uniform during WWI and II.
Similarly, I’ve been reviewing books for print publications for two decades now, and the author indignation (not all authors, but more than “just a few bad apples”) at anything less than a glowing review is same as it ever was.
Anybody remember when Kirkus went (briefly) bankrupt a while back? The gleeful tapdancing on the corpse by so many authors was sickening. “Everybody knows” that Kirkus was “unfair” and “mean” after all; that’s because Kirkus was one of the few major reviewing outlets (at the time) that would pay for “not recommended” reviews, and protected its reviewers privacy by not providing their contact info.
(But oh, how those same authors would trumpet it from the ramparts if “mean” “unfair” Kirkus gave them a positive review!)
The only change that *I* have seen in the past few years is that, with the rise of self-publishing and the slashing of publishing marketing divisions, there are fewer sane agents and sales reps to sit on outraged Special Snowflake authors and keep them from showing their nether regions in public.
Astonishingly enough, MOST books — even the precious baby which a fragile author has tenderly nurtured in his bosom for years — are AVERAGE. A significant number of them are BELOW average — almost exactly as many as are superior. That’s how averages work!
I have never said anything about a book — in a published review, in an online comment thread, among my friends, to a library patron, in my private journal — that I wouldn’t say to the author’s face. If I ever felt that I couldn’t say that, I’d give up talking about books.
(However, I do use a pseudonym online. It’s one I’ve used consistently for decades, its reputation is important to me, and it’s not one that a reasonably competent hacker couldn’t doxx in half an hour. But at the same time, there ARE a few truly crazy people out there, and I’m not handing out my keys indiscriminately)
I’ve reviewed books on Goodreads, Amazon, and occasionally on my blog (although I’m not a big book reviewer with any kind of following). I’ve given a few 2-star reviews, mostly 3-4 stars, and about 10% of the time, a 5-star. I have never received any push back from authors or fans when I’ve written a fairly critical review, so while I keep hearing about bullying, I’ve not yet been hit.
The only time I’ve felt somewhat uncomfortable leaving a 2 or 3 star review is when I’ve read a book by an author I’m personally acquainted with (through my RWA chapter, etc.). I think, however, that is how any friend would feel about “rating” another friend’s work. It has nothing to do with that person actually pressuring me. It’s about me not enjoying the idea my one subjective opinion might adversely affect a friend. But ultimately I figure I’ve supported them by buying their book, so they should support my right to be honest with my opinion. That seems fair. I know many opt not to review/rate friends’ books. Perhaps that is a valid choice, too. Probably a smarter choice (no ‘revenge’ worries, but then also no ability to tout a great book by a friend either).
I can’t speak to the “gaming the system” remarks because I’m not educated enough on that topic (other than posts I’ve seen here and a few other places). A lack of ethics is a broad problem in every industry, so I’m not at all surprised it occurs in this one too. But that’s another discussion.
Writers who are too desperate for their “letters” or too jealous of big successes of authors whose work may or may not be so deserving (it’s all subjective) are only shooting themselves in the foot. Instead of writing for the love of storytelling, they are worrying about and trying to manipulate sales. Big sales earned by false or stacked reviews will only come back to hurt you in the long run, so why bother? Being a “best seller” won’t mean much if your next couple of books aren’t good.
I’m a believer in the marathon vs. the sprint. Hard work, steady improvement based on experience and feedback, and perseverance will sell more books over the long haul. Negative feedback should help a writer become better (if he/she is willing to consider the criticism and incorporate it into future work), which will help them sell more books in the future.
At the end of the day, I’ll continue to rate/review books without worrying about being bullied. Frankly, as authors shouldn’t whine about negative reviews, reviewers probably shouldn’t whine about thin-skinned authors and their rabid fans. If I were a serious reviewer and got bullied, I think I’d simply say “I’m sorry you feel that way” and then go about my business.
PS This is a bit off-topic, but I do sometimes wonder if certain authors’ rants against reviewers come from a perception that there are certain “author darlings” whose books always get good reviews (even if a particular book is not so great). I know I’ve got some favorite authors and am probably a little more forgiving of their books than I might be of another. I’d love for a blog to somehow do a week of “blind” reviews with a mix of new, middling, and popular authors to test whether or not there is a bias. But maybe bias doesn’t matter since any single review is so subjective anyway. Sorry…I’ll stop my mental ramblings now!
I had this discussion recently with some friends and one of them pointed out something that I found really interesting. She came from the fan fiction world, and when posting FF, there’s a lot of squeeing, but little to no actual critical reviewing. When she published her first original work in book form, she was stunned to receive harsh reviews. She had to adjust and it wasn’t an easy change to make. I’m kind of left wondering if hers isn’t a wider experience as the FF world merges with the publishing world?
As an author and a reader, I think bad reviews sell books. In fact, I know they do (I once bought a book simply because a one star review said, “This is no *insert big paranormal series here*”). You know what hurts sales? A lack of reviews! So if authors don’t want to take the bad with the good, I hope they’ll be happy when their books die on the vine, which is exactly what they deserve for bitching.
Jamie Beck – for me personally it is not the matter of whining about thin skinned authors . I would also never use the word bullying in regard to reviewing. I to be honest really dislike the word being thrown around in regard to the reviewing. If the author decides to attack me – I am not being bullied , I can always walk away ( unless said crazy discovers my real life indentity and starts bothering me in real life – as I am sure you know it happened to some reviewers , not me and knocking on the wood). For me it is simply a matter of avoiding internet fights when I can. Why should I risk my blood pressure going up when I don’t have to? I most certainly left and will continue leaving negative reviews but when the book has thousands of positive reviews, I will not do so indiscriminately. Probably only if the book really pissed me off and I feel other readers really deserve to know other POV.
@Kate Sherwood: First, I just want to say that I responded to you because you were the first to make the comment, but I don’t mean this to be about *you* individually at all. I’m speaking about more general author behavior by authors who are not part of the crazy minority. FWIW, I consider you to be a professional and generous author based on my interactions with you.
“Policing” is a loaded word for norm reinforcement or socialization, which most of us do in our daily lives all the time. Contra Kendra Castle, I think that the fact that you are all in the same profession is the whole point. This is about professional behavior. In my profession, senior faculty socialize junior faculty, faculty and advanced grad students socialize new grad students, etc. It’s expected and it’s part of the collective responsibility of the community. There is no stipulated individual responsibility, but if no individual in the collective takes on any of the job, the collective has a problem.
There are any number of things you can do. Unless you abstain from all critique groups, author/publisher loops, online communities like KindleBoards and Absolute Write, professional associations, and collective events like RT and GRL, you’re participating in the collective environments where socialization takes place. Speak up in those places. Speak directly to the person on Facebook or Twitter or on the board or the loop. Tell them you disagree and that their behavior is harmful to the overall community.
And if you’re afraid to stick your neck out alone for fear of it getting chopped off, band together with some of the other sane authors. Comment on Facebook, Twitter, etc. one after the other so no one is alone. As Sirius says, write a blog post. Ilona Andrews is a great model for this.
I realize that author culture punishes “disloyalty.” But if you all keep your heads down, the view may be pretty dire when you finally look up. A LOT of us reviewers are refraining from reviewing books not just of crazy-behaved authors, but also any author whose behavior we can’t confidently predict in advance. That’s not good for anyone except perhaps the people who sincerely believe that anything less than a 5-star review is the end of the world.
I’ve said this for years. Well, I’ve said a few things for years but we’ll start with the most applicable. I KNOW a LOT of authors who do NOT agree with me *shrug* But say it with me. Reviews are NOT for authors! They aren’t! Reviews are for READERS. They aid in helping a READER decide if they want to plunk down their hard earned money for a particular book, and now, ESPECIALLY with such a huge glut in the sheer number of books being pushed out every month, it’s more important than EVER for readers to be able to make an informed decision.
Reviews are not for authors. (It bore repeating) Nor are reviews PERSONAL. If they veer into “personal” territory, like a reader is talking about what a fat, lazy idiot the author is, guess what? Readers are INTELLIGENT HUMAN BEINGS. They aren’t mindless twits who can’t TELL when a reviewer is being a douche.
The very LAST thing that is needed is for an author to get her panties in a knot and go after a reviewer or even worse, rally the fan girls to go on the attack. It just makes the author look like an embarassing nit wit and ANYONE can SEE that! No pointing necessary.
Also just as bad in my not so humble opinion? When you DO get an “author behaving badly” there is a veritable STAMPEDE of other AUTHORS who kill themselves getting over to author behaving badly’s Goodreads or blog and proceed to preach down to them about what a twat they’re making of themselves and that the “rest of us” would *gasp* NEVER do that and it’s bad, bad, BAD! And then they take to their own personal media to knock around author behaving badly and again in my opinion? Why bother. As Karen Scott so aptly put it, you have a right to make an asshate of yourself. Authors aren’t each others’ mothers so stop acting like it. It does not reflect badly on you if you don’t comment on what an idiot another author is being. READERS ARE SMART. They KNOW what authors are being idiots and which ones aren’t!
And along with my whole belief that reviews are for READERS? I don’t read reviews of my own books. What’s the point? I wrote them. I’ve read them. I don’t need help figuring out if I want to buy my own book lol. Do I read reviews for other books? Absolutely. Especially if they contain the holy grail :) SPOILERS! I love spoilers and I’m a self professed ending peeker (don’t judge me! lol)
I’m over all the online kerfuffles. I reached that point YEARS ago. I mind my business, write the next book and let readers do what they do best. READ and offer commentary however the hell they want. My own books included. Hell, my readers are so open and honest that they don’t hesitate to EMAIL me or post on my FB if they didn’t like a book. All I can do at the end of the day is offer my regrets that they didn’t like a book and hope they’ll give me another chance.
No, sorry, I wasn’t taking your comment personally – sorry if I responded as if I was! I’m just trying to figure it out.
I appreciate the distinction between contributing to the conversation and ‘policing’ the discourse, because I can (and do, I promise!) certainly do the first, but I have trouble with the second.
I think, though, that part of the problem IS the sheer volume of authors out there, and the rapidity with which new authors are being added to the field. It’s great and exciting, but it also makes it pretty damn hard to control their behaviour!
And I still feel like most of the burden is going to fall on readers and reviewers. As an author, I can tell other authors that it’s a bad idea to get involved with this nonsense, but they can just ignore me. (When Maya Banks says it, much harder to ignore!). But if we can say, look, if you act like an idiot, readers will stop buying your stuff and reviewers will stop mentioning your stuff, then THAT’s something with some teeth. But how do you control the other readers and reviewers?!?
Maybe we just give up and accept that it’s the wild west, at least for a little while. We can all behave the way we know will let us sleep at night, and get better at turning off the computer and ignoring people who are misbehaving?
@Kate Sherwood: I think one think that we authors could do is be vocal in author spaces when this sort of thing happens. For me, that’s the author loops I’m on, and the forums where I hang out. I know that I could be better at speaking up in those situations when authors are discussing reviews in ways that are detrimental to readers. I think those are places where more authors could make it clear what sort of behaviour isn’t acceptable. It’s not something that will change with the actions of one author, but enough people saying the same kinds of thing can change a culture.
That’s a false equivalence. Authors claim to be professionals and clearly are in the sense that they ask readers to pay for the product. I don’t sell my reviews, and reviewing is not my profession, it’s my hobby. When it stops being enjoyable I’ll do something else. I can always read without reviewing.
Given that I’ve been blackballed, boycotted, had authors call me names, and had fan groups sicced on me, and I’m still reviewing and blogging, I don’t think I’m particularly thin-skinned. [ETA: Oh wait, the authors are thin-skinned. I’m just whining when I draw attention to those thin-skinned authors. Got it. It’s still a false equivalence.]
I think it’s interesting that so few commenters have addressed Robin’s question of whether we’re still having fun. I still have enough fun that I continue. Reviewing Jeannie Lin’s last few books has been a blast, and seeing others fall under their spell has been immensely gratifying. Introducing new readers to Michael Nava and Joseph Hansen is wonderful. Seeing Rose Lerner publish again feels great. So yeah, I still have fun. And I really like my community, which is why I worry about the direction it’s heading.
I’ve had only very minor skirmishes as a reviewer. (Knock wood.) What has most killed the fun in reviewing for me is the travesty of GoodReads. Although I get a lot of pleasure from reviewing for Dear Author and Heroes and Heartbreakers, that was a community and a resource that I haven’t been able to replace and I miss it every day. And I believe its deterioration will only hurt authors in the end, just as Janet points out here.
How anyone can say we should just shrug and ignore author bad behavior after the doxxing on That Site and the disintegration of GoodReads is more than I can understand.
Well, the clever ladies Isobel Carr and Maya Banks beat me to it. But I’ll add my comments anyways :)
I’m an indie pubbed author, and I don’t read reviews of my own books. They’re not for _me_, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to try to impose my views on the reader. (I do have another person monitor reviews though. If any major themes keep coming up, or if someone has a good point, I hear about it and can incorporate the feedback into future work).
Further, I think 1 and 2 star reviews can be valuable. Once I learned that I got a harsh review because my historical romance featured more sex than the reader wanted/expected…and that’s good to pass on. Now other potential readers will know that going in. Did it drag my overall rating down? Of course. But who cares? The reader who will read a 3.85 star book but not a 3.48 star book is unlikely to be the sort of person who will dig my stories.
Meanwhile, I just keep writing…
And I still feel like most of the burden is going to fall on readers and reviewers.
But it’s a burden readers should not and don’t deserve to bear. Readers aren’t selling books. Readers don’t have an economic investment in an author’s success. Readers aren’t getting a royalty check. Readers are, for the most part, volunteers.
There is a thread throughout these discussions that authors are the victims. And that makes me feel like my head is going to explode. Does anyone think Hoover is a victim when their new vacuum cleaner gets negative reviews? Do any of these authors who rip on readers for leaving perfectly sound reviews hold back in leaving negative reviews for restaurants, hotels, kitchen cleaners, diapers, and other consumer products?!
Here’s the thing I’m not sure is clear to the authors who just want to keep writing and stay out of the fray: the actions of those authors acting out like this are hurting the authors who aren’t acting out but also are not speaking up. Why? Because those other authors are pushing, driving, dragging, and egging readers out of the community. And the readers who are getting pushed out are readers whose voices are valuable — often they’re the thoughtful readers who just don’t want to have to triple think every opinion and every word. And THAT is a burden that’s going to get borne by authors. IS being borne by authors, even if it’s not fully discernible yet.
In my post, I proposed what I think is a perfectly reasonable strategy for authors who may feel risk averse when it comes to going up against other authors: communicate clearly to readers that they are safe giving honest reviews of your books, and that they can do so in whatever manner they see fit. Communicate to readers that it’s not cool with you if they go after other readers who criticize your books. Do this in as many venues as possible, with as many readers as possible. Not only might this get you some extra reviews and book sales, but it will help carve out clear safe harbors for readers, and, as more authors join in, perhaps it will help shift the balance of power in the author + reader community back to a place where both groups can do their thing (largely) unmolested.
Reader and author interests run parallel, but they can and do overlap. And they do so most effectively when each group is acting autonomously. Reviews are for readers, but they can have the indirect benefit to authors of helping to move books. This, in turn, can have the indirect benefit to readers of having more books they like published. However, as the detriments of reviewing outweigh the benefits, readers may move away from books altogether, and on to other forms of entertainment. Or they may just move their voices offline. Either way, all of the authors who just wanted to keep their heads down and write are also losing those reader voices, even if they’ve done nothing directly to push them out of the community.
@jamie beck: Frankly, as authors shouldn’t whine about negative reviews, reviewers probably shouldn’t whine about thin-skinned authors and their rabid fans. If I were a serious reviewer and got bullied, I think I’d simply say “I’m sorry you feel that way” and then go about my business.
Except that this is a false equivalence. As I noted above, readers aren’t in the stream of commerce – they’re not *in the business* of selling books. Most of us who review are doing so on a volunteer basis, which makes me wonder what a “serious reviewer” would be. Because most of the “serious reviewers” I know do it because of their love of books and their love of talking about books. What is the incentive to just “walk away” from the kind of harassment that’s going on? The benefits of an honest, open reviewing environment accrue to authors in different ways than they do to readers. And I think it’s completely unfair to suggest that the stakes are equal and that readers should somehow sacrifice themselves for exercising their basic rights as readers, especially when they are not even being compensated for doing so.
@Sirius: Good, because I enjoy reading your reviews. And I think that’s an important point, too. I think most readers like reading a good, critical review. So perhaps the “fun” can be salvaged by remembering MOST readers still look forward to opening their emails and finding a handful of thoughtful reviews awaiting them (and for those authors and devoted author-fans who get mad, well, c’est la vie).
Actually, now that I’m thinking more about Sunita’s comments about authors policing other authors in a professional community (we’ve had this discussion around issues of plagiarism, too), here’s what I don’t get:
Why are readers — most of whom are volunteers — expected to stand up to authors, but authors — whose *business* it is to sell books to readers — shouldn’t be expected to do so?
THIS: “Telling readers directly (on Twitter, Facebook, websites, reader boards) that they support the right of readers to speak their mind, and to do so in whatever way suits that reader’s style – whether that be snarky, gif-filled, short and sharp, long and ponderous – can give readers a much-needed safe harbor. It may even help sell a book or two — assuming that the author backs up the message with action (or the lack thereof).”
I agree so much with this. I really only review for fun, and mostly to remind myself what I thought of the book, but I’ve received a few books free for review. After getting attacked for a 2 star review in which I tried to be really nice but still explain why I really didn’t like the book, reviewing has lost all fun for me. I’ll post a sentence or two to remind myself, but I’m scared of posting more. It’s just not fun for me. I couldn’t read for a week after that happened. Which is a long time for me! And honestly, the only thing that got me “back on the horse” was reading a blog post from an author who was very up front in saying that they did not even read reviews nor do they ever comment. It made me feel safe to read their book. For a while after, I would only read books by authors that I knew had expressed similar sentiments about not going after bad reviews. I’m trying to not let one crazy author scare me off reading altogether, but it’s tough. I hate that they could kill my joy in something I’ve loved doing for years.
It’s not really a question of ‘should’, is it? I mean, no one SHOULD have to deal with entitled idiots.
It’s just… IF we agree that there’s a problem, and IF we agree that it’s serious enough to be addressed, then who is best ABLE to address it? (assuming anyone is)
For the record, I’ve spoken up (part of my ‘contribute to the conversation’ role!). I’ve blogged about reviews not being my business, I’ve tried to talk down authors on AW… I’ve been part of the conversation. But I don’t think any of my actions have done a damn thing to stop another author from making an ass of herself. I think most authors have, like me, not made asses of themselves because they have common sense. But for those who don’t? I don’t think there’s much I can do.
So maybe there’s not much readers or bloggers can do, either. Okay, fair enough. Let’s all just move on and learn to accept that there’s going to be a certain amount of background chatter that wise people will ignore.
And I would agree that it’s not about authors being victims. Except you point out “THAT is a burden that’s going to get borne by authors. IS being borne by authors, even if it’s not fully discernible yet.” So… maybe we actually ARE victims? I mean, if we’re bearing this burden, even though we’ve been courteous and sane ourselves… aren’t we victims?
For the record, no, I don’t think I’m a victim. But I also don’t think I’m a solution.
To answer Robin’s question: yes, I am still having fun. A lot of fun. I love reading, and I love thinking deeply about the romances I read, why I enjoy some, why others send me laughing or screaming from the room. And I love the interaction with other readers, through the comments they make in response to my blog posts. So great to find a like-minded community of intelligent readers, when my immediate family and friends don’t always share or even understand my passion for romance novels.
Perhaps it’s still fun because after book review blogging for more than a year and a half, I’ve yet to be the target of any of crazy authors or rabid fan groups. Would I feel the same if, like Sunita and other higher-profile reviewers/bloggers, I’d been the focus of bullying? I’m not sure. I certainly thought I’d get more pushback, since my blog (ROMANCE NOVELS FOR FEMINISTS) openly declares its political leanings. But so far, I’ve been very lucky—the demagogues have stayed away.
Perhaps I’ve not gotten the same flack because the authors whose work I write about tend to have feminist sensibilities, sensibilities that don’t often coincide with a culture of bullying? Or because I tend to focus on romances I can praise, rather than books that enrage my feminist self? (though I do review everything I read, posting on GoodReads, where I can snark away when needed). I don’t review at amazon, as it is primarily a business site, not a reader-sharing site, in my opinion.
Interestingly, authors whose books I’ve reviewed have often replied to me, either in comments or in private correspondence. Not to complain, but to thank me for the attention I’ve paid to their work. Another satisfying aspect of being a book review blogger :-)
@Kate Sherwood: But bearing a burden is not the same thing as being a victim. Although if that’s how authors think of it, that goes a long way toward explaining what to me seems very illogical in the way readers are being perceived by authors (either deserving of attack for reviews or expected to stand up to those attacks beyond any logical incentive to do so).
Also, we’re not talking about “background” and “chatter” here. We’re talking about an environment of nastiness toward readers that has grown way beyond anything I’ve witnessed in the more than ten years I’ve been in this online community. In fact, I’d argue that “wise people” will just stop reviewing in this kind of environment, because, again, what’s their incentive to keep on doing so?
As I noted in my post, I’m not sure there’s a direct path for authors to stop this kind of behavior. However, if authors worked together to create a safe harbor for readers, I absolutely believe that would make a difference. However, if authors are unwilling to do so, that’s an important message to readers, as well, one that IMO weighs heavily against the incentive for readers to continue to review online.
I have been reviewing online for years and in the last year or two some authors actually recognize my name (I review under my real name) but I have always enjoyed sharing what I liked or did not like about a book. The problems come in usually from other reviewers and not from authors or occasionally from some reader who bought a book based on your review and then hated it for reasons that seldom make sense.
I don’t have a blog because that sounded too much like work, I like to read, I write reviews for Amazon/Goodreads and a few small blogs on occasion but as long as I keep it about the reading enjoyment and not about how popular my reviews are/are not then I will continue to enjoy it.
The downside of reviewing these days is more self imposed because of the huge backlog of books I have been given added to those I buy for myself and realizing there are books I have that may never get read. That makes me feel like I lied to somebody who thought I would review their book so I never give dates anymore.
Douglas C. Meeks
Readers are expected to “support indie/SPA author.” Readers are expected to write tons of reviews. We should all shell out money to beta read but never voice a critical comment. And then, when the reader is attacked in droves by authors and their fan poodles…not a damn “sane” author sticks up for them…
What’s worse is that even after book purchase [a lot of] authors still stand around expecting . They expect the READER to be responsible for the career success for the author. Negative review = not as much money for the “nice author.” As if that should be my concern. Well, that cat can’t fly.
But whatever. Authors you don’t have to police your industry. Let it all hang out.
But you also don’t get to whine and cry that you “are a good author” who shouldn’t be lumped in with the bad guys. I’m sorry, but this isn’t a fight you can just watch and not get splattered. You’re in the industry and you’re getting splattered by the shit. So either you speak up and make your POV known to readers or you keep quite and are guilty by association.
Just to be clear, I would *never* describe what I have experienced as “bullying.” It has occasionally been unpleasant and unwelcome, but frankly, if someone doesn’t want me to review their books, that’s just less for my TBR. The name-calling has mostly been ridiculous, and the fan invasions replete with misspellings and canned phrases.
Some of it has bothered me and made me feel crappy. But I know what bullying looks like and this stuff doesn’t qualify.
@Sunita: You raise a very good point, although don’t some book bloggers/reviewers make money from their review blogs? And aren’t free copies of books in exchange for reviews a sort of indirect payment? And while it may be just a hobby for some, their words impact someone else’s livelihood, so perhaps it might be treated as something a bit more than a personal hobby (whether you’re rating a book and A or an F)? I’m not saying I’m right…I’m honestly asking these questions as part of this discussion.
I didn’t mean to impugn reviewers who gripe after enduring the kind of egregious behavior you’ve obviously endured (which would certainly diminish the fun, hobby or not). All I meant was, actually, exactly what you’ve stated in your response about making a personal choice.
Whether it’s a choice to write and publish and subject one’s work to reviews, or a choice to read those books and opine in a public forum (opening oneself up to some criticism), it is, ultimately, a choice.
I totally agree that authors need to be prepared for bad reviews and accept them gracefully as part of the profession. I understand why reviewers get irritated and offended by that behavior, and I think that type of author/fan dynamic is bad for the industry. I can see how it would quickly become anything BUT fun to continue to review under such circumstances, and I empathize with the dilemma.
If intelligent, objective reviewers, like all of you who contribute to this site, decide it isn’t worth it, it will be a loss for writers and readers. But I don’t know what can be done to “stop” the crazy. Can publishers sanction their authors who engage in that type of behavior? Can agents and big name authors speak out against that kind of behavior to discourage it? I don’t know. Maybe. But for the time being, I’m simply suggesting one possible way to deal with those rabid folks is to ignore them and keep doing what you love.
Thank you for writing this You very eloquently stated what most of us are dealing with at the moment. I wrote a little ranty piece the other day to express my frustration because I’ve about had my fill of this nonsense. I’ve been reviewing a very long time and it’s never been as bad as it is now. We’ve always had the fragile flower types but nothing like the explosive attacks we see today. You are so right about the fun being sapped out it. It’s not fun anymore.
Maybe this is blaming the victim, but I’ll say it anyway. Turn off the comments on your blog site. Most of the time they are just not worth reading and as a reader of blogs and review sites, I don’t read for the comments. Don’t feel the need to connect so much on FB and Twitter, if you do, use a pseudonym. Ignore attacks. The best response is no response at all. Perhaps less speech is needed, not more. Silence is a better weapon in the online community than most realize.
Been here, done this for the last 10yrs in autism-land.
Everyone has gotten into this idea that “the internet rules” but truthfully, it does not. Very few people read. Let me repeat that…. Very few people read. Most read the latest big sellers and that’s all. Most read a particular genre and that’s all. Most writers make very little money and have a very small following. It’s very true when you look on goodreads with it’s 10 million members and an author is lucky to get 1,000 reviews and most are just stars. At a buck a piece per book… it’s not a lot of money.
Where the money is made is between us readers. We recommend this book or that book to each other. The thousand or so of us that makes up this group, reviews books and we may talk one or 2 more people online and maybe a good friend, to try a book. There’s another 2000 sales and $2000. We talk our libraries into buying these books. Another bunch of sales.
Without us talking to each other…. they have nothing. Just a small group of fans to buy their books.
If you want to do something about it… quit reviewing, and quit recommending books you have read. I have deleted all my reviews on goodreads…1200 gone. I will never post anymore over there it’s simply my database. I am working on my comments and my status updates… deleting all this stuff takes forever. Then, I’m going after my booklikes reviews. I will post a comment or 2. I will post a review or 2… maybe, since at the moment I don’t care. But, I will keep it deleted and I will not be buying “just because” books. I will make a stand with my wallet. The authors…. too bad, I’m not their cash machine.
Yes. Some bloggers take ads, some bloggers are Amazon affiliates. DA does both, obviously. Most bloggers don’t cover their blogging expenses, and very few bloggers make an actual profit.
I believe the FTC considers products to be compensation. In the case of physical ARCs, we are not supposed to sell them, and in the case of ebooks they are non-transferable. The net compensation to me of an ARC is almost always negative in terms of the opportunity cost of my time to review v. the price I would pay if I just bought the book to read.
If I express a public opinion with respect to something I do as a hobby, it is transformed into something other than a hobby? You’re kidding, right? If you’re not kidding: no. It’s a hobby for me. I *spend* money to sustain my hobby. In your case, even if writing is your hobby, once you *ask for money* for your product, we’re in different, non-equivalent worlds. If my public expression of my feelings about my hobby have an impact on you, that is not my problem. Unless of course you decide to punish me for my opinion. Then it becomes my problem. Which I believe is where we started.
The fact that both are choices does not make them *equivalent* choices. No matter how often you try to introduce this equivalence, it is a *false* equivalence. It will not become true. Ever.
There are multiple commenters in this thread trying to explain to you why it is *not* that simple. You can believe them or not, your choice.
I don’t review books, aside from the occasional review on ARe, so I can’t report on whether or not it’s still fun. My decision not to review isn’t because of worrying about the fallout – mostly it’s lack of time and inclination. And maybe because critiquing work is part of my day job – as is coaching my students to be able to give and receive criticism.
But reading reviews and commenting on book review sites is still fun for me. I like thinking about and talking about the books that I read. I hang out in a very small part of the romance blogosphere and so far it’s been relatively sheltered from the craziness reported by others.
@Robin/Janet: No, you’re right, and this post and comment thread have given me a lot of food for thought. It’s not an excuse, but I’d always assumed that it being okay to leave a critical review of my work sort of went without saying. Maybe some of it is that when I first started, the standard rule for online engagement for an author seemed to be “Be gracious, and if you can’t be, for God’s sake keep your mouth shut.” My house at the time’s publicist had a favorite saying, which we all heard on a regular basis: “Remember, the internet is forever.” It’s advice that could stand to be repeated, considering the ongoing shitshow, though I’m still not sure that the worst offenders will change a thing until there are monetary consequences for not doing so.
Being more vocal about providing a safe space for reviewers is something easy and proactive that I’m sure a lot of us could do. Thanks for the kick in the rear:)
Wow, what a quaint little opinion coming from someone who frequently takes time out of their day to repeatedly comment on these selfsame blogs. Not that you ever contribute anything of value (which I assume is where you get your “most comments are not worth reading” attitude from), but still. Here you are.
Silence is a better weapon in the online community than most realize.
If only you’d take your own advice.
Seriously? How many hours do you think it takes to read and review a book? Now split that by the amount a book costs. And that supposes the reviewer would have purchased the book had they not received an ARC for free, which isn’t always the case.
If you count the number of hours it takes me to read and review a book, and divide that by the dollar amount I net per review, plus, let’s say I happened to get an ARC that time (I don’t always) and the ARC is worth $7 (which it isn’t always– ARCs of some books have been so error riddled that I’ve replaced them with purchased copies), then I’d estimate I earn about $1.80 per hour I put into this endeavor.
Yes that’s right. A buck and eighty cents an hour. What kind of wage is that? Last month was a typical month. I earned a whopping forty dollars plus an ARC of a book that retails for four dollars.
I also spent $49 on books last month, some of which I will be reviewing. If I’m lucky, my earnings in a given month cover the costs of my book purchasing– the majority of the books I review for DA are purchased, not requested from Netgalley or Edelweiss.
And don’t forget Jane also has had to pay for the cost of hosting and maintaining the site, and mailing costs for giveaways, etc.
Honestly, comments that say reviewers are raking in the money make me see red. It is a fantasy, wishful thinking on the part of authors. The vast majority of bloggers are financially in the red, because blogging can be an expensive hobby.
If earning a lot of $$ was my object, I would use all the time I put into reviewing to do something else. Reviewing is a labor of love– and the day it stops being one is the day I quit.
I hope reviewing remains fun for the reviewers at Dear Author and other sites I rely on to discover new authors. I trust their thoughtful reviews — and a low grade by them doesn’t necessarily dissuade me from trying a book if it sounds like something I might like anyway. When it comes to reader reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers, I don’t pay much attention to those. If I’m on a book’s Amazon page or holding it in the store, I’m at a point in the discoverability process where I can make my own decision. I read the blurb or back cover to see if the premise interests me, then I read a few pages to see if I like the author’s voice and writing style. If it passes those two tests, you have my money. If it doesn’t, then a unanimous 5-star ranking won’t change my mind.
I rely on sites like Dear Author to get me to that point where I’m in a bookstore/library/web site considering a book. Authors only stand to lose if reviewers start bowing out. The worst thing for a book is to be ignored. A bad review puts a book on my radar. A non-existent review doesn’t. If anything, authors need more reviewers to keep up with the increasing number of books being published.
I have been on Both sides of the very thin wall…I’ve been a blogger and I’m now a writer. As a blogger, I never wrote bad reviews. That didn’t mean I loved every book, it just meant that if I didn’t LOVE it, the book didn’t make it to my blog. Here’s the problem with today’s reviewer/authors (IN MY OPINION) – There is a nastiness, a hateful cruelness that has taken over BOTH sides of the process.
As an author, I believe criticism, while never pleasant, is important, necessary, and yes, even sometimes funny. But there are reviews out there left by readers that have taken critique to a new level. It’s become a sport to those people. They are no longer discussing the book/story. They aren’t commenting on the misuse of grammar or poor editing, they are calling the writers “stupid, childish, retarded, worthless, and idiotic.” They aren’t discussing the strengths and weakness of the stories, they are throwing accusations of fraud, of disastrous story telling, they are calling the story tellers freaks for coming up with the story-lines (THE FICTIONAL story-lines). It’s almost as if, they have forgotten that stories are just THAT, stories…they are not autobiographies. Just like in murder mysteries, we don’t assume the author has actually dismembered people in real life, why assume that of other stories. This isn’t coming from the bloggers, it’s coming from readers, people who purchase our stories and then don’t just leave a 1 star review, but completely shred the book.
Please do not think I am placing blame solely on reviewers because I am not. We authors seem to have forgotten that not every single book can be a 5-star gem. Do I want to hear my book-baby is anything less than perfect, heck no!! But, there are better books out there. So, if 5 stars is the BEST and there are better books than mine, how can mine be considered a 5 by every single reader? The answer is simple, It can’t.
Do I have the answers to make this better? No, I don’t. But I wanted you to know that there are people out there, reviewers and authors that see what’s going on and know that things need to change.
Reviewing remains fun for me because I quit Goodreads, muted “cover reveal” in Tweetdeck, installed adblock, unfollowed authors who RT promo/recommend their friends’ books and post my reviews to a blog I control all the admin passwords for.
Authors annoy the piss out of me, so I disengaged. It means my reviews are seen by fewer readers, and I influence fewer sales, but I didn’t get into this to make authors money, so I don’t care. I get to have the discussions about books that I want to have with the people I want to talk to, so I’m happy.
Well, yes and no. Most people who are going to get involved in an open ended, non agenda, discussion of topics like truth, god, love, war ETC – understand that these are ideas, that these are points of view, and that they are essentially intangibles that will never be decided. People who aren’t willing to be challenged don’t, in my experience, gravitate towards those sort of discussions. Those who do have firm beliefs that they are neither willing to see challenged or defended, don’t last long. The whole idea of those types of discussions isn’t to be right, or even to come to a conclusion, but to make the best argument possible. One of the things that I would sometimes do for fun was to take the point of view opposite from my own.
You are right. Books aren’t people. However, to me, they are an artists work product, even if I don’t personally like the story, or even the writing, reviews are different than the ‘nothing to lose’ sort of approach that I took to online discussions.
The object of online discussions, for anyone who does it for any length of time without getting their ego or feelings hurt, is to hone your wits, your ability to think, and your ability to form not only a good argument, but at times, a moving argument.
The object of a review, is to give information about the book, and to write about what things did and did not work for when reading the book. That is exactly how someone I really respect worded it to me.
In other words, it might not be a good idea to get all cut throat with someone’s baby.
However, after finishing Divergent the other day, I could not help expressing how disappointing it is for anyone who is looking for a good dystopic read. A part of me thinks that Veronica Roth took the going off to college experience, spruced it up a bit, and called it a dystopic young adult novel.
The movie is good though. The movie upped the stakes for the characters and within the world.
In interesting ways, this conversation reminds me of Giorgio Agamben’s work in which he writes about the consequences of the collapse of boundaries between public/private spaces. (This is a gross oversimplification, but it’s close enough. Foucault, Arendt, Habermas, etc. would be relevant too.) If we don’t really have private lives any more because everything has been reduced to biopolitics, then there isn’t a public sphere that is both non-commercial and apolitical. There’s no place for discourse.
As Noelle rightly points out above, writers are terrified about how to get attention in a market that all too often rewards mediocrity, and this fear charges every interaction with bloggers/reviewers. Bloggers/reviewers hate the creep of commercial/promotional pressures into their critical discourse. Communities like Goodreads perhaps inevitably get subsumed into corporate entities and become another cog in promotional machines. And so on.
I admit that for me, online book discussions did once remind me of that 18th century coffee house, ideal public. I do think it’s sad that isn’t that way anymore. I’m not sure how to reconstitute that feeling and potential, but it’s a worthwhile project because I love the public dimension of reading and how those discussion augment my own reading/writing.
@Janine: “ARCs of some books have been so error riddled that I’ve replaced them with purchased copies)”
I don’t think this point get mentioned enough. Our “free books” aren’t always in the best of shape — along with errors, they’re often missing chapter links, etc. If I love a book I reviewed I will often buy a finished copy. Even if the original was fine, I like to have one I “own” — well, inasmuch as anyone owns an ebook.
@Sunita: “The net compensation to me of an ARC is almost always negative in terms of the opportunity cost of my time to review v. the price I would pay if I just bought the book to read. ”
Reminded of a conversation a while back:
me: “I wonder what my hourly wage for reviewing would turn out to be.”
hub: “Would that take into account all the angsting?”
I have spent more time than I needed to thinking about all of this.
I choose who I trust based upon what they say. Bloggers/reviewers who are obviously just wholly owned subsidiaries of authors and publishers – their blogs can be a lot of fun to read, but I don’t really trust them. A lot of what goes on in the book blog-o-sphere seems utterly pointless to me, and is clearly just marketing filler (cough, cough: the cover reveal).
But I like to talk about books, and I like to read when other people talk about books. Really talk – not just post up marketing copy. So for me, yeah, it’s still fun. As long as I just make a point of ignoring the drama.
I have never killed a child. I have never cut a baby’s throat.
A book? That is NOT a freaking baby! If someone is so jacked in the head as to really think of their book as a freaking baby. Well, there is no help for that one.
And if books were babies, authors would be in jail for human trafficking. So let’s cut the baby talk, thanks. I think the author who just lost her actual CHILD might just find it offensive.
@MrsJoseph: Just so many times every word you said.
@Willaful: Word to that and sometimes I also purchased not just an ebook but a paperback as well. Now when i literally have no more place for paperbacks, I still purchase an ebook often. Not to mention that I also purchase a lot of books I review in the first place.
Regarding the issue of ARCs and compensation, I think it’s worth pointing out that FTC guidelines have been instituted to protect consumers against misleading and/or fraudulent reviews. The FTC can’t guarantee honest reviews, but they can require disclosure of something that might be perceived to influence a reviewer’s opinion.
I’ve always wondered how many of those paid-for-positive reviews disclose that an ARC or book has been received from the author or publisher, especially when the whole point of those reviews seems to be to trick consumers into believing them to be freely given, autonomous, and honestly rendered opinions.
Actually, I used to think that the FTC had no business in book reviewing, but with the growing industry of paid-for-positive reviews, I’m no longer so dismissive of their interest.
I think it’s also worth noting that publishers have long considered ARCs to be different from “books,” because they are not finished products. So it’s not accurate to talk about how reviewers get “free books” when they receive ARCs, which are offered primarily so that a book can have reviews ready to go upon its release, if not before. This is one of those areas where author and reader interests overlap, even though ideally neither group is in debt or service to the other.
@Amber: What your comment completely ignores is the possibility of a critical (by which I don’t mean negative) discourse about books that is not about reviewing/recommending, that is non-commercial and is just talking about ideas. I realize that Robin did frame this as a conversation about “reviewing,” but for most bloggers/Goodreaders, etc. I interact with, the point is partly to talk to other people about books and not just to help others make a consumer decision. Books belong to the world of ideas, as well as being consumer goods. Sometimes I feel we’ve foegotten that.
It is when that exchange of ideas feels fully coopted by the commercial that I stop having fun. I am a reader. I want my online world to feel like hanging in the coffee house, as Emma said. I don’t want to feel like all my speech about books is grist for the promotional mill, that my leisure time is just serving other people’s commercial ends. It is very, very hard not to feel that way online these days (it’s not just books; Facebook is basically trying to monetize my personal relationships). I am mostly still having fun, but I am always recalibrating my choices about how to participate in order to protect my enjoyment. It’s tiresome, and some days I’m not sure it’s worth it.
