Thursday, July 16, 2015

Authors Reviewing Authors - Warning: Opinion Piece Ahead!

Happy Thursday, everyone! Today, I'm going to talk about a hot-button topic I've seen floating around Facebook and give you my two cents on the issue. I may make you angry, or I may make you think. Either way, know this is just one person's opinion. We all have them, and you know what they say about that. Fair warning. If you don't think you'd like to hear mine, feel free to stop reading (I'll be okay).


For those of you still with me, brace yourselves.

Amazon's ToS says you're not allowed to review competing products. For authors, that means you're not supposed to review books on Amazon.

Well, I wonder if anyone considered that most authors were readers long before they became writers. In my humble opinion, this is one way Amazon uses to be able to remove sock puppet reviews with zero backlash. If someone goes to the site and slams a ton of books that aren't theirs into the ether, Amazon can remove them and point to their ToS as reason.

Okay, I get that. I can even get behind it because it makes sense. You don't post a crappy review on a book just to drag it down in the ranks so yours can shine.

Someone said, "Authors reviewing authors is unprofessional. Once we've written books, we can't appreciate books like we used to."

It's this I have an issue with.

You see, I'm an author and editor, and I can still read a book where I get totally lost in the scenarios, characters, and world.

Do I see errors more prominently now? Yes, I do.

Does that ruin the story for me? Nope.

Does that mean I don't make the mistakes I see? Nope.

I understand books won't be error free. Hell, most trade published books have errors. But as a person, I'm allowed to be bothered and voice my opinion.

I don't take ARC copies for review. When something happens and I either end up not being able to read and review the book or I don't like it, I feel terrible about it. I decided long ago to only take books for review once a year, in December, during my big event, and I buy each and every one I choose (yeah, I like having the little "Amazon Verified Purchase" thing on my review).

I refuse to rate a book less than three stars. Why? Because anything less than that and I don't finish reading the book. How can I review something I haven't read all of? If it kept my interest to the last page, it deserves more than two stars. That, in and of itself, is worthy of three stars.

Professionalism denotes I contact the author privately (if I choose to do so) if I find a gross number of errors, not me going into the realm of internet and slamming the title (though I'd be within my rights to do so). If I just didn't like the story? Well, then it's up to me as a reader to stop reading the title and let it go. If the author asks, I'll tell them. If not, I don't lose sleep over it.

I do think we all need boundaries of what we will and won't do.

Here's the crux of the issue: Would I say something in my review that I wouldn't say to the author directly? Absolutely not. If I read a book and have a thought, I'd be willing to discuss the why and where with the author all day. Again, that doesn't mean I don't make the same mistakes, it means it's easier to see errors in someone else's work than it is my own. This is why we have beta-readers and book reviewers. If we won't be honest, who will be?

Let me be transparent with you all for a moment. If I didn't write book reviews, or hold my blog's big review request event each year, how many of you would lose out? What is it you'd be losing?

If authors didn't review books, how many reviews do you really think there would be?

I've been reading since I was very young. I took weekly trips to the library beginning at age six, and I devoured up to ten books a week. When I realized I could help others find great books by providing feedback in the form of a review, I jumped at the chance to do so. As a bonus, this helps the authors find readers and increase their review numbers.

How many people pay for a review? Why do they do that? Well, because reviews matter. Those paid ones aren't even guaranteed to be positive.

Not everyone is going to love every book--that's nonsensical. But for anyone to tell me I shouldn't be writing reviews because I write books is also nonsensical. Could I burn a bridge or two? Yes, I could. But anyone who takes my review and turns it negative won't be back to ask for another one anyway, right? Could they troll my books? Yes, they could.

Will that stop me? Nope.

Why? Because I feel I've done more good than harm, and trolls are easy to spot (readers can tell).

Here are most of my reviews. To date, I've published almost 100 on Amazon.

If I can't be professional about a negative review as much as I am about a positive one, I'm in the wrong business.

It all boils down to this: I'm a person who loves books. I'll continue to do what I did (recommend books to other people), before the internet existed and before I became an author, until I can no longer type. No one will come between me and my books. Amazon kicks me off? Okay. I have a blog. Blogger shuts me down? Well, I'll go elsewhere. Either way, my reviews aren't going anywhere, and no one should expect them to or tell me I'm in the wrong. Making a blanket statement that calls reviewers who are also authors unprofessional... Well, it's unprofessional.

"Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, but no one really wants to hear them."

After all, a love of books and storytelling is why we all started writing, isn't it?

How many book bloggers have become authors later on? Does that make all the reviews they've written and plan to continue to write obsolete?

Is it fair of me to expect other people to review my books if I'm not out there writing reviews for someone else and paying it forward?

Get in here and give me your opinion. Just remember to play nice.

If I didn't do my event each year, what would you miss? If I quit writing reviews, what would you miss? Would you care? Why? What have you gained?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

19 comments:

  1. Jo, I am not off put by other authors reading my work. They have their opinion and they are entitled to it. I don't like the idea floating around that becoming an author meant I lost my right to review the books I love to read if they happen to be in the same genre or even close. Even if I'm a writer, I'm a reader too, and I always have been.

    What would I lose if you couldn't review me? A well thought out review about my book from another professional, which is a compliment! I enjoy your reviews, even when they aren't on my books, because you cover everything. Sometimes I pick up a book because you like it, so there is that as well.

    My view is, while I am friendly with my author contacts and yes, sometimes we talk about personal things, at no point are they what I would consider bias reviewers. They don't come to my house, they don't sit at my table, they aren't likely at all to get invited to say, a wedding, if I were to ever get married again. Social media friends don't equal incapable of providing valuable feedback, IMO.

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    1. All very good points, Violet. I'm saddened by the fact that there are authors out there who are afraid of the backlash (with good reason). It makes me more determined to give back in any way I can. Thanks for the comment, chicka!

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  2. I sometimes review books on my blog - but only if I want to spread the love for a really good find. If I've read a fellow indie's book and it was fab then they deserve my honest review. If I didn't like it, then I just don't bother posting. As my old ma used to say, if you haven't got anything good to say then don't say it at all.

    There's an argument that this might be a rather skewed review - after all if everybody took that approach then everything would always have 5 and 4 stars - which, quite frankly is just silly; trust me, there's enough ass-holes willing to knock you down; like the lovely reviewer that doesn't like your genre and switches off from the first book in your series but then gives all the books in that series a 1 star LOL

    Amazon put the policy in place - I think and I hope, to stop competitive reviewing, but the the big thing they failed to see was that in the author world (or at least the author world I am a part of) we're NOT competition!

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    1. Exactly, Katie! There's the good and the bad, and you have to be willing to accept them all. I love that about Utopia: We're not competition! I think that needs to be screamed from the rooftops. There are so many readers out there, it would be impossible for one writer to fill all the Kindles and Nooks in the world. :) Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Well said, Jo. I have five published books with my name on them, and I still consider myself a reader first and an author second. Why? Because I love getting lost in stories that much. I also love to talk about books I read. No matter how many books I write, I will always review. It's part of who I am and what I love to do! <3

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    1. Thank you, Kelly! I agree, we're readers first. If becoming a writer hinders my ability to get pulled into a story when I'm reading... I'm not sure I'd keep writing. Getting lost in a story is what made me fall in love with books and what led me to write. :) Keep doing you! <3

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  4. I'm with you, too, Jo. I do wonder how many reviews there would be in the world, if authors didn't post any. Sure, there are voracious readers out there who have no interest in writing, but the numbers would be vastly different than they are now. Here’s my opinion - not all readers write, but all writers read.

    And I've learned something new here. I thought you weren't supposed to post a review to Amazon in your genre (which is ludicrous because, guess what, that's what I read!) but you can't review any book? I did not know that.

    I think you're right, they don't necessarily enforce it unless they find out, and they wouldn't find out unless you're voted down too often, so we should be safe, but I notice I don't really bother posting many reviews to Amazon. I put them on Goodreads and sometimes my blog.

