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Psst, Mistah – You Want a 5-Star Review?

November 13, 2013

creativity by MatisseThank God for Indie Publishing – it is my opinion that we are far better off with it than without it. Is there a wider range of quality – undoubtedly. There are authors who are amateur, don’t properly edit their work, and put out a shoddy product. But I think that for the practiced reader, those are pretty easy to spot. All you have to do is have a look inside the book and read a page or two – which Amazon is very generous about. By and large, the real stinkers sink pretty quickly, too.

And you know, even if they don’t and there’s a market for the work… so be it.

There are also hugely successful and highly professional authors who do a far better job publishing their own work than their (usually former) traditional publishing houses ever did. While traditional publishing does some things very, very well, marketing (unless you’re a bestselling author) is not one of them. It’s also a very parochial business filled mostly with people who went to the same schools and have similar tastes and a similar outlook. That’s ok, too, but it can be limiting in terms of the offering they provide. I can give countless examples of this, but the one that really stings when I recount it to writers, agents, and their like is when a very big editor at a very big publishing house actually told me that no one outside of New York reads. He said that even if they did, he didn’t care what people in, say, Texas, wanted to read.

No joke. This is almost an exact quote. And he did give the Texas example (sorry Texans).

good bookIndie publishing, much like Indie films and Indie anything, appeals to a broader range of people and preferences. Such is the case when an industry gets put in the hands of the people. Publishing, for good or ill – and I think it’s for the good – has become like E bay. And like with E bay, it is important to help the bad actors either get it right or get out of the game.

I prefer the former, but I’m fine with the latter, too.

Enter my guest, today. Mr. Thomas Rydder. Thomas has something to say and I want to back him up on this.

Recently, Thomas was approached by a group of writers who said they give 5 star reviews to other writers in exchange for the same. Thomas said no thank you, and outed the group on his website, saying that he didn’t think this practice was right. He finds it dishonest, and like most authors prefers to get real reviews from real readers.

Almost immediately, his first novel, The Clearing, was bombarded with several one-star reviews from “reviewers” who had neither bought the book (at least there was no record of the purchase on Amazon) nor, presumably, read it. The bogus reviews were usually one-liners that began with “Eh, I’ll pass” and “Umm…what?” and “Certainly not Twilight!” Stuff like that.

Honestly, isn’t this getting ridiculous?integrity

Now, anyone who is either in publishing (traditional or indie) or is well acquainted with a writer or writers has probably at some time or another felt some pressure to write a review for a friend. One that was perhaps too generous, as you wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In traditional publishing, apart from the Amazon review, this is often done in the form of a blurb on the back of the book. You know, the exaggerated praise from other, often better known authors who might be quoted as saying something like, “John Jones Smith has created a story that is penetrating, elegiac in scope, blah, blah, blah.”

Don’t faint, but it’s not uncommon for these blurbs to be written by the author of the work, not the famous author who they’re attributed to. These things, unfortunately, do happen.

But, to me, that is different from an organized review group that promises 5 star reviews.

When an author friend asks me to read and write a review of his book – for one, I actually do read it – and for another, it is my choice as a reader/reviewer as to whether I give him the high marks. It’s not a foregone conclusion. Nor would it necessarily be an expectation by the author that I lavish their book with a 5-star, gushing review. They know they’re taking a chance when they’re asking me to read their novel, and they’re honest enough and believe in the quality of their work enough, to take that chance.

Thomas thought the angry writers might get all aflutter again if we talk about this here, but I think integrity is worth a few insults and I stand by my work. I stand by Thomas’ work.

Maybe it’s time, too, as an industry that is now, essentially, owned by the people working in it, to talk about ethics in a straightforward and concise manner.

In other words, let’s spell out some standards here. All of these bogus reviews are starting to bring us all down.

Thomas, what are your standards for reviewing a book, whether written by an author you know or do not know? Are they the same?

