Reviews: The Ugly Truth

For #authors, #reviews are life-giving blood. This is especially true for #Indie authors. #Book reviews can encourage readers to take a chance on an unknown writer or send them running to the nearest New York Time’s “bestseller” faster than butter melts on a hot biscuit. We may not always like or agree with the content, but a writer without reviews is a writer who is not selling.

We’ve all witnessed authors who make complete arses out of themselves after receiving a negative review. They are as sweet as pie until a reader complains and then turn bitter and tasteless. Some even go as far as commenting on reviews, arguing with the reader because they put a book out for the entire world to read and – DEAR GOD – someone didn’t like it and left an opinion!!! How dare they?!

And yes, there are some readers who are vindictive and leave bad reviews simply because they can – most of which have nothing to do with the content of the book because they didn’t bother reading it. Unfortunately, authors (and I use that term loosely) are guilty of this, too.

Of course, we can’t forget about the “confused” reader. You know the one. He/She downloads a book with the title, Poetry in Motion, realizes after the first few pages that it is a book of (you guessed it) POETRY. They leave a one-star review stating they didn’t know this was a book with poems, and then return it for a full refund because Amazon is generous like that. “Confused” readers often buy books in genres they normally hate to read because, other than breathing and bitching (pardon my French), they have nothing better to do.

It’s true that reviews tend bring out the worst in people – authors and readers alike. A while back, I read a post on Facebook which led to a discovery many authors may not consider regarding reviews…or lack of them where their books are concerned.

“Bob” is a well-known Indie author in my Facebook community. He is generous to a fault – always going the extra mile to help other writers when he can. He reads many Indie books, leaving glowing reviews in his wake, even when the books don’t necessarily deserve them. He spends much of his time sharing and promoting others and is popular among his peers.

Bob posted that he needed more reviews for his books and reached out to the Indie community for help. Seeing as he was kind enough to read and review one of my books, I thought it only fair that I return the favor. I downloaded one of his novels and copped a squat in my favorite recliner to read.

I managed 25% on my kindle before giving up and deleting it. Bob didn’t have many reviews and, after forcing myself to turn page after page, desperately searching for something (anything!) positive to keep me reading and coming up empty, I had a pretty good idea why.

Poor Bob’s story was about as gripping as an insurance seminar. There was minimal dialogue between characters. No description at all. It was, in a nutshell, paragraph after paragraph of Bob TELLING the readers what he wanted them to know. It read like stereo instructions: First she did this. Then, she did this. Next, she did this… No “showing” – even a simple facial expression was hard to come by. I could have spent my time counting the number of ice cubes in my freezer and been more productive.

I felt guilty. I wanted so badly to repay Bob’s kindness but never review books I can’t finish. A week later, a fellow author I admire and respect commented that he was reading the same book. I sent him a message and asked that he let me know his thoughts. Perhaps I missed something. Maybe I was too quick to judge Bob’s work.

The author replied to me the same night…with the same opinion. He, too, was unable to finish the story.

Bob felt that his fellow authors were being selfish with their time. He spent countless hours reading and reviewing their books and yet, they were too busy to do the same for him. I believe the reason Bob lacks reviews is because his peers – the ones who care for him and appreciate all he does for so many others – don’t want to hurt his feelings.

Some authors don’t mind leaving honest reviews for books written by those they know on a personal level, even if they aren’t five-star. I’ve done so myself. Still, nine times out of ten, a reviewer worth their salt can find at least one positive aspect to comment on. Unfortunately, the only part of Bob’s book that didn’t make me cringe or yawn repeatedly was the cover art.

Other authors refuse to review any books where they can’t leave a positive review, especially if the writer is someone they know. They also believe everyone else should adopt this way of thinking. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I believe every reader, regardless of their profession, is entitled to leave an honest review. If an author can’t take the heat, they shouldn’t publish their work.

Still, most of the reviews Bob does have for his book are POSITIVE. This tells me that:
A. Some readers liked the book and I need an eye exam.
OR
B. Many of the reviewers know Bob personally and threw honesty out the window for the sake of friendship.

But I digress. My reason for bringing up Bob is to remind authors not to jump to conclusions. Sometimes, people aren’t being lazy or selfish when they don’t leave a review – they’re being kind.

I also want to tell my peers that it’s okay to have an opinion on the books you read. It isn’t a sin to leave a lukewarm or negative review as long as it is constructive. Padding a review or leaving a glowing recommendation for a book you really don’t think deserves it only serves to mislead the writer and make YOU look like an idiot – especially when others take your advice and spend money on the book only to discover that it sucks. If you are afraid of reprisals, then you shouldn’t review at all. How can we gain respect as writers if we leave five-star reviews for books riddled with editing issues and other mishaps?

