An Honest Review
There is a battle on Twitter at the moment.
I first witnessed it from several readers who were attacked by Indie authors for leaving anything but a five-star review. Authors… attacking readers.
What kind of a fucked-up person do you have to be to attack your own consumers? One reader had given four stars, and posted a glowing review, but took it down after the indie author not tracked them down and told the reader remove it, but abused them in the process. I see SO many cases of this happening and its, simply put, bad fucking behaviour.
Where have we forgotten that these are the people we are hoping to inspire and entertain?
I was flabbergasted.
The backlash of such actions has been the tendency for readers to not leave reviews *ESPECIALLY* for indie authors, because of this attitude. I’d like to pretend I was surprised. But I wasn’t.
This has been something I’ve witnessed from about five years ago when I started getting into reviews and noticed that one of the key readers for indie authors were other indie authors. Its very hard to get reviews, what better way (there is a better way, you nonce, read it here), than to help each other out? Not swapping reviews, oh no, against Amazon’s T&C’s, but you know, being kind to other authors struggling against apparently insurmountable odds and a slush pile that is the indie ebook market.
So, in order to avoid having their book trashed, regardless if it was good or not, indies started making their reviews nice so as not to rock the boat, and have their own books given insincere & low reviews. Harmless at first, many admitting that not getting five stars is okay, its opened the floodgates to authors expecting you to call their work five stars… even if its really not. The growing sense of self entitlement to a perfect review by authors, but predominately self-published and indie authors, (yes, I’m talking about YOU), is honestly, disgusting.
Books that have been poorly edited, books that have terrible covers, books with no rhythm or flow, books where, as much as I want to love every single storyteller, reads like a first draft where someone just said; hell I spent so much time on it, that’s ALL I’m going to put into it.
(Not only is it critical to have beta readers to give honest and helpful feed back (which I offer), but get your editing together, and if you can’t afford one, look at getting ProWritingAid and seeking assistance out on Twitter for editors who will do discounted cheaper rates for struggling authors. This should be essential for those querying too! If you are self publishing or even indie, don’t forget to have a marketing plan, effective to your books release, and there is an in depth guide here.)
NOT doing those things for your beautiful creation, I don’t have to tell you, is fucking lazy and a disgrace to the creation you have made. It dishonours you, your house, your cow… I digress.
But here’s where the curve ball comes in.
Readers want your diversity, your odd ideas, your fandoms, your creations. They genuinely want them AND… they don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel like quitting. A lot of them are writers too, after all…
So, in order to leave a good review, readers are going to great efforts to say something other than “1 Star – this was a dumpster fire” and other unhelpful and harmful reviews. These are really hard to hear, so many readers are making the effort to write details as to why they didn’t like it. They don’t want to hurt the author, (well, some do), for the most part if they leave a great review they are trying to do one of two things; help the author improve, tell other potential buyers the issues they have.
You know… WHAT A REVIEW IS FUCKING FOR!
So they take the time and effort to write something substantial. Helpful. Insightful.
I am 100% behind this, as someone who learned through some harsh reader feedback I’ve learned and grown as an author to try and become a better writer.
On the other hand doing so takes a lot of time an effort. Recently, an author was unnecessarily harassed for telling people they should be leaving reviews, and that it really doesn’t take that long, and was promptly roasted for her flippancy regarding posting reviews quickly. A gross overreaction that reminded me that with all the authors (traditional/indie/selfpub) out there demanding reviews; readers are getting sick of this shit.
They are tired of getting called out on their judgements, on their opinions, on their feelings about your story both good and bad. Wondrous and terrible. Uplifting, emotional, and lovely, falling right back to the terrible, poorly constructed, and glory seekers just copying other authors to make a buck.
They spend time to read about stories they want to love!
And we are putting them off.
What do we do about it? Yes, you, damn it, I am talking to you!
I think the Writing Community needs to tackle this as a whole, and it means no more lying. I was actually scared to post this article because of backlash and, obviously enough, made that the key decision to post it because I felt like that. I shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for saying I didn’t like a book, and neither should ANY reader.
If you don’t like a book say so. Review on a separate account if you’re worried. There are so many ways to hide your identity so you aren’t attacked, and can separate it from your author profile, but most of all this must stop!
There’s hurting an individual author, and then there is the widespread damage this is causing the very people we sought to entertain. People who are being alienated from genuine self & indie writers because of the poor behaviour of more than few. Not a few. Many. I know many writers who behave like this and I say enough.
I didn’t give out 1 or 2 star reviews, for those same reasons – I will be doing so from now on. I will stand by my convictions and base each story on its individual merit.
But with the way people feel about what is meant of a 1 star review, right up to 5, what am I going to be basing my reviews status on? Jonothan Pickering joins to my blog as we knuckle down and go through what is going to warrant a terrible book to a great book, in our minds.
ONE STAR – Very poor
EJD: This book needs serious work. It read like a rough draft that was hastily published for the thrill of having a novel. Whether the work has a redeemable story line or characters is immaterial. A work of this caliber could be improved with the judicious application of an editor to help improve the writer, and perhaps recreate this book to better standards. Things that would warrant a one star but aren’t limited to;
- No editing
- All tell (no show)
- No flow
- Could not read/did not finish
- Haphazard, disconnected, made no sense, full of plot holes
JP: A book that simply isn’t ready for publication. Riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that could be resolved simply by running a spellchecker. Disjointed plot that reads like a stream of consciousness, which is fine for a first draft that will never see the light of day, but is a far cry from a polished and readable story.
Significant improvements need making, up to and including entire rewrites now that the skeleton of a story is on the page. Major proofreading and editing passes necessary to make the text readable.
One star books are VERY rare for me as I can usually find some redeemable quality in a story that somebody had passion enough to write. However, there are rare instances where a book is so far from being ready that I feel the author has just done themselves a disservice as a writer and I find myself getting frustrated at them for not doing justice to their own creation.
I’m one of those readers who feels compelled to finish every book I start, but these books severely test my patience and inherent resistance to DNFing.
TWO STAR – Poor
JP: There’s a kernel of something in a two star book that piques my interest, or certain particulars that I think the writer did well, but overall is still lacking. This could be for any number of craft reasons; one dimensional characters; plot holes; unconvincing dialogue or just being plain dull through lack of dramatic conflict and stakes.
The problems are fewer and often more particular to specific craft issues than the shotgun effect of problems that litter a one star book, so there’s often no overarching solution to improving these stories. One book may have skillfully inserted nuggets of lore and worldbuilding while avoiding lengthy exposition but still needs work on upping stakes and fleshing out the characters. The issues may lie entirely elsewhere in a second story.
EJD: A book like this has the makings of a good story, but for whatever reason fell short. This could be based on any of the one star ratings issues, but there was a semblance of something in the story I liked. Work like this can easily be revisited by a serious developmental edit, to bring the characters and story to the level where it can be a really great tale. It also means that there should be a series of secondary edits and beta reading done to ensure this is a properly polished story.
THREE STAR – Okay
EJD: I liked it. I’m not running around the house naked about it, but I did enjoy and finish it. A rating like this to me represents time well spent. If there are aspects or elements for improvement, I’ll mention them in detail when and where I can. If I give an author 3 stars, I think the most important thing that they know is that they tell a good yarn. They are on their way to becoming if not a great, then a good writer, and I think this should be a form of encouragement, but also a notation on where they can hopefully improve.
JP: A good, solid book. Well done author, I enjoyed your story. I’d say most books I read are three stars – something enjoyable and well worth reading, but not exceptional. There may be some issues here and there, but nothing major enough to ruin the experience of reading a good story. Honestly, if I give your book three stars, it’s something to be proud of.
FOUR STARS – Good
JP: An exceptional book. I will rave about this story and recommend it to the world. Some of my favourite works of fiction are four stars and I guess this is the part where my rating system begins to majorly digress from many others. “If they’re your favourites” I hear you say, “why not give them five stars?” I’ll get to that in the next section.
A four star book for me is a book that pulls me into its world, where the characters truly come alive on the page, where I feel emotionally invested in their lives and goals, a reminder of Carl Sagan’s assertion that books are “proof that humans can work magic.”
EJD: A seriously good book. The author tells a tale that keeps you flowing with the story, solid believable characters who the reader someone they can lose themselves in. If there are any issues, they are usually minor, based on preference, and should only ever be considered my opinions and thoughts alone. Not every story is perfect, nor does it have to be. For me, a four-star review represents a tough element at play, because I swing from just liking to absolutely loving. Whatever the reason I give for not making it 5 has usually bugged me enough I felt compelled to say something.
FIVE STARS – Excellent
EJD: This book picked me up from the first line and carried me along until I got lost and my legs fell asleep on the toilet. Graphic I know, but I want to enforce the idea that books are portals to worlds the reader falls down, like Alice, chasing a plot bunny to the ends of the book with a host of wonderful characters who enrapture the reader into obsession. These are true storytellers. Whether innate talent or years of crafting their writing style, whatever it is that they have inside their books is pure magic. Even if I call umbridge at any perceived flaws, it doesn’t matter in the face of my delight with the work. I’m highly likely to reread this book, and others by the same author.
JP: This book is a gamechanger, possibly borderline genius and represents a turning point in the cultural zeitgeist of a genre. Again, these books are incredibly rare and represent literary gold dust. For me there needs to be a distinction between a very well-written, four star story and something truly extraordinary that will go down in history as leaving an indelible impression on, or even entirely changing the way we view literature, culture and society as a whole.
Being a writer isn’t just about editing or getting beta readers or a good marketing plan.
It’s learning to capture the audience and entertain them. If that means taking a few bad reviews to learn where you need to improve from impartial strangers who aren’t going to lie to you about your book, then do it. Learn, grow, create again. There is no limitations on one story, one ending, one finite piece of you, if you truly are a storyteller. And there is nothing like having another idea, writing it down, and have your peers tell you that you are improving, you’re getting better. You aren’t just making magic anymore… you are flourishing.
Its by far the best compliment a reader has ever given me, and I highly recommend it.
So now I’m asking you, will you be honest about the books you are reading?
Will you let someone tell you that your book isn’t that great so you can improve?
Because the story that you are telling isn’t just about you, its about the life you lead as a storyteller, and just like the characters in those stories, you need to learn to grow and improve.