Hi Victoria, and let me first thank you for having me…I’m thrilled to be here :)
Let me preface my answer with my view on reviews. They, along with word-of-mouth opinion, are the single most important type of advertisement your book can have, period. I don’t care if you get on rooftops and yell, buy a radio station, or email the entire population of Texas, your book’s sales will stall without good, solid, honest reviews. critic

Notice I said honest, in reference to the offer I had a few weeks ago. If you’re a real author – meaning one who writes to the best of their ability, designs their book as professionally as possible, goes through all the editing and re-writes, and then publishes – then when you get a review, good or bad, you get something out of it. And in some ways, you get more out of a bad review in the long run, meaning you learn what you might improve on, from a writing standpoint.

If you are a genuine author, then you don’t expect something for nothing, either. You stand by your work, good or bad, and let the chips fall where they may. And you sure as hell don’t trade reviews simply for the sake of getting more sales.

Reviews aren’t personal, or shouldn’t be. Their purpose is to tell the rest of the civilized world what to expect when they pick up your book. These are the things I ask myself when I’m reviewing a book:

1. Was the book well-edited?
2. Were there grammatical or spelling errors?
Note: these first two are mostly for self-published material. A book that hasn’t been edited or proof-read holds up a red flag that the writer doesn’t have enough pride in their work to check – and that’s a very bad sign.
3. Did the plot enmesh you in the writer’s make-believe world, and why?
4. Were the characters believable, did they engage you, what emotions did the story bring out?
5. What about the book did you like, and not like?

What are your standards for reviewing genre fiction vs more literary endeavors?

You know, I don’t believe the two types are as far apart as one might think. In literary fiction, the plot takes a back seat to the characters. The most important factor in literary fiction is what is happening in the thoughts, minds, and desires of the characters as they move within the story. I’d like to point out that really great genre fiction is character-driven as well, but where they most differ are in the underlying cultural expectations and social issues which influence the characters. I truly think that a reviewer can take the same approach and effectively review either variety.

Tell us about your experience with Indie and small press publishing.

I was fortunate to have been picked up by a small press near London, Greyhart Press, and am richer for the experience. Under Mr. Tim Taylor, chief cook and bottle washer for our little endeavor, I’ve learned much about the whole publishing process. On the other hand, I’ve heard many horror stories from others about the way they were treated by small publishers.

Also, like you, I’ve had the pleasure to meet and mingle with many fine Indie writers that wouldn’t go trad (traditional) publishing if you poured gasoline over their heads and lit a cigarette. Vice versa with some trad writers I know.

If you enjoy the freedom that Indie writing gives you, then by all means, have at it. If, on the other hand, you have the opportunity to write under the roof of a publishing company, take a look at that. There are very real advantages to both of those avenues. I would say, though, to take a careful look when you search out publishers. Not all firms are interested in the author, and a signed contract is binding.

Tell us about your new book.

The Clearing Production CoverAh…my babies. I’m going to go all crazy on you and tell you about both my books. My debut werewolf thriller “The Clearing” came out this past March, and has received some great reviews. I did have a few that gave me poor marks in one particular aspect of the book, and I took heed. I’ve just re-released it, with improvements made in those areas, and I have high hopes for its success.

Basically, it’s about a small town in western Pennsylvania – quaint, simple, peaceful. That is, until The Elder takes up residence. The Elder has an agenda – one that is 1,000 years old, and cannot be denied. One that will change the lives of many – and end the lives of any who interfere.

Then we have my new book, “Restless Souls: 3 dark fables.” I wrote it while I was ensnared in the editing process for The Clearing. It’s three ghost stories (one novella, two rather long short stories) centered on spirits who have remained in our world, and their unfortunate – and bloody – interactions with some rather unlucky folks. restless souls

1. “Do Unto Others” (short story) – Jeremy is a street hood, lawless and unchained. When he is wronged by a local businessman, it becomes his mission to seek revenge. But his new enemy has friends – ones that don’t take kindly to intruders.
2. “Colors” (short story) – Harrison Street. attorney, biker wannabe, coward. When he finds the bike of his dreams, it seems too good to be true. It is.
3. “Simona Says” (novella) – Simona has had it rough. Death, disenchantment, and disappointment are all part of her life. She wants to be happy for a change, and she’s willing to do just about anything to find some. Anything.

