I FAVOR BOILING THEM IN OIL, MYSELF

While dealing with the frustration of fighting my computer back to life (the moronic company sold me the wrong software) and searching through my post for the address of a friend who offered help, I clicked on a link that took me into my books Goodreads…

Which is something I avoid with some care, but like any poor soul taking that first step to perdition… I looked. Like any addictive thing, the first taste was sweet, made me feel good. And as this is writers site, a piece of advice I will give unto you is: don’t do this.

Don’t read amateur ‘reviews’ of your work. Actually don’t read reviews. Professional ones are often just as bone-headed or, occasionally more so (some have reputation for snark which they think makes them more trustable… an interesting piece of logic, because it means snark becomes part of the house style, and gets ignored), so unless the reviewer sends it to you, probably only happening if they’re very kind to your book (would you send an invitation open warfare from your own address? No. Not unless you’re stupider than pond-slime. Yes, there are some…) don’t read those either. But it is really very hard to ignore. It’s hard when you’re new to this and want to know, desperately, that you’re getting it right, and it doesn’t get any easier. It’s hard for me after?18 books, and many reviews. We all hanker after that positive feedback, that reader who got it and loved it. That reader who felt it the best book ever… But, well, It’s too late to take any value from it, and it can sour days or weeks of writing progress, for no benefit. Yes, that positive review can make you glow. But… well, the value is suspect. It’s opinion and worth what any opinion is – good or bad.

The trouble is one man’s best book is another man’s incomprehensible garbage (I had one reviewer moaning how the background – to the third book in the series – was not filled in. Twit hadn’t realized there were two prior books). And there is no getting around preconceived notions (the reader who ripped into me for writing a South African-born woman just like an American. Ignorance! I had no way of telling the critic that I’d spent ten days in the US, and my whole life in South Africa, and if I was ignorant about any kind of women, it was American ones) and plain stupid (my favorite was the person who complained that the style in A MANKIND WITCH was so different to THIS ROUGH MAGIC, but that it wasn’t surprising seeing as it had a different author. At least professional reviewers are not taken in by the co-author fiction, and know that the name listed first is there sell books and fool computer systems, and last listed is the person who wrote the book… And while these reviews can make or break your sales, it’s like being a farmer: you can prepare your soil, plant the right seeds, put on the right fertilizer, and the right weedkiller… but you can’t make it rain. And I suspect many reviews are pretty sheepish (I’ve benefited from this, when one influential reviewer loved a story (for a reason that never crossed my mind, and I certainly never intended) and amazingly similar reviews followed like UFO sightings after the release of Alien.) You just smile and wave…

The problem of course is you do NOT have the right, or even effective ability to reply, and their missing the point or being ignorant or not liking the cover (yes, there are people who judge books by their covers and who score them down for that) or disbelieving the hero’s approach to romance (really ladies, you may not realize that shy, inexperienced young men do not take a direct approach. Actually, often they won’t approach at all. Which means you don’t know it happened… but it’s real. Ask a bunch of guys. You’ll find almost every one at some time fancied/lusted for a girl somewhere/sometime in their past, but didn’t actually get up enough courage to speak to them. Just because your experience only lists are the ones that make a pass at you, really doesn’t mean that another 20 didn’t want to, or even just wanted to speak to you, but only found themselves looking at their shoes and blushing and muttering. And they’re soppier and more idealistic than is easy to deal with too.) is something they can tell the world and… well, you can dream of boiling them in oil, but really, you can’t even find the one who says he quite liked the book, let alone explain what ‘being damned with faint praise’ for something you sweated your guts out for and wept over means…

There is only one answer (well, besides having a glee club that rushes in and post sycophantic adoration -and most of us don’t have that.) and that is to leave it well alone. Oh and to come up with special imaginary horrible ways of putting the dear reviewer who should have stuck to the complexity of ‘Janet and John’, or the thrills of ‘See Spot Run’ (are these references that mean anything to you? Or is this last in foreign country translation?) to terrible torment. Personally I favor making them watch re-runs of Oprah, with their eyes tooth-picked open while slowly boiling them in a large pot of rancid spermacetti oil, tied to a bean-bag (serious backache recipe) – over a cinnamon scented tea-light candle – to make it last 30 repeats… possibly to the sound of endlessly replayed Justin Bieber songs. The scary thing is some might like it…

So: lets have some fiendishly appropriate tortures…;-)

21 comments

  1. The problem is that when you run a business you need customer feedback. Ideally, you want to know not only that book A sold better than book B, but why. Unfortunately, reviews for a general audience rarely tell you that.

