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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Who reviews the reviewers? You could.

The second generation Amazon Kindle, showing t...

The second generation Amazon Kindle, showing the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe we need to make a concerted effort to review some reviewers so they’ll either change, cheer up or shut up. Allow me to explain before you give this blog post a one-star review.

I’m in the home stretch in completing my crime novel and after a hard day sweating over a hot keyboard, I dip into my Kindle to unwind. As I search for new books to load up on, I find myself drawn to scan Amazon reviews. The sad truth is, I haven’t been reading the five-star or four-star reviews much. I’ve been clicking on the one-star reviews and reading with horror.

There are several reasons for my self-abusive behavior: 

1. I’m looking for mistakes to avoid. Not all one-star reviews are wrong and I’m trying to glean the honest from the brutally honest. Some books are plain bad.

2. Cranky people can be funny sometimes. Sometimes on purpose. Just as villains can be more interesting to write than heroes, a bad review is often more interesting than a positive one…at least to write, possibly to read and, as far as achieving the purpose reviews are meant for? We’ll get to that in a moment. Hang in for the punch.

3. Five-star reviews tend to sound alike while the one-stars should be more interesting. This is the Anna Karenina/book review version of “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Generally, reading one-star reviews has proved a mistake because either it’s depressing or annoying. I should probably quit reading them. Or, we could review the reviewers in the hope they might improve just as they supposedly do for our betterment. That is the purpose, isn’t it? Or is it?

Hm. We’re writers. We should be able to do a better job than many reviewers at reviewing. Shouldn’t we?

With regard to point 1: The one-star reviewers often haven’t finished much of the book they’re reading and their criticisms are often inarticulate, too harsh or too vague. “Yuck” doesn’t inform anyone of anything except the reviewer might be a dim seven-year-old with a limited vocabulary and access to their parents’ Amazon account.

As far as point 2 goes, the hate comes through, but there’s not often a lot of creativity in the funny department. The problem is that too brutal a review isn’t a message conveyance system. It’s just a knife slashing from out of the darkness wielded by a bitter, blind assailant. Some reviewers offer such consistent patterns of hatred, I suspect they don’t enjoy reading but reviews are an outlet for problems that are traditionally worked out on a couch with the aid of powerful psychopharmaceuticals.

As for point 3: I was wrong and Anna Karenina was wrong. The hate sounds more alike than the all-out loving reviews. People love different aspects of a book but they repeat the same stuff that bothers them, often within the same one-paragraph review.

The Internet is mean because it’s anonymous. Some people mistake mean for being intelligent or funny. Nah, it’s often just mean and dumb. We keep hearing the rule “Don’t say anything on the Internet you wouldn’t say within bitch slapping distance.” It’s good advice crazy people don’t take.

Recently one of my books, Self-help for Stoners, got its first three-star review. (The others were four and five stars and wow did those make me happy!) The reviewer who gave that book three stars wasn’t in love with the drug use aspect of the book. Instead, he winced and I don’t think he meant metaphorically. I’m always intrigued how people react to that book because some have told me it’s anti-drug (Get off your ass, stoner!) and most assume it’s pro (What a wonderful world it could be. [insert trill of violins rising here] ) When people ask me straight out, I say it’s anti-censorship and pro-freedom but mostly it’s stories of suspense that challenge readers to draw their own conclusions.

Though it was a three-star review, the reviewer found a lot to love and respected the work enough to give it very thoughtful consideration that I appreciated. It was largely complimentary despite the aspects he disapproved of. That’s pretty decent and open-minded of him, don’t you think? Lots of people have three settings: love, hate and apathy. The mark of a good book review is an appreciation for nuance. Would I prefer unmitigated bouquets and cyber kisses? Of course, but it was still a good review from him and a good review for me. (In retrospect, I wish I’d sent him Sex, Death & Mind Control. He probably would have enjoyed that book more. The style has similarities and the subject matter is still suspenseful fun but there’s nothing there that could be considered advice.)

Which brings us back to those hateful one-star reviews. You know those little boxes that say: x number of y customers found this review helpful? Yes? No? I’ve been clicking “No” a lot lately. Too many of them are just too mean or uninformative or uninformed. If you think a review breaks the bitch-slapping guideline, click No. (Or click Yes if it was disapproving but helpful, funny, clever, civil or anything non-hateful and crazy.)

Suggestions:

If you only gave the book five minutes or a few pages, you aren’t qualified to review it. Move on. (I don’t know how much of a book you have to read before you’re qualified to review it. 50%? 75% 100% including the ISBN? Hence the Question of the Day at the bottom of this post.)