Victoria, thanks so much for having me on. I had a blast!

Restless Souls -

Smashwords

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/368653

Amazon kindle

http://www.amazon.com/Restless-Souls-3-dark-fables-ebook/dp/B00FYQ59K6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1382107809&sr=1-1

The Clearing -

Amazon Kindle

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Thomas Rydder:

I was born in 1957 in a small town in Western Pennsylvania that had – and still has – one traffic light. There wasn’t a whole lot to do there, and we had few neighbors, so I learned to play quite a bit of make-believe – soldiers, cowboys and Indians, that kind of thing. At the same time, I loved to read and watch old movies. On Saturdays, my dad played in a country western band, and I stayed up to wait for him. It was during that stretch that I discovered the horror movie. You know the ones I mean. Karloff, Chaney, Lee. The masters, right?

Fast forward 40 years. I’m now the project manager for a small civil engineering firm in picturesque Charleston, South Carolina with my lovely wife and four rescue pets, two dogs, two cats. Oh – and eight feral cats outside that put up with us because we give them two squares a day.

Anyway, since childhood, I’ve loved to create. I played trumpet, sang, even dabbled in genealogy. Nothing quite did it for me. Over the years, I’d composed quite a few term papers and theses (there are a few ex-teenagers in this world who owe their English grades to yours truly), and unfailingly earned an “A”. My wife knew this, and one day just suggested that I try writing.

What the hey, I thought. So I sat down and found a writing site called Hubpages. Nice little site, and I started getting the basics of writing a little from some of the inhabitants. I wrote a short story, and everyone liked it. So, I wrote another one. Except it kept growing, and I kept getting more ideas, and it lengthened to 20 thousand words, then 30, then 40. By the time I sat back, I had the rough draft of my first novel, except back then it was called “Werewolves and Flapjacks”. Somewhere along the way I decided to submit my work (now called “The Clearing) to three publishers. I was turned down twice, and miraculously was accepted by the gentleman who gently rules this site, Mr. Tim Taylor. And the rest, as they say, is history. By the way, you need to like Tim…he’s a great guy, and I owe him much, which can never be repaid.
I now have a second book availabe – “Restless Souls: 3 dark fables” – an anthology (novella and two short stories) of ghost stories, and life is grand.

Even though I make wise cracks about all of it, this is all like living a dream – and I don’t plan on waking up for a very long time.

44 Comments
  1. Victoria, what a gorgeous layout! Thank you so much for having me…I’d love to return the favor, whenever you’re ready :)

    Thomas

  2. Than you, my friend. I’m glad you like it :)

  3. Well said both of you. Thank you for this article Victoria. :)

  4. Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    This article vindicates what I have long suspected…

  5. thedarkphantom permalink

    Interesting posted, which I shared on FB and Twitter… Keep up the great work, Victoria.

    Mayra

  6. Thanks, Mayra :) Likewise.

  7. Only excellent! Hey, it’s a 5-Star post!

  8. Thanks, Billy Ray – what do I owe ya?

  9. Great article. I’ve shared it on my author page. I totally agree. Those reviews are so important to book sales. Thanks, Victoria and Thomas.

  10. Thomas is good people. The real thing. Refreshing in this world of shiny veneers.

  11. Reblogged this on T. W. Dittmer and commented:
    Thomas Rydder has a guest post on Victoria Dougherty’s site today. It’s worth a read.

  12. Completely agree that reviews of books (and other items for sale, for that matter) need to be reviewed honestly – because, as Thomas says, those reviews help the customer make a decision. Thanks for bringing this to light!

  13. Beautiful post, and exactly the ridiculousness I’m facing now. Except my “critics” started bombing me because I was connected to someone else they were bombing. They’re like lemmings. They follow each other around, branding their fake ratings out of pure spite or some messed up belief that authors are too “entitled”. I suppose they find it noble to take us all down a notch or two.

