I’m about to go on a rant here. Hopefully, I won’t come across as an unholy bitch. That’s not my intention at all. But seriously, I’m sick and tired of a couple of bad apples ruining things for the entire bunch.
Most of us author types are professionals. And by professionals, I don’t mean we rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars while practicing our craft. I mean that we act like adults and are courteous. We treat others like we want to be treated. Of course we are also human, so our feelings get hurt. But by and large, we think before we act, because we all know that in this day and age everything we do is public. The majority of us do not have online hissy fits on social media or stalk people that give our books 1 star reviews.
But every time an author (self or traditionally published – because it happens in both camps) oversteps their boundaries, the rest of us are made to feel like we should hang our heads in shame, too.
It reminds me of high school, and an online version of us versus them.
So now we have bloggers mad at authors and vice versa. Lines are drawn in the sand and generalities have been made. And what everyone seems to forget is that we are all supposed to be on the same side, right?
A recurring theme that I’ve heard from both sides is “they don’t appreciate what we do for them”. Granted, these are the people whose opinions are at opposite ends of the spectrum and who in turn are the most vocal.
Bloggers – read authors’ books on their own time, generally don’t get paid, post honest reviews on many outlets, provide a means of promotion for authors, do their best to pimp out the stuff they like.
Authors – generally provide free copies of books for blogger review, do interviews, write bonus scenes, character interviews, etc. that become content for other people’s blogs, provide prizes for giveaways.
Just like in any relationship, there’s a mutual give and take if this is to work correctly. And when both sides do their part, it’s beneficial to all involved. But when hard feelings enter the picture, it’s difficult to have shiny happy people on either side of the fence.
How about we get back to basics and realize that no one owes anyone else anything?
If a blogger doesn’t want to read books and write about them, then they shouldn’t. If the time that they are devoting to blogging should be spent instead at work or with family or whatever, then that is what should be done. For most bloggers, this is a hobby and it should be at least halfway enjoyable. If this starts feeling like work (the dreaded kind) or a chore, then it’s going to come across that way to readers.
If an author doesn’t want to give away books to bloggers for free, then they shouldn’t. At the same time, they shouldn’t expect a bunch of review coverage for that upcoming release. And certainly if a review or ten pop up, don’t have a meltdown if they aren’t favorable enough. Even bad reviews spark interest. Don’t want to do a giveaway? Hate writing bonus content for other people? Fine. No one is holding a gun to your head and making you do those things.
And while we’re on the subject of criticism (constructive, not the threatening or attacking kind) , here’s my take. If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t publish anything in the first place. Sure, pass your Word doc around to your mom or your friends, who will tell you how awesome it is, then stick it in your closet and forget about it. If you can’t put on your big girl panties, you have no business selling your writing to the general public.
I’ve had some great interactions with bloggers myself. I certainly can’t be the only author who has had a blogger (on more than one occasion) actually purchase the next book in my series because they enjoyed the one that I gave them for free. And goodness, if I would have known that they were that into my writing, I would have handed over coupon codes for all of my releases.
I’m lucky enough to have one blogger who doesn’t even ask for book descriptions anymore – I simply let him know that I’ve got a new novel ready and within five minutes I get an email back saying “send it”. Those are the relationships we should all strive to have. And if I, a literary nobody, have already fostered this, then I’m sure there are plenty more instances out there.
But we never hear about the good, which happens a lot more than the bad.
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Why are we wasting our efforts on people who are drawing attention to themselves in the wrong way? Shouldn’t we be ignoring them instead?
I’m sure that by now most of us are familiar with the 1-5 star ranking system for books. It’s pretty much the same for whichever retailer or social site you’re on. Amazon’s is a little less optimistic than the one I’ve detailed below, what with 1 being “hated it” and 5 being “loved it”, but you get the picture. In case you’re not well-versed on where things lie, I’ve pulled the following straight from Goodreads:
1 – did not like it
2 – it was okay
3 – liked it
4 – really liