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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Reviews Part 1: This publishing train isn’t going where I thought it was going

I read a review of a friend’s book that bothered me. The reviewer objected to his use of the second person. It’s actually a common objection and, in my view, kind of a silly one. The common objection is the reader couldn’t “get past” all that “you, you, you.” And yet the ubiquitous use of “I, I, I” in first person narration is no problem.

What bothered me more is that reviewer seemed to address the author in a way that made the negative review more personal. “I’m sorry, NAME OF AUTHOR, but nobody does it.”

Nobody does it? Really?

I do in my crime novels and it’s part of the psychology of the hit man’s character. Jay McInerney did so famously in Bright Lights, Big City. There are plenty of novels that challenge convention.

But I’ve blogged about the use of second person before and I don’t want to repeat myself. The above is a reiteration for new visitors to this blog.

And here’s what this post is really about:

Convention. Art challenges it.

This is not to argue that anything is Art simply because it’s weird. “Weird” is a word that stands in for, “outside the reader’s experience.” This is to say that I enjoy books that are uncommon, that challenge the status quo, that defy expectations. This Plague of Days has a subtext of psychology and philosophy underlying the action. Its design is unusual and that’s done on purpose. 

That was the other thing I objected to when I read some reviews of my friend’s book. The writing was executed in such a way that it played with readers’ expectations. It was well done though it left some readers off-balance. Then a couple of reviewers complained that they didn’t know if it was the author’s skill that accomplished that feat or if he merely missed the mark.

I have an answer for them:

The author knew exactly what he was doing. He did it on purpose and it took skill. It takes a lot of skill to propel a narrative across the expanse of a book. They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but perhaps a more careful reading by the reviewers was in order. All the elements were there and it wasn’t the author’s fault that a couple of readers missed it. I was irritated that a couple of people took the time to review my pal’s book, but they didn’t seem to pay attention in the first place. Worse, despite staying with his story to the end, they opted to question his intelligence in their reviews.

A fluke doesn’t keep going for 250 pages. Writers know this. Perhaps that’s one reason why our reviews tend to be kinder.

In Part II of this essay, I’ll discuss why it’s becoming more difficult to sell books the way some of us used to write them. My suspicion is that next time, perhaps my friend won’t write such a brilliant book and, sadly, he’ll probably sell more of them.

That’s a down note to end a post on, isn’t it? It’ll probably get worse in Part II.

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Filed under: author platform, Rant, readers, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

You are not an idiot Part II

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

~ H. L. Mencken

“Still! Don’t be that guy!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute

This part is about writing.

If you’re as cynical (or perhaps as realistic) as H.L. Mencken, you’ll dumb down your books to appeal to a wider audience. As Chris Rock observed, “Most people are B and C students.” A critic once told Sly Stallone his movies were for dumb people. Sly’s brilliant answer? “That’s okay. There are lots of them.”

It would be snobby to suggest every book should be “literature”, whatever that means. I like lots of dumb things. (For instance, I’ve seen every ninja movie ever made.) What I write, a lot of people would call “pulp.” They wouldn’t be wrong, either. (Check this link to The Vintage Library to read what pulp was really about. It’s not the pejorative some critics think it is!)

I’m not demanding that anyone write “up” or “down” to their audience. I’m not in the tell-you-what-to-do business. I’m in the brain-tickle business. I will tell you a quick story, though.

I just got a positive review of This Plague of Days by a person who identified themselves as autistic. My protagonist for those books is on the spectrum and, for that reader at least, the hero passed muster. That review is very precious to me for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t have received it if I didn’t reach a little.

This Plague of Days plays with language and expectations. It’s got a lot of Latin proverbs and a tiny bit of poetry amid the evolving carnage. It’s soft sci-fi with zombies and vampires and family dynamics amid disaster. The plot ventures into dark fantasy. Though readers may come in with low expectations because it’s essentially an end of the world dystopian saga about ordinary people facing infected monsters, the narrative never assumes the reader is an idiot. Escapist ≠ dumb.

The problem with stretching out and reaching as a writer is that someone, as a reviewer, will slap your hand for trying too hard. It’s true that some readers won’t read as closely as you’d like. They won’t “get it.” But few one-star reviews are worthy of serious consideration anyway, right?

