Common Sense Needed
(I am in the final throes of getting Nocturnal Revelations prepped to go on sale Feb. 19th. Add to that I am re-releasing the other titles in the series with new covers and new print editions before then and that I am doing the conversion on a really great book by a friend–waves at J–and blogging is taking the backseat right now. Today’s post comes from Sept. 2014 and has additional comments included.–ASG)
Over the last few days, several things have come up that have left me scratching my head and wondering why. Why do I write? Why do other people write? Why is common sense so lacking in our industry and in people in general?
The first WHY I blogged about yesterday. One of the local school districts has “suspended” seven books due to concerns about the books’ content. On my blog, I admitted that I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that parents have taken enough interest in what their children are studying to actually read the books in question and then voice their concerns to district personnel. On the other hand, these are high schoolers and the content of the books is nothing they haven’t already seen on TV or in the movies or have read about in Twilight and other popular YA books. The huh? moment comes when you realize that the action the district took in removing — or “suspending” as the district puts it — the books is in violation of district policy. Then there’s the fact that students were already reading and discussing one of the books in class. The irony comes when you realize that this action has taken place during the Banned Books Week.
As a parent, I remember going out and buying the list of books my son would be reading during the course of the school year. I learned early on to buy the books as soon as I got the list, even if the school said it had enough copies to provide for the students. For one thing, there were never enough books. For another, if my son had his own copy, he could highlight and annotate the books as needed. So now I wonder how many of the parents of these students had done the same thing. That’s money apparently down the drain now because, gasp, the books aren’t “safe” enough for some parents.
As a former teacher, I wonder who is going to come up with the alternative book list to fill in for these seven books. Books the teachers spent time reading and preparing class lectures on. Books they had prepared tests or other assignments for.
Somehow, it is all very ironic and somehow appropriate that this happened during Banned Book Week. I have a feeling there are a lot more people talking about banning books, etc., as a result, at least on the local level.
On the writing front, on at least three different occasions this week, I’ve found myself in a discussion about reviews. How to handle them, how to deal with the negative ones and when you should take them to heart.
I’ll admit upfront that my recommendation is to find someone to read your reviews for you. This should be someone you trust to let you know if a pattern in the reviews appears and who knows you well enough to understand when you should read a review and when you should be told to go away, there’s nothing to be seen.
Reviews are the bane and the blood for writers. They help readers decide if they want to buy our books. A good review can help bring new readers in. A bad review, if well written, can warn readers off. But, more often than not, the reviews we tend to get hung up on are those on Amazon or GoodReads and are often written by folks who haven’t even read the sample of our book. For some reason, those are the ones that are the most scathing and the ones that bother us the most.
[However, the number of reviews a book receives has little to do with the number of copies the book has sold or the number of folks who have read it via Kindle Unlimited. This is something some ConComs have yet to understand. Some will fight to keep authors off of panels if they don’t have enough reviews, even if those authors are making enough from their writing to quit their day jobs. That said, readers do look at reviews and the number of stars, so you can’t just blow off reviews either.–ASG]
Here are my rules for reviews:
1. Don’t respond to a review unless it is to simply thank the reviewer for reading your book. The last thing you need is to get into a pissing contest with a reviewer. For one thing, it doesn’t do you any good. It looks bad and it will discourage other readers from posting reviews, even good ones. Also, I guarantee that if you get too in your face with your rebuttal to a review, someone will copy it and post it to social media, complete with links back to the original review. I know the saying that any publicity is good publicity but that’s not really true. You want to encourage readers to try your work, not discourage them.
[There are exceptions. Some writers can and do respond. Most can’t get away with it and come across like a petulant child upset because someone took away their favorite toy. Others, however, can do it because the reviews are so obviously attacks on the author or his politics and not on the book itself. However, those authors also know how to handle it with humor and don’t spent their lives going over every review and countering every bad review.–ASG]
2. Don’t obsess over your reviews. Yes, it is wonderful to have nothing but five-star reviews but after the revelation that a number of authors, both indie and traditionally published, had been buying reviews, readers tend to look to see if you have a smattering of all levels of reviews. After all, no book is going to appeal to everyone. Frankly, you need to have a few bad reviews to go along with the good ones. That makes it clear you haven’t had all your friends, family and sock puppets post reviews for you.
[The same goes with trying to have a ton of great reviews up on the first day or two after release. Traditionally published books can do this because they send the books out to reviewers, etc. But indie authors aren’t given the same abilities (on the whole) to have early reviews posted. Also, readers tend to look closer at reviews for indie books and will wonder how many of those 5-star early reviews are either from sock puppets or family and friends.–ASG]
3. Don’t pitch a fit in social media about a bad review. Or, if you do, don’t be so specific with it that folks can go right to the review to see what was said. That’s especially true if you aren’t accurately portraying the review.
4. If your reviews seem to have a common theme — issues with editing or copy editing or spelling and grammar problems — maybe you need to take a moment to think about what they are saying. That’s especially true if that theme carries over through several books. Yes, there are those folks who automatically say there are editing issues with anything that is self-published simply because they think no indie novel goes through an editor. But when you have that as a constant review theme, there might just be something there. So find yourself a trusted beta reader or hire yourself an editor. If readers keep seeing the same issues book after book without improvement, they will stop buying from you because you will lose the trust of your reader and that is not something any writer needs.
Folks, it is really pretty simple. As writers, we need to put out the best product we can. No book will be perfect. Even if you think you’ve caught every spelling error and every grammar or punctuation mistake, someone will see something you missed — or that they think you missed. The reality of the situation is, people expect more errors in indie work so they seem to seek them out. Not really, but that is how it feels sometimes. So you have to remember that and work to combat that notion. Don’t fall back into the “I know I have problems but don’t keep beating me over the head with them” mentality. Those blinders will wind up harming you.
Finally, remember that we are in this to make money. Whether you want it to be enough so you can quit your day job or just be a supplement to your regular income, you want those sales. There is nothing more exciting that receiving that first royalty check. But, if you want to keep receiving those checks, you can’t coast and assume that just because you write a good story people are going to buy your books. Those books have to be well-formatted, cleanly edited and proofread and have a cover that doesn’t send readers running in the opposite direction. Just as you wouldn’t turn in a half-assed report to a major client at work — at least not if you wanted to keep your job — you shouldn’t be satisfied with putting a half-assed manuscript up for sale. Take pride in your work and present the best product you can.
My last WTF moment came last night as I read yet another screed against the Evil that is Amazon. Yet another author was railing against Amazon and how it is sooooo evil because it doesn’t pay enough to its factory workers in Germany and how, if it is evil to its employees, how long will it be before it turns evil against authors. Oh, wait, it already has, according to the author who then points to how badly Amazon is treating Hachette authors before circling back around to how Amazon doesn’t pay a living wage to its warehouse workers.
After stopping myself from tossing the laptop against the wall — which would have had dire consequences since I’m having to work on my backup laptop right now after sending my work laptop back to the factory to have a new keyboard put in — I found the irony in the author’s condemnation. Here is yet another well-heeled author jumping on the Amazon haters bandwagon who can’t see the forest for the trees. He was so quick to condemn Amazon for not paying its warehouse workers more but he doesn’t get that his own publisher is acting the same way toward their authors. Think about how much a publisher actually pays per title for books it hasn’t earmarked to be bestsellers. Now think about how long it takes to write a book, edit it and prepare it to go to a publisher. Then add in the time spent dealing with the editor and final proofs before the book is published. Now, is that $5,000 – $10,000 advance a living wage? Before you jump in and say “yes”, remember that advance will be paid in two to three increments AND your agent is going to take 15% or more of it AND you might never see another penny from the book because most never earn out thanks to the handwavium that is BookScan.
[We still see variations on the Amazon evil theme, some from traditionally published authors and some from Indies. All too often, Indies see an Amazon conspiracy whenever something happens and a review disappears or a title is flagged for some reason. They don’t step back, take a breath and look at what happened and why. There are terms of service we agree to abide by when we sign up for the KDP program. Those are expanded if we take our titles into Kindle Unlimited. That isn’t a challenge to see what we can do to get around those ToS. Amazon isn’t perfect and I know there are folks looking into what it would take to come up with a viable alternative. But, for now, it is the big dog, especially when it comes to indie publishing. So instead of rocking the boat, we should follow the rules and look for alternatives. Part of that includes how we get reviews and what we do once we have them. If you haven’t read the ToS lately, I recommend you take a few minutes and do so, no matter what platform you publish on.–ASG]
Featured image via Pixabay.