When I was a freshmen in college I wrote a short story for my creative writing class. The teacher was a harsh unrelenting man. He called me up to the front of the classroom, made me stand in front of the whole class, and sentence by sentence ripped it to shreds.
When he was done I had to excuse myself to the bathroom so I could pull myself together and not cry in front of him. At the time I wanted to complain to the school about his behavior, a handful of the other students in my class did on my behalf. I didn’t mostly because I was young and shy and didn’t want anymore attention brought to it.
That was the worst review I have ever received in my life, and shalt always be the golden standard for worst reviews ever.
In retrospect though I’m grateful for the experience. NO REVIEW will ever be as bad as that public humiliation. I think every creative person should have an experience similar to that just to put it all in perspective and teach them to handle criticism. A handful of bad online reviews ain’t ever gonna get me down when I get published because frankly- nothing they say will ever match how awful that was.
And you know what? Re-reading that story? He was right. It was trash and I’m embarrassed I wrote it.
Look, bad reviews- even stupidly conceived or dumb ones- are life. That’s publishing as they say- ‘everybody’s a critic.’ You need to get a tough skin and fast and if all you’re getting is bad reviews than maybe you should look at your work with a harsher eye.
@Robin/Janet: Not just volunteers but PAYING CUSTOMERS. That’s what really gets me. Since when did it become okay for authors to bully, bribe, manipulate and go after their CUSTOMERS?? It’s just crazy.
@Janine: When you quoted me, you deleted the last sentence of that paragraph, which read “I’m not saying I’m right…I’m honestly asking these questions as part of this discussion.” I meant that, too. I’m not in the book review blog business, so I don’t know the details (although now I have a better idea, thanks to my questions). I admitted Sunita raised a good point and was merely asking for some clarification of the false equivalence statement.
Again, in each of my posts, I’ve been firmly AGAINST authors and their devoted fans attacking negative reviews (paid or unpaid) or gaming the system.
I would suggest that there is a lot of similarity between the poorly-paid book blogger and the average writer. Many authors aren’t really writing for the money (because, from what I can tell, for most it will never come, and many lose money on their books). Many are doing it more or less as a labor of love (by your stated criteria, they aren’t making much on an hourly basis, they give away their product for free at one point or another, and they all spend money on their craft by attending workshops and conferences, etc.). Most authors also share a common goal with reviewers (trying to put quality reading material into the hands of a hungry audience).
It is unfortunate that a few authors are mucking it up for the masses. But as a reader, I appreciate sites like this, where I can find reliable, interesting reviews, and engage in debates during which I’m open to considering a variety of opinions (and always end up learning something new). I sincerely hope they do not start disappearing.
@Christine – “So for me, yeah, it’s still fun. As long as I just make a point of ignoring the drama.”
– Amen. Ignoring the drama is key for me too. It’s a bit of a struggle, because I’m a bit nosy but my life is so much happier if I ignore the scandal de jour.
In answer to one of the questions in the post re what I want to see online between authors and readers – personally I prefer a bit of distance between the two. I like to separate the art from the artist, and that’s much easier to do when I don’t have a lot of interaction with authors.
I do enjoy seeing authors comment on threads like this at DA – it’s interesting to get authors’ perspective. And I’ve discovered a couple authors because of their comments. I think some (a very few) authors can gracefully comment on a review of their book and add to the conversation, but in general I prefer authors not to do that. If I want to know what an author thinks about something (in a review), I’d rather seek them out than have them comment on a review. I also don’t seek out really snarky, ranty reviews or mean spirited reviews.
Before I was a published writer, I was a reviewer for a large review site. Reading is a joy. I never thought reviewing books was a pleasure. It takes hard work and skill to write a review. Reviewing books was a service, a way for me to give back to Romanceland.
Reviews are for readers, not for writers. I trust my editors to decide whether a book adds value to Romanceland or not. Do bad reviews hurt? OF COURSE. A bad review means the book disappointed a reader. I care about my readers.
But we’re creating art, not cheeseburgers. I realize my stories aren’t for everyone and shouldn’t be for everyone. Some of my best selling stories had the most bad reviews because these stories did something different and not every reader appreciated that.
What would that be or look like? As an author, I have zero control over other authors. I occasionally fight with them on Twitter, I’ve discussed these issues at numerous writer events, and I’ve certainly done my fair share of ranting and commenting about everything from plagiarism to how outrageous I find the use of the word “bullying”, but I have no idea how *I* would work with other authors to create a “safe harbor” for readers except to declare that *I* will never attack for a bad review or call out my flying monkeys to do likewise (that would be if I even had flying monkeys, which I don’t).
I think Sunita has the right of it: let the howling, echoing chasm of no reviews eat the books and careers of authors who attack reviewers. I certainly have an “authors who I don’t want to support” list that I keep handy when shopping.
I would argue that there is no similarity. At all.
One is COMMERCIAL endeavor. No matter how bad the author is at that business.
One is simply a HOBBY. With NO EXPECTATION of payment.
See the difference? It doesn’t matter that authors make very little to no money. It is a personal decision to decide to go into the business of writing. Just because authors make little money does not matter to the reader at all. Once the author goes into BUSINESS, they have a commercial goal.
I can honestly say that I don’t find Romland fun anymore.
There was a time when commerce and discussion didn’t cross paths–or, at least it didn’t overtly cross paths–even within the author community. Also, when I decided to write, I tended to experience the “Be Nice” culture within romance secondhand because I didn’t couldn’t afford to belong to the RWA, attend RT, and do other “authorly” things that were supposed to forge connections and enhance one’s career. As a result, I built connections brick by boring brick, and was able to be myself as a reader and as a writer. The changes @Noelle described have killed this freedom (for me at least).
I’ve never seen readers and writers this disconnected in my entire 9-10 yrs in Romland. My visits to an author blog to a reader review blog to AAR and back could be seamless in terms of spirit and atmosphere. Nowadays, it’s either masses of squeeing or slightly bitter, passive-aggressive spats or frustration or BUY MY BOOKS or DON’T BUY THIS AUTHOR or The Publishing Industry is EVIL/Self-Publishing is HEAVEN (and vice versa). And spliced in between all of this is the creeping claustrophobia that is needing to be writing or be reading the Next Big Thing right now–echoing back to Noelle’s comment.
Frankly, this is exhausting and stressful! The page from Ridley’s book–focusing on one’s own corner of the web, regardless of its size–looks mighty tempting.
@Liz Mc2: “for most bloggers/Goodreaders, etc. I interact with, the point is partly to talk to other people about books and not just to help others make a consumer decision. Books belong to the world of ideas, as well as being consumer goods. Sometimes I feel we’ve foegotten that.”
Yes! And that is what I miss so much about GoodReads. It’s so hard to find that genuine just talking about books for fun conversation. Twitter is nice, but so limited.
@Amber: I find it surprising how you concluded your call for nice-nice in reviewing with a personal attack on an author (NOT engaging with the book), based upon your apparent skill at time-travel telepathic analysis of her mindset when conceiving the novel.
@Sunshineyness: Oh, how I wish I had had that experience!
Most of *my* professors would just hand back the pure distillate of my creative fevers with a simple grade and the comment “Good” or “Do better.” If I was lucky, there might be a single word circled in red with a cryptic question mark.
How was I supposed to learn anything from that? I would have a thousand times preferred a thorough sentence-by-sentence thrashing! That would mean that someone was actually *engaged* with my writing, *moved* by it, even if the only emotion was scorn and disgust (which to be honest, I imagine my writing may have deserved).
I really don’t mean to dismiss or downplay your pain and humiliation. I believe you when you remember how awful that experience was.
But your comment also highlighted the only thing that is WORSE: indifference.
@Isobel Carr: I think that if enough authors made a commitment to vocally support honest opinions and reviews of their books — and to do so directly and consistently to readers — that would make a difference. What I mean by “working together” is not necessarily an organized campaign to influence the behavior of other authors. What I mean is for like-minded authors to support readers and to support each other in advocating for readers on the subject of honest reviews (and discussion of books in general).
When you look at the pattern of authors who go after readers, they rarely do so in isolation. They’ve got other authors who step in and support their position, as well as loyal fans who take up the agenda, too. That kind of collectivity empowers the message, whether it be positive or negative. I know that you and others are already vocal about your support of reader autonomy, but it’s not the rule. If it were, I don’t think we would see the chronicling of antagonism toward readers we see (and I heartily second Sunita’s insistence that most of this crap doesn’t rise to bullying — on either side), some of which has been highlighted in the increasingly long comment thread to this post.
@Robin/Janet: I do think it’s hard to know when to jump in to such a conversation (often for the same reasons that I hesitate to jump in on reader discussion in general — simply not always knowing whether it’s my place as an author to do so.) I do want readers to know that they won’t have to worry about retaliation, however (how sad is it that this even has to be addressed?) so one of the things I’ve done is stated it explicitly on my site on my FAQ page.
I think that’s something simple enough for many authors to do. Maybe sometimes it needs to be said more loudly, but a lot of quiet statements add up, too.
@Isobel Carr: Ditto. I have blogged repeatedly on reviews – why not to respond, why they aren’t written for authors. Anyone who wants my opinion on this can find it without effort. Nobody will find me harassing reviewers. But I don’t knowingly communicate with asshats, so I don’t see this bad behaviour in action, and I’m not Author Batman, patrolling the internet to take down badly behaving authors, as if they’d give more of a damn for my opinion than for anyone else’s.
So I agree with Isobel: I don’t know what a safe harbour for readers and reviewers looks like, or how I create it, except inasmuch as I govern my own behaviour, express my opinion, and ensure nothing is allowed on my blog/FB that I don’t find acceptable.
So in other words, somebody who leaves a bad review for my book on Amazon takes the food out of the mouths of my starving children? Please, just don’t go there. This must be one of the most embarrassing, cringe-worthy arguments that some authors use when they complain about a bad review (and I’ve actually seen the “taking food out of the mouths of my children” used!).
As Maya has said above, reviews are NOT for authors. Sure, getting a bad review sucks. Bad reviews typically make me yell at my screen, and, if I have a particularly bad day, I might need to call a friend or write a whiny post on one of my author loops in order to have somebody say, “Here, here.” And then I eat some chocolate. But that’s it. The person who has read my book doesn’t owe me anything, not even a review. A review, any kind of review, is a plus.
And the same goes when I send my book to a review site: the reviewers there don’t owe me anything either, not even a review (because most sites are getting swamped by books). A review, any kind of review, is a plus.
I’ve been part of the romance community for about 14 years, and while there have always been certain tensions between authors and reviewers, the situation has never been quite as bad as it is now. And I have to admit that after my 5-year hiatus from writing, I find it very difficult to come to terms with this new romancelandia.
@KJ Charles: If more authors did what you are doing, I think at least this reader and reviewer would be so very happy.
See? I don’t even know how to post on a blog anymore! *head desk* The first paragraph in my post above is a quotation from Jamie Beck’s earlier post.
If I take the time to read through all the responses, I’ll forget the original question, so here goes:
The simple answer for me, Robin, is that yes, it’s still fun. But I can see why it wouldn’t be for others. It’s frustrating and it’s discouraging and it’s demoralizing. Sometimes I have to sit myself down and consciously remind myself that it’s not rocket science and it’s not finding a cure for cancer, but damn it, it’s fun and I’m not going to let the bullies deprive me of it.
The less simple answer, though, I think requires several steps back from the immediate scene so there’s a larger perspective. While it may seem this all happened very quickly with the explosion of digital publishing, there are other factors both inside and outside the reading/writing/publishing arena that have affected the issue. For example, we know that fear is a great device for control, and we’ve seen it wielded very effectively on both macro and micro levels. It’s not always easy to say, “I refuse to be afraid of receiving a negative review” or “I refuse to be afraid of what will happen if I write a negative review.” But that fear is what really takes the fun out of it.
We all have our fears, rational as well as irrational. I found that it’s enormously liberating — and fun! — to simply refuse to be afraid of negative reviews either given or received.
@Robin/Janet: Unfortunately, the camp of pitchfork wavers is very loud and quite aggressive, and no amount of shushing from the rest of us (even though I think there are way more of us who disagree with them) seems to have any effect. I’ve moved from shushing to shunning, but that’s not going to help either. So long as they have a fan base and are selling (and many of them do and are), they’re not going to be cowed into better behavior.
@MrsJoseph: My point was that they are both basically motivated by a love of words, by a passion for good storytelling, and by a desire to share these things with like-minded people. Isn’t that why readers and writers congregate here?
So, yes, I think there are similarities, despite the commercial v. hobby delineation.
I think there’s plenty of fun to be had. Maybe I wear rose colored glass, but I’m not going to stop reading/reviewing books because of some snarky comments. Everyone has the right to their own opinion. I may not approve of writers/reviews who pay/take money for reviews, but I still believe most reviews are honestly written.
@Isobel Carr: I don’t see the goal as that of shutting down the authors who are going after readers — at least not initially or immediately. I see the immediate goal as that of providing readers with the awareness of those authors who can honestly say to readers that they are safe to review their books as they see fit, without fear of author reprisal. Whether that’s through their website, as Meljean does it, or the front page of their books, or their Twitter intros, FB page, newsletter, etc., there are many ways to make this communication clear and direct. Also, if what some authors have said here is true, and the safe authors are in the majority, that would be a good way of demonstrating the truth of that claim.
These authors then become part of a “safe harbor” for readers. Over time, I think that kind of thing can shift the climate in a larger way (e.g. maybe it becomes more unfashionable to trash readers and police reviews), but as I said in my post, it’s not a direct hit. It’s more of an alternative for readers who don’t want to abandon the community, but also don’t want to take the chance of getting slapped by an author for expressing an honest opinion. And sadly, as much as authors may think readers know who all of the “safe” authors are, it’s not general knowledge.
I do want readers to know that they won’t have to worry about retaliation, however (how sad is it that this even has to be addressed?) so one of the things I’ve done is stated it explicitly on my site on my FAQ page.
I think that’s something simple enough for many authors to do. Maybe sometimes it needs to be said more loudly, but a lot of quiet statements add up, too.
Agreed. I think that would be an excellent start.
As I said to Isobel above, authors may think these things are obvious to readers, but they’re not. And when so many readers already feel over-marketed, they may need to be messaged in a way that doesn’t mix the marketing with this message.
In fact, if there’s one thing I hope people walk away from this thread with, it’s the knowledge that this is NOT business as usual, and that many readers are getting discouraged and dropping away.
@ktgrant: “Authors really need to think of themselves as CEOs or owners of a company, especially if they are self-published. Can you imagine if a CEO of some big company like The Gap, H&M or a restaurant like The Olive Garden or TGIF’s attacked their customers vocally, accusing their customers of being haters or being too mean because they had issues with their meal or an article of clothing?”
This made me think of the lululemon kerfuffle where the founder/CEO responded to complaints about their sheer yoga pants by going on Bloomberg News and said that his customers were just too fat to fit into them. He resigned in the aftermath of the resulting sh**storm. Lots of lessons to be learned here by anyone selling a product, not just by corporations.
@Elizabeth Cole: On the flip side, I’ve gotta wonder how many sales that “this book had too much sex” review generated?
I’ve learned not to even make a joke about a review about one of my books to FB or Twitter because it comes across like a rallying cry to take action against said reviewer, even when for me, the review in question was so hilarious it made me snort/cry. That didn’t come across right. Readers congregated and left uncomplimentary remarks. Lesson learned.
I read my reviews, I smile, I wince, I move on and I keep my opinions about them to Myself. Reviews are for readers.
Maybe the point I’m trying to make is that the moment you start to say that “writers and reviewers” are alike is the same time you start to make excuses as to why reviewers should be shut down or “be nice.” You’ve made quite a few of those comments in this thread.
We occupy different spaces most of the time and we have different goals.
@MrsJoseph: Is it possible you’re confusing my posts with those of someone else? I’ve gone back through my posts. In each, I’ve repeatedly affirmed the rights of reviewers to give their negative opinions without reprisal (even argued that a smart author would use those critiques to improve their work). I’ve said I’d be saddened if those types of unacceptable behaviors would cause sites like this to go dark. I’ve never said reviewers should “be nice”…and in fact admitted to posting negative reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and my own blog.
So, unless you are saying that my idea of ignoring the bullies would be “playing nice”…I’m confused. I’m not saying let the bullies win. I’m suggesting that the bullies shouldn’t win…and by ignoring them and continuing to deliver quality reviews to the consumers (like me), the reviewer wins. Some disagree with that solution, which is fine. If there is a better solution and I can contribute to the fix, sign me up.
All that said, I still do think writers and reviewers are alike in their passion for books and desire to have quality stories reach the readers. Most writers are not engaging in this poor bullying behavior. Most do not want their fans to attack someone for a negative review. Most respect and appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read their work and gone on to take more time to offer an opinion (negative or positive). And most importantly, I would never attack a reviewer for any reason. If that hasn’t come across in my posts, then obviously I’m having a serious communication problem.
I still have just as much fun reading and reviewing as I always have had. I am honest in my reviews, and give the full range of 1-5 stars depending on what I think of the book I’m reading. 5 stars are pretty rare, but 1 stars are also quite rare from me.
I always try to be fair, and give reasons for why I give the rating I give (even if they are totally weird reasons), and I’m not remotely interested in commenting on the author in any way beyond stating that I’ve read others by that author and whether I prefer the others or not (and why). If something is excrutiatingly irritating about the book, then I say that, but if a book is so wonderful it leaves me speechless, then I say that too.
I want other readers to find my reviews useful and mildly entertaining, so I do sometimes slip a bit of foul language in there, and sarcasm. I don’t have the biggest number of followers, but it’s actually pretty sizable and always growing, and I still get a lot of books forwarded my way to review, and I’ve never had a negative author interaction yet.
I do this for fun only, so I’m only interested in fun, polite and pleasant interactions with other readers and authors. If I had a bad experience with an author, I would publicize that interaction and not review any books by that person, but I’ve not seen anything remotely nasty.
I very rarely give a book 5 stars; it’s the exception, not the rule for me. I start at 3 and if it’s really just plain bad, I’ll give it 2 stars, but mostly I stay in 3-4. It’s a red flag to me to see only or mostly 5 star reviews for any book. LIke others here, I have also bought books where reviews are very mixed. One of my favorite books I read last year had reviews that either hated or loved the book, so the overall scores were not high. I ended up giving it 5 stars with a detailed review why. Sometimes you just love a book and have to say it, other times the excessive cheerleading is really a hindrance to the reading community.
@Sandra Schwab: I never said a reviewer shouldn’t leave a bad review because it would impact the author. I didn’t suggest a reviewer shouldn’t give a book an F if it deserves an F. In every post I’ve written today, I’ve affirmed the reviewers’ rights to openly give their opinions, whatever they may be, without fear of reprisal.
I don’t proclaim to be the most informed, the smartest, or the final word on any topic. I simply like to learn from and process the reasoning of people who might know more, or who see it from another perspective. I do that by asking questions and then considering the answers.
The only thing I was asking (not stating, by the way) in that particular question to Sunita, was whether when a hobby impacts commerce, might that make it something more than a mere hobby (unlike quilting, for example). Obviously most everyone thinks not…and I’m not even arguing it…I was just raising a question. If you take the time to read my posts in their entirety, you will see that you seem to have taken that one question out of context and presumed (wrongly) where it was headed.
I assume Janet intended this blog post to create debate and a safe space for readers to offer differing opinions. I find it interesting that, in a thread criticizing bullies, you’ve essentially said my question was “embarrassing/cringe-worthy”. LOL I mean, that’s pretty funny, right?
Such a great post–thank you for sharing it. I know that for me, reviewing is no longer the pleasure it used to be. While it’s nice to have interactions with authors and publishers you love, the fact that so many of them are on social media also means it’s a lot more difficult to be candid when you’re talking to friends about books. And that’s what this is, for the most part–it’s a hobby, and it’s annoying that every random thing you say to someone about your hobby is scrutinized and sometimes picked apart.