    There might be value in an intelligence agency that reads reviews and only forwards you the useful ones. But it would be like slush reading except even less fun. I’m not sure if that is the way to go either.

    1. A good point as always, Ori. I don’t look at the reviews because it irritates me, that can do nothing about it. I do however look at the ratings. A good book (as long as it does not have under 10 (arb number – but more is better) ratings) should get something over 3, ideally over 3.5 with a broad scatter IMO. Because people WILL hate (stupidly low) or adore (overly high), anything that really gets to them. If you’re getting consistent 5’s and no scatter then it’s only your fans reading, and an average lower than 3 means means the dislikes are in the ascendant. Scatter is good too.

      1. Good point, as usual with you, about the scatter. The worst reaction you can evoke is a yawn.

        I think you can also learn a lot from the “people who bought this also bought…” section. It tells you what else people in your market like.

      2. Er.. not sure. AFGM is proving to be the first of my books many people are reading — judging by fanmail — and some have been kind enough to give me five stars on Amazon…

  2. The book you’re thinking of is “Fun with Dick and Jane”.

    As for tortures, you’ve come to the right place. I’d get their editors to assign them to write a full series retrospective of John Norman’s entire oeuvre.

    1. Ah Janet and John must the British ones. Only a good enough torture if if the books have firm deadlines and suitable ‘co-authors’ who will misunderstand, obstruct and need handling with kid gloves.

  3. I got one that missed the bit about it being a short-story collection and not a novel . . .

    The writers of unkind, vague, vapid, and foolish reviews should be forced to read the full articles from academic paper collection on obscure and dull topics until they turn into quivering lumps of semi-inert protoplasm that can be mopped into the rubbish bin and tossed onto the compost heap, perhaps to be reborn as something useful, such as tomatoes.

    1. Only if the tomatoes are going to eaten slowly by a small but determined tortoise with a blunt beak :-). Yes, I got the ‘that’s too short for a novella, and too expensive, I’m scoring it down.’ The reader didn’t know what a novella was, and had paid $2.99 (and you all know why I chose that figure) and was going to take it out on me. And I recommend a few suitable papers…

  4. Yes, TXRed, my favorite are the ones who ding me on the stuff being short stories, when the description says “A short story by–” GAH. Second “favorite” are the ones who give me three stars because “this is okay, but I liked her other book better.” (What? This is particularly fun when the OTHER book was not in fact mine.)
    Like Dave, I don’t read reviews. People tell me about them and I read if they’re safe. Though… Though for instance, recently Dan told me about one that emailed my blog address to DEMAND I link her review of A Fatal Stain (ain’t gonna. First, I’m not promoting my book. I want the rights back and second:) She couldn’t understand a bunch of in-jokes that run through that series (hint, third book) like why her parents keep dreaming of the MC marrying her gay best friend. She also — like my editor — thought it made the character unsympathetic that she doesn’t obey her parents (to any of you who read this series: the parents are what’s commonly known as just short of crazy enough to be locked up. And the MC is a grown woman with a son.) Also, this one managed to find it irksome that the main character fights with her ex-husband who is trying to take full custody of their son. (Hint, have had friends in this situation. Don’t know a single one who just said “oh, okay.”) She thought the book was “pretty good” but you know, if I took her suggestions and made it FAR more serious it would be better. (Hits head on desk repeatedly.) Dan thought this was okay to tell me about because it falls under “if I wrote this book, it would be better” which is a crazycakes sub-style of review no one would take seriously. Even so, I didn’t read it, because something stupid would stick in my head and make me stop writing for months — which I can’t afford.
    However, like in the comments to AFGM last week, my readers see something I didn’t see and that I suddenly realize is why I like the book so well. It would NEVER have occurred to me to think of Luce as a father figure, but of course he is, in a weird way. So, it can be nice. I still don’t like reading them myself…

    1. yes, I have had a few kind fans bring reviews to my attention. Honestly, though for the number of times, as Ori said above, that I got valuable negative feedback, I must get 50 where the review is more a comment on the reader, or the caliber of that reader or their foibles or lacks (the one who scored Rats Bats and Vats down, because he has no sense of humor, doesn’t get puns, and wanted traditional military fiction.) or it doesn’t fit their world picture (the ones who want the medieval to be feminist paradise are a particular bugbear) and can’t be bothered to do do elementary research to find out if you’re right or wrong, but quote their favorite High fantasy as an authoritative source. ‘Ms. Rable said peasant women would go shopping for lovely new fabrics in deep reds, purples and blacks every Saterday afternoon, so your (spelling imitated) wrong about their clothes” .