Those who do grok it will love your work more.

What can I tell you about aiming higher versus what H.L. Mencken would consider “playing it safe”?

This is my 1336th post on this blog. Sift through and you’ll find I’ve frequently implored my fellow writers to “Follow the Art.” By that I mean, write what serves the story.

Today, I’m asking that when you write, be you. Be unique. Whether your goal is to write something fun and silly or earth shattering in its literary aspirations, be real. Whatever we do, our goal is to entertain. I write to entertain myself first, though. If readers dig my trip, cool. I try not to let reviews influence my game.

I’m taking the question away from a debate about whether to aim lower to achieve higher commercial success. I’m suggesting, as always, that we follow the Art. Be you because there’s only one of you. Don’t try to write like other people. Please don’t envy other writers’ success because envy is irrelevant. Please write what only you could write. Ultimately, it’s not about what seems smart and what’s really dumb. It’s about story.

All stories say something about the world and the writer who is the lens to that world.

Be a true lens that delivers clarity. The sights we point to may please the eye and ear and heart. Often the mind, but not necessarily. Lots of Charles Bukowski’s work is pretty dumb, but his lens was honest and I love his stuff. Though I admire their capacity for terrible vengeance, ninjas don’t say much about today’s world. They don’t say much at all. However, American Ninja 2 is still more fun for me than trying to stuff Ulysses in my head. Ooh! And Sho Kusugi in Pray for Death? Genius! Especially the execution with the buzz saw.

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ Hi. I’m Chazz. I write my variety of suspense. You can find all that stuff on Amazon here.

And now, some of it’s on Kobo.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Write! Like a Boss!

One of the movies we love here in the secret bunker is The Incredibles. I love a good Bond movie and The Incredibles is superheroes in a Bond movie. It’s a lot of fun, though, for me, the most effecting scene is where the missiles close on the plane with kids on board. Having kids makes you cry easily and I’ve cried during that scene several times over.

Kind of a Spoiler

In the original plot for The Incredibles, the plot called for the plane to be piloted by an ordinary human — a sweet old man and friend of Elastigirl — who gets killed in the explosion. That was revised when they decided it was too dark a turn for a kids’ movie.

The best scene

For my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the scene she always brings up first is the attack on the city.

Samuel L. Jackson, primed to defend innocents and come out of retirement, really sells it when he sees the devastation and shouts, “Honey! Where is my super suit?!” 

His wife’s reply: “Oh, no you don’t! I have been planning this dinner with the Robinsons for weeks!”

Honey! Where is my super suit?!” 

The juxtaposition of the mundane with a superhero’s clothing needs is funny, but it doesn’t stand out as much for me. She Who Must Be Obeyed is not wrong. (That can never happen.) However, it underlines that we can’t predict how our writing will be received. We must write for ourselves and hope others of like mind will find us (or we must find them). When I wrote for magazines, I was often surprised which bit of a column provoked outrage and what spurred letters of admiration. People won’t necessarily unpack your book the way you thought you sent it.

And then… 

Yesterday I read one-star reviews of a few of Shakespeare’s plays. One star. Really? I know it’s a subjective universe, but The Freakin’ Bard only gets one star? 

Write more. Worry less.

You could concern yourself with the trend of reviews. Report the abusive reviews. Consider correcting fallacies in reviews (like author Elle Lothlorien). Refuse to read your reviews (like author JA Konrath).

Reviewers are not your boss. You are your boss. Being boss is one of your best reasons to write. Don’t give it up. Write! Like a boss!

Stop worrying so much and just write your next best thing. The next best thing could be your best book ever (which someone will load down with a one-star review). Just write. Not everyone will love your book or they’ll love different parts of your book for different reasons. Those who dislike your work aren’t your readers of the future, so they don’t matter. They don’t pay you for your books so they literally don’t figure into the accounting. 

There really is no accounting for taste.