    I even wonder how useful the stars are. For a product like a dishwasher or a television, the stars are useful to me. But for something like books, or even a brand of soap, we’re in more subjective territory. Sometimes I can’t decide what rating to give a book. Other times, I’ll find an old note I’ve written to myself and it has a different number of stars for the book than I actually ended up giving.
    A dishwasher works or it doesn’t. Stars are useful.
    A brand of soap can cause you to break out in a rash, but it makes my skin super soft. Stars are less useful.
    Books are soooo subjective. They can hit you the right way or the wrong way, and there are so many factors that make a book something you love or hate that have nothing to do with the writing or the construction of the story.
    I almost wish we got rid of the star system for books and we just read the reviews. Like your well-crafted, full-coverage reviews are really helpful. To me, “I love this book!” is about as helpful as a wordless 5-star review. (And I have done that myself!) Unless I know the person, I don’t know if I would also love the book. I’ve picked up books in which a reviewer gave it an awful review – but the person mentioned why they despised it. The things s/he said were things I love in a book. That’s helpful.
    I’m with you, Jo. I will always read and I will keep on reviewing when I want to.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jennifer! Amazon is trying to prevent sockpuppetry. And I get it. Back when self publishing first emerged, there were authors paying others to downvote other books in the genre so the author's book rose to the top. Sad business. Ergo, we all suffer because someone was being an asshat.

      I agree with you on the five stars and "love" as the review. What does that even do for the book? *face/palm*

      Keep doing what you love. That's the only way you'll remain true to yourself. :)

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  5. Love your quotes. Love your honesty. I've always loved books, long before I started writing them. I want to support my industry, especially Indies. Because of that, I wouldn't trash another author's work, because I know how much heart and soul goes into a book, even if I don't like it. But I also wouldn't pretend to like that book with a 5. I would read it and not review it.

    I don't care what Amazon does with my reviews. They can have whatever business policy they want. But I'm going to keep writing them. It's my right, and something I truly enjoy.

    As always, you are so awesome!

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    1. Thanks, Tia. And you've hit the crux of the issue: It's your right to do as you wish. This is America, and many brave men have died to give us that right. I love that you're utilizing your ability of free speech to reward that sacrifice :)

      #MadLove

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  6. Agreed, Jo. I was reviewing books long before I was writing them.

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    1. Weren't we all? :) Thanks for the comment, C. J.

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  7. I see books with only reviews from other authors. If you look at those authors' books, they only have reviews from other authors. The circle jerk element is why some people frown upon authors reviewing each other. Like you said, you won't negatively review another authors. No author will likely negatively review you. We're expected to give four and five star reviews (usually five) or else we're harming the author's chances of accessing promo sites.

    I'm not saying you aren't completely honest in your reviews, but you CAN'T negatively review another author anyway. You said you won't finish a book if it's less than three stars and you'll warn the author rather than review them negatively. Why? Because you're nice, I'm sure. Plus they will retaliate.

    So while authors can review each other, I discount their reviews automatically because I am an author and I know the pressure to give only positive feedback. In fact, I'm posting this anonymously because it's likely I'd be negatively reviewed by someone who disagrees with my comment.

    I feel readers can give truly honest reviews including negatives that you and I add to a review. They can mention editing while you and I would mention it to the author. What if a character rapes another character and it's labeled as love? We're not going to mention that in our five star reviews. If there is racism, misogyny or fat shaming, we're not going to harm another author by adding that info to our review. A reader can do so with their one, two, or three star reviews.

    So while I applaud you for doing what you love (both writing and reviewing), I don't review because I've seen friends lose their minds over anything less than five star reviews. I can't deal with the pressure to lie. I have thought of writing reviews with an anonymous handle, but fear I might get caught and retaliated against if I give anything less than five stars. The negatives aren't worth it for me personally. You possess courage I lack apparently.

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    1. Hey there, and welcome to the blog. Thanks for your well thought out comment. I do hope the readers and followers of my blog wouldn't stoop low enough to hand out negative reviews just because someone had an opinion that didn't agree with their own. That would be extremely crappy of them.

      I urge people to post their opinions, even when they aren't in line with my own. That being said, I do wish to clarify two things mentioned above. :)

      It's not that I won't review an author negatively. It's that if I finish a book, that (in my mind) is worthy of at least three stars. I don't read poorly written books (less than two stars) because I just don't have the time. If I don't finish a book, I won't review it.