Authors have also become spoiled in this era of book blogging. Because so many reviews are so articulate and well-reasoned, because so many blogs take the time to promote authors they enjoy, many authors start to accept this as the norm. Can you name any other kind of entertainment where fans devote this kind of thought and time and money and effort into discussing products? I don’t see many amateurs blogging this intelligently about video games or movies or art who go to such lengths to post purchase/info links, release dates, bios, etc. It’s pretty self-centered to complain about the professionalism of GoodReads or Amazon reviews, and yet I see this all the time. I may not like gif reviews or overly ranty reviews myself, but we’re talking about social media here. People have a right to do/say what they want if they aren’t violating TOS, and those who the publishers think are crossing the line won’t be given access to more ARCs. It’s rarely the publishers who are getting bent out of shape about these things.
The author behavior, btw, ranges from the ludicrous petitions to reader attacks to lack of awareness about reader to reader interaction. Your statement about authors saying they are readers first often makes me laugh when I hear that, because I’ll see some of those same authors complaining about seeing GoodReads “friends” liking negative reviews of their book. While I try not to do that myself, I find it astonishing that an author would expect casual readers (who aren’t real friends) to use the site differently; in posting status updates or tweeting about how they have to unriend people or leave for awhile or whatever, there’s an indirect pressure for readers to change their behavior in order to spare author feelings. I find this behavior extremely off-putting and disingenuous.
@jamie beck: I am only responding to this part of your comment.
“The only thing I was asking (not stating, by the way) in that particular question to Sunita, was whether when a hobby impacts commerce, might that make it something more than a mere hobby (unlike quilting, for example). Obviously most everyone thinks not…and I’m not even arguing it…I was just raising a question. If you take the time to read my posts in their entirety, you will see that you seem to have taken that one question out of context and presumed (wrongly) where it was headed.”
To me whether my hobby impacts commerce is actually completely irrelevant to the argument about whether readers should be able to give their honest reviews without the fear of reprisal. Sure, reviews can influence sales. It however does not become a commercial endeavor on the part of the reviewer IMO. I do not give a flying hoot whether my reviews influence sales, really I do not. It is to me a side effect, nothing more. I am in good faith very happy when the authors whose books I review sell well. All of them, even those I disliked, unless the book was homophobic, antisemitic, or any of those kinds of ugly. But even in those situations not as if I can control how it influences sales. I am just saying in those VERY rare situations I cannot say that I in good faith want the book to succeed. In every other occasion – I hope it sells well, no matter what grade I gave it. But again, that’s just what I would wish to any book if asked. Thats not why I write reviews though and I do not see why it should be treated as anything more than a hobby.
I know these examples get thrown around a lot, but why not? If I give the bad review of the vacuum cleaner, TV, etc – sure it is possible it will influence the sales. Does it somehow transform my hobby of reviewing those merchandises in something commercial? Really, it does not at all to me.
@jamie beck: But almost any hobby impacts commerce! Quilters buy fabric. Knitters buy yarn. Etc. If I buy things to pursue my hobby, it impacts commerce. Should I not review my running shoes or my fitness app because it might impact the livelihood of a Nike sweatshop worker or a sofware developer? Should I not criticize my cable company?
I get that an author is smaller/more individual than a corporation, but the situations are parallel from a consumer point of view. They only look different to authors because their self-interest is involved.
All hobbies impact commerce, even quilting. If you decide to buy your fabric at Joann’s or a local quilt shop or online or a reuse store or use your mother’s stash, your decisions impact commerce. There is no way in modern American life to engage in the world without impacting commerce, short of moving to the woods and building your own cabin and hunting deer for food (and that has an impact too).
What separates a business-making venture (writing) from a hobby (reviewing) is the intent to make money, not impact on commerce.
I’m a reader but do not post reviews. I do love to read reviews though and discuss books. I wish more authors would truly understand that just because one person doesn’t like x, y, z about a book doesn’t mean that another reader won’t love the book because of those very same elements. No book will work for all readers.
I resent the page that seems to appear now at the end of most self-published books asking the reader if they liked a book to please leave a review. And I don’t think I would resent it as much if it was phrased to ask just for a review. But the “if you liked” part implies to me they only want you to review the book if it will be a “good” review. I’ll be honest and say I remove this page from the book so I don’t get to the end and have what will hopefully be happy book sigh tarnished by seeing the “if you like my book please review” pleading. I know I am probably not thinking about this rationally, but it irks me.
Also, I am so glad this post wasn’t about Janet leaving DA which was my first reaction seeing the headline.
@jamie beck: 1. What @Jennifer Lohmann said, and 2. What’s (not so) funny is implying that saying something is embarrassing/cringe-worthy equals bullying. But frankly, part of the problem is that some people don’t know what bullying is.
Are you equating calling a question “embarrassing/cringeworthy” with bullying behavior? Are you saying (or implying) that Sandra Schwab bullied you?
I’ve been reading about the bullying of reviewers/readers quite often over the last few weeks. I also see the bullying of authors to the point that some have decided against publishing. This is sad on so many fronts. I would like to try something here. This review is 1 star and came out on Goodreads before my newest book Dragons Don’t Cry released. I’m not posting the entire review (it’s quite long) but you’ll get the picture. You can go to Goodreads and check it out if you want the entire experience. Did this review hurt? YES, Did it effect sales? I have no idea but maybe, maybe not. Does this reader/reviewer have the right to her opinion. Absolutely! I am an avid reader first and always have been. I love reading good and bad reviews, they help me make up my mind when purchasing, Don’t allow bullies to stop your opinion!
“I got this ARC from Netgalley and this is my honest review of it.
This was not what I was expecting it to be from the blurb,but blurbs can be very misleading but I guess I oughta have gotten the clue from the authors other books.I can only blame myself for this.
Oh hilarious I thought to myself.
So this girl and her friends go out drinking one evening and by accident she ends up a bride of a dragon.
Well..what the blurb fails to mention is that yes they do go out drinking but only as a last celebration before one of them is chosen as the bride of a dragon in the claiming ceremony taking place the day after.
Acasia is chosen and taken back to the dragons lair. This is pretty much the plot if you dont count the sideplot the author develops late in the plot when the author probably realized she had to have something to propel it forward.
The beginning of the book in lack of a better word felt messy. Greek gods? But it seems this takes place in some fantasy land so it had me really confused.
I would rather have some made up pantheon than borrowing from one that really existed and apart from some mention of them in swear words and in regards to a curse they dont really play a large part in this book.
And another thing. In this (I assume) fantasy world . Jeans exists. as in the garment you wear but its all explained when it turns out you can travel to the human world. And this is the most developed setting in the book but thats not saying much.”
@Jamie Beck, etc. —
I think the “cringe-worthy” comment referred to the oft-used BBA whine that a negative review is the equivalent of stealing food from the BBA’s children. I didn’t get that it had anything to do with anything Jamie Beck actually said.
While it’s true that all reviews of all products may have some effect on commercial ventures, the reviewing process itself isn’t a commercial venture, and that does make a difference.
But what Mrs.Joseph wrote made me wonder if perhaps the tradition of writers and reviewers operating from a shared love of words is no longer applicable, and that’s where the breakdown has occurred.
Back in the day, writers metamorphosed to become authors through a laborious process analogous to the caterpillar-chrysallis-butterfly, and in that process the writer became part of a community of readers, writers, authors, mentors, critique partners, etc. so that the traditions and ethics and the whole social fabric of the community obtained to all. It seems to me now, though I could be totally wrong, that many of those who are causing problems and making the reading/reviewing experience less fun are also those who didn’t go through the metamorphosis.
There were vibrant communities of readers online long before the KDP and Smashwords revolution, and there were communities of writers, too. There was cross-pollination and commingling, but everyone came from that same shared tradition of knowing how the business operated.
I’m reading (or trying to read) books now from writers who clearly have no clue whatsoever, and not just no clue about how to write. They know nothing about editing, proofreading, publishing, and I sometimes wonder if they even know anything about reading. Frankly, I didn’t think there could so much ignorance about the business! But there is. I just happen to be a firm believer in the idea that the only way to combat ignorance is to speak up about it, not to keep silent.
I do see some similarity with writers… I work hard on my reviews and I care about what I write. And sometimes I manage to be entertaining, which always feels great. But I think of reviewing as more akin to reporting than fiction writing. That’s why I hate reviewers being given “guidelines” and such — it feels to me like being asked to lie. And truth is a reviewer’s most valuable attribute.
(This is reminding me of a blog post I wrote a while back… http://willaful.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/bulletin-from-the-reviewer-wars/)
I’m completely baffled by the idea of requiring the “true name” of reviewers for the simple fact that in the US it is perfectly legal, and even protected, to write a book using a pseudonym. Therefore, it logically follows that anonymous reviewing should also be acceptable. If publishing a book required the author’s “true name” there would be an uproar from that community. I doubt the majority of books I read are actually written under the author’s real name.
When it comes to using review star ratings to make book selections, that is not how I make my reading decisions at all. I read reviews that contain information on the characters and plot. I make my purchasing decisions based on whether or not I think that I will enjoy the books content and characters, not whether a person I don’t know did or not. I use their reviews to get more detailed information on the book than is included in the book blurb so that I can make a reasonable guess as to whether the book will interest me or not. A 5-star detailed review that highlights things I don’t care for will make me decide to pass on the book, while a 1-star review that highlights things that the reviewer doesn’t like but that I do will in turn prompt me to read the book. It’s great if there are positive detailed reviews of books that sound right up my alley, but I’m more interested in the detail contained in the reviews than the reviewer’s opinion on the content, because to me enjoyment of a book is subjective and depends on the individual reader’s perspective.
I have never experienced being lambasted by an author or their fans because of a negative review I have written and frankly, I don’t personally know anyone to whom this has happened, so I can’t speak to the prevalence of this phenomenon. Initially, I found the very idea that it has happened at all to be disturbing. However, then I think of the authors as artists and therefore being more sensitive to the reception of the product they create than, say accountants or mechanics, who are more emotionally removed from their work. So in that sense, it shouldn’t be surprising that it happens. I don’t think this reaction is helpful in the long run to the authors in a financial sense, since it would certainly turn me off from purchasing and reading their books.
However, it wouldn’t make me change my review or keep me from submitting less than stellar reviews, but then again, I am very adept at ignoring people and opinions I don’t care for or agree with, instead of feeling the need to defend myself and my views and in turn change their opinions. I like it when people don’t agree, you get more information that way, and knowledge of any kind is what I aim to gain. Trying to convince someone of your way of thinking lessens discourse.
Given what I believe to be this post’s thesis, I found it quite interesting when I followed the link to Sunita’s post and read the comments. I found the tone of the comments, on both sides, to be exactly what this article is saying is wrong with the author-reviewer relationship. I do enjoy irony, so using that post to try and make a point in this one was entertaining.
@AJ: While I agree with much of your comment, I have to take exception to this:
“However, then I think of the authors as artists and therefore being more sensitive to the reception of the product they create than, say accountants or mechanics, who are more emotionally removed from their work.”
Until such time that authors are, like “accountants or mechanics”, subject to legal penalties and even jail time for shoddy work, any reference to the special status of sensitive artists and their supposed emotional fragility leaves me profoundly unmoved.
@hapax: I don’t disagree at all. It doesn’t move me to change my reviews or “self-police” my comments. I was just trying to say that, even though my initial reaction to this phenomenon was one of shock, upon reflection I began to see why this would actually occur. The very nature of artistic creation can be a profoundly emotional experience, more so than filing someone’s taxes. I don’t in any way condone this reaction, but I do see why it is happening. Therefore, while it’s unnerving, it isn’t actually surprising, even though I thought exactly that initially. I hope that explains my quoted comment better.
I’m going to have to disagree a little bit. I’ve dealt with artists most of my adult life. While I do expect tears, diva behavior and rants – ALL of the professional artists I’ve known in my lifetime have always done so in a private place. Most professional artists realize they are not guaranteed a paycheck or an audience so they rarely take that audience for granted.
A few things I’ve observed, in my usual tl;dr way (apologies in advance):
1) The absence of traditional publishing gatekeepers means that authors no longer have an incentive to hone their craft before releasing it into the wild. In fact, I’ve seen self-published authors brag about never taking a class, never having a critique partner, never joining a writers’ organization. And look at how much money they’re making! Obviously, if they receive a negative review, it’s because of jealous haterz.
2) The absence of traditional publishing gatekeepers means that writers are no longer presented with multiple hurdles of rejection/criticism. No failed queries, no “revise and resubmit” requests, no editorial letters, no contract cancellations. Previously, writers couldn’t throw tantrums when these rejections/criticisms occurred; to succeed, they needed to be professionals capable of working with others to produce a marketable product.
That’s not true any more.
3) At the same time, social media has broken down the barriers between reader/author. Authors rarely put faces to their readers, except perhaps at readings/book signings (or if the reader was Annie Wilkes); readers mostly knew authors through a photo on a dust jacket and a short bio on the inside back flap.
Now authors are told to build their social media presence even before they release their first book.
And now readers aren’t nameless, faceless beings out there in the ether. We’re “friends” and “followers.” On Goodreads we’re “fans.” We engage. It’s no longer passive. Social media gives the appearance of a personal relationship, even when it isn’t.
As @Emma noted, while I’m not familiar with Giorgio Agamben, I can see how this reminds her of work regarding the consequences of the collapse of boundaries between public/private spaces.
4) With a hat tip to @Isobel Carr, at the same time fandom has become fairly mainstream. As a wee thing, I went to San Diego Comic Con when it was a bunch of Comic Book Guys from The Simpsons and card tables covered with long boxes. Now SDCC sells out in a nanosecond, and it’s a huge Hollywood extravaganza. After all, engaged fans buy stuff. A lot of stuff.
And engaged fans squee. Fans gush. Fans use flamethrowers to battle other fans who don’t feel as fannish about the same particular area of fandom.
I’m overgeneralizing, of course. But, and I see it especially in YA and NA, the 5* squee, the book boyfriends, the .gifs, the fan art – that’s behavior borrowed from fandom, IMO. Fans place importance on engaging with the text and its world. And conflict can arise when engaged fans bump up against critical readers, who place importance on reading as a whole and where that particular text falls on their overall enjoyment/quality scale.
Then as Isobel noted, there are fan fiction authors who P2P, or wrote original works, yet expect the same reception they got when writing for fandom.
And it seems to be getting even more contentious.
5) But speaking of bad reviews, just leaving this here from Harvard Business Review:
Bad Reviews Can Boost Sales. Here’s Why http://hbr.org/2012/03/bad-reviews-can-boost-sales-heres-why/ar/1
To answer Janet’s questions: I stopped reviewing on Amazon long ago. I rate on Goodreads, occasionally review. And yes, part of the reason is because the joy went out of it. It’s disheartening when your Amazon “useful” ranking drops like a stone, because critical reviews attract downvotes like bears to honey. I wrote positive reviews, too, but no one felt the need to mass upvote those. I know I shouldn’t care, and 99.9876% of the time I don’t. But even though I stand by my criticism, and would say it to the author’s face, reviewing on Amazon and even Goodreads can feel like spitting into the wind.
Annnnnd….we’re back to Sunita’s market for lemons, as Janet noted.
I have no idea how to change it. I think fannish behavior is here to stay. I think the social media breakdown of barriers between author and reader is here to stay. I think the absence of gatekeepers is here to stay and only going to get worse re: signal to noise. I don’t know how to incentivize authors whose incomes grow exponentially from month to month to hone their craft. And lately I’ve been seeing backlash against reviewers who point out spelling, grammar and punctuation errors (“the author slaved over her baby, autocheck is crappy so errors are to be expected”) so I’m throwing up my hands even though it burns, it burns.
On the other hand, as fandom has proven, people tend to find people who share their interests on the internet. It used to be Goodreads for bookish conversations; maybe now it will be Booklikes or Leafmarks. Or another social site will pop up. There is already a community here and at Smart Bitches.
I’m hoping the further critical readers (i.e. those who engage in critical discussion, not negative-only reviewers) are driven away from commercial sites, the faster an alternative home will present itself.
I have a number of things I want to say and I’m not sure they’re well organized, but here it goes:
1) Online reviewing is less fun for me, but that’s mostly because I’m trying to stand on three horses at once (author! reader! librarian!) and the rules for each conflict occasionally. That’s my fault and my problem and no one else’s, but I wanted to answer the original question.
2) If online reviewing and the online community is less fun for other people (and I believe you when you say it is), that makes me sad. I have learned a lot from this community as a mostly lurker and I would like to continue to learn and grow and think and challenge myself. I don’t always agree, but I almost always have to think, which is never a bad thing.
I love talking about books. I love seeing other people talk about books. I love hearing what people have to say about books, even when they are saying negative things about my books. Book discussions turn a solitary activity into a social one and man is a social animal (even us introverted ones).
All communities change and evolve. It will be interesting to see where this one goes.
3) I was listening to Q with Jian Ghomeshi on my drive home today and he was talking with Clive Someone (http://www.cbc.ca/q/2014/03/25/t-march-25/) about anonymous social media. There were a couple interesting points:
a) The Whisper (which seems truly anonymous) seems to mostly have people share deep personal secrets we can barely admit to ourselves and the comments are generally supportive (eg: “I wish I hadn’t gone into the military. My father said it would turn me into a man and I don’t feel that it has”). While such a place could turn damaging fast, it seems to speak to a need for people to confess.
b) People behave better in online spaces when there is a community and there are community rules that are enforced. So, people behave better here on Dear Author where people return over and over than on a newspaper article where people are fly-by-night. Anonymity has little to do with people behaving badly or not.
Is this true? I don’t know, but it was relevant to the conversation and interesting, so I wanted to share it.
I like this post, and I think it says some important things.
I’ve been troubled by reading the comments on this thread – it seems that there’s a pretty deep well of resentment against authors, at least in some readers, that I was genuinely unaware of. I thought that if I kept my head down and just wrote my best, that would be enough, but apparently I’m still the enemy? (Sorry, not trying to be melodramatic, but I’ve been genuinely shocked by some of the comments).
Anyway, maybe there’s no point in trying to establish common ground, but as AlexaB’s post seemed so reasonable to me, I thought I’d pull out this little bit:
“I don’t know how to incentivize authors whose incomes grow exponentially from month to month to hone their craft. And lately I’ve been seeing backlash against reviewers who point out spelling, grammar and punctuation errors (“the author slaved over her baby, autocheck is crappy so errors are to be expected”) so I’m throwing up my hands even though it burns, it burns.”
And I’d point out that this situation is at LEAST as discouraging to responsible authors as it is to readers and reviewers. That exponential income growth? I’m working hard to improve my writing and hone my craft, and I’m not seeing the growth. I AM seeing in it authors who don’t seem to know or care about the things I’ve been told I should know and care about (like clear language, consistent characterization, and coherent plots).
So, no, I’m not asking for pity, or for anyone to care about the plight of the poor author. But trust me when I say that I don’t write for sales, AND I don’t write for gushing reviews, because I’ve long-since learned that neither of those scales bears any relevance to MY goals for my writing. I write to tell the stories I want to tell, with the characters I care about.
I’m supposed to go out of my way to protect Readers and Reviewers and make them feel that they’re in a safe zone? Wait a second. If I’m being lumped in with the poorly behaving authors, why can’t I lump all readers and reviewers in with the people who send the sales through the roof and leave all the five-star reviews for books that seem, to me, to be worthless?
Nah. I’m going back to my keep-my-head-down-and-write strategy. If you like my books, cool. If you don’t, fine. There are problems in the Romance community, absolutely, but acting as if authors are the only problem seems ridiculous.
Oops. That went a bit astray from my ‘find common ground’ goal, but I think I’m going to leave it. Critical exchanges of ideas are valuable, right?
Well, I’m an author (although a slowass one who hasn’t published in three years) and, yes, I’m a reader – I’ve been a reader far longer than a writer. I’ve never reviewed books and don’t intend to start.
I really do believe — I have to believe — that the majority of authors are professional, socially competent, hinged individuals and that the majority of reviewers and readers are the same.
