Psst, Mistah – You Want a 5-Star Review?
Thank 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).
Indie 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.
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.
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.
Ah…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.
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 –
The Clearing –
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.