Because of actions such as this (and much worse), I no longer support an entire publishing company and their group on Facebook that I used to be on good terms with. After reading a few of their books (all of which have numerous positive reviews from other authors signed with the company), only to discover that many of them are poorly edited and in need of major work, I decided to distance myself from them. Every book is padded with positive reviews by authors signed with the company to help boost sales on release day. I’m fairly sure many of the authors don’t even bother to read the books beforehand. This is dishonest and really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So, this is my hodge-podge take on reviews. If you review a book, be honest, constructive, and tactful with your words. Don’t attack the author. What worked for you? What could use improvement? Was the book well-edited (remember, no book will be perfect but there should not be so many mistakes that they disrupt the reading of the story). Be the type of reviewer that makes writers come to you with requests to read their books.

Stay classy, my friends. :)

The World is a Vampire – and Some Writers Are, too

First of all, let me apologize for not blogging much lately. I am so far behind with everything. The kids started back to school on August 8th, I am desperately trying to finish book two of the Celadon Circle series – Refracted, I have at least five #bookreviews to write up, and a #newsletter that is due to go out on August 27th that I have not made a single dent in. Yeah; as usual, my plate runneth over (and not in a good way).

With all this going on I have found it difficult to even decide on a topic to blog about, but one kept coming back to me, showing itself in examples (both good and bad), and I knew I needed to “talk” about it.

I have discovered during the past few years of my writing career (yeah, it’s a stretch to call it a career, but let’s go with it) that people you can depend on come and go, even among #Indie authors. For those who have stood by me through thick and thin, I consider them my closest friends, even though most of them I have never met.

Most of my friends live in my computer in a group I admin (along with a few other peeps) called Books Untamed. This group is mostly #IndieAuthors, some #readers, and a few #bloggers. We support one another, share good news, talk each other off ledges, and learn from each other. Members come and go, especially when they learn that we don’t allow very much promotion, but the core group that started it all has basically stayed the same. They are my best friends, my second family, and I love them dearly.

I am lucky to have such a strong foundation to lean on. Some authors don’t and yes, I have been in their shoes and do know what it feels like to give, and give, and GIVE, and barely get anything in return. From the members of Books Untamed, I learned the value of “Pay It Forward,” and that is what we do – not only for each other but for other authors, as well. Still, we remember that there must be balance. Everyone must pitch in to make it work. There are some authors who love to milk the cows dry and move on. I am finding that many of these type also band together in groups. They love getting new members to share their promos and books, yet rarely give anything back.

One positive in all this is that, eventually, some members of these groups wise up. I recently had a conversation with an author who had such an experience. Week after week, I would see her promoting the authors of this group, yet rarely seen any of them reciprocating. I felt it wasn’t my place to say anything. I was once a member of the same group. Thankfully, my extent as one of their “cows” didn’t last long. I saw what was going on and (pardon my French) shagged arse. All I will say is that they used her to an extent that went beyond their norm and I am so happy that she is no longer among the vampires.

Another incident I witnessed was not surprising, seeing as how I know how this author “works” (in actuality, she doesn’t – not really), but was sad nonetheless. This particular writer loves to ride coattails. She will be your best buddy as long as she is gaining something (promotion, free services such as illustrations or editing, or POSITIVE feedback), but the moment that stops, she is off and running to the next person she can use. I noticed via Facebook that she had become chummy with the vamps and knew it was just a matter of time before she joined their clan…and she did. You see, the vamps still have plenty of members (cows) they can milk and of course, this appeals to those who ride coattails. You would think by now that “seasoned writers” would know that in order to make it in the publishing business, you have to work, and work HARD. All of this running has gotten her nowhere. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends.

Now, what does all the rambling mean? I guess my point is that, as writers, we all have the choice to decide what type we want to be. Do you want to be an author who pays it forward? Do you want to surround yourself with positive people who strive for success without compromising their principals? Or do you want to be a vampire who takes and takes and never bothers to give back? Which do you think will be more productive? I try to be the best person I can be no matter the context. I’m not perfect but I do know the value of having people share my work, and I try to return the favors. It’s only right. We all want to be successful. We all want to make a name for ourselves. The question is, what are you willing to sacrifice to make that happen? Your time? Your friends? Your morals?

It’s your choice.

 

 

No Misconceptions Here

warning-mass-confusion-ahead

Recently, I was asked for an opinion on small press publishers by a fellow author looking for a company who might be interested in graphic novels. I have decided to republish this post I originally published on Oct. 31, 2013. This was right after I left my former publisher. I hope it gives some insight into what I think authors are or should be looking for in a small press publisher. :)

***

Am I confused? I would have to say that I am…about some things. It has only been a few days since I made the decision to return to Indie publishing and I must admit, I expected the assumptions, rumors, and half-baked theories as to WHY I made this decision to spring up sooner. I take my hat off to those who have managed to control themselves. For those who do not know how to act like professionals, felt the need to gossip, and bored many of us to tears with your capacious yet erroneous blog posts, well…at least you managed to spell the words correctly.

I will be the first to admit that I am not versed in the field of ‘professional publishing.’ Most of what I know regarding small press and traditional publishing companies has been gained through conversations with other authors and owners of such operations. One important thing I have learned is that while publishers may have different ways of doing things, those who are honest, knowledgeable, and deserving all follow a few sacred rules.