The big guns like Rice, I think, still haven’t adjusted to the fact that the hoi polloi can now opine on books, and find an audience for their opinions. There are no longer any gatekeepers, and you don’t have to have a paying gig with a paper or magazine in order to write book reviews that people want to read. The result is a lot of bestseller butthurt. Let’s remember that years ago, Rice got huffy when someone (a pro reviewer in a magazine, I think, but I’m not sure) remarked that the quality of her work had been declining, in his opinion, and that she needed tighter editing. Rice was incensed, and said she didn’t use an editor anymore, because she didn’t need one. A writer who thinks they don’t need an editor is a writer who doesn’t handle negative feedback well.
As for indie authors, they don’t know how to handle negative reviews because they haven’t had an editor or fellow writers talk to them about it. They’ve never been professionally edited, which hurts a hell of a lot worse than a bad review. And some have this airy fairey view of writing and publishing; they haven’t internalized that it’s a business and that the relationship between reader and author is first and primarily commercial.
Nasty, personal reviews are not a problem requiring a solution and even if they were, any solution would be worse than the problem; policing content inevitably leads to suppression of expression. It’s the same with piracy – any solution to the supposed problem leads to abuse of due process. (Yes, always. Yes, necessarily.) And the idea that reviewers aren’t as entitled to anonymity as writers is just stupid.
Finally, there is no reason – none, ever, at all, no exceptions – for an author to respond publicly to a review or a reviewer. I think readers/reviewers on the one hand, and authors on the other, should behave like British aristocrats at a country house weekend: Everyone politely pretends we’re not doing what we all know we’re doing.
Thanks, Robin, for another good opinion piece, and thanks everyone for contributing to the discussion. I had a crappy day at work, and reading this nice long thread was the highlight of my day so far.
I am still having fun, but not as much fun, and only because I take steps (which often aren’t fun) to safeguard my fun. I don’t often write snarky reviews, but only because I’m not good at it; I love reading them, and I passionately believe that not-nice, negative, snarky, whatever reviews are valuable to the reader community. (I also think they sell books, but that’s not what I think reader responses to books are for.) I am very averse to “tone policing”; being told how I ought to speak, or having a finger wagged at me for my choice of how to express my opinion, puts me off like very few other things. I stay away from places and people trying to cramp my style, and that means some authors don’t get reviewed (or probably even read, since I have a hard time with the bad taste in my mouth) and some web sites don’t get read (so book reviews there have no impact on my decisions of what to buy/read). That includes Goodreads, which made me sad. I am also less likely to post a mixed or less-than rave review of a work by an author I don’t know, because I don’t want to risk that kind of attention. Don’t have time for it.
As a reviewer, I really appreciate when an author makes it clear that she appreciates readers and supports their right to say what they want about a book. Authors such as Meljean Brook, Ilona Andrews and Courtney Milan are easier for me to review because I know that’s how they feel. Courtney’s books usually contain something about appreciating all honest review; smart lady.
I agree with others in the thread who’ve pointed out that the worst thing that can happen to a book is obscurity. And fewer of us talking about books means the odds of yours getting talked about just went down. Encouraging honest discussion of books, in whatever tone the reader wants to express herself, has to be better than stifling discourse.
I’m also really tired of the word “bullying” be used about strong language or strong opinions among adults. I refuse to let That Site redefine the word.
I’ll be honest with my review style. I review primarily at the 3 out of 5 star range. I find most books to be enjoyable but average. I’ll rate a book higher if it seems particularly amazing or it just really struck my fancy. At the same time I usually reserve 1-2-DNF for books that either offend, annoy, or have major problems.
That being said, my best written reviews are negative reviews. I think it is harder to write an average review than the extremes. What do you say about the fourteenth book in a series that followed the same exact formula of the past 13? It was great. I had fun. Now let’s move on.
The negative reviews always have more details. I really rant about the reason I gave up on it or the reason I was so bothered by the characters or the writing. I want people to know why I think this doesn’t deserve a second look. I want to highlight my problems with it. If someone buys it or reads it and likes the book then GREAT! It worked for them. It did not for me.
At the same time I have revised reviews. I have re-read books a year later because of the fan adoration and upgraded the review from a 2 to a 3. I’ve adjusted it because it read better, my mood was better, or I got something more out of it.
I get tired of reviewing when I get a lot of average books. Fun but not ones I’ll probably read again…
I have loads of fun reviewing and generally being part of Romancelandia. Being part of the community is the main reason I started blogging and I love to talk romance books. I avoid books by badly behaving authors – that still leaves me plenty of books. Maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe I’m just oblivious but it’s still fun for me. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t do it.
@AlexaB: Second this all the way.
I agree with every word of this, thank you for brain-tapping me.
Inspired by this thread I’ve put up a ‘note on reviews’ disclaimer on my blog. I found it immensely depressing to have to state explicitly, ‘I will not behave like a screaming toddler,’ but it may help, and certainly it can’t hurt.
@Sandra Schwab: Fixed. ;)
@Jayne: Thanks bunches! :-)
This is the best thing I have read about this topic ever. I am so disgusted with some authors’ attitude that just because they wrote a book they are somehow entitled to positive reviews. You get what you earn. If the book sucks, I am not going to pretend it doesn’t. I think there is something good in every book, even if all it is is a good premise or title, but there is something. That doesn’t mean I will lie and recommend a book that I wanted to throw at a wall because it was so horrendously trite or written by an adult who apparently never made it past the third-grade or who has ostensibly never read a book in his/her life. I refuse to pander to these authors. If actors acted like this people would laugh in their faces and their careers would be over. I refuse to read Anne Rice or any of the author numerous authors who act like spoiled brats and control freaks. It is unprofessional, childish, manipulative, and unintelligent. There are way too many books and authors out there to be concerned with these several.
I’m pulling this out because it encapsulates a couple of your points. I don’t speak for anyone else in the thread, but in my case I’m not making the suggestion that you go out of your way for the sake of readers and reviewers, but for your own interests. Those interests happen to coincide with those of *some* readers and reviewers, but not all. I agree that there are worthless reviews and I’ve spoken earlier of fans going after reviewers, etc.
I totally agree there are good authors and maybe the good authors way outnumber the ones with bad behavior and/or little talent. The point is, they are loud, and they are having an effect. Bloggers and readers and reviewers DO call out bad reviews and bad fan behavior. We’ve written about it here at DA, there have been huge threads and battles on Goodreads, and plenty of talk on other blogs and Twitter.
The problem isn’t that authors aren’t doing a good enough job of looking out for readers. The problem is that readers and reviewers feel inundated by the badly behaved ones. If you don’t want to socialize those people within your profession, or you think it’s a lost cause, then the alternative is to hive yourself off from them and find a way to communicate to readers that you *are* a professional author with standards of conduct that help readers and reviewers feel comfortable.
The issue, ironically, can be labeled with today’s buzzword: discoverability. If a reader/reviewer can’t predict your behavior, she’s going to be less willing to chance the risk, given the bad behavior that is out there all over the place. It’s not about you protecting her, it’s about you giving her information.
@Ridley: Love your approach to reviews! I just don’t have the time to get involved in any controversies. If the public, including readers and authors, like my reviews, great. If not, it does not impact my life.
Adding a disclaimer about reviews never occurred to me but, sadly, I think it’s a good idea. “I graduated high school many, many years ago. I appreciate readers who take the time to post reviews. If you give one of my books a negative review–even if it’s poorly written, even if it’s needlessly hostile, even if it’s obvious you’re reviewing a book I didn’t actually write–I’m not going to do anything but chug a bottle of wine. And since I’d do that anyway, have it.”
The thing that really pisses me off is–you don’t see this particular issue in other genre fiction. Not in SF or in mystery (is there a mystery community?) or anywhere else. This notion that readers should be solicitous of authors’ tender feelings, or that it’s acceptable for readers to harass reviewers on behalf of their favorite authors, is bizarre and, I think, confined to romance. Which is — not coincidentally, it has to be said — written and consumed by women. It conforms to every negative stereotype of bitchy, hysterical, weak women who can’t play with the big boys.
I’m just pulling this out because it bears repeating.
I’m a reader/reviewer. I blog for the fun of it. Because I love books, I love the written word, and I love talking about these stories that have so enriched my life. I love spreading the joy of great books. I love talking with like-minded (and different-minded) readers about books. It’s a joy that I can’t find anywhere else. Books have given me so much, blogging is a way for me to be a part of the rich community that exists and give something to other readers.
To answer the question, I do still have fun with blogging and reviewing, but it’s because I’ve put a lot of limitations on both what I request, what I actually read, and what I review. I do request books from NetGalley for review, so I get a fair number of eARCs. I get a smaller number of print ARCs. If I enjoy the book I always buy it in ebook format (and often in print format too). But that majority of the books I review, I’ve bought.
I think that, by and large, most authors aren’t like the ones that are out there siccing their readers on reviews they don’t like, calling reviewers names, stalking and doing other despicable things against readers. I truly believe that most authors are great people – I know a lot of them are. I don’t want it to seem like I paint all authors with the same brush. At the same time, we’re (reader/reviewers) are being inundated by the truly loud authors that are doing these discouraging things. They’re virulent, they never stop, and they just keep doing it. It’s so utterly tiring every time I see it happen. And I don’t go looking for these things, they happen to friends, to people that I interact with on a daily basis (luckily never to myself yet).
I started keeping track of authors that do this sort of thing so I can never, ever support them. And that’s as far as I meant to take it. But, getting back to Sunita’s quote, what I’ve found has happened is that I’m far less likely to pick up a book by an unknown author, one whom I won’t know how they’re going to react when I review their book – because I don’t know how if I’m going to like it or not before I pick it up. And I do actually go into (almost) every book thinking I’m going to like it, or at least hoping so. And if I hate it? If it pushes my rage buttons, the question always in the back of my mind is ‘Am I going to have to deal with bullshit drama because I hate this book?’ and then I end up not requesting it, not buying it, not reading it. It’s not even a conscious choice, and I didn’t really think of it this way until I read this post and discussion.
Maybe that’s my loss, but it’s really the author’s loss. I’m just losing out on a possibly good book (my to-be-read list is more than long enough to last me the next 10 years, this isn’t a loss I think about for long). The author’s losing out on me knowing who they are, what they write, and me becoming a possible FAN. That loses them out on me spreading the word of their great book to my friends, possibly buying multiple copies, having friends buy copies and spread the word to their friends, and so on and so forth. Or even if I don’t like the book, authors are missing out on having their work talked about – I’ve bought plenty of books based on negative reviews. There are some reviewers I follow just to buy whatever books they hate because we have absolutely opposite tastes. That’s getting into a slightly tangential subject though.
Honestly, most authors I’ve seen post here (and quite a few elsewhere) I already had a safe feeling with, I know where they stand on reviews and letting the readers say what they say. To add to this, when I see authors take a strong stand against the crap that some other authors do and instigate towards reader/reviewers that author almost always ends up on my TBR. Stacia Kane is a great example. I was ‘meh’ about Unholy Ghosts, but I’ve bought every book she’s written. I haven’t read them yet, but I fully intend to give them another try.
Back on point, I have to agree with the others that have said that not only is this in readers’ best interests, it’s really in authors’ best interests to make sure readers know we can be comfortable reviewing truthfully and honestly.
Not saying that this is a good thing, but there’s plenty of bad author behavior coming out of horror, fantasy, science fiction, as well as (from what I’ve seen) mostly New Adult romance. And some of the BBAs are ostensibly male.
If there’s a common denominator, I’d say it’s lack of experience in the writing game: Not just in terms of paying their dues, so to speak, but in learning the whole craft, everything from spelling and grammar and vocabulary to story development and characterization to going through the critique and editing process and including choice of cover art and formatting a digital book for publication.
But I’d also say that the percentage of authors who do this is very small, even out of those who have written totally terrible books. So I personally have no qualms about writing a review of a shitty book, and if the author responds inappropriately, they get labeled. Maybe if enough of this behavior were called out for what it is, it would stop. I just don’t think backing away from the problem is the way to solve it.
@Kinsey – I think it is an issue in SF/F, not that I follow that community closely. The Aaronovitch (sp?) kerfuffle was about how authors should/shouldn’t comment on reviews and I think that was mostly in SF/F fan space, not romance.
YA spans multiple genres / communities and it seems prone to this sort of thing.
Linda: That makes sense. I too think a lot of it comes from the self-published authors – I know that will offend some people, and I agree that the percentage of unhinged authors is small; I’m not attempting to paint indie authors with a broad brush — but I don’t think it’s coincidental that this issue got real big and ugly right about the time that self-publishing took off.
@Kinsey: There is some drama in SFF and horror but just not to the level that YA/NA and Romance has had. Though it pains me that the creator of that hate site professed to write fantasy.
After looking through a long list of badly behaving authors by name, I’m inclined to say Romance is getting a bad rap. Are there some really notorious individuals coming out of the genre? Yes, no question. But many of the worst are not.
I’m often perhaps a bit too eager to blame Romance Writers of America for its long history of coddling the aspiring writers and giving them a sense of entitlement, but at least RWA gave the writers a lot of opportunity for learning the craft and learning the business. And it did foster a sense of community, of give-and-take, and of respect.
Are the badly behaving YA and NA “romance” authors coming out of that tradition, or are they more the products of a culture of instant gratification/bratification so that their books, except for the sexual content, are less like romance novels and more like reality (?) TV?
@Linda Hilton: You know, I think you’re right Linda. Maybe it’s more YA/NA than romance novelists now.
I agree w/LindaH and Mrs. Joseph. The badly behaving authors are not disproportionately romance authors. YA, Fantasy, YA+Fantasy, but also straight SFF, thriller, and even non-fiction. If you look at who argues with reviewers on Amazon boards, who tries to get reviewers to pull or change reviews, and who buys reviews, there are a lot of male, non-romance-genre names on there.
As y’all are saying this, I recall that Alice Hoffman tweeted the home phone number of a critic who gave her a mildly negative review — and it was a critic for a major publication IIRC.
Yes, this is very important. I quit reviewing for most of 2013 as I lost so much faith in the authors, especially the self-published ones. And to some degree, I lost faith in the reviewers who appeared to game the system too. I didn’t want to support any author who felt they had some exclusive right to tell reviewers what is and is not an acceptable review. I was so done with authors trying to manipulate the review system so it was most beneficial to them (as opposed to the readers). I was so done with them yelling ‘bully!’ at anything that pricked their tender sensibilities. I was so done with the Facebook rants which released the fan-poodles to attack reviewers. And I was so done with the constant and ignorant threats of lawsuits or ‘public outings’ pointed at nearly every reviewer who dared to speak up about an authors bad book or their online behavior.
But in late 2013 I finally realized that none of this drama is ever going to go away, and that the reader/author dynamics have simply changed, and not for the better. I so missed the better days when it was about the reader-to-reader interactions. I missed all the laughs we shared over some absurd plot, and the open conversations about what made a great romance hero. The fun interactions with the other readers who shared the love of reading and reviewing as I do was what always kept me motivated, but so much of that stopped when it became clear authors are reading everything we write, and if they don’t like what we say we risk their backlash. Personally, I can take the backlash, but these days there are many who are too afraid to offend the authors. So bit by bit these freely open conversations about a book, it’s good and bad points, started to dry up. What we had left was a lot of drama, and not the fun kind.
Then I finally realized I had to say fuck it to all of this drama if I ever want to capture the fun times again, and I started reviewing full-steam ahead once again in late 2013. Seriously, I didn’t want the whiners to win, and it dawned on me that was slowly happening. So I even forgave Goodreads for its huge misstep last year, and began reviewing and socializing on that site again with vigor. If I want to help keep those once wonderful groups alive, and do my part in contributing honest reviews, I can’t worry about what books I should or shouldn’t read until I know if the author is sane or crazy. Now, if I end up reading and reviewing an author who later proves to disappoint me, I will just delete the review and move on. (And, sadly I have. I recently deleted a 5-star review on Amazon after the author blogged her support for the silly Anne Rice petition, citing only reviews on Amazon should be under real names only. Uh, not a problem. DELETE!)
It took a while but if finally dawned on me that if I honestly write reviews for the readers and not the authors, then I needed to let all of the drama go and just do what I love to do. Chat with who I love to chat with. And I will deal with the drama as it comes, but I can’t worry about it anymore. Still, it makes me feel so good when I read about an author who supports the readers and reviewers. I have read some great posts by authors that really helped restore my faith and remind me that we are not all ‘enemies’. When I read that recommendation in this article my first thought was “Yes! Good idea!” I would love to see more of this, if I am being truthful.
I second (third, fourth?) the opinions that this is not just limited to Romance.
I also want to point out that it’s not limited to bloggers; in fact, one of the reasons I framed this post the way I did (and thank you, Liz, for pointing that out, because I forgot to address it in the post), is because a lot of this crap is going on at what I would cal the front lines of reader reviewing — that is, among readers who don’t have the platform of a blog from which to defend themselves.
Thinking more about this fandom angle, though, I do wonder if other genre communities operate like Romance, where so many readers are also aspiring authors. Is this a genre fic norm? Because that was one of the things that surprised me the most when I arrived in the online Romance community — the extent to which it was difficult to tell who was also working their way toward publication. There seemed to be a certain set of community expectations that came with that kind of set-up, but over the last few years (IMO since Fifty Shades and the crossover of YA/NA to film and other broader venues), I think we’ve had more “pure readers” posting reviews at Amazon, for example, where you see a lot of these skirmishes happening. For a while I thought that this new-reader influx was going to help regenerate the community after the fracturing we saw in the wake of 50, but every time I see another incident of a less than 4 or 5 star review getting a ton of down votes or back-talking comments, I feel frustrated and discouraged.
If I think about the author when reading or reviewing a book, then that author has absolutely failed to write a story that I can just immerse myself into. There is zero about an author’s life (including how hard they work, how hard they have it or what professional services they cannot afford) or whether they are traditional or self-published that matters to my reading experience.
Other than saying new-to-me, favorite author, any connection to an author (FTC requires on sites like gr and amazon), a how discovered anecdote, their writing and writing style, there is zero about an author that I have ever put in a book review. (I did link to one author’s own review of their books as I felt it was way more indicative of the story than anything I could say.).
Almost every internet site has a TOS/guidelines prohibiting any content attacking or bullying others (that includes domain name hosting sites and blog sites like WordPress and Blogger)–that’s sufficient restriction for a review and “others” also means authors.
It’s completely unfair to expect book buyers to consider the author’s feelings otherwise. Anymore than my not liking the size of my utensil tray in a certain brand of dishwasher is bullying the CEO and all the hundreds of local employees involved in making the dishwasher.
I boycott any author who equates a rating or review with bullying (again, actual attacks, harassment, and bullying content are against site TOS and support should he contacted to get it removed). I rant widely about authors who feel that they are entitled to counter-attack and go to sites that consider real world stalking/bullying of readers/reviewers is justified because they said something negative about the product and are seen as thwarting its success. Or who say stupid things like “I will defend myself” when the book and not the person was attacked.
I keep linking again and again to a very reasonable post here on Dear Author about taking the bull out of book review bullying: https://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/taking-the-bull-out-of-book-review-bullying which among other things notes:
“… what often happens in these situations is that the author in question, who feels personally attacked …sort of combines all of the individual critical voices together and calls “bully,” not because there is a repeated pattern of victimization, but because more than one reader criticizes the author’s commercial product…”
Does it make me naïve that I’d just give my eyeteeth for the attention to my books reviews bring, good or bad? The whole issue strikes me as somewhat ungrateful on the authors’ part, but maybe that’s just me and the stage I’m at in my self-publishing career.
I have watched this debate in various forms for several years now, and talked with several of you here and on Twitter about unprofessional author behaviour and how reviews are for readers, no ifs, buts or maybes about it. I have often wondered what I can do to stick my stake in the sand, other than make those contributions and my own feelings on the subject clear and plain, and without getting into the rather dodgy area of offering “advice” to unknown authors or “policing” their behaviour. I really like the suggestion of adding something to my website suggesting that I welcome all reviews, negative or positive, and I will be adding something as soon as I have an opportunity to do so. In my experience, however, I don’t attract readers who are so gung-ho about my books they are prepared to hunt dissenters down and argue with them. I think perhaps that’s more a reflection of the style of book I write (the sub genre, if you will), and it does seem to me as someone mentioned above that there are certain sub genres that attract more cultish-slavish followings amongst readers, which often leads to some of the “ganging up” attacks we’ve seen in the past. Perhaps another option might be for the author community – maybe through one of the professional organisations – coming up with a code of conduct that authors can sign up to and – maybe – badge their sites and books with to indicate to readers that there will be no backlash for reviews that might be deemed by some to be negative. At least readers would then have some visual indicator that an author they are reading will not engage in unprofessional behaviour before choosing to review their book or not. I should state, for the record, that I have no idea how you’d even begin to go about organising something like this, or even if other authors would be willing to get on board and support such a movement. But maybe it’s the seed of an idea…?