If you couldn’t wait to delete it because it’s somehow digitally sullying your Kindle, okay, but very often these folks are really mad at a book that was free. I’m not suggesting a free book should be bad. I’m saying, let’s keep our rage in check and our world in perspective. You tried something and it cost you nothing but time and you didn’t really give it much of that, did you? I don’t waste time finishing a book that I don’t like. There are too many good books out there and life is too short to get all OCD with, “But I got it so I’m committed to this living hell now!” C’mon. Let it go.

Please read a sample before you buy: “I thought by the title that it would be a summer romance and it turned out to be borderline porn about a war between foot-fetishistic elves and fairy vampires! I’m pissed!” We are all the star of our own movie, but just because you hated it doesn’t mean the extras milling around at the back of your set wouldn’t enjoy it. Leave it for those foot-loving peons and weirdos. Stars should be gracious with the supporting cast.

Nastiness is forever, so please check yourself before you wreck somebody else. An ill-intentioned review could  have real-world consequences. At best, you could dissuade someone from something that they could enjoy or maybe even love though you didn’t. At worst, you’re the one taking money away from some poor sod whose only crime is using too many adverbs. Ease up on the stick and don’t overshoot the runway.

What’s your motivation behind a bad review? A friend of mine has mentioned that once his book hit high rankings on Amazon, the nasty reviewers boiled out of the woodwork as if to make a point of taking him down a peg or two for having the audacity to do something that pleased a lot of other, happier people. Another author got a nasty review on her book which she suspected was payback from a writer who had asked for an honest critique and got one she didn’t like. (Warning to the petty and petulant: You don’t get help or even civility in the future if the word gets around that you’re a nit. This is the Internet. Word will get around.)

When you make a big deal about the book being a sub-standard work from an indie press, you’re smearing all hard-working, low-resource indies and dreamers with the same acid-tipped brush who are providing some grateful people with very inexpensive information and entertainment. That’s an ad hominem argument which is Latin for “Shut the $#@! up.”

Are you counting typos as you read? I recently mentioned a reviewer who said he liked a book but started off his review with the fact that he found five typos. If you can’t handle a book with five typos over 250 pages, we have a tank lined with cotton waiting that will protect you from the world. You’re too fragile for earth’s atmosphere. Once again, ease up, man! Many of us (most?) are doing all we can to prevent typos and as much as it may annoy you to find a mistake in someone else’s work, it kills writers to find it in our own books. (You can read a traditionally published book with as many typos. Lots of people hate that argument, so let’s try this tac: You can have a traditionally published book  with (what you perceive) as no typos! Yay! You will, however, have to pay ten times more money for it. Deal? Deal.)

Authors: Please read the whole review and weigh it with due consideration. Just as we hope book reviewers will be civil, gentle and thoughtful and read enough to have a reasonably informed opinion, we should assess reviews individually before clicking that dismissive “No” button. Let’s not let our egos impair our journey to improvement. (If you figure out how to do this, please write me explaining how. I’ll do anything short of meditation, a word whose language root comes from a Latin phrase meaning “Boring as $#@!”

I do thank people for decent reviews. I don’t encourage anyone replying to a nasty review. We can legitimately use the “Was this review helpful?” buttons as they were intended without getting sucked into a black hole of bitterness. If you find yourself explaining why someone should love your book — my baby! my baby! — either you wrote something incomprehensible or they’re kind of dim. Either way, arguing is a waste of time. Use that time to instead write another (great!) book and accept that no one book is for everyone.

Try this: Take a book you love. Look up the best book you ever read! Read the reviews. See all those one-star reviews? Yeah, that’s what I mean.

Question of the Day: How much of a book do you read before you feel you can honestly review it? I welcome your (helpful) comments.

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

Top 20 Facebook Apps for Book Lovers – GalleyCat

Top 20 Facebook Apps for Book Lovers – GalleyCat.

Got a book you want to review, find, sell or promote? Your publicity list starts with this link. Supremely useful collection of apps for the author, publicist and book lover.

Filed under: authors, blogs & blogging, book reviews, Books, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, , , , , , , , ,

Writers: What is your genre? What do you read?

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

Image via Wikipedia

Most of you are writers.

Please let me know the genre in which you write.

Also, what do you read?

Some writers avoid reading fiction from their own genre because they worry it will influence their own writing. I think there’s a difference between a good influence, a bad influence and plagiarism, so I read a lot within my genre (literary fiction and horror.) I also read widely outside my genre.

I usually have ten or so books going at one time. I either have an undiagnosed case of Attention Deficit Disorder or I’m easily bored. Oh, or maybe those two things are de facto the same thing. (I know I’ve hit a really good book when I don’t switch it out with another book. and slow down to savour it.)