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes like a boss. Check out his books at AllThatChazz.com (where he also podcasts like a boss.) He interviews like a boss at CoolPeoplePodcast.com. He loses weight like a boss at DecisionToChange.com. He vines like a boss and writes about Vine here. He prepares an apocalypse like a ghoulish boss full of verisimilitude and magic realism at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Video book reviews, secrets and policies

 

LMB stars

LMB stars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recently I posted a video review on Amazon. If you can do it to help a book, I recommend it. Novelty gets attention (even with my ugly mug.) Since posting the video review, more authors have contacted me to read and review their books. My TBR pile is taller than I am and my kindle is just about full, so it’s not easy to get to it all (nor even physically possible.) That’s not a complaint. I’m excited at the possibility of discovering a book that pulls me in and makes me think or laugh. I prefer both. I love books. Of course I want to read everything. Since I can’t and now that I’m getting more of these requests, herein lie the secrets that make me want to review your book favorably:

 

1. I have writing deadlines for my own books and I have a lot to read, so please be patient. I don’t guarantee when I’ll get to it. As you’ll see, I might never get to it, but you’ll prefer my reasoning for not reviewing your book.

 

2. I don’t give one, two or even three-star reviews. Somebody reading this just threw up their hands or their lunch, but bear with me. This goes beyond the fact that I find most one-star reviews mean-spirited, often nonsensical, sometimes borderline illiterate and they usually treat writers of bad books like their crime is genocide. Even though they probably got it free or for less change than sits under their couch cushions, you won’t find much forgiveness, wit or transcendence in most one-stars.

 

But it’s not just that I couldn’t bring myself to do that to another writer unless the title actually is Mein Kampf. It’s simpler than all that. If a book is not to my taste, I don’t finish it and I don’t review what I haven’t read. Life is too short and reading something that’s not for me takes too much time. Pointing out good books is more of a service to readers, and a better use of our time, than warning people away from books we don’t care for.

 

Reviews that are dire warnings are kind of like taking the time to tell me what’s awful on the menu when I’m hungry and anxious to order. I want to hear about your few extra-delicious recommendations and get on with the dining experience, not a litany of what the cook screws up. Or have you ever tried to schedule an appointment with somebody who only tells you when they can’t make it? I want to kill those people. (Okay, I admit it. I have killed those people.)

 

On a related note: Books that aren’t to my liking will be the best book someone else has ever read. Really. Go check on reviews of books you love on any popular site. See those books that whisked you off to magic realms and changed your life? Now see all those reviews warning you off them? Corollary: Try clicking on a book you despise. See all that five-star, hyperbolic love? Nope, they can’t all be friends and family. Families aren’t that big and writers don’t have friends. We have ex-friends we betrayed and cannibalized to put into our books. All those reviews you disagree with are simply people who are different from you. Weird, isn’t it? I mean, you’re awesome. Why doesn’t everyone want to be exactly like you? Inexplicable! I’ll ponder the problem. In the interim, let’s not take reviews too seriously then, shall we? 

 

3. If you gift me the copy on kindle to review, you get credit for the sale and it’s also easier for me to wirelessly download it. Easier is better. (Yes, I have Calibre but frankly, not a big fan.)

 

4. I’m primarily a suspense writer, so mostly I read non-fiction that feeds my other obsessions, mystery, thrillers and some horror. I’ve read a good sampling of many genres, but not everything is for everybody. I don’t and can’t read everything (at least until I get the time machine fixed or become immortal) so please don’t be upset that I must refuse to read your steampunk novel. Even though it’s great, but I haven’t read enough steampunk to create an informed review.

 

I enjoy William Goldman, Chuck Palahniuk, Thomas Harris, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Lawrence Block, Cormac McCarthy and (swoon!) Elmore Leonard. I’m not into Wodehouse. I’ve probably read more romance than you (my first jobs in publishing were at Harlequin in the Canadian Gigolo Department) but that was for pay and I’ve had my fill of impossibly handsome, rich and capable heroes named Rollo seducing women who are, despite their age, curiously sexually innocent.

 

5. A four-star review is a compliment, too, and, with all the distrust of five-star reviews, a happy four-star review may be even more useful to you than a five-star. However, I also believe that all that distrust is now way overhyped. If I’m that high on your fiction, you’ll get a five-star review. Ratings should reflect the tone of the review. It’s weird and confusing when the review is full of superlatives but the rating doesn’t show that same enthusiasm, isn’t it? Also, to hold back on a five-star rating for credibility’s sake alone cheats the author and that would be gaming the system, too, wouldn’t it? No one’s talking about that. Some readers within the echo chamber are afraid they’ll get fooled by fraudulent reviews when they could be reading a sample to alleviate those unbearable terrors.

 

6. I’m nice. I’m acting as a reviewer, not an editor. The review is not about me and this is not a teaching opportunity. I do not scold or lecture authors.

Some bad review habits are egregious. I don’t do things like this: “I wish the story had gone in a different direction,”; “I would have done it differently,” (of course everyone would do it differently!); “Too much swearing!” (that’s usually the realism leaking out); “The level of sex bothered me” (unless it’s BDSM in a children’s book, someone else enjoyed it); tiny grammar niggles; minor factual quibbles; and, finally, rest assured that my world doesn’t collapse when I spot a few typos. I don’t count them in a review. I find that petty and off the mark.

 

Also fitting under this category, let’s walk through what I think is on the mark: Some readers worry that writers are too nice to other writers. Sometimes the opposite is true simply because writers read as writers. We’re not enjoying the flight and looking at the clouds. We’re thinking about the workings of the engines that bear us aloft and how that knocking we hear is going to make the plane crash into the ocean. That attitude can suck a lot of joy from the reading experience, as any enlightened first-year English Lit students will tell you. Most readers don’t read like that! They aren’t as stringent nor are they strident. Most people really just want a good story and that’s what I’m looking for when I read a book to review it.

 

7. What does bother me: Fiction that requires the characters act like idiots for the story to work (e.g. incompetent henchmen and goals too easily achieved); stories that don’t work within their worlds unless I’m an idiot; deus ex machina; not enough conflict and tension; fiction without non-fiction ideas (your grade eight teacher called them themes); and clichés that aren’t twisted. (A twisted cliché makes something new and unexpected out of something worn out and expected.) 

 

8. What I like: I enjoy snappy dialogue and a sense of humor if it suits what you’re trying to achieve. Often at least some levity is exactly what even the most sinister stuff needs to switch up the mood and avoid the drone of a monotone. Try to induce a range of emotion. Ups and downs make roller coasters.

For example, one of my WIPs is a dystopian novel about an autistic child in the middle of a plague that kills most people on earth. That doesn’t mean I don’t make some jokes. For a slightly better known example (ha!), The Dark Knight Rises, as good as it was at times, needed a little more of Joss Whedon’s lighter touch from The Avengers. DKR had elements of opera at its high points and long funeral lows. I prefer stories with more range.

 

I enjoy fiction that achieves what it set out to achieve. For instance, you won’t hear something silly from me, like a complaint that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is “not historically accurate.” Yes, even a professional reviewer did that and, oh my Thor, if I have to explain why that’s upside down, please stop reading now and go watch Honey Boo Boo. Please!

 

9. I do not include spoilers. A good review doesn’t recount the plot and suck the joy of surprise and discovery out of the work for potential readers. I say what I liked and how I reacted to the characters and setting. I say how the story affected me emotionally or intellectually. I react to the experience of reading the book and what makes it interesting to me and unique. (Unique often doesn’t work, but when it works, swoon!)

 

10. Most reviews will be pretty short. A video review longer than a minute is not watched. If I review a book, I’m sharing my enthusiasm and yes, I’m unabashedly trying to sell your book to potential readers. I made it through the reading and reviewed it, so naturally I’m sharing and spreading the joy of your work with readers who enjoy your genre.

 

For me, reviews are about finding the like-minded. There are plenty of good and even great books out there. Let’s go find the good ones and focus our energies on spreading that good news. 

 

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Amazon: My last stab

GET BIGGER THAN JESUS, FREE ON AMAZON TODAY, TOMORROW AND FRIDAY

Free promotions sure aren’t what they used to be. Last December, with Amazon’s old algorithm, friends of mine made big money. Success on the free list actually translated to success on the paid list. Then everything changed and many of us have been slow to react, me included. I notice that, among my writer friends, many (most?) are selling their books on KDP Select exclusively, five free days and all, for the first three months and then they aren’t renewing with KDP. They’ll continue to sell on Amazon, but there are plenty of other places to sell besides Amazon. After that first three months of trying to take advantage of the Amazon advantage, they put their work up everywhere else, too. That’s what I’m doing with the foundation book of my crime novel series, Bigger Than Jesus.

BY THE WAY: 

Bigger Than Jesus is available for free in ebook form

until Friday, and then that’s it.

As The Hit Man Series continues, I don’t know if I’ll go exclusive at all, even for those first three months. The math just doesn’t seem to add up to a marketing strategy that’s advantageous. In truth, it hasn’t been helpful to many indie authors for some time. I stuck with it because of the timing as my previous books launched. I have three books to release before Christmas and the eggs won’t be going into one basket anymore.

Someone asked me recently, “What’s the latest success strategy for indie authors?” I encountered some resistance when I replied, “There isn’t one.” We’ve had the publicists, advertising, press releases, blogging, podcasting, Twitter (and various  derivative Twitter strategies), Facebook, Pinterest (maybe?), the 99 cent strategy, blog tours, free, Goodreads, book bloggers, etc,…. Some combination of these elements may work for someone. Though they’ve all been effective for someone individually in the past, no one strategy seems to deliver a knock-out punch. When I say there isn’t one, I don’t rule out the possibility of their effectiveness in the plural, if you have the time to do all that. (You don’t. Go write instead.) 

Which brings up the question: Will Amazon change its algorithm again so it makes sense for us to stay exclusive with KDP Select? Who knows? Amazon’s algorithms and their rationale may be deduced, but are never made explicit. That information is solely on a need-to-know basis. (Apparently, we don’t need to know.)

Amazon is good at what they do — or has been — but it’s unreasonable to expect they’ll be right all the time, even with their vast resources. More to the point, Amazon’s looking out for Amazon, not me. My evidence is they aren’t making the exclusivity clause worth it for a lot of authors (even the true believers who, in the past, made a lot of dough.) I’m losing sales on other devices because I’m not selling enough with KDP. The Amazon sales don’t make up for lost sales elsewhere. Listening to my writer buddies, it’s clear I’m not alone in that assessment.

This is a business decision and has nothing to do with damning Amazon. I’m not one of the haters whining about monopolies and painting Amazon as a bully. The market is a competition and Amazon is on top because they made a lot of great decisions early on. However, I’m not looking for a new mom to take care of me, either. Being indie doesn’t mean supplanting one boss with a new boss just because it’s easy to go on inertia and formatting anew is a pain in the ass. Next month, as soon as my three months are up, Bigger Than Jesus will be available more widely (Hello Kobo, Nook, Sony, your smart phone, your iPhone, your iPad…maybe even your toaster.)

As for book marketing’s next knock out punch? People will tell you they know what the next big thing is. Some will even try to sell you books based on giving away one ultimate secret of indie author success. I think those people are often well-intentioned and they give out a lot of good information. I’ve read a bunch about marketing ebooks lately and, frankly, I’m also skeptical about some of those easy, plug-and-play answers.

Only one strategy I know of seems like anything close to a sure thing and (WARNING!) it’s a slow, steady grind. It’s not a popular idea because it’s not easy and quick. 

Write more books.

(Do a great job!)

Put them up.

(Do what promotion you can that doesn’t interfere with your writing schedule.)

Write more books.

(Make sure they are wonderful.)

I aspire to inspire, but as for marketing? Hm. Sorry.

“Write more books” is honestly all I’ve got in stock at the moment.

I’ve said it before and it’s still all I have to say on that subject.

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Ultimate Blog Challenge: The Dumb Reviewer’s False Standard Failure

There’s a certain sort of critic who really bugs me. As much as I enjoy the Slate Culture Gabfestpodcast, there’s an issue

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane.

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that crops up from time to time which itches like pink insulation on a sweaty naked body in a summer attic. It’s a response that tries to intellectualize the visceral and make a good thing into a bad thing. Here’s the quote that gives me headaches:

“We liked it, but should we like it?”

So much waste of tuition money is revealed in that reaction. It’s a response to art that tries to detour around the heart and isolate the brain. It’s a dishonest afterthought. It’s snooty and, in trying to sound intelligent, is stupid.

I enjoy the movie Roadhouse, for instance. By some people’s standards, I suppose I shouldn’t. However, turn it on and try not to get sucked in. It’s not in the “So bad, it’s good” category, though some movies overshoot the runway and actually manage that. Roadhouse is fun and ridiculous and has a lot of funny lines, mostly intended. It’s just so watchable. It’s a visceral reaction. Can’t I enjoy it without the self-appointed cultural elite’s disapproval?

Art that achieves what it set out to do and entertains its audience is good art.

So says me, anyway. I could list dozens of silly movies and books that demanded little of me that I still enjoyed. The latest victim of this critical chaos appears to be Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  I just read fellow blogger Jordanna East’s takedown of a bad review here. She’s not the only one to point out misguided reviewers complaining about historical inaccuracy in the movie. Good critics go to action movies with the expectation that it’s not meant to be a historical document. If it’s not a French movie in an art cinema, do not review it as if all movies are French movies in art cinemas!

That said, I’m all for elevating material. It’s a treat to run across sparkling dialogue that mocks expectations. (See the movie The Guard with Don Cheadle, for the best of that phenomenon in movies.) In my book, Bigger Than Jesus, I set out to challenge expectations, too, and not just in terms of plotting and surprises and reversals. I’m talking about getting at real emotion. There are consequences spread amongst all those jokes. The heroine’s fascination with the life of Salvador Dali means something to her, to the story and ultimately to the reader. I set out to make my roller coaster travel through unexpected places without slowing the pace. Elevating material can be done. It doesn’t have to happen all the time for everything, though.

Dalton’s reply to the big bad bouncer in Roadhouse serves equally well for bad reviewers. The bad guy turns up his nose and says, “I thought you’d be taller. You don’t look like much t’me.”

Patrick Swayze, as Dalton, smiles wide and says, “Opinions vary!”

Then bop ’em in the nose if you want to.

~ Like my flavor? Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. I’m podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)

Get Bigger Than Jesus

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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, , , , , , , ,

The Trampled Author’s Curse upon nasty reviewers

It’s time to say “yes” to something. Maybe even “YES!” 

Art is about saying yes. Making it, consuming it, enjoying it. Enjoying anything means saying yes to it. Whatever your art, it is a hopeful thing. Art affirms possibility. It may not be for everyone, but it is for someone.

This morning I read an article extolling the virtues of five self-published books. There were some nice comments and some lukewarm comments. What shocked me were the truly vile comments. I’m not kidding. Numerous commenters, no doubt bolstered by the anonymity of the Internet, went after the chosen indie books with a vehemence I’d expect for child molesters. Full of bile and blanket condemnations, quite a few whined about how bad the typos were or how only traditionally published authors were worth their time. (I can think of numerous traditionally published authors I’d never read, though I can think of none I’d condemn so harshly. That would make me the bad guy and a drama king.)

They weren’t just saying “No” or “No thanks.” They weren’t even saying “We’ll see.” They were knocking down the attempt. How dare theses people write their books and offer it on the market for 99 cents! One perversely claimed that these authors should pay the reader for their books. Considering anyone can read a hefty sample of any ebook before they buy it, the answer to that is a two-word answer. “And those two words are not “Thank you.”

People of No. They don’t interest me. They’re not passionate about literature. Passion yields sweeter fruit than this. That’s not conviction I’m smelling. Maybe those commenters are simply haters who enjoy trying to make others feel bad so they can feel good. Maybe they need therapy. Maybe they need a hug.

I love books. I don’t love all books. But I don’t hate the authors of the books I don’t like. That’s not a flaw in books. That’s a flaw in reviewers who take their comments too far. I just wanted to get this post up and out there before I have my ebooks available. I want the record to show I put this up before anyone tore into me. When I see such rudeness, I won’t be replying. I’ll just be sending a link to this post. And a mental hug for the sad perpetrator.

They’ll never make art of value because art is a creative juice, not poison.

They’ll never bring joy to others or allow it in themselves.

And that is The Trampled Author’s Curse upon our transgressors.

Filed under: authors, DIY, ebooks, Rant, Rejection, reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , ,

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

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