      My reviews mention editing and anything in the prose I may find offensive (there have been a few), and I always include a: "This bothered me but might be okay for you" clause. I refuse to lie. :)

      I do have a question: Just because I'm an author, does that mean my review isn't well thought out and concise? Have you read any of my reviews?

      I give positives and negatives, and I always ask that people I review don't review me (because the pressure is there to give what you get, and I understand that). I think it's more a matter of drawing a line (and making that line clear) in order to be able to review and not feel like you're forced to give X when the book deserves Y.

      Does that make sense?

      I think well thought out negative reviews should be just as coveted as well thought out positive ones. Without negative reviews, how will we grow and learn? From my perspective, if a negative review says exactly what the reader didn't like, it'll reduce my return/refund rate in the end and keep readers from wasting time on something they may not like.

      Readers can spot troll reviews from a mile away.

      I'm not sure it's my courage, but maybe my circle of influence or my trust in the reader to know the difference between a real review and someone just looking to knock a book for shits and giggles that keeps me reviewing.

      I've probably pissed people off in the past, but to allow that (or an opinion like the one cited in my post above) to take away my voice or stop me from doing what I love; I can't imagine what could be worse. I write some controversial things in my books, but haters and naysayers aren't going to stop me from writing. Isn't it the same for reviews?

      Again, thank you for your comment. It saddens me that things are viewed that way, but I get where you're coming from. I just hope you find that inner voice of yours and let it roar. To hell with what people think. Do you. :)

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  8. Hi Anonymous, I totally get what you're saying. Sometimes I think posting anything online is brave!
    I agree with the pressures of an author writing a review; whether because we know the work involved in writing or because we don't want retaliation. A very good point. I wish we were given an option to leave only a text review without leaving a star rating - I think we can on Goodreads, actually. I'm not sure. But it would take some pressure off of us. Even if I was an anonymous reader posting, I still wouldn't be comfortable with a star rating because it's so subjective. As I said in my comment above, sometimes I'll leave a different star rating when thinking about the book a while after reading it, versus right away.
    I've often been faced with the dilemma of what to talk about or not talk about in a review, too, because I feel that if I leave something big (like controversial) out, people might think I condone it! It's tough to decide what to say, or not say, publicly.
    I hope you do continue to post online, just in general, because you have good, valid ideas and express them well.

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    1. Right? There are a lot of reviewers that don't even make sense. The Indie book world is missing out in a big way by losing someone who can express an opinion as well as the comment above.

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  9. I totally agree, and I suppose your view of this as just Amazon's way of having an excuse should they need one is heartening. I still think the policy is a dagger to the heart of indie writers, who don't have the exposure traditional authors get and have to start small, often with people they know. (Of course, a lot of this actually does apply to traditional authors, too.) I think it's great that you review, and under your own name (I do this, too, but a number of people have warned me it's dangerous -- so far, I think it's merely led to some interesting conversations with people I wouldn't have met otherwise). I continue to review, but on Goodreads rather than on Amazon now, though. I want them to see a reduction in book review numbers, which might just make them rethink their policies.

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    1. Well said, Sandra. I do wonder how long it will be before Amazon just pulls the reviews from Goodreads though. Since they're the same company, they'd have every right to do so. :(

      I've also met a ton of authors by writing reviews. Many of them want all the feedback from my negatives (a short list of common errors) so they can improve.

      It's sad that Indies work so hard only to have reviews negated because the only ones wrangled in the beginning are from their peers. How can that be fixed? I have no idea. But you can bet I'll do all I can to help.

      Thanks for your comment, it's given me a ton of food for thought. <3

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  10. Thank you for your honesty Jo Michaels and I agree with you. I think this is all very helpful and I appreciate it and I am not afraid of the comments whether it be a very good review or a bad one. I would love to improve on what I write so thank you for all the info today!

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Play nice and have fun. If you're a jerk, I won't publish your comment. My blog. My rules. Thanks for taking the time to chat at me!