I also have an extensive collection of reference books and how-to books on writing, social media and most aspects of publishing. Do you have a favourite book on writing or perhaps you reject the premise? What writing books do you love? Which could you (and the universe) do without?

I’d like to hear from you.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks!

Filed under: book reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chosen Ones: Three Blog Contests

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TWO CONTESTS LEFT! DETAILS HERE TO WIN!

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Filed under: blogs & blogging, book reviews, publishing, writing contests, writing tips, , , , ,

Conflicting Writing Advice

I’m reading Thanks But This Isn’t for Us, a development editor’s (AKA The Angel of Death*) take on why your manuscript sucks. Her suggestions on openings to avoid are very useful.

When I was evaluating the slush pile, there were an inordinate number of manuscripts–all rejected–that began with somebody getting up in the morning, describing themselves in the mirror and making coffee. Second most common thing? Boarding an airplane for The Big Trip. It could work but I never saw it play well in those submissions.

Wrinkle: Now the fiction market is so tight, publishers aren’t just rejecting bad manuscripts. Now they’re turning down a lot of good stuff. There’s only so much money to publish so many books in any one budget year.

Back to Thanks…she advocates “beautiful language.” I wonder if she’s focussing on so-called literary fiction there. I just read two translations from European authors that were definitely literary, but the language was very plain and cut down, even minimalist. I don’t think there were more than two adjectives in either book. Meanwhile, I’ve read about two MFA programs, one eschewing “beautiful language” and the other praising only fiction that employs poetic language. (Maya Angelou thinks it’s not good writing unless it’s hard to read. I disagree.)

This is why you must write for yourself and find someone who appreciates it after the deed is done.

*Angel of Death…you know…maybe we need to ease back on the throttle on hyperbolic language around writing. Sure, you want it to be good, but it’s also just writing. Too often people talk about it like it’s a secret language that only a few geniuses can learn. Successful authors are very very persistent and very very lucky. Nobody talks about the luck involved in getting through the razor wire and fine mesh of some underpaid, otherwise unemployable editorial assistant’s capricious sensibilities. I think I can say that because I was that otherwise unemployable douche who turned your masterpiece down.

Filed under: book reviews, writing tips, ,

Make Your Life Literary

Books on writing abound and at a certain point, there’s a lot of overlap. I’ve bought so many that I’m beginning to recognize the reflex for what it is: procrastination disguised as education. My shelves are groaning for me to stop, but that’s just crazy talk. (As with all addicts, I say I can quit any time I want…just not now.)

However, Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See is different. This isn’t a day in the life of somebody camping out at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. This is somebody who teaches writing, applies for grants and has faced literary difficulty.She’s in the trenches. You’ll like her. You don’t have staff and neither does she.

There’s a lot of advice here you won’t see elsewhere. She’s a great advocate of building relationships with people in the business. You can protest and lament that it’s about who you know, or you can get out there with a campaign of “charming notes” to get to know people.

My favorite book on writing is Stephen King’s On Writing (if you haven’t got that already, you now have two books to go out and buy.) However, King’s a bit removed from the struggles of the mid-list from his perch up there in the stratosphere. See has a wry wit. She’s naked and vivisected on the buffet table so writers and would-be writers can learn from the exposed anatomy of her striving. She talks about mechanics and this insane and improbable business in an accessible way you’ll love. No wonder her charming notes worked.

The author makes an interesting argument for a non-query approach to editors. She’s also against authors buying their own books from their publisher at a discount to sell them. (That’s a pretty radical assertion in the current publishing climate where many authors are turning to their own resources to sell outside the box.)

Instead See suggests you buy your own books in bookstores, write off the expense and use the purchase to boost your tracked sales numbers while making the book a gift to bookstore staff. (I think she has a great point there. Authors doing a signing often make the mistake of thinking it’s about how many people show up to the event. It’s actually your chance to suck up to form an alliance with the bookstore staff so they’ll make an extra effort to sell for you into the future. Be nice to bookstore staff! Also, be nice generally.)

Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I agreed with her because it was brilliant advice or simply because she’s a bit of a contrarian and so am I. She lays out her publishing strategy and cheerfully acknowledges it hasn’t all been cherries and bouquets. It’s a realistic take on the literary life–several romantic moments and toasts with champagne flutes spread out amidst a lot of hard slogging.

And in what other writers’ guide are you going to find advice–and detailed advice at that–on the hows and whys of making the trip to New York to sell your work? Nowhere. Carolyn See balances the wry and practical in a book on writing unlike all the others.

I finished it the other night and I’m going to do something I never do. I’m going to read it again. The rest of the books on writing can wait.

Filed under: book reviews, Books, Writers,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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