To Review or Not Review: It shouldn’t be a question

professionalism (the dictionary project)

 

WiseInk wrote a fascinating blog post the other day asking why book blog reviewers are having difficulty accepting indie books for review. The post intrigued me as I am someone who has dipped her toes into both sides of the book world.

As a Goodread’s top reviewer, I have found that I have enjoyed indie books immensely. I was impressed that these books weren’t the cookie-cutter variety often forced down readers’ throats by big house publishers whose goal is to get them to fit into as many genres as possible for marketing purposes so they can get the biggest bang for their buck.

I will never forget reading my first Kathleen Valentine book. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on more of her deep, rich, engrossing noir-ish stories that sucked me into a story where I lived with the characters.

Nor will I forget the absolute sweetness of Ethan Allen, a twelve-year-old boy who had me cheering for him in award-winning author Bette Lee Crosby’s Spare Change. And Giacomo “Jim” Giammatteo’s portrayal of four friends testing honor and betrayal in Murder Takes Time, is a book I have compared to Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather. My list can go on and on. At one point, I blindly accepted new books for review . . . until last year.

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I sent a review to an author who didn’t like that I rounded the 3.5 star book review that I had given him on my book blog down to 3 stars, since Amazon and Goodreads do not allow for half-star ratings. This man used my personal email address to torment and harass me, calling me every name in the book including stupid and illiterate! Even after I asked him to stop bullying me, he continued. Guess what? Amazon, Netgalley, andGoodreads wouldn’t help me, so I decided I needed to help myself.

Was this the first time I had been personally attacked by a disgruntled author? No, but it was the worst of all I had received by authors who could not accept critical reviews of their work. As a result, I planned to take down my book review site and close my Netgalley profile.

Instead, I decided to stop accepting indie books unless I knew the author, or an author I knew could vouch for him or her. Indie authors have to understand that when I review for a traditional publishing house, I work directly with the publisher. I rarely, if ever, interact with the author. But, when working with indie authors I am subjected to how that author accepts criticism—or doesn’t.

The same type of situation occurred with Sisterhood of the Traveling Book (STB), which forced the moderators to begin thoroughly screening the authors we accepted into our author-member program. This was a very new concept to us as our policy was to be there for the authors, particularly the indies, that we were passionate about. Among our goals was to help get their books some visibility and give them a chance to interact with readers.

Last year, we had numerous incidents where either myself or other STB reviewers were attacked by indie authors for critical reviews given on their works as part of the author-member program. Since STB is a professional site, the moderators check the reviews for professionalism and reviewers are subject to removal from the group if they write unprofessional reviews.

A former STB author-member dissatisfied with a critical review chose to write a blog post on a well-known indie blog site insinuating that our reviewers were basically too dumb to understand his masterpiece. This author was demeaning to a highly intelligent, well-educated (PhD candidate), experienced blog reviewer in our group. The author minimized her credentials as both a reviewer and a reader simply because she dared to not like his book due to his writing style and font.

The final straw? He gave out information which could easily lead others to track her down and be targeted and bullied by others. The site he wrote his post for picked it up without even bothering to verify the information with us—even though the founder of that group has my private email information and has contacted me in the past to ask my opinion on various subjects.

You may be thinking this is old news. Think again! I have been following the ongoing saga of an author who is angry at some reviewers and a vendor who dared to point out several significant grammatical errors in his book that was part of a book tour. This allegedly professional author is appalled that reviewers are not overlooking these errors in a completed, published manuscript.

Naomi Blackburn on Editing

When I do a review I want to see a final, commercial-grade book and I will point out any errors I find in my review. I do not want books that are laden with errors that I am simply meant to overlook. When did being an indie author mean producing inferior work? I liken grammatical errors in a book to purchasing a car that has missing floor mats or door handles. Would you accept that lack of quality in that situation? If not, then why would an author accept it in something that has his/her name attached to it?

Authors who participate in personal attacks—like the one I mention above, who has taken to Twitter to voice his anger—look both unprofessional and juvenile. Please explain to me why I would use my precious time to review this author’s work when I have other authors who may be more professional asking me to take a critical review of their work?

Now, it is time for me to put on my Author CEO hat. Until authors recognize that they are a part of a bigger movement and not an island unto themselves, the whole indie movement will suffer from critics who consider indies inferior. Immature, unprofessional behavior and bickering feeds into critics’ arguments, which can be played like a trump card when they are looking to put indie authors in their place.

To authors who participate in this type of behavior: Next time you feel the need to lash out at a reviewer for his or her constructive criticism, be thankful that the reviewer took the time to invest in your book and give you an honest review. Accept the criticism and learn from it, even though it might sting. They could have blown off your book entirely!

Next, think of those authors who bust a hump every day to produce a quality product and who act in a professional manner in bringing their books to market. Think about how, even inadvertently, your behavior affects them. How would you feel if it was the reverse, and their behaviors affected how you were seen as an indie or self-published author?

naomiism 4

 

So if book reviewers might be subject to rants and attacks by indie authors, the question is not why they don’t review indie books—it’s, why would they? I am saddened that question even has to be asked.

Comment here!

Comments

  1. Great article and I am with you 100% on this. Reviewers who have taken their time to review Indie books are a good part of what has helped this group of authors become the formidable force they now are. I love being an Indie and wouldn’t have it any other way, but I cringe when I hear of instances like this, because I know that ultimately it will reflect on the hard-working group of Indie authors who strive for perfection in every aspect of what they do. Myself included.