      1. And you have never (or rarely, since you rarely go to cons here) met that last type at a con. “But women in the middle ages had herbal contraceptives. They did, they did. And my grandma said they did in their time, and you can’t tell me different. It was the patriarchy that SUPPRESSED them.” (Head>desk.) I tend to get sarcastic and mean, which is not good for the public figure. Eh.

        1. Sure they had herbal contraceptives. Sometimes, they even worked.

          Note: I am not very trusting of contraceptives. My daughters are second generation contraceptive failures, at least on the father’s side.

            1. pennyroyal (which is just… mint. Only worked if a leaf held between knees) and 9 grains of black-spurred rye. (ergot growing on rye – the same chemical family as LSD) – a potent but often deadly abortificient, IIRC

  5. Only slightly off topic: folks, I can’t find anywhere on either page (other than SEARCH – and if I knew what I was searching for…Duh!) where you have access to older posts, such as with archives, or any of the other WordPress ways to go deep into the past.

    Could someone add this feature? I’d like to go back and read all your posts – thanks!
    ABE

    1. I think if you scroll all the way down to the bottom, WordPress automatically adds more old posts. Scroll to the bottom of that set, and you get more again. It’s a cornucopia of old posts!

  6. Speaking as a reader, I don’t like giving reviews. I’m lazy, and I don’t really want to dig into why I liked something, or what worked or didn’t work for me. I’d rather go on to read the next story in my list, than sweat over something that won’t help the author all that much. I read for fun, not to give myself more work. I have no ambition to become a ‘noted reviewer’. I do try to force myself to give a review at Smashwords, Amazon or even Goodreads from time to time, but I’m never satisfied with what I post.

  7. I seen a review the other day (only review for that book) that gave a 1 star review, and then said, “I ordered this book accidentally and immediately deleted it off of my kindle without reading it. I can’t give it a honest review because I never read it. Could you please verify that my account has been credited for the price of this book?”

    Huh, what?

  8. On rare occasions I’ll provide a review. When I do, it’s most often given because I really liked the work and felt it was one of the best investments I will make this year (both in time and money). I’ll give the work five stars and write a three line review.

    On the other hand if the work is a blatant rip off and so incredibly bad that even I can’t believe how I got sucked into buying it at .99 cents, I’ll say so. I’ll give it one-half a star and a scathing note to the general public that this is stable dressing and not to waste their money. I found one such work last year, none the year before, and I’m hoping this year will be free of rat traps as well.

    For those of you who read reviews and are offended by them, I would suggest that you provide a counter message to the critic. “If you can do better, I’ll loan you my keyboard.”

    1. I want to ask about the 99 cents – the investment part. Look, there are books and stories which are worth their weight in gold. But here’s the thing: what does a cup of coffee cost? Or two beers in the local bar, or a movie ticket? (these are serious questions – I live on a remote island, have not been to the US for many years, and Australian pricing is high. So is our minimum wage, and I very seldom venture on any of these extravagances.) I had a reader give me a one star review because 60 pages was not a novella, (the story is in fact well within the word count definition of Novella) he liked the story, but gave it one 1 star because he thought $2.99 (which, if I priced it lower, would mean giving Amazon 65% of the income from the buyer, and me 35%, as opposed to (for over $2.99) them 30% and me 70% – which I, oddly feel is a more appropiate division). Now, I’ve been interested in wine for many years, Barbs and attended a lot of tastings (and I seriously do not go to get pissed for free. I spit). Occassionally we found some real bargains, and occasionally I got to taste wine I could never afford, and some it scored very highly. But here’s the thing – you might decide a wine scoring 13/20 was a darn good deal for $3.50 or that a wine scoring 18/20 was great but $70 a bottle wasn’t worth it – but the price wasn’t what you scored it on. Appearance, taste, bouquet all got points. Price might be what any individual punter decided to buy on, but not score on. And now to cup of coffee etc: It’s been said (a long while back) that a short should not cost more than a cup of coffee at a diner – because that’s the time and entertainment it will give. Likewise the two beers for a novel – from when a novel was 60K, and a bookworm like could read it in an hour, and the movie ticket for a goat gagger.

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