31 July 2012

Book Reviews and Book Reviewers

For an independent, first-time author the big question after actually publishing a book is “How is the world going to know?”

One of the new literary genres can be summed up as “how to sell your book.” There are dozens of such books available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble – self-published e-books, of course. They all recommend using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, a website, a blog, and cultivating book reviewers.

Until I started looking into publishing my novel, I had no idea that there were so many websites devoted to books. Thousands of independent bloggers as well as for-profit sites, such as Night Owl Reviews and Goodreads, attract millions of readers. People go online looking for something to read and many of them discover other people they can interact with. I’ve discovered whole social communities on Goodreads and Shelfari that are the literary counterparts of Facebook.

Many book bloggers and reviewers cross-post their reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads and Shelfari. Goodreads will pick up this post on my blog and list it on my author page, automatically, and reviews for my books posted there will magically appear here on my website.

And the reviews are the primary way many readers use to decide to buy my books rather than “Dumbbell’s Wonderful Adventure”, “Goblin Gangbang”, or “War and Peace”.

Recently, book reviewers have become a major topic of conversation in the literary world, even sparking a debate on The Huffington Post. A group of anonymous but suspected to be independent authors upset about bad reviews have started a campaign to rid the world of churlish reviewers who don’t love certain authors’ books.

I won’t provide a link or more publicity for these disgruntled people who feel they’ve been wronged. Their charges are that gangs of malicious reviewers are targeting innocent writers on Goodreads, showering them with 1-star reviews out of spite.

Back to those books telling you how to market your book. All of them say the same thing: “don’t ever respond to a bad review.” Not only does it make you look bad, it dignifies the author of the review and makes them seem more important than they would be otherwise.

Almost all review sites have a posted policy telling what kind of books they accept for review and how they structure their reviews. If not, you can look at some of their reviews to get the flavor. Some say they won’t post negative reviews. Some sites are renowned for posting scathing reviews on books they don’t like. I can tell you from experience that it’s a moment of truth when you hit ‘send’ to request a review from a site called “Snarky Reviews” or “Bad Authors’ Hell.”

From the reviewers’ side, I’ve read some inexpensive self-published books that are so poorly written and/or poorly edited that I couldn’t stand it. I’ve spent $0.99 on books I couldn’t finish. If you check Amazon, you’ll find 1-star reviews on self-published books by readers who were outraged at spending their money and time on a book that wouldn’t get a C grade in a high school class.

I’ve found typos in books from the big-6 publishing houses, but it’s fairly common in books from independent publishers. Many of the self-published works are terrible for errors in spelling, grammar, word usage, not to mention cardboard characters, holes and weird turns in the plot, and simplistic story lines. But I’ve also struggled to finish hardback books with plot and character problems.

Getting my books in front of people has been a struggle. I’m dependent to a great extent on book reviewers to tell their readers that my novels are worth reading. A huge number of review sites that used to review self-published books no longer do so. They cite three reasons: 1) The quality of the editing, 2) nasty responses from authors, and 3) the sheer number of requests they receive has become overwhelming.

Many people bash self-published authors. Those same people also bash Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, The Trylle Trilogy, and anything else that doesn’t meet their personal standards of literary quality. Many of the great recent successes have been Indie authors who hit it big and subsequently were picked up by large publishers.

This latest flap, with reviewers’ personal information posted on the web, including where their children go to school, will decrease the number of reviewers available to me and other independent authors. It’s only a matter of time before some whacko publishes drivel, asks a 14-year-old blogger to review it, and does something over the top when the blogger doesn’t like his/her book.

That will be a real pity.