  2. Hi Naomi!
    I totally agree with you. I thoroughly research any author before I review a book. I don’t want to be caught in a storm of criticism for simply sharing my thoughts. There seem to be authors behaving badly on both sides of the publishing coin, but sadly, the indie one are the ones that get talked about the most. Just like we suggest that high school students think twice about posting things on social media that might prevent them from getting into a good college or getting a job that they would like, the same needs to be suggested to authors.

    Call your best friend and rant and rave, but don’t do it on social media. An author puts their ‘baby’ out there for others to comment on. When they do that they need to put their big girl panties on….

  3. Hey Naomi, when I was a kid my mom told me that not every other kid in the world was going to like me. Umm, whaaaat? That was a shock, but it was also a good introduction to life as an author. You know me, you know my story, and you know I’ve been publicly slapped around by a reviewer who did not like one of my books. It hurt, it made me cry in private, and it was uber embarrassing. But my best takeaway was how much I did NOT want it to happen again – and the only way I could make that happen was to suck it up and write better books. So I did. We all need to just SHUT UP, take our lumps, and GET OVER IT. Rant over.

  4. Send them this link 😉

  5. Great post. I appreciated the opportunity to have a professional review for my indie novels. I work hard to have a clean book, using beta readers, paying for an editor and checking that proof more than once. Understand the reluctance to review with such behavior better seen in the 5th grade.

  6. I admit that I’m hurt when I receive a bad review. I usually thank the person for taking the time to review, and sometimes I learn from them. What I object to is a review from a reader who admits she didn’t read the book! I can’t believe that an author would so rude to you. I’m an indie author and have used professional editors for my three books. I have only found two small typos. Thanks for writing an important article.

    • Thanks for your comment, Carol. I have a number of what I call “Naomi-isms” One of the big ones is:

      “If there is ZERO to learn from a one star review, laugh it off. An author getting a one star review is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning.”

      Only you can know if there is truly nothing to learn from it. Is there critical information that your reviewers are trying to tell you? Keep your mind open to the critical reviews. Sometimes they are even better than the 4 and 5 star ones.

  7. Naomi oh how I love you!

  8. Naomi: Because you said good things about me, I’ll agree with you. HaHa. Seriously, though. I am baffled by how some authors conduct themselves. Is it too difficult for them to understand that a person might not feel the same about their book as they do? When I hear indie authors complain about reviews, I try to reason with them but all too often it’s a futile effort.

    I don’t like it if someone doesn’t like my books, but as I tell people. My wife doesn’t read my books and I don’t hate her for it. My brother gave one of my books a 4 star review. My brother! But he was being honest, and that’s what’s it all about.

    I have stopped reviewing books for many of these same reasons you mention. It almost makes it not worth it. And mistakes cannot be tolerated, at least not more than one or two. I wrote in an author’s group one time that indies were to blame for most of the criticism against us because of the mistakes in so many books, and I caught a raft of sh*t like you wouldn’t believe. Just for grins, I went and thumbed through books of a few of the most vocal of them and found mistakes within minutes.

    I believe it is a primary reason why most indie bookstores won’t stock indie authors. And that really is a shame.

  9. Amen. Well said.

    I’ve been increasingly irritated by the juvenile and entitlement attitude of some indie authors who destroy the reputation of the rest. If you dare to put your book out there for public consumption and review, then suck it up. Some people will hate your book. To expect everyone to love your book or even like it mildly is madness and unrealistic.

    It’s a free world, for both readers, reviewers and writers. Not just writers. The whole system is not built around the worship of writers by us sycophants.

    Stop claiming troll-like behavior just because someone didn’t like your book or found multiple errors in it and, horror of horrors, felt they had the right and freedom to express that opinion. As long as they keep it personal and strictly about the book, they have every right to do that.

    Professional writers either learn from bad reviews or ignore them. That’s the mark of a professional, anything else is immature and amateurish.

  10. Wow! It I’d difficult to express how sorry I am to hear these accounts. As a human being it is disappointing to hear of abuse against others. As an indie author it is disappointing to hear about my industry being so poorly represented. As a business owner it is appalling to me that someone would represent their business, their brand, in such a manner.

    Thank you for sharing your experience here. It is important for all of us in thi industry to hear and consider.

  11. Wow! I had no idea. Thanks for the insight and the clear, informative article. I would say this is a definite reason for self-pub and small press authors having to pay for respected reviews. Of course, that route isn’t all roses and sunshine either, but it is an option for those of us who want honest and professional reviews. Generally for sites that offer reviews for pay, an author has the choice of having their review made public or private. In this case, when it’s not good the author can use it as constructive criticism or ignore it and no one is the wiser.

    I have witnessed authors behaving badly in group review/advice forums and decided to back out of that type of thing completely. These weren’t all self-pub authors (some were small press or unpublished), but the tantrums, name calling, and harassing use of personal email addresses occurred too frequently. On other times, the obsequious and fake atmosphere prevailed and any review coming from either situation is worthless to me.

    It’s sad that the more mature, intelligent, and genius authors like me (totally joking!) have to suffer the consequences of those that misbehave. Oh well. Such is life.

    Happy writing!

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