I finally had a chance to catch up with all these posts, so please forgive the late response. I still believe that it’s best for authors to concentrate on their writing and do their best not to get upset by reviews. I also still believe that it’s not my place to criticize other authors for how they respond to snarky reviews. They are going to get called out if they do, and it will seem like the author is poking her nose into something that isn’t her business.
There are going to be reviewers who treat authors with respect, even if they don’t like the particular book they’re reading. I am fine with that. In fact, I appreciate honest reviews! I’m also happy to say that most of the reviews I receive are respectful, even the one star reviews that pop up from time to time.
But please let me leave you with an example of the type of review that I think shows how difficult it is for an author to hold her tongue/fingers when she’s faced with this kind of disrespect. From an iBook reader:
“This would have been at least four stars and possibly five had the explicit sex scenes been left out. I always wonder if the writer is a frustrated person with little satisfaction in life to find it necessary to write such trashy stories. Life can be interesting and enjoyable without the graphic side emphasized. Apparently education does not beget wisdom.”
And to think, I thought I had a wonderful life! Now that she’s pointed out how unhappy I must be, perhaps I should reassess that. :P
@Sandy James: While I will agree that the comment was unnecessary, rude and mean-spirited – there IS a reason people always caution authors not to read their reviews. Just think, you could have never even known about that comment…
Reviews are just one person’s opinion and opinions are like assholes – everybody has one.
Reviews are also for readers, so that comment would have never deterred me from buying the book in question. In fact, I would have been curious about the sex scenes because I LIKE sex scenes. So instead of getting upset and worried that some asshole made an asshole comment, you should feel secure that the asshole told people like me that the content I am looking for is inside of your book.
I try not to read reviews, but the temptation is sometimes too hard to resist. ;)
I am very happy to hear that’s how a lot of readers react to a review like that. You made my day. :)
I’ve gotten one star reviews complaining about the sexual content of my books. I’ve gotten racist reviews. It really isn’t worth getting into as an author: it lets other readers who are similarly inclined skip the book, and for everyone else . . . do you really think a comment like that is going to sway most readers? The fact that it goes low-blow personal and sex-shaming says more about the commenter than it does about your book. It’s rude, but it STILL doesn’t require or warrant an authorial response. And really, if readers take a comment like that to heart, are they the kind of readers you even want?
I agree! I only used the quick quote to emphasize how difficult it is for authors to hold their tongues and tempers sometimes. But I will try. To respond to something like that would get me nowhere, nor do I care to even try. I teach, and I see a lot of this kind of meanness in students. I could lecture them on why their attitudes are wrong and how they won’t go far in the world, but I would be wasting my breath.
I especially love your last comment. Truly captures my thoughts as well. :)
@Sandy James: I would have had the same reaction as @MrsJoseph to that comment.
I am a reader only and appreciate reviews not only as a means of helping me decide what to buy, but as the opening to a discussion about a book. I don’t always agree with a reviewer’s opinion of a book, but if the review is honest, then a discussion can happen and while we may never agree, we can hopefully have a little bit of fun in the exchange of ideas. If a reviewer gives a dishonest review in order to please/promote an author or because the reviewer is being paid, the value of that review for me is nil. It has no value in helping me to decide whether I want to buy a book and no value in starting a discussion as no discussion will be possible . Part of the fun of the online book community is the opportunity it gives me, as a reader, to engage in such discussions.
I would point out to authors that readers are intelligent and we can figure out for ourselves what reviews have value and which ones don’t. If a someone gives a book a 1* review because he/she didn’t like the cover, as I reader I can pretty much dismiss that review as worthless. If someone gives a book a 1* review because of anything to do with the writing (including spelling and grammar), I’m going to take that seriously because it isn’t “all about the story or “all about the characters” for me. For some readers such things won’t matter. Similarly if I see a slew of 4 and 5* reviews for a book that gush, I’m going to assume it’s a street team or fan club posting reviews and I’m not going to buy that book without a recommendation from someone I trust.
In my opinion, an author who demands anything less than a honest review from anyone is showing complete disrespect for his or her readers’ intelligence and I really don’t need to support anyone who shows that kind of disrespect to me as a reader.
And this is where authors need to trust their readers. Because as I’m sure you are already aware, not everyone is your reader. But if I came across that review? I’m hitting the one-click buy button because HELL YEAH explicit love scenes!!! Meanwhile, I’m thinking that reviewer must be the frustrated, less than satisfied (in all meanings of the word) one.
In other words, we’re READERS. Authors trust us to parse their novels and understand things like subtext and theme; they should also trust us to parse reviews accordingly. I have no doubt this review stung; I also highly doubt it will deter any of your readers from buying the book. The opposite, actually. (And do you want readers who clutch their pearls so tightly over love scenes? I’m thinking not. So she/he kinda did you a favor by warning off others who might leave similar reviews…)
It’s obvious when reviews are grinding personal axes or showing off reviewers’ hot buttons. Or when a review is full of faked puffery. Truly, it is. Or when a review is thoughtful and well-supported, but the reviewer’s problems with the book are actually selling points for person reading the review. We all read as individuals. (I bet when Amazon came up with the “Is this useful” voting mechanism, that’s what they were going for – to help weed the wildly subjective from the more objective, ostensibly more “helpful” reviews. Unfortunately, up/down voting on Amazon has become gamified and its utility vastly diminished.)
Again, authors trust us to be able to read and understand their words. They need to trust us to use those same powers of comprehension when it comes to reviews. IMO, much of the public author/reader drama would be avoided if authors would allow us this trust and not visibly comment on negative reviews.
@Lynnd: “I would point out to authors that readers are intelligent and we can figure out for ourselves what reviews have value and which ones don’t.”
That’s exactly what I tell myself! It truly helps me cope with unkind sentiments. And I totally agree with wanting an honest review. I’d ask no less of my readers. :)
@AlexaB “In other words, we’re READERS. Authors trust us to parse their novels and understand things like subtext and theme; they should also trust us to parse reviews accordingly.”
Fascinating discussion! I am a reader and I still enjoy reviewing books. I expect reviews on Amazon to be sales pitches – I mean, it’s a sales site. I don’t think I would ever put a negative review on Amazon, as I don’t think it’s my place to discourage someone from buying a book just because I didn’t like it. If I enjoyed or really liked a book, then I put up an amazon review, but it’s short and sweet, not a rehashing of the whole plot. I expect more critical reviews to show up on Goodreads, and that would be a place where I would write a review for a book that I thought was 2 or 3 star – complete with my opinions for why I would rate that book so low. If you just say, 2 star, I didn’t like it – it has no meaning; equally so for 5 star – it was great! reviews. If it’s a self published book that has a lot of grammatical errors I will comment on that on GR – I might have still enjoyed the overall plot of the book and I’ll note that too. I would be actually very surprised if an author commented back to me that they didn’t like my review! I don’t write it based on wondering whether they will care about it or not , I just write it to express my opinion, which other people can take or leave as they may. I think as an author you have to have a pretty thick skin and take all reviews with a grain of salt.
I find it fascinating that we have discussion after discussion after discussion on this issue with the same things being said over and over again. This is the publishing world today. And as I’ve said before, we only have ourselves to blame.
What did people think would happen when self-publishing was so highly encouraged? Sure, it gave authors another outlet to publish their books (good) but it gave authors another outlet to publish books that should not be published. However, those books? Well, readers appear to want them.
I’m going to get into trouble for saying this and I don’t mean it necessarily the way it will come out but someone noted that “readers are intelligent” and @AlexaB, who made a lot of comments I agree with, said, “And this is where authors need to trust their readers” and “Authors trust us to parse their novels and understand things like subtext and theme; they should trust us to parse reviews accordingly.”
I’m sorry—readers of today are VERY different then readers of the past. In the creating a market for lemons post, I noted that readers today (a lot, not all) have set the bar very low in terms of their expectations of quality of the product (books). @Noelle said, “…books can be commercial successes now without any legitimate claims of quality…”
THIS is the industry today and authors who take time with their craft and produce a quality product are still out there but get lost in the low expectations so many readers appear to have. I don’t care of someone writes a great story—crappy writing shouldn’t be excused.
How do you expect authors to trust readers? And vice versa, how do we expect readers to trust authors when a negative review of a beloved book is likely to result in attacks? I don’t know the answer; I wish I did.
I’m an author who writes non-erotic, non-BDSM, GLBT, vampires or any of the tropes readers find so wonderful today. I’ve honed my craft over the last 20 years. I’m not perfect but I think I’m pretty darn good. I get five star reviews but even if I got one star, I’m grateful for those readers who not only took the time to read my book, but took time to write a review. I’m not going to attack them for leaving a bad review. Doesn’t matter. I’m up against a slew of books that should never have seen the light of day (again, not all-there are some true self-pubbed and digital press gems out there I’ve loved finding) and their readers who are okay with a poor product.
I’m old school. Seems like a lot of authors and reviewers on Dear Author are and we know how to behave. However, we aren’t the ones controlling the market and pushing out the gatekeepers. Well, maybe some of us with all the self-pubbed we buy or, um, get for free. Okay, yes, I do sometimes but I really try to read them all. Honestly. Or start reading but if the craft sucks, I’m not going to waste my time finishing even if the story is good. Anyway, as I’ve said before, people who comment here really seem to care. Many, many others don’t.
Until readers start demanding a better quality product and voice their disapproval of a badly crafted product, nothing will change. What we have is a marketplace full of people who have not learned the hard way like old school folks who spent years honing their craft, receiving gatekeeper rejection after rejection and yet still preserving. We have people who can throw up a book, put it out there for free or .99 and readers will glom onto them with five stars gushing reviews. And I do agree that the most “noise” tends to come from YA/NA authors and readers.
A final note, I agree with @jamie beck when she pondered if certain authors’ rants come from a perception that there are certain “author darlings” whose books always get good reviews (even if a particular book is not great). She’s right. I see it all the time with hugely popular review sites and have stopped my subscription to RT because not only do the same author darlings get reviewed constantly, but their reviews are ALWAYS top. I’ve read some of those author darlings and those books didn’t deserve the glowing ratings while others from not so darling authors either aren’t reviewed are just given a meh. There is a bias and no one needs to do a study to prove it. Just take a look at RT’s reviews in the magazine each month. It’s all right there.
I don’t want readers to feel as if they’ll get backlash from leaving negative reviews. I’m saddened by that. Means it will be even harder for me to get reviews as reviewers stop taking new ones except by authors they know—and trust. I don’t know how to fix it. I only know it is what it is and all the discussion isn’t going to change a thing. Maybe it helps to discuss with like-minded people.
@MrsJoseph said it best: “I MISS TradPub and desperately want it to come back in all its gatekeeperness.” Yes, pretty please.
Nicely said. Thank you.
@Cassie: Does RT ever give anyone a less than glowing review? I’m not being snide; I have literally never seen one there. But I don’t find their reviews substantial, so haven’t read many.
More tl; dr. Someday I’ll learn to be succinct. Today obviously wasn’t that day.
“I’m sorry—readers of today are VERY different then readers of the past. In the creating a market for lemons post, I noted that readers today (a lot, not all) have set the bar very low in terms of their expectations of quality of the product (books). @Noelle said, “…books can be commercial successes now without any legitimate claims of quality…”
THIS is the industry today and authors who take time with their craft and produce a quality product are still out there but get lost in the low expectations so many readers appear to have. I don’t care of someone writes a great story—crappy writing shouldn’t be excused.
How do you expect authors to trust readers? And vice versa, how do we expect readers to trust authors when a negative review of a beloved book is likely to result in attacks? I don’t know the answer; I wish I did.”
Since you mentioned my comment:
I think there are a few different things at work. One is the absence of traditional gatekeepers and the subsequent, in the words of Chuck Wendig, “self publishing shit volcano.” I don’t mean to touch off another battle in the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing war, and certainly there are self-published books of amazing quality (I’m glomming Courtney Milan at the mo). I’m all for authors taking control of their careers and their books.
But yes, there are authors out there who would’ve never received a traditional publishing contract for very good reasons, yet are (according to their self reported numbers) raking in the dough. While other authors who care deeply about things like character arc and story structure and theme, not to mention the basic mechanics of written English, are swallowed by the lava flow. It’s frustrating as a reader, and I can imagine doubly so for an author.
And maybe readers’ expectations have been lowered (is it horribly, horribly snarky, snobbish and wrong of me to point out, at least in YA/NA and perhaps romance and erotica, these might be readers brought into the market because they thought Twilight and Fifty Shades were TEH BEST THING EVAH so, um, yeah, perhaps not the most sophisticated and discerning readers that ever existed?).
But I’m hoping….and it might be a vain one…that as these readers continue to read and expand their personal libraries, they might find themselves liking and seeking out the better crafted books over the slapdash written to market books. I know I evolved as a reader. I look back at some of my favorite books as a teen and I cringe. But hey, they helped make me into a voracious reader so I thank them.
We’re in an unprecedented time for publishing. As Janet noted, the analogies are the Wild West and gold rushes. But eventually law came to the West and the miners abandoned the gold fields when the veins were tapped out. It might take some time, but I do think the volcano will cool down and cream will rise to the top and all sorts of mixed metaphors.
Or it could just be a vain hope.
Two is the escalation of author/reader drama, usually touched off by negative reviews. This is where I urged authors to trust readers. And I still stand by it. Authors need to trust that readers will parse the negative and/or positive reviews to figure out if the book is right for them.
Take the example of RT. I’ve never seen anything less than a three star review from RT, and that’s rare Most reviews are uniformly positive, which – going back to Sunita’s market for lemons – means that RT isn’t a very valuable signal for me. It’s like a film review from Hollywood Reporter or Variety. They’re not going to bite down hard on the hands that feed them advertising.
I sympathize re: how it must rankle those who feel they aren’t an author darling, but if a reader feels the same way – the review overpraised the book – the next time reviewer name pops up, the reader will discount that reviewer’s opinion. That was one of the great things about Goodreads BA (Before Amazon): you could find likeminded readers and follow them to discover new books (and which ones to avoid). Too bad Goodreads AA appears to prioritize the author’s ability to directly market over readers’ ability to organically discover books, especially since word of mouth/organic is one of the most effective ways to sell books.
Just as authors don’t want to get lumped into the badly behaving category, readers don’t want to get lumped into the “will mindlessly swallow whatever someone says about a book, good or bad” category.
Third is the sense that I see floating around – not necessarily here on DA, but elsewhere – that publishing is a zero sum game, and a sale for Author A directly takes money from Author B. Or a negative review directly correlates to quantifiable lost sales (which…huh?!)
And I go back to fandom behaviors here. Squeeing and gushing over creators/authors and proclaiming BEST _____ EVAH!!!! are part of it. But in my experience, fandom – and certain corners of the book review world – can also feel like a cage match to the death. If you aren’t with me, you’re against me and must be destroyed!!!!!
And in their haste to secure victory, authors release fans – either knowingly or by tacitly endorsing their behavior – who end up knocking the reader out.
But it’s not a zero sum game. A sale for author A does not mean one less sale for author B. It’s not television or even film, where there are only so many time slots on so many channels or so many cinema screens in the world so U MUST WATCH/GO TO THE MOVIES NAOW if you want more of that content (and even that’s changing with digital distribution – witness Netflix and its original series). With the advent of ebooks and the erosion of bookstore shelf space, publishing is no longer a finite pie with only so many slices to go around.
Janet called for authors to cultivate an environment where readers feel safe to express an honest opinion. Perhaps this includes authors reminding their peers that a rising tide floats ALL boats and the more readers who engage deeply with books, the more potential audience for everyone? After all, the reader who didn’t like Author’s A explicit sex scene may love Author B’s sweet Regency. And the reader who was disappointed that Author C’s paranormal romance didn’t include shapeshifters may love Author D’s weregiraffes. If reviews are genuine and not a) paid for, b) orchestrated by the author, c) driven by an agenda – then awesome! Someone who loves and buys books!
But if readers are chased away by attack fans and organized downvote campaigns and outright doxxing by enraged authors – well, the pie in theory is not finite, but readers’ time is. Spending leisure time doing something other than reading is always a possibility.
And everyone loses.
@Cassie: I agree that crappy writing should not be excused, but I do disagree with you about the fact that “a lot” of readers don’t “care”. I would argue that a lot of readers really do care and don’t ever venture into even trying self-published books and that kerfuffles and bad author behaviour certainly don’t encourage them to even try (assuming they are even aware of these issues).
For those who venture into self-published adult fiction (not going to touch what goes on with the YA/NA world), I think that the different dynamic at work is the $0.99 book. For many readers it is much easier to take a risk on a book that is $0.99 than it is on a higher priced book. They are willing to do so if the blurb sounds good and if there are apparent “good” reviews on Amazon. Maybe some authors feel that if they are selling their stories at $0.99, they really don’t need to put that much effort into the things the matter in the long-run (like craft). I have purchased a few of those $0.99 books in the past based on positive reviews (before I knew about street teams and the like). I would say that the majority of them were dreck that I could not finish and I wouldn’t buy anything more by that author at any price.
It would also be interesting to know what happens to some of those really “successful” self published authors when they get large publishing deals – how many of them continue to have the same success when their books are sold at a higher price? Eventually those deals will completely dry up if publishers are losing money on those authors (it will take a few years, but I believe it will happen).
As for tradpub books, I have come across a number of horribly edited and written tradpub books in the past several years and tradpublishers are charging top dollar for them (and some of those tradpub authors also develop “street teams”, demand only positive reviews, comment on negative reviews, sic their fans on reviewers who negatively review them etc.), so for me the “seal” of a traditional publisher is no guarantee the I’m getting quality (For me, Anne Rice is a prime example of this. I gave up on her years ago – probably around the same time she decided she didn’t need an editor).
Ultimately, we come back to the initial article. If readers/reviewers don’t feel that they have a safe space to post negative reviews of books and give up because they aren’t having fun anymore, then what are we left with?
I don’t think that i have ever given reviews by RT any credence because I don’t think that I have ever seen a review of less than 4 *, so I’ve always just viewed them as a marketing tool for publishers and the label RT Top Pick means absolutely nothing to me as a reader.
It’s only because I’m sicker than a dog that y’all are being spared a tl;dr rant. ;-)
@Cassie, @Alexa, @whoever —
Why do you think I’m out there giving the negative reviews? Why do you think I’m out there pointing out the shitty writing, the crappy research, the sock puppet reviews?
I don’t give a flying fuck about some “author” and her pweshus feewings about her crappy fucking book. I do care about the market. I do care about the writers who care. I’m tired of the handwringing over “Oh, dear, what can we do? Where are the gatekeepers when we need them?” Holy fuck, friends, look in the mirror! There are your gatekeepers.
And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to curl up with my bottle of Nyquil and finish the last 20 pages of “Tregaron’s Daughter.”
Not everyone has a Teflon flame retardant suit, Linda. I admire you for going out there. I myself, prompted by this post, wrote a two star Amazon review for one of the most tedious, poorly crafted books I’ve had the misfortune to read. (Self-pubbed.) It went live yesterday and already has nine downvotes. I previously wrote a three star review for a popular self-pubbed author, pointed out the book had grammatical errors and lacked conflict, and was called a hateful, despicable person, etc, in a comment. C’est la vie. (I reported the comment to Amazon and it was removed – see, they DO have policies in place to deal with personal attacks!)
But you are also an author. You are invested in the health of the publishing world.
Readers? Hey, I love to read and I like sharing my opinion (obviously). But I also like to do a lot of things. When reading and reviewing become a chore or downright unpleasant, I have a hundred different things with which to fill my leisure time. I have no real investment in the health of the industry.