    Like Thomas, I’ve never promised anyone a 5-star review, nor have I ever asked anyone to give me a glowing review. In fact, I recently turned a writer friend’s offer down when she decided to only read the first three chapters of many of her friends’ books and give a great review from it. I have always asked for legitimate, honest reviews, and never once have I ever attacked a reviewer for a negative review. I’ve even thanked people who have not enjoyed books, yet took the time to write an intelligent review about it.

    So glad to find that you feel likewise, Thomas! Best wishes to you!

    • Amen, Mysti. And I do believe that these “lemming bombers” go largely ignored. Those types of comments really stick out as crazy – especially when they’re among several intelligent, well-written comments obviously written by people to actually read the work in question. Bad players tend to out themselves without much help from us :)

    • Mysti, you’re correct – they ARE ridiculous. I have to admit that I’m disappointed at Amazon, too. The reviews are still up there, even though my publisher filed a complaint and requested they be removed. Hopefully, folks will figure out they’re simply spiteful little mutterings by a pack of Troglodytes. Sorry to hear of your troubles, but take heart – 90 percent of people out there give authentic reviews.

  14. Excellent post. I respect his integrity; I would be insulted at the offer as well.
    I’ve thought about this subject recently (as I just wrote a post on self-pubbing), and I wonder about the future of marketing/reviews, etc. I’ve read several cites offering to “promote your book,” by which they mean to go and leave a ton of false reviews under a score of pseudonyms praising your book on all popular cites (in the fashion of the recent FOX scam of a similar practice [http://goo.gl/hdq30W]).
    High dollar marketing in the traditional publishing houses has a new competitor: people spewing bullshit online, posing as “real” readers.

    I know of no escape from this quagmire. I hope that a multitude of websites will emerge (or grow, since some are here now) which are akin to (my view of) Rotten Tomatoes for movies, which gathers data from dozens of other reviewers and then splits the rating between critics and audience. Perhaps with the fall of the preeminence of the publishing houses, a multitude of well-structured, critical websites can become strong enough to be heard over the noise of Amazon.

    • I hear you, Daniel. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t trust or read the 5 star reviews anymore – I go straight to 4 and under, since I feel they’re more likely left by real readers. I’ve become weary of product reviews in the same way. I suppose the good news is that I think people’s bs meters are better than we think. 100 5 star reviews on a bad book won’t convince anyone who has read it of it’s merit. This, in turn, may inspire the real readers to review the book as well and say, “uh, wait a minute here. I don’t get it.”

    • Thanks for the link, Daniel :)

    • Daniel, being a relatively new author, I’m saddened that this kind of junk has slithered into the world of writing, too. I’ve seen ne’er-do-wells in every other facet of the web, but I never thought I’d encounter it on Amazon. Turns out it’s just as prevalent, if not more so. It will remain a difficult task for level-headed readers to weed out the spiteful and just plain fakes reviews and recognize the valid ones. As if we didn’t have enough problems, right?

  15. I found this insightful and Thomas, you sold your own books well. I’ve just purchase the clearing for my Kindle. I am concerned it was only 99c – this really seems like its NOT enough, but I will read it prior to making final comments :)

    I consistently purchase the work of people I have met within the WordPress blogging community. Some books I have enjoyed immensely, others, not so much, but I suppose that’s just how it goes :)

    I support anyone having a go providing they trying to deliver their best. Sometimes we have to fail a whole lot before getting it right :)

    Thanks for sharing, I’ll be back later to provide a review of your book. An honest review. I’m hoping its great so I can say great things… :D

    Miss Lou
    x

  16. Thank You. This is enlightening.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Psst, Mistah – You Want a 5-Star Review? | Cold | Thomas Rydder
  2. Psst, Mistah – You Want a 5-Star Review? My chat with Victoria Dougherty on book reviews… | Thomas Rydder

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