Comments (7)

  • JQ Trotter

    JQ Trotter

    31 July 2012 at 23:37 | #

    That's why I think that self-publishing would be such a struggle, because it all depends on reviews and word of mouth (which can go though the mentioned social media sites). And then there's the problem of those silly reviewers that give bad reviews/ratings for illogical reason. Like, when they don't like a book because a character makes a bad choice and give it a 1 star for that, even though the book has obviously accomplished something if the author has proven to the reader by the end why it was the wrong choice to make... which is common among YA. It's better for a teen to experiment with something wrong in reading than actually doing it. Or, what I hear is becoming a problem on Goodreads, are time-traveling reviews. The ones that give books ratings based on how much they want to read a book that hasn't even been published yet -- which is unfair, because if you haven't read it, why are you rating it?

    So far, from the reviews I've read, everyone has had great things to say bout the Succubus series so I hope everything continues to go well for you :) And, of course, continues to get better.

    reply

  • BR KINGSOLVER

    BR KINGSOLVER

    01 August 2012 at 01:18 | #

    On the other hand, I read something by a reviewer recently who said that she discounts a book with a lot of high reviews, assuming the author planted them. By her standards, a 1-star review would validate my book? The fact is, this controversy has decreased the already thin number of reviewers willing to look at a new author. It gives even more power to the large publishers who pay (either directly or in advertising dollars) for their reviews.

    reply

  • Wren

    Wren

    10 August 2012 at 16:17 | #

    Reviewing is a tricky business-- people love to see whats five star but what about all the time reviewers spent reading a good book thats not quite there? Its tricky to respect authors, be truthful, and provide helpful reviews for readers.

    Personally I do like to see a see bad reviews. Its easy to recruit friends to sing your praises. The average reader may not think it five star. And speaking of Twilight and Fifty Shades, those are love-hate. People either roll their eyes or are rabid fans who tell everyone. Plenty of successful books have bad reviews. Really it means you book got out there to lots of people. In the right hands the book is gold, but better to cast a wide net and catch a few one stars.

    And sometimes poor reviews give such bad explanations that it really makes the book look more attractive to intelligent readers!

    reply

  • BR KINGSOLVER

    BR KINGSOLVER

    11 August 2012 at 00:55 | #

    Too be honest, only a couple of the early reviews of my book were by friends - and those were beta readers who had a major hand in making it better. One of my beta readers gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. I told her she could help make it better, and she gave the next book 4 stars. LOL!

    So far, the most critical reviews I've received are 3 star, and they've said they enjoyed the story and were interested in seeing if the next book was better. That is about what I hoped for when I published it. The 5 star reviews were beyond my hopes, and even those have had constructive criticism.

    I know I'm not Steinbeck or Hemingway, but I hope to become a better writer. In the meantime, if I can give someone a good story that's worth 3 bucks and a weekend, I don't feel bad about not being perfect.

    Yes, Twilight, Shades, and Goblin Gangbang have their audiences. I'm sure that much better writers are jealous. Just because you're a great writer doesn't mean you have a great story, or that your perfect words told it in a way that connected with the reader.

    Perhaps someday I'll find the perfect story and the words to tell it in a way that it's never forgotten. But I'll probably still depend on a bunch of part-time book bloggers to tell someone that it exists.

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  • Wren

    Wren

    13 August 2012 at 00:40 | #

    I hope most reviewers want to help authors produce good books like your readers. :)

    reply

  • Heather Sunseri

    Heather Sunseri

    30 August 2012 at 01:26 | #

    I guess I always hope that the great reviews will outweigh the craziest out there.

    And as far as the self-published, I've read so many amazing self-published books lately, that my excitement for the writers who are willing to GO FOR IT has reached new levels. I admire those who have reached success in traditional publishing, but to have the courage to self-publish and to have enough pride to do it well... I'm in awe of those of you who do that.

    There will always be people who will slam those who find success. I'm a big fan of focusing on the good that outweighs those bad.

    reply

  • BR KINGSOLVER

    BR KINGSOLVER

    03 September 2012 at 16:40 | #

    There are a lot of good self-pubs hitting the market. My concern is that they are often over shadowed by the poor books or those that weren't prepared for publication in a professional manner. But there are some incredibly bad books (my opinion, of course) that are available in hard back from the big 6 publishers.

    reply

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