The lack of gatekeepers is what I believe is a contributing factor to the rise of author/reader drama, because authors no longer have an incentive to behave professionally in public and/or put out a polished product.
But individual readers are not gatekeepers. I may think, say, Tale of Two Cities is the only Dickens book worth reading and the rest should be thrown on the dungheap of history where they belong. You may think Great Expectations is one of the most brilliant examinations of mankind vs. society and Tale of Two Cities is twee trash written by Dickens just to make a quick buck.
I point out grammatical errors in my reviews because they’re hot buttons for me. I care about the written English language. And then I twist my pearls and think of the children: how are tomorrow’s authors going to learn how to write if this is what they are reading today?!?! (Hand to forehand; swoon. But it does worry me.)
Others – and I think they R DOING IT RONG – don’t really care. They read for the feels. Or some other reason important to them.
I left my reviews to warn other readers like myself, who would rather sit in a room full of chalkboards being continually raked by fingernails than read mangled grammar.
But I’m not seeking to be a gatekeeper. If others like the book, great. I won’t follow them around for book recommendations – I’ll run the other way – but it would highly hypocritical to insist on a safe place for my reviews but not theirs.
Asking the readers to be the gatekeepers – when we’re the ones who take the abuse, have zero power, and have the least to gain from a healthy industry is…counterintuitive.
I’m afraid this is behavior that need to be modified at the author level.
How – and whether it’s even possible – is the issue.
Readers also have a vested interest, or they wouldn’t be complaining about the crap that’s out there.
Beyond that, I don’t know what to say. The subject will come up again, the same issues will be raised, and if no one does anything different, nothing will change.
I love you.
RE: Cassie -I must be missing something because I have no idea what readers’ taste have to do with to expectatioms about authours’ professionalism. I have seem this reluctance to acknowledge that authors bear the responsibility no matter how many times I see a few trying to equalise the situation?
Traditional publishers have been selling what some may consider to be less than well-crafted lit since time began. A lot of it. So self-publishing has lowered the barriers and allowed amateurs, not used to being their own business, front and centre– okay. But what in tarnations does readers glomming the latest poorly written BDSDM, vampire romance have to do with enabling unprofessional author behaviour? Are we implying that if readers stuck to the better kind of well-spelled, self-published lit then we’d deserve to be treated better?
“Until readers start demanding a better quality product and voice their disapproval of a badly crafted product, nothing will change.”
You mean the very same actions that prompted this post, because that hasn’t been going well for a lot of people? Okay.
The first paragraph is a garbled mess and I can’t edit it on my phone but trust me, I won’t get all wackadoo on anyone. My apologies.
Here’s one thing we all could do in the fight against poorly written, poorly edited and poorly formatted books: return them. That sends a signal far better than a negative review to the author. A high return rate is something they cannot ignore and cannot overcome by increasingly desperate attempts to increase visibility and sales. And it doesn’t involve putting your head over any parapet for attack.
I think the confusion may come from some of us using “authors” collectively to mean all authors, and others using it to mean the individual badly behaving author.
I don’t think anyone would argue that individual authors don’t have responsibility for their own behaviour. But I do still argue against the idea of authors as a collective having responsibility for each others’ behaviour. Mostly because, even after reading all these comments, I don’t think I’ve seen a mechanism for collective responsibility that seems likely to work.
I’ve always liked the idea of treating my books like a product, so I have no problem with the idea of consumers giving them reviews, and I accept that some of those reviews will be unfair and ridiculous. Whatever – it’s the internet. Things get weird.
But if we carry the idea of books as products, authors as producers a bit farther… let’s look at restaurants as a not dissimilar industry. Lots of different styles of food, lots of different personal taste involved, people who open restaurants tend to consider it a creative endeavour and a labour of love, etc.
So lets say there have always been some restaurants in town, and people have always been going to them and finding varying degrees of enjoyment in their meals. Some places deliver generic but reliable food, some places are consistently excellent, and some places sometimes just suck. Fair enough.
But then there’s a licensing change and you no longer need a permit to open a restaurant, and there’s no longer board of health inspections, and everything opens up. People are serving food out of their basements, they’re running around the city in vans serving food, etc.
And some of this food is EXCELLENT. It’s new and exciting and a wonderful addition to the city. But a lot of it is crap. Some of it is completely inedible. And, yeah, when diners post reviews of the crappy restaurants online, the crappy restaurants go off the rails and reply viciously.
Some diners say they’ll only go to old familiar restaurants and chains, some say they’re going to stop eating out entirely. Now, some people have iron stomachs and ENJOY eating at the diverse new restaurants, even the ones that are giving other diners indigestion. Some of the new restaurants seem to be doing really well, out-selling not only other new restaurants but also a lot of the reliable old restaurants. There doesn’t seem to be much connection between the quality of the new restaurants’ food, as it would have been judged traditionally, and the success of the restaurant. We’re forced to realize that maybe some diners were looking for something different in their meals than what we expected.
So, it would be FANTASTIC for everyone if we could have a vibrant, honest review community that would let diners know what to expect from the new world order. And it’s not fair for dedicated reviewers to be taking heat from restaurateurs over reviews.
But… does it really make sense to expect the other restaurateurs to control the misbehaving ones? They’re all over the place, there’s more sprouting up daily, and by their very nature they’re not interested in taking a lot of advice from the “dead tree” (or whatever the restaurant equivalent would be) folks. The new rebels are doing WELL (at least some of them) and they’re excited about the possibilities and they’re breaking down walls and they’re having fun. And at least some of them are outselling most of the more traditional restaurateurs. Why would they listen?
Do you all remember that kerfuffle a year or so ago with the restaurant owners who went off the rails on a Gordon Ramsey show? Imagine if that restaurant had a roomful of customers begging for their meals, throwing money at the cashier, and if all of them, owners and customers alike, were convinced that Gordon Ramsey’s model of restaurant management was a relic of the past. He couldn’t get them to calm down and see reason as it was, but he would have had an even tougher time if the restaurant had been a huge success.
So, away from the analogy – I totally agree that it’s in the best interest of everyone, authors and readers alike, to have a strong review community. But the authors who are going to be influenced by the suggestions I’ve seen in these posts are not, I think, the ones who are causing the problems in the first place. And I refuse to take responsibility for something over which I have no control.
So I share everyone’s worries about the health of the review community, and I support reviewers however I can (absolutely with moral support, and with more practical actions as I think they’re useful). But in terms of bearing responsibility for the problem? It lies on the individual authors who are behaving badly.
Responsibility for the solution? I’m happy to be PART of it, as I think most authors would be. But I don’t accept that the author community can take ALL responsibility, just because I don’t think there’s a prayer of it working.
Regarding street teams, don’t they consist of one author and many readers and reviewers? Don’t these readers and reviewers have free will over their online behaviour right down to deciding to join a street team in the first place? In this particular area of the kerfufflle it’s readers v readers, reviewers v reviewers. No author has thrall over their street team members, it’s all voluntary. An author can ask members to go do the dirty for them, but ultimately that responsibility belongs to the individual member (reader and reviewer).
Yes, I do believe this reader behaviour is screwing with the review system. How about we start asking/demanding fellow readers and reviewers to stop joining street teams? I suspect, though, we’d get as far in that as we would in asking authors to stop recruiting them.
@AlexaB: While I agree with much of what you have said in this conversation about authors having trust in readers, I do disagree with you position that readers aren’t gatekeepers. In my opinion, readers are the ultimate gatekeepers. I have bought more books based on the reviews of fellow reader friends (whether real or virtual) than I have ever bought because of some marketing campaign or street team. As I said previously, I don’t think that I have ever bought a book because of a review on Amazon. On review sites like this one, it is more often than not the discussion of a book after the review that will sell me on a new-to-me author. It is readers that turned Harry Potter and 50 Shades into the publishing phenomena they became. Certainly not everyone agrees (and certainly very few people in the “business” agreed) that this is “fair” or that the success of these books was “deserved” but it is readers who made the decision to spend their hard-earned money on those books.
I also think that readers do have a stake in the game if we want to have good things to read.
@Ros: that is probably one of the most effective approaches that readers can take. As in all things, money usually talks the loudest.
Kate Sherwood, in the restaurant analogy I personally will be happy just with the restaurant saying something on their menu – won’t go batshit crazy over bad reviews. How is that a collective responsibility? How is that some restaurants trying to control others? KJ Charles was in this thread so I may as well use her name – I love her books already, I know she is very outspoken against retaliating against retaliating against bad reviews already because I follow her blog, but if I wasn’t and I was deciding whether to buy her books or not for the first time, the note on her blog would have certainly played at least some additional part in making my decision. She is not controlling other authors – obviously she has no control over them. She is making her stance to the readers loud and clear – her own stance, nobody else’s. IMO by doing that she and other authors play their parts in making reviewing environment safer. That’s just me of course.
If that’s all it takes, I don’t think it’s a problem… I made my statement in July 2012, when STGRB was flaring up… https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/2735114-a-quick-note-on-reviews-bullying-etc
But I don’t think that anything I post on my barely-read blog is really going to do all that much to control other authors.
I can and do control myself. I sympathize with those feeling vulnerable. That’s all I’ve got on this one.
Returning badly written books requires that one buy them first. I think most readers check out the sample and then don’t buy at all if the book is too badly written. Buying and then returning too often could put the reader’s account in jeopardy, too. And then there’s also the fact that many of these badly written books are free, so there’s no monetary impact from returning them.
This kind of hits on something else I’ve noticed about my purchasing habits lately. $1.99 books and under used to automatically get one-clicked by me if they sounded even remotely interesting. I downloaded every free book ever (or almost). Then for a long time, $0.99 books were my crack. I couldn’t resist. But now? I’m only downloading and buying books by a) authors I know, b) highly recommended by friends, or c) good reviews by acquaintances and I’m really curious about it.
When did I start getting paid to be a gatekeeper? I pay for these books. I spend time and energy on them. Why is it my responsibility to make sure that they’re even readable? And I don’t want this to become self-publishing vs traditional-publishing, because I actually like the doors that self-publishing has opened for books that likely would never have gotten published (due to niche nature or whatever). But, for me, the large majority of traditionally published books are on the higher end in regards to grammar and language usage (which is incredibly important to me). They’ve seen editors – both content and copy – and they have likely had multiple revision cycles because they’ve needed approval from professionals at several steps along the way. Are there still badly formatted/edited/written books in traditional publishing? Of course – but they’re the minority, again in my experience. Contrast that with my experience with self-published novels. An overwhelming majority of the ones I’ve read I don’t even think the author has read it through a first time, much less edited anything. There’s (from what I can tell based on quality of the grammar/spelling and general language usage) been no beta-readers, no copy- or content-editors, no agents or professionals looking at it.
I should be the gatekeeper for those books? I should spend my money, my free-time (I already have a full time job and go to school full time) reading unreadable books and reporting on them? And if I am going to be the gatekeeper, and that’s expected to be part of my job as a reader – then why should I have to worry about being attacked, ridiculed, and demeaned for doing so? This comes back to reviewers knowing they’re safe giving their opinions.
I understand that the trolls and attacks and bullshit doesn’t bother you on your negative reviews (from what I see you’re saying), but I don’t want to have to deal with it. Is it wrong to ask for better?
Hah! I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks and worries about this! :)
@Ros: Though I don’t do it so much anymore, I’ve bought books years ago that I haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s impractical to return them. Also, haven’t there been cases of Amazon shutting down accounts because of too many ebook returns?
But money definitely talks which is why I’ve taken to mostly only buying books from authors I know and trust to take the time to craft a good story, with good grammar and spelling. It’s why I’ve become so picky about what I buy and download, even free ebooks.
@Kate Sherwood: I loved what you said, but I just now realized that I also kind of have a problem I need to figure out for myself. I used to check out the blogs of quite a few writers after I loved their books – not because I am interested in their personal lives, although I guess it is inevitable and fine by me if I am reading their blogs. No, my main reason was that I simply wanted to read more of the writing that I enjoyed no matter what the topic was.
But because I was quite disappointed in what some of those writers had to say (after reading their blogs for a while) and it made it harder for me to separate art from the artist, I significantly cut down on the number of the blogs I follow even half regularly. So obviously if I want a chance to see what the writer has to say about the reviews, maybe I should just visit their blog once even if I do not want to make a regular endeavor out of it. Anyway, thanks for posting the link.
Readers can’t be gatekeepers, by definition.
Gatekeepers control the gate.
But readers have zero say over who and what gets published, when and at what price. We’re the market after the gate is opened.
Yes, authors/publishers want our money and they chase after the market. But the market is a collective whole. As H.L. Mencken famously said, “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”
So I can leave negative reviews for books I think were spawned by Wendig’s “shit volcano.” I can call out clichéd plots, flat characters, clunky dialogue, and writing mechanics that make me weep with rage.
But there might be – and judging by Amazon sales rankings and Goodreads reviews, there are – readers who DO love those books. Gobble them up. Interact with them and create fan art and .gifs and Pinterest graphics. Sure, some of the squee might be artificially manufactured, but if there wasn’t a real, viable market in the first place, there wouldn’t be attempts to manipulate it.
One can hope, as readers continue to seek out stories, they will start to crave better crafted reading material. I suspect, however, there will always be an audience for free and $0.99 books. Especially when traditionally published books are usually sold at a much higher price. And the “better” (in quote marks since taste is subjective) self published authors tend to stick around a $3.99/$4.99 price point, which is lower than trad but higher than much of the volcano spawn.
I’m not seeking to cut people off from – or to close the gate on – books I think are crap but others enjoy. Taste, subjective, etc. I love Charles Dickens; Aldous Huxley and Henry James disagree with me. Good thing I can disregard their opinions.
I would, however, like to be able to leave my opinion about said crappiness in case there are other readers who have the same triggers, hot buttons, and feelings about storytelling that I do. And leave it without fear of reprisals. Unfortunately, that is becoming increasingly difficult.
As for stakes: sure, I like to read. And on a macro level, I firmly believe literacy is a social good and a healthy literary community benefits society. So as a citizen, in the abstract I have a stake. And I have a stake emotionally, because I do truly care.
But a financial one? No. If I am driven away from reading, that actually benefits me financially. (It frees up a lot of discretionary income!) Meanwhile, I have a plethora of leisure activities from which to choose. If reading becomes a chore or unpleasant, I can easily find other things to do – as can other current readers who perhaps aren’t as emotionally invested as I am.
Readers are the market, not the gate. When gates are opened and the market is flooded: the market tends to crash. This is especially true when the signals used by the market to make decisions are overcome by noise and obfuscation. So suppliers – i.e. authors and publishers – should be concerned about tending their gates and ensuring quality signals – i.e. honest reviews – in order to keep the market healthy. (Annnnd: once more, back to Sunita’s market for lemons).
I will say people once thought cable TV and the explosion of channels would mean a shit volcano of programming. And yes, we live in a world of Honey Boo Boo and Kardashians. But we’re also in an age of amazing television scripted drama because great storytelling and high production quality became a lucrative selling point for the gatekeepers. (And revi So…I have hopes.
@Ros: returns are great in theory, but Amazon will supposedly freeze one’s account if the return policy is abused. I’d love to know if, say, three returns a week would be considered reasonable. Also, one can’t return free books (that I could see). One can delete them off the device, but the author will never see the rejection, as it were.
@Linda Hilton: “Returning badly written books requires that one buy them first. I think most readers check out the sample and then don’t buy at all if the book is too badly written.”
I indie-pubbed my historical series, and I realized getting readers to give me a chance was my biggest battle. (Other than trying to write a quality story…) It’s the reason I made the first in the series free, so I could entice readers to give me a chance. I wanted them to know they weren’t wasting their money being as there are SOOOO many authors to choose from. It’s a tactic that truly helps quality indie-writers IMHO.
As a social scientist, I thank you for this. I was starting to think I was inhabiting an alternate universe.
Gatekeeping is about filtering. Market behavior is about demand (or lack thereof) for the products that emerge from that filter.
@Ros: In addition to the other issues mentioned, I’ve seen authors talk about returns as just being signs of piracy. Which may or may not be true, but it’s obviously not very effective as a way to send a message. Also, I’m not sure if anyone else mentioned this, but that’s only a Kindle feature. Readers who use other devices don’t have that option.
@Imani: Thank you, Imani! (And Angela and Alexa.) We seem to be getting away from the issue under discussion — how does pushing readers to respond more address the fact that they are harried and burnt out from the current situation?
I was just looking at a list of potential review books and feeling very reluctant to try any because I didn’t know the authors. Once upon a time, I got into a whole new genre because Josh Lanyon and J.L. Merrow put free books out and I read and loved them. Nowadays, it takes a lot to even get me to bother downloading a free ebook, much less reading it. I sympathize with authors who want to find readers — because I want to find writers! But it’s hard to slog through so much crap looking for the gems, even without the threat of reprisals. And then to be told this is our responsibility?
@Willaful: I almost never download freebies anymore, ever. Why bother if it is most likely going to be crap? Unless friend whose tastes are close to mine recommended it, or it is a story from the author I know, I dont bother. But I suspect most authors put out freebies because they want to entice new readers? If so, am so not enticed. – risk not worth possible benefits if you ask me.
Yes, it’s the difference between having the only door available slam shut in front of one, and having a choice of wide-open doors. I can’t begin to say how much less devastating one reader saying, “I don’t like this book because” is than a tradpub agent or editor saying, “I really like this, but I can’t sell it because.”
I guess I’m still enough of a newbie self-published author that I find it an incredible relief to have that choice of doors rather than only one which kept slamming in my face no matter how many positive comments I received in the process.
@Sirius: “But I suspect most authors put out freebies because they want to entice new readers? If so, am so not enticed. – risk not worth possible benefits if you ask me.”
I’m sure there are a lot of people who think exactly the way you do. But I do get new readers with the free book being available. It’s just hard to be seen in such a large crowd.
@willaful “I sympathize with authors who want to find readers — because I want to find writers! But it’s hard to slog through so much crap looking for the gems, even without the threat of reprisals.”
This is why I think authors shouldn’t comment on reviews! Readers should feel open to expressing their true opinion. Sure, there will be some that are snarky or downright cruel, but…it’s still very important to me as an author that readers tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’ll admit to loving reviews that praise me. Who wouldn’t? But I often learn more about the changing “wants” of readers by good constructive criticism.
@M.M.Justus ” I find it an incredible relief to have that choice of doors rather than only one which kept slamming in my face no matter how many positive comments I received in the process.”
The whole nature of publishing has changed, and I strongly doubt it will ever return to the gatekeeper dynamic. Authors have so many more choices, which is great for us. Readers have more choices, which is great for them. The biggest downer, though, is having to separate the wheat from the chaff. And there are so many different theories on how to do that well (hence the 200+ comments on this post). I know that as a reader, I depend on reader/reviewer comments to help me choose. Sometimes they’re very helpful; sometimes they’re not. But I’m grateful when a reader/reviewer is honest about her thoughts on the story.
@Willaful: Agreed. I don’t d/l most freebies nowadays, I’d prefer to go buy a book from an author I already trust. But on the few occasions I have succumbed and d/l a freebie…it takes a while for me to get to it. I always feel a little funky if its a NTM author.
@AlexaB and @Sunita: Of course you are right that from a social sciences perspective, readers cannot be gatekeepers and as someone who knows that I should not have used that terminology improperly, at least with respect to the traditional publishing realm where there are “true” gatekeepers no matter how effective or ineffective they are. They are the ones controlling the market.
With respect to the wild west of self publishing, my feeling is that, by default, readers have had to become their own gatekeepers because in this world, anyone can publish anything they want (mostly), whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. Certainly the self publishing platforms do not purport to be any kind of gatekeeper. I don’t think that reviewers are gatekeepers either as they have no control over what is being published. Reviews have become tools to help readers determine whether something should pass their own individual gates or not. Whether there should be some other gatekeeper to filter things for readers is, I expect, a matter of personal opinion for each reader. Personally, for the most part, I like having the freedom to choose what I want to read from a wide selection of possibilities and if I get burned, that’s a lesson learned. Others may not feel the same and will wish to have some assurance that there is some level of quality control.
