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Friday, May 25, 2012

Indie Authors and Criticism

Ran across a couple items the last few days - and faced a conundrum - all to do with reviews and criticism. One was a review that's been passed around betwixt indie authors by a blogger, but it's not the review that was interesting, oh,'s the author's response. On her behalf, I am MORTIFIED, and again, not by the review. The review stunk. It was a 2 of 5 stars, and it was very honest, direct, and cited examples about why the book received a 2 instead of any other number of stars. (Apparently the book just sucked.) Now, keep in mind we all have our different ways of rating things. 5 stars for me is a book I thoroughly enjoyed. 4 is one I liked, but little things about it bothered me. 3 is decent and recommendable, and so on. For an author friend of mine, Adrienne Monson, 5 stars go only to her FAVORITE EVER books...meaning about half a dozen books in the world. If it was REALLY REALLY good - just not her favorite - it gets 4 stars. If it was a good book, but not one she'd re-read a bunch, it's a 3...and so on again. (In other words, we all do this differently!) That said, 2 stars still isn't great. The reviewer gave an author 2 stars, and she jumped on the comments and LET RIP. She was rude, foul, self-important, and just plain angry. She came across like a Tasmanian devil on speed, and JUST...KEPT...GOING. 100-some comments later (from her, of course, and from people telling her to shut up because the hole she was digging for herself had become a grave), she finally pulled some of her more-inappropriate know, the ones with strings of 4-letter words attached. I was truly appalled.
So then while perusing Goodreads, I just had to check out a 1 star review given to another book that had virtually all 5 stars. It was well-written, cited examples, as well, and was just plain honest. This time it wasn't the author who blasted the was the author's friends. LOTS of them. "How can you say something that mean?" "Don't you know she's a first-timer and that sort of review hurts people's feelings?" "What are you, a professional critic, you $*%&^$#?!" (I kid you not.) (And on a side note, none of their retorts were well-written.) They ripped her stem to stern for not enjoying a book riddled with poor grammar, typos, poor formatting, and plotless...with flat characters, mind you. It was unreal.
Finally, I recently faced a conundrum: what do you do when you're asked by another author for a review exchange, and they give you 5 gushing stars...but their work is shoddy at best? I confess, I completely caved and gave the author 4 stars, even though it was painfully tempting to offer 1 or 2.
I have regretted that review every moment of every day since I gave it. It was a lie. I am a liar. And not only am I now a liar, everyone who sees that review will see my name tied to it, and likely assume that my indie books are on par with that author's indie books. What was I thinking? Why did I cave??? UGH!
So there you have it...the background for this:
Dear Fellow Indie Authors:
If you're going to put yourself out there, PLEASE make sure you're offering your best work. And if your very best work SUCKS, PLEASE print your own copy and DON'T try to market it. If you don't know whether or not your best work sucks, pay to have it looked over by an editor. If it only sucks a little, pay that editor to help you fix it so that it's your best work. Then pay a proofer to fix your terrible horrible awful grammar, misspellings, and typos. (Didn't you know that the vast majority of us give up on a book half a dozen typos in? We expect it in a proof copy, NOT in a book we paid for!)
Assuming you've done all that and put yourself out there, BRACE YOURSELF: not everyone has the same standard for reviewing, and not everyone is going to love your work. In fact, if you have 200 5 star reviews and NONE that are something different, everyone will figure out that you roped all your friends into perjuring themselves for your sake. If you're willing to expose your work to the public, you have to be prepared for the public to reject it...nay, to HATE it. You don't deserve an A for effort, you don't deserve 5 stars for a NaNoWriMo project that you uploaded to lulu without editing, and you don't deserve the pedestal you've placed yourself on just for "writing a book." Grow up. Bad reviews come, and if you don't learn anything from them, you'll never, ever improve (since it's clear you never put in the work for improvement anyway).
Furthermore, dear Indie Authors, you're MAKING THE REST OF US LOOK BAD. And thank you very much, I don't need any help making myself look bad! I WOULD appreciate the opportunity to appear credible, however, and when your work stinks, I am painted by the same "Indie Author" brush just by virtue of having self-published.
When bad reviews come - because they will - shut up. Please. Just smile, shrug, and either dismiss them as personal preference or go back and revise (you CAN; you're self-published!). Either way, you'll look more like a professional and less like a putz.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jess! I, too, have been in the situation that you describe where my deeply instilled level of politeness overrides my logical brain and I find myself giving a less than honest review of a crappy book. So... I usually stick by my new personal policy to not leave a review at all of a book I don't care for, rather than criticize it in public. If the author insists, I leave something short and vague such as "while not the sort of book I enjoy, readers may like the [plot/characters/interesting cover, etc.]" and will leave a 3 star which, for me, is "mediocre", or a 2 star, if I'm feeling brave/cranky/willing to lose a friend.
    Good luck with those chickens, too!


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