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.


    1. Yep. I have to remind myself of that at times. Then I look at some of the reviews Sarah and others have gotten and solely because of their politics and without the reviewer ever having opened the book. Those are the ones I wish Amazon and other venues would delete with prejudice.

    2. The review that still astounds me was the one that not only distorted the plot, but thought that while a dragon should have been unobjectionable, a witch was beyond the pale. ?????

  1. Reviews do tend to give an idea of how many books have been sold, when you’re looking at indie authors. If you combine it with overall rank, you can get get a halfway decent idea of just how many copies have been sold.

    Bad reviews sometimes sell more books than good ones, because they will often be hating on something that most people like, or they’ll be so over the top on their hate that others will try the book just out of contrariness.

    I don’t read reviews very often anymore, but if I see a question to me, the author, in one, I’ll usually respond to it. If I see something just incredibly stupid or insulting, sometimes I’ll respond to that as well, to make fun of it. That’s not something I do often, but there were a few times when I just had to do it, to point out to people that the reviewer was lying through their teeth about their ‘life experience’ (like the guy who had been through Five Wars on Three Continents’ but who didn’t know that breaking the ROI and getting caught sent you to Fort Leavenworth – I’m a veteran btw).

    All in all however, there are only two things that bother me about reviews, really.
    The first are the people who bring their own review ‘standards’ for how many stars mean what, ignoring what Amazon clearly says, because after all ‘their way is the correct way and screw everyone else’ These are the people that only give like one 5 star in their lives and who think a 3 star is a positive review (when amazon clearly states 3 stars is negative).
    The second is the effect that good (or bad) reviews can have on me. I know the first swells my head and that’s not good for a writer. The second can make me really depressed, and that’s not good as well. You can have a hundred 4 or 5 stars, but that solitary 1 star can often ruin your day! 😛

    Parting note: Never pay for reviews and never ask friends or family for reviews. Amazon does use your reviews to determine promotions. So you always want them to be from actual fans as it makes it easier for Amazon to target your book to other readers.

    1. John, yes and no on judging how well a book has sold by the number of reviews and ranking. First, the normal reader doesn’t know the correlation between the two. They simply look at the number of reviews or, more accurately, the star rating and how many of each level the book has gotten. Then they might read some of the reviews.

      Also, that formula doesn’t take into account the number of books read through KU since those aren’t considered verified purchases. Nor does it take into account the number of reviews that come from folks who got the book through other avenues. So, qualified, yes, for an author who understands the system, it can help. But not so much for the standard reader.

      I totally agree with you about not paying for reviews. That is a big no-no on almost every venue I can think of right now.

    2. if I see a question to me, the author, in one, I’ll usually respond to it.

      This is generally when an author should respond, I think (of course, depending on the question.)

      If I see something just incredibly stupid or insulting, sometimes I’ll respond to that as well, to make fun of it. That’s not something I do often, but there were a few times when I just had to do it, to point out to people that the reviewer was lying through their teeth about their ‘life experience’ (like the guy who had been through Five Wars on Three Continents’ but who didn’t know that breaking the ROI and getting caught sent you to Fort Leavenworth – I’m a veteran btw).

      It’s not the same thing, but I remember the thing that got the Oh John Ringo, No! started. That was a good thing in the long run.

          1. There should be art of this. Chocolate Rabbit’s Eeeevile Muse. Wearing Hello Kitty pjs with feet.

  2. I noticed that I book I gave up on had 15 five-star reviews within a few days after release. And then nothing. No further reviews, no negative reviews, nada. Big red flag to me that something odd is up.

    I do weigh negative reviews pretty heavily for non-fiction, especially when they are calling out multiple errors of fact and other major problems. If they are political? Those may be a selling point (Russian nationalists condemning a history of the Ukraine and Poland, for example.) Fiction? Meh, unless the negatives are things like “This is supposed to be sci fi and it’s steamy romance” or the like.

    1. I absolutely read and consider non-fiction reviews for much the same reasons you do. But fiction? I don’t care about an author’s politics–unless they are hitting me over the head with them to the point the story gets lost.

