C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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The Great Review Controversy, Take 2

From The Telegraph: A best-selling British crime writer, RJ Ellory, used pseudonyms to pen fake glowing reviews about his “magnificent genius” online while simultaneously criticising his rivals.

Read the link? Wasn’t that frustrating?

This time it’s a writer from the traditional side of publishing who has disappointed and embarrassed himself. As bad and individual as the act is, I’m relieved he’s not an indie author. Blame has been spread  around like confetti at a clown rally lately and I don’t want any more glitter in my jock. Will the fact that he’s traditionally published buy indies any more slack? No, but it probably won’t make things much worse for us. It’s so difficult to get reviews and build an audience that I find it disheartening to be painted with mile-wide brushes. I’m trying to make a living as a suspense novelist here!

Instead of distrusting five-star reviews — or automatically believing one-star reviews — I wish more people paid attention to reading samples. I encourage everyone to read book samples before clicking “buy” (even when, perhaps especially when, it’s “free”).

Reviews get too much weight in some people’s minds. My tastes aren’t necessarily yours, so why give so much power away to another when making reading choices? I read book samples to avoid unpleasant surprises. The first chapter usually gives me a glimpse of the quality and tone of what’s to come. Some people fail to exercise the reading sample option and then blame the author. “I wanted romance and this is fantasy! How dare she?” That’s like getting angry because the drugstore doesn’t sell coconuts.

Is Amazon really “Spamazon”? It’s the Internet. Is the fault in our tools or in ourselves? To confront the problem of bad reviews, fake reviews and attack reviews, we need to grow up, do our due diligence and keep things in perspective. You don’t believe everything you’re told. Fine. Enjoy those free reading samples and make better informed choices before the too-easy click.

Indies are mostly beautiful dreamers and bold, generous storytellers. We are not all evil scammers out to fool readers. Many of us tell entertaining stories with few resources and we perform this service for the equivalent of couch change. It’s churlish to make all authors collateral damage for the offences of others.

When the NY Times story about paid-for reviews broke last week, I was initially forgiving and didn’t take it so seriously. John Locke, for instance, may have paid for reviews, but he said he was open to honest opinions as well and he still wrote all his books which, nicely reviewed or not, a lot of people like. I wished he’d mentioned the paid-for-review strategy in his how-to book in the interest of full disclosure, but at first I figured his tactic just sped up his trip on the success train. However, when I saw so much negative reaction from potential buyers, I got sad. Unfairly or not, it hurt our reputation.

Then I realized I couldn’t approach Locke to ask for a cover blurb for my next book in The Hit Man Series. He was on my short list of authors I planned to ask for an endorsement. I’m not assuming he would have gone for it. I’m just terribly disappointed because of the damage done. (That cry of “I’ll never read indie again!” really got to me, silly as it is.) I read a few of Locke’s books and enjoyed them, but now his name is tainted with the “Paid for Reviews” badge. He’ll recover from this. Locke has a huge fan base who don’t care about this controversy. It’s probably too inside baseball for most and for people who are already fans, why would they care?

It hurt me and fellow indies, though (and we don’t have that big cash cushion to ride out the bad weather.) You know that saying, “Save a horse, ride a cowboy”? Indies need a bumper sticker, too: “Save an author, buy a book.”

Hm. That’s not near as sexy and catchy. Suggestions?

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. WDLady says:

    Great article! You have a lot of valid points there. I couldn’t agree with you more. Yeah, we indie authors have to deal with so much negative things these days…not only is it hard to advertise and get our books notice, but we face a lot of people’s misguided judgements too. I guess we’re just easy targets. 😛 We don’t have a big publishing company backing us up, we don’t have the top editors or PR staff. Hell, we’re just happy if someone buys and read our books.

    I myself would never pay anyone to read and review my book, because to me that doesn’t seem right. Not only that, I couldn’t even afford it and would probably put myself in the poor house. I’m sure a lot of critics get paid to watch and review movies from those big top studios as well. The critics may give out their honest opinion…or not, but I don’t read a book or watch a movie because of raving reviews.

    If the characters or the storyline is interesting to me, I’ll watch it regardless of what people say about it. I never follow the trend and what I love is usually what the critics end up hating anyway. It’s just pointless really. 🙂

  2. Chazz:

    Yes, it is a broad brush sort of thing. I really don’t care whether Locke paid for reviews or not. He was just trying to use whatever resource he could find to separate himself from the throng of other indie writers. Yes, he should have made that disclosure in his marketing book, which I bought and read. But, it is what it is.
    I agree wholeheartedly with you that the best way for readers to avoid any risk in their buying options is download a free sample. I do it all the time. I did it yesterday with a book that is going great guns on Kindle. After I read the first ten pages or so, I knew why the book was so hot. Fine, exciting writing. I have had the other experience, too, where I looked at a sample and decided the book wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t then write a one-star review, I just moved on to another book and didn’t buy that one.
    It’s a tempest in a tea pot, really. But as you say, indie writers don’t have a store house of goodwill built up with readers, so a small slight can hurt us worse than it hurts an established writer.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  3. It’s sad that anyone would do that. If the work is good, it will gather a following. If not, the author can learn from those mistakes and make the next piece better. We really can’t hide anything on the internet. It’s foolish to even try. Something like this, even if it were a temptation, is not worth risking.

  4. […] service that helps readers double check on what they’re buying. Author Robert Chazz Chute encourages his readers to use Amazon’s book previews instead of relying on reviews alone, since book […]

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