For those like me who are O.K. with being our own gatekeepers, reviews become especially important because they are one of the few tools we have to determine if a book is going to get past the gate of our wallets. That’s why for me, honest reviews are so important and I find that those who game the system are being disrespectful of me as a reader.
@Sunita and @AlexaB, or any of the other social scientists here, if there is a different term than “gatekeeper” to describe the role that I think readers are now playing, with respect to self published books, please let me know. I really do not like to use such terms inappropriately. It creates unnecessary misunderstanding of the argument I am trying to make. Thanks.
+1 (or however many now)
This is what I wanted to say and I didn’t get anywhere near it by the time I got everything else out.
@Lynnd: I can’t think of a term that is comparable to gatekeeper for the kind of filtering individual readers do. What does come to mind is the “paradox of choice” debate, because some readers are finding the increased number of options in the (relatively unregulated, ungated) marketplace to be detrimental to making informed decisions, while others are willing to take on the extra information burden in order to choose from this wider range.
I don’t want to interrupt the gatekeeping/quality discussion, because it’s an important one. I just want to go back for a second to the question of what quality has to do with author behavior. Because in the past it’s often been traditionally published authors who have served as some of the worst examples (and I don’t think their publishers did a damn thing about it, at least not from what I can tell).
I definitely agree with Noelle that as the market is more and more crowded with books and erratic in terms of what books become visible and popular, desperation grows and ethical boundaries can dissolve, but I am in no way convinced that it’s the authors of the so-called “worst” work who are to blame here. Beyond the subjectiveness of that judgment, I think we need to be careful not to equate professionalism with the “best” writing, because, well, I don’t think that relationship is sound.
Maybe it’s more like these are two intersecting issues, and the sheer breadth of books being self-published right now is just making everything feel more chaotic. And the volume of self-published has increased, accelerated, and made more visible this aggression toward less-than-stellar reviews (I don’t even want to say negative, because sometimes it’s a perfectly decent review that gets hammered). And given the fact that publishers have used pretty aggressive marketing strategies, maybe there’s a perception (correct or incorrect) that publishers did all sorts of things to get their authors visibility, so why shouldn’t authors? And I don’t know how much of this behavior is now being socialized into the self-publishing community, even though it’s NOT intrinsically a SP issue. And yes, the lack of gatekeeping has led to a market in which virtually everyone can publish their work, which has flooded the market, which has, in turn, helped pump up the author desperation. Still, I don’t think the lack of gatekeeping has caused this enormous uptick in aggression toward readers and reviews. Although I agree that there are a lot of layers here that can and should be examined.
@Angela: I read Linda Hilton’s comment as author -to – author gatekeeping, but now I’m wondering if I misread it.
Sunita’s the social scientist, so I defer to her! I’m just a marketer.
But I think you are touching on something Sunita talks about in her “market for lemons” essay.
Readers have more choice than ever before, so they have to find the signals that work for them in order to sort the wheat from the chaff. In your earlier post, for you that appears to be trusted recommenders, whether reviews here on DA or fellow readers who share your likes/dislikes.
But I wouldn’t call it gatekeeping. In marketing terms, I’d call it consumer behavior and the buyer decision process. And you’re right, readers now have to be take a more active, more informed role in that decision, because the risks and rewards have drastically changed. We’re no longer choosing from a pool of books that have already gone through some sort of vetting process. We’re choosing from a vast ocean.
You’ve found signals that help you make a decision, and I think you’re right – we all need to inform ourselves. But being informed takes energy and time, and in marketing we try to make that decision process seamless, one step and oh so easy for the consumer. Hence why Amazon has the “most useful” reviews at the top of the page, plus a one-click button.
But if the formerly reliable signals are noisy or outright compromised – if reviews are faked and manipulated and negative voices intimidated into silence – then the consumer can’t make an informed decision and ends up disappointed. Or even feels tricked and misled into buying under false pretenses. Which in turn makes the consumer less likely to repeat a similar purchase. As people in the thread have mentioned, they’re no longer inclined to try unknown self-pubbed authors for fear of getting burned by a bad reading experience, or torpedoed for having a less than “OMG AMAZEBALLS!!!” response.
It’s truly in authors’ best interests to encourage honest reviews and to dial back the manufactured squee, for the health of the entire market. But when there are supposed pots of money riding on being accepted by BookBub and other advertising venues that require a certain number of reviews and Amazon star rating, and when ratings appear to figure into one or more of Amazon’s algorithms that influence how and where books are presented to potential buyers – there’s little incentive for authors to let the market chips fall where they may and lots of incentive to game the system.
To answer @Willaful: heck if I know how to encourage readers, especially those with a less than positive opinion, to speak out more when the incentive leans on shutting them up. “Change the incentives” springs to mind, but I’m not Amazon.
One last note: I’d say there are still gatekeepers, only now the gate is in the hand of the authors. Unfortunately there are plenty who do a poor job determining if and when their product is ready to leave the gate and head for the market. (And plenty who put out a polished, market-ready product as well, of course!)
One last note: I’d say there are still gatekeepers, only now the gate is in the hand of the authors. Unfortunately there are plenty who do a poor job determining if and when their product is ready to leave the gate and head for the market. (And plenty who put out a polished, market-ready product as well, of course!)
In terms of self-publishing, this is an excellent point, because in that case, the author is serving in two capacities: author and publisher. So, in in terms of the publisher capacity, you are exactly right that self-published authors are now also gatekeepers for their own work.
I hit post comment too soon.
One other comment I wanted to make is that for me, the current situation frustrates my desire to be able to separate the book from the author, so that I can read the book on its own terms. It’s always been a fundamental goal for me, and now, with more and more authors stepping out from behind the book in negative ways, it’s made it even more difficult. I know the separation was already crumbling with the strength of Facebook, Twitter, and other direct author marketing. But this just makes it feel exponentially worse to me, in part because I can ignore the marketing stuff more easily, and in part because of the nature of the collapse.
Which reminds me of a frustrated comment someone made on RRA-L a few years ago, before things changed so much. It went something like this — I can’t choose to buy something that isn’t available no matter how badly I want it. And I have no way of telling the publisher (gatekeeper) what I want. I can only *not* choose what is available, if I don’t like it, which only tells them what I *don’t* want.
So, to me, the fact that so many books that weren’t available before, in genres/niches that I want to read, are now available to me, is more important than that there is so much that isn’t worth reading. Those gems are worth the slog.
@M.M. Justus: I feel the same way. Convergence of the small publishing houses into the giant multinationals was not IMO a good thing because it took away so many choices for readers and authors. I wonder if the constricting of the market may also have contributed to some of the awful behaviour of trad published authors who had very little choice to move elsewhere if their contracts were not renewed. In an environment where an increasing number of people scrabble for increasingly scarce resources, people will take actions they shouldn’t to survive even if such actions end up being self-destructive.
The petition is not about stopping reviewers from posting bad, mean or even vicious reviews. It’s about lifting the shield of anonymity off posters who stalk, threaten, and attack authors on a personal level. If you make a public statement to or about a person that rises to the level of cyber-bullying–not book reviewing–you should take responsibility for it.
@Hank smith: If reviewers are threatening, stalking, harassing authors in their reviews (and I’d really like to see an example of this because I never have – note I don’t say that it hasn’t happened, but I’ve seen far more of the opposite), there is already Terms of Service in place to prevent that and protect people. Amazon – whom the petition is aimed directly at – already has my actual contact information. If I’m truly guilty of any of those above things, they can get and provide my legal information as needed/required. There’s no need to remove my safety online for it.
From Amazon Review Guidelines:
From Amazon’s Profile and Community Guidelines:
So. I suggest avenues and rules already existing get used regarding “attacks” on authors instead of trying to push through ridiculous demands.
But thanks for making me want to go look this up. Because now I’ve learned that it actually is against Amazon TOS to BUY reviews and yet there are authors out there doing just that, in so many different ways.
*all emphasis mine
@Angela: Well damn, my formatting didn’t work. *le sigh*
From the petition: “Reviewers and forum participants should not be anonymous.” https://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-com-protect-amazon-com-users-and-indie-publishing-authors-from-bullying-and-harassment-by-removing-anonymity-and-requiring-identity-verification-for-reviewing-and-forum-participation
The REASONS it gives may relate to abuse, but the SOLUTION proposed seems to be about lifting anonymity for everyone, not just those who abuse the system.
If the real target is just those who “stalk, threaten, and attack authors on a personal level,” that target can be hit through police involvement. There’s no need to hit all reviewers with a bomb blast when a sniper’s bullet could take care of the very few who are actually stalking or threatening people.
@Angela: It worked, it just went to pending because of links, etc. Here you go.
@Sunita: Oh! Thanks :D
I didn’t know links put it in moderation too.
There seems to be a difference in what the petition calls for, and what many of the people signing it expect to happen. So many of the comments believe it is to stop the rude, snarky and mean negative reviews and comments (which may not be civil, but are allowed). Others commented about changing Goodreads or requiring proof-of-purchase, which the petition doesn’t cover. Others just signed it saying (paraphrasing) “I hate all bullying, so I will sign this” or “I love Anne Rice, so I will sign this”, not considering the pros or cons.
I have yet to read one comment on that petition that argued why ALL of Amazon’s products (not just books), and ALL of Amazon’s vendors (not just authors), would benefit from this change. Nor have I read one comment about how ALL of Amazon’s reviewers would be perfectly OK with their real identities displayed, despite the fact Amazon already has that information.
As far as Hank’s belief that lifting the identity veil to the general public will result in stopping threats, stalking and attacks on authors, I am not convinced that is why most signers really want the identities known. We have all seen authors and fans go ballistic over a negative review or comment that were simply rude or mean, but doesn’t qualify as a ‘stalking, threatening or an attack’ post. I have read far too many comments over the years by authors who want a way to deal with those people since Amazon will not delete such reviews or comments.
Last week a popular NA/YA romance author took to her Facebook page to rant over a negative review that was mean and snarky, but allowed per Amazon’s policy. She received over 300 comments from her fans expressing their outrage, anger and hate for this reviewer, it received over 800 ‘likes’, and the review on Amazon was seriously down voted. There were many mean and nasty comments left on the review as well, several of which Amazon deleted under their policy of not allowing attacks. Some of the fans commented on the FB page how they really wanted to know the reviewers real identity so they could give her a piece of their mind! In other words, it was personal and they wanted to make their attack on this reviewer even more personal.
Now THAT is why I think many authors and fans want to know the real identities, so they can make their own attacks even more personal. And once they have identified their enemy, the reviewer will have a much harder time stopping further attacks at her place of employment or else where. Those type of attacks have already happened to reviewers whose identity were known, and such a change in policy would only make them far more common.
I do not see this change as a way to make the relationship between authors, fans and reviewers more civil, not when authors and their fans are as blood-thirsty for ‘revenge!’ as we keep seeing over and over.
@karLynP: I think that you are absolutely correct, both about the mixed motivations for signing this petition, and the impetus behind the original writing.
Which, as to the last, is completely hypocritical. Not just because many, MANY authors (including Anne Rice!) use pseudonyms; but also because of the constant mantra for reviewers: “make it about the book, not the author.”
Well, what’s sauce for the goose, etc.; if it’s about the book, it should also be about the review. You don’t need to know the “real identity” of the author of EITHER to respond effectively to the words you have in front of you!
A most excellent point, and one more hole in the faulty logic behind this laughable (and transparent) petition.
I have no worries that Amazon would ever make this change, and I laugh at imagining a scenario where Jeff Bezos announces to his shareholders how the author’s sensitive feelings against snarky reviews, and their ability to confront and extract revenge against the meanie reviewers and commenters, convinced him to put his entire customer base at personal risk and expose everyone’s real identities. The shareholders would vote him out that very second.
In reality, Amazon assumes all authors are professionals who understands the pros and cons of becoming a published author, and that it is up to the authors – not Amazon – to ensure they don’t make a public spectacle of their own careers.
Whatever happened to God given horse sense? Seriously? That small something which seems to be lacking in nearly every day to day action.
Not just reviews, but dare we mention the FB word? *gasp*
All reviews should be wanted from authors. All. Have I seen over the top reviews, that became NOT a review but a threat?
“Stick your hand in a blender”–“Author should clearly play on a busy highway.”
The difference between the story sucked, author is a moron, don’t waste your money and “stick your hand in blender’ is a threat.
BUT– Reviewers MUST feel able to leave an open/honest review (this goes for authors swapping review reads) or else it flat out isn’t enjoyable AND no-doubt will result in said author having a hard time finding reviewers.
Its hard enough to find reviewers, period, much less want to alienate them in any way.
Bottom line, life is too damn short for a bad book. Don’t like it, move on. Deep down we should all know that as a truth.
Same goes for FB. I’m sick to death of seeing all the “un-friend” threats if they see another injured animal, political, (I’m talking personal pages not professional ones) “share this if you love” etc.
I aint ya momma. If you don’t like something that another posts, life is too short for unneeded drama. Un-friend. Don’t threaten. If it upsets you, I’m sure the other party would rather you unfriend on a social network than in real life.
As always, great post.
Just for the record. The “Stick your hand in a blender” remark was made by a “fan”/friend of the author to a reviewer who not even reviewed the book.
The only reason I bring it up — and yes, I have the screen shots — is that the explosion over that particular instance of bad behavior by an author seems to have sparked much of the subsequent animosity. Not one of the claims made by that author proved to be accurate. Not one. Yet her experience seems to have settled into urban legendry as The Author Who Was Threatened With Prison Rape. It never happened.
And lets not forget the urban legend of ‘death by garden gnomes’, despite that no proof ever surfaced and the author who made the claim came clean days later and retracted her statement.
Also, lets not forget the tale of authors being threatened by the statement ‘the only good author is a dead author’, when in fact it was coined by a moderator of a classic books group who read authors from past centuries.
And we all know who started these urban-legends too.
While I basically used that as example, I’m very glad to hear that. I’d caught part of the bruahaha, peeped in, tucked tail and ran back out.
I’m a chicken. I’ll own every feather on my back.
Maybe, ultimately, it all comes back to the same issue for reviewers as it does for authors: If you don’t want to risk negative feedback, don’t put your words out in public. As harsh and “but….but…but…but….” as that may sound, it may be the only guarantee a reviewer can have.
If the reader/reviewer longs for the good ol’ days of the trad pub gatekeepers, well, they’re still in business. And if you confine your reading — or at least your reviewing — to mostly trad pubbed books, you should be okay. No really bad books, no really bad authors.
Reviews on GoodReads or on your own blog or website give you control over what comments are posted, if any. If you want to, I think you can even block all comments, so you never even have to see them. Isn’t that the same advice given to authors? If you can’t handle the negative feedback, just don’t read it!
Best advice I can think of, though, is to call on some friends and have a good laugh over it. Show the author and their minions that you don’t take the whole issue nearly as seriously as they do. Make it fun, and make sure they know they can’t make it not fun.
I have been known to even click “like” on bad reviews. Why? They took time from their lives to take a chance on the story.
Honestly I still do think much boils back to common sense. (and maybe a wee etiquette too perhaps- from ALL parties)
Changing topic a bit, but though I’ve heard from some that didn’t like, some of the Goodreads reviewers do amazing things with those GIFS.
I love Goodreads and sometimes start my day with coffee and checking out what gifs were put up. They find the perfect ones (or so it appears) and more than anything…figured out how to put a pic on Goodreads. I’m HTML handicap.
I’m starting to wonder if a lot of the outrage on the part of authors is that, even the trad-pubbed ones are expected to do more and more of their own marketing, and they just don’t know how. Marketing is a whole other skill set from writing, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
So authors attend workshops and take courses and learn that they should get reviewed on blogs, and develop street teams, and build buzz — and they don’t know how, and often I think the people trying to teach them don’t know how, and they end up blundering around being offended and offensive.
And then I remember this and think that there’s nothing new under the sun: http://flavorwire.com/188138/the-30-harshest-author-on-author-insults-in-history/
I’m both an author and a reader. I definitely feel pressure when I post a review. I’m afraid of backlash if I say anything less than glowing. I also hate the idea of misleading my readers by telling them a book is a 5-star work of genius. Consequently, I review far less frequently than I used to. I don’t accept unsolicited book review requests and rarely sign up for reviews as part of blog tours. I screen books carefully (by utilizing the Look Inside feature) on Amazon before I buy, so my star ratings these days tend to be on the high side. It has taken the fun out of reviewing because I feel like I can’t give an honest critique on every book I read, and I’m afraid to review indie books I didn’t like.
This thread really makes me sad. No reviewer or reader should feel scared about expressing her or his feelings about a book.
So what can writers do about this?
Would creating a button that writers can share on their sites communicating that we’re open to honest reviews help?
Do reviewers/readers check a writer’s website?
Tell me what you think we should do and I’ll happily lead the charge.
An environment of fear is NOT what I want Romanceland to have.
Or perhaps creating a central database of honest review friendly writers?
I’m open to ideas.
Right now, Amazon’s Top 100 Best Rated Books in a category sway some writers to be aggressive about positive reviews. If we wish to stop this behavior, we have to create an offset.
@Cynthia…I’ll skip along behind whatever you decide to do and help spread the word.
@Readers- For many of us, the fact you took time, from your day, to take a chance on our story, means more than whether you liked the book. You could hate, either way, you took precious time.
Don’t know about anyone else, but free time is a rarity.
@Cynthia Sax: I don’t know that there’s any one thing that could fix the environment – or even a series of things. But I do think that something every author can do is make a statement, somewhere, somehow, that they support readers and reviewers and their *honest* opinions. No ifs, ands, or buts.
It may seem a lot like there’s talk about the authors that berate readers and reviewers, and it’s true there is, but honestly I’ve added authors to my wishlists for the express reason that they were vocal about supporting readers. (I mentioned her before, but Stacia Kane did a lovely series of posts about readers and reviewing.) We (readers) notice this. We talk about it. We spread the word. It doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s appreciated.
Added to this, as a benefit to the author, it’s likely to get me to remember an author’s name. Even if I don’t buy a book right away, when I see something that looks really interesting and an author’s name is familiar to me, I check my GR shelves and notice I have them on my ‘wishlist’, then I buy it. That’s better than me shying away because I’m not sure how an author will react, I think.
I like the idea of a database, but someone has to curate that. Because I *know* that a lot of the authors that are some of the worst offenders do not at all see themselves that way. But now you’ve got me thinking about it. If someone was willing to curate it, and do the research, and give out ‘official’ badges or something – it could be incredibly useful. Authors and readers could nominate authors (themselves or others). This could definitely turn into a full time job though.
I think one of the saddest aspects of this whole thing is that there have been so many authors who adamantly insist they want honest reviews, that they have no problem with negative reviews, that they firmly believe reviewers have the right to say whatever they want about a book . . . . but then these same authors turn around and find reasons to berate readers who have given their books negative reviews or no stars or whatever. Either they claim the review is false because the reader didn’t really read the whole book, or some such malarkey that justifies their changing their tune about leaving reviewers alone.
And to make matters worse, those readers (and authors) who have dared to call them out for it end up getting in trouble. Reviews and accounts have been removed from GoodReads and Amazon because of comments about author behavior, to the point that reviewers are afraid not only of backlash from authors but backlash from the websites!
There’s little or no negative consequence to an author who engages in bad behavior; if anything, they tend to profit from the attention. Maybe what’s needed is a Wall of Shame where those authors who have ruined the game for everyone else are put front and center for their meltdowns. Or they’re made conspicuous by their absence. Or something.
You’re right and an author can’t curate the database. (You and Linda have great points about how we don’t always see our own faults.) Authors can sponsor and promote the database, but we can’t curate it. The database owners have to keep the authors involved accountable also.
There must be a better solution but I can’t think of one right now.
@Linda Hilton: Talking about writers behaving badly just gives them even more press, making them more popular.
As commenters have said
It is better to have negative press than no press at all.
Look at how many people are now talking about the writer who started this petition.
(which IMHO was a marketing move on her part – she’s a very media savvy woman)
Rewarding writers behaving well would be more productive. I don’t know how to do this though.