1. They will offer assistance with marketing.
Note: I did not say that they will spend a truckload of money marketing your book nor will they focus solely on YOUR book. In the publishing world – small press and traditional – authors will always be responsible for a majority of the marketing. However, in my humble opinion, if a publisher signs you as an author after reviewing one (or more) of your books, then that must mean they think your work is worth putting their name on it. It would also lead one to believe that they would make a minimal effort to market your book in some way other than posting a few tweets on Twitter and sharing on Facebook with the small numbers on their friends list – most of which are also signed with their company or other authors. Now, color me stupid here, but I cannot comprehend the advantage of trying to sell a book to other authors. Put simply, a good publisher will try to think outside the box and, at the very least, advise their authors on a few ways to get their books out to readers and try to stay abreast of marketing techniques.

2. They will provide professional editing, formatting, and cover design if you choose not to provide your own cover art.
Professional editing means that your book should be as clean and polished as it can be. There should not be so many glaring errors that you get bad reviews or have readers/friends/authors/editors send you messages listing numerous mistakes they found while reading your book.
If a publisher offers ‘professional formatting’ for paperback copies to be sold of your book, they should be available for readers and for you to purchase for book signings, giveaways, etc. in a timely manner. A timely manner is not almost four months from the original publishing date of the book.

3. All authors signed with the publishing company are treated fairly and equally.
A few examples that just ‘popped into my head’ are:
*When a publisher sets a date for the release of a book, that date is held firm. If problems arise, they release the book as close to the original date as possible. They do not push back a release date of a book three times because they are too busy handling the affairs of authors they deem more important to their company.
*A publisher will not go on an internet radio show and announce they are working with one of their authors on an interactive project for Apple iPads centering around a new release while another of their authors is waiting for a problem with their cover art to be fixed for months. I imagine it would be a bitter pill to swallow knowing that one author is getting all this wonderful attention for their new book while you can’t even get paperback copies of your own. Just a guess there.
* If a publisher gives one author a password so they can check their sales numbers via computer anytime they like, then their other authors should be given this same opportunity instead of being left in the dark due to the fact that the publisher never informs them of this information. Most writers will agree that they do like to know the number of books they sell – even if they only get a report on this once a week or month. If their sales are poor, they can analyze the reasons why and try different tactics to increase them.

I could give many other examples on the subject of fair treatment but I don’t have all day to write this. :)

4. Small press publishers are more likely to have a small staff, and owners will almost always be directly involved with the books and authors. This means you will be important to them in a way you probably would not be at a larger publisher.
The only exception to this is when the publisher does not have the resources or staff to take care of the authors signed with them and yet they keep signing more and more. Eventually, some of their authors are pushed to the back burners and their books are not given any attention at all. Often, this contributes to poor sales, low moral and aggravation on the part of the author and, sometimes, leaving the company.

5. You do not work for the publisher, nor does the publisher work for you. This is a partnership by which you both hope to make money.
I don’t think I need to define the word partnership. When one of their authors is not doing well with sales, the publisher (once again, IN MY OPINION), should talk with the author and try to come up with ideas on how to hopefully remedy this situation or at least improve it. What they should NOT do is make up excuses and use the economy as a scapegoat. Sure, the economy is not at its best right now, but it is hard to shove this excuse down an author’s throat and expect them to swallow it over and over when other authors (some signed with other publishing companies and some Indie) are having better sales on a continuous basis. As a matter of fact, some authors may actually doubt this pitiful excuse when they continually see some of their coworkers within the publishing company getting better marketing experiences than they do.

In closing, if one is going to have a publishing company and sign authors who trust their words and contracts – authors who sign over books they worked extremely hard to write – then perhaps one should know how to run a publishing company. They should not provide sub par editing, have bare basic of knowledge of formatting and no fortitude to deal with problems in a timely manner, provide no marketing assistance at all, treat some of their authors better than others, and then get upset when an author leaves and take no responsibility for their part in that decision. They should not discuss an author’s decision to leave with others and make up lies to make themselves look innocent. Lastly, they should not sign authors to their company just to have more books on their website because they believe this makes them look bigger and more important in the publishing world. If a publisher does not like an author’s work, believe in them, nor plan to do anything with their books other than use them for ‘shelf decor’, they should be honest and let the author know that perhaps they would be better off looking for a different company.

I can only speak for myself, but I believe that authors looking for small press publishers only want to be signed IF the publisher believes in their work. I don’t think that is too much to ask. After all, why would a publisher want to sign someone they don’t believe will work out for their company? In the end, the only results gained are hurt feelings and a massive cluster**** that could have been avoided. My reasons for the decision I made are my OWN. Any words I have shared with others were weighed after careful consideration and backed by documented proof. No author should ever be put in a situation where they feel they must defend decisions they make concerning their livelihood. However, not every person handles themselves in a professional manner.