  3. On the first bit…I know that in some ways it’s stupid to be responding to a “controversy” 4 years old, but because the same issues seem to keep coming up every few years of so, I’m going to go ahead and give my thoughts.

    First, the idea of “Banned books” tends to cause an uproar, but usually if you look at it, it tends to be something like, “Do you really think ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ is appropriate for the elementary school library?” “OMG, you’re banning a book! No, we’re going to keep a good supply of D.H. Lawrence available to the kindergarteners, and you’re evil for even suggesting we shouldn’t.” And yes, I know this case was 10th graders not kindergarteners, but that leads me to my next point…

    Second, the objection in this case seemed like it was not to the books being available in the library but to them being part of the mandatory curriculum. I think it’s at least arguable that books with graphic sex and violence shouldn’t be part of the curriculum. Yeah, I know that they’ve likely read and seen worse by 10th grade, but there’s a difference between an “R” rated movie you snuck into and a book that the authority figures gave you and said, “You MUST read this.”

    Third, looking through the list of seven books…eh, I’m not sure that any of them represent a great loss. I’ve read “Song of Solomon,” and while in general I’m in the “I don’t agree with what you say, I would defend to the death your right to say it,” for Toni Morrison that becomes, “I would negotiate strenuously for your right to say it.” I’ve never read “Siddartha,” but I did read another book by Hesse, and I couldn’t put it down…because I knew that if I did, I’d never want to pick it up again, so my only hope of finishing and getting a decent grade on the test was to read it in one sitting. John Green strikes me as an above average contemporary YA author, though not my cup of tea, but again I don’t see any benefit to forcing him on kids who wouldn’t read him otherwise.

    1. I hate to disagree, but you oversimplify the issue with your first point. Instead of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it is Harry Potter or The Worst Witch or the like that are challenged in elementary schools.

      As for the books being part of the mandatory curriculum, waggles hand. Most, if not all, school districts have in place policies that allow for students to read alternate books if their parents object to an assignment. I learned this after raising objections to a book my then new 4th grader had to read (the book had a very graphic attempted rape scene in it and I found myself having to explain it to him. That is when I started reading all his books before he did, at least until he was older.) In this situation, the school district folded when a relatively small group of parents demanded the books be removed from the curriculum. Oh, they got away with it by saying the books were under review. But, by the time the months’ long review process could be finished, it would be too late for the books to be returned to the lesson plan. In the meantime, what were they supposed to study? And when were the teachers supposed to find the time to create new lesson plans, etc?

      Finally, I could say the same thing for a number of books I studied or my son did. That doesn’t mean something can’t be learned from them. Books and their topics should be age appropriate. But we can’t stop assigning books (or anything else for that matter) because it would be no great loss or because a high school student shouldn’t be exposed to the realities of the “real world”.

      Also, as a side note, many schools will remove books from their libraries if the book has been removed from the curriculum.

    2. D.H. Lawrence is also the one responsible for that “The essential American soul is hard, stoic, isolate, and a killer” quote, I understand in his book on American literature. I need to study that book and the referenced literature before I could make any guesses about when it would be an age appropriate course, but I don’t think it is a bad understanding for elementary schoolers to have of what it means to be an American. That said, the level of reader sophistication to discuss where Lawrence thought he was getting evidence for his assertions may be a bit higher.

      It has been long enough since I was elementary age that my judgements about ease of reading and enjoyability of reading is probably way off.

    3. It is disengenuous to concern-troll over what might be in a school library when almost every student has an internet-capable smartphone that can get him all the badthink and porn he could ever want…

      What universe do they live in, that teenagers wouldn’t know how to use a search engine?

      “The only approved method of searching for information is to wait until you can get to the library, open one of the drawers on the big wooden card catalogs, and riffle through the paper cards…”


      1. Show me a library that still has a card catalog that they are using for the original purpose. Now they can go to the library, log onto computers there and get their porn or vampire or whatever fix.

      2. “What universe do they live in, that teenagers wouldn’t know how to use a search engine?”

        They live in a universe where they get to tell everybody else how to live because only they are smart enough to Know Everything.

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