Like many authors, I have a love-hate relationship with reviews. When I discover a new review of one of my books on a blog, Amazon, or Goodreads, I kind of look at it sideways, squinting as I read it. I’m relieved when I see a fabulous story or a top favorite! which prompt an fully open eyed examination. On the other hand, the disheartening a bit slow at times and the dreaded This is not a good book make me want to hide under a rock.
But like every author, I’ve come to accept that no matter what I write and how hard I work to create it and how wonderful my editor and I think it is, my work is just not going to appeal to every reader. It is just not to their taste, although they thought (hoped) they’d enjoy it when they bought it. I know this is true because I’ve done the same thing. I’ve heard good things about a book and picked it up, but what appealed to others, even when it’s a best seller, just fell flat with me.
So although my little writer’s heart twinges when I see a one or two-star review on Goodreads or Amazon, if it’s accompanied by a thoughtful review, I can accept that this reader did not care for the book. They read it, they thought about it, they are invested enough in books and reading to spend the time writing a review, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to know there are people engaged enough in the written word that they want to share their opinion of it.
There is, however, another kind of review that just burns my jets. No, it’s not the snarky This is the stupidest book I ever read, or even Gosh, this thing is full of typos. It’s an entirely different animal that’s unfair to authors everywhere: A review where the reviewer didn’t even read the book.
When I first started putting up my previously published books as indie ebooks a few years ago, I was green as grass. I struggled through the formatting and uploading and filling in the myriad boxes Amazon required (I started out only on Amazon). I finally got the first one up, then re-thought the title, and dithered over whether I should use my own name or separate my romances from my YA books by using a pen name. You see some of those seesawing decisions in the cover art posted here.
After the book had been up for a while (with few sales), I decided I should put up some backstory about how I came to write the book. I was so new to this whole thing that I didn’t realize there was a handy place in the Amazon author pages where I could put something called “Author Notes.” I thought my only choice was to post the information in a review (thinking it was kind of like adding comments to a blog post).
So I merrily wrote up my cool backstory material as a review. But when I clicked the “save” button, Amazon insisted I had to add a rating. I didn’t want to add a rating. It didn’t seem right for an author to rate her own book. But Amazon wouldn’t accept my “review” (which was by no stretch of the imagination an actual review) without a rating.
I may have been completely ignorant to the ways of the indie-publishing world back then, but I wasn’t an idiot. If I had to rate my own book, I was going to give it 5 stars. So I did. And the sky fell on my head.
There are apparently people out there who feel it is their duty to (a) beat authors over the head when they do something stupid and (b) berate them when something is posted on their book page that they have no control over and (c) accuse the author of underhanded doings when the author had nothing to do with what they perceive is underhanded, all while never actually reading the book they’re reviewing.
Have you ever read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka? Where the Big Bad Wolf tries to set the story straight about what really happened between him and the pigs? That’s how I felt.
Here’s her review, btw, so you can follow along.
Her first critique, that I’d given the book a 5 star review, I plead GUILTY. I did it. I confess. And when I realized what a transgression I’d committed, based on comments by a couple other members, I hastily removed the review, my cheeks flaming. However, the fact that I’d fixed my mistake seemed to make me more suspect, not less.
Her second critique, that there were three reviews by the same person, I swear I had nothing to do with that. That was some kind of glitchy thing that Amazon did. I did not put up three copies of the same review (jeez, why would I?)
Her third critique, that there were three different versions of the book, with two different titles and two different authors, I was certainly partially responsible for that. As I said, I decided to re-release the book under a different title, using a pen name. But a couple of the editions she objected to were the original mass market book (which I wrote, but Berkley published in 1999), and the large print edition that followed (which Ulverscroft published in 2006). I have no control over those books or their prices (which was another point of contention). In fact, my deal with Ulverscroft was flat rate, so the fact that they’re currently charging $29.95 for the book (kaching!) benefits me not at all.
I really, really, really wanted to engage the reviewer on all these points. But rule #1 of reviews is that the author should never talk back to the reviewer (I even think thank yous for a good review are kinda smarmy). So I kept my trap shut (well, until now), asked friends to comment on the review (which a couple nicely did), asked Amazon to take it down (which they refused to do, hence the “forever” part of this), and have just lived with it.
If this person had read the book and given it a 1 star review because she didn’t like it, I would have wept, but come to accept it. But to gripe about a book you haven’t read because you don’t like the price, or the fact that Amazon put up multiple copies of the same review, or the author made a numbskull mistake (which she corrected!), seems mean.
Okay, climbing off my soapbox now. If you’d like to check out my indie and tradpub books, visit my website. And can anyone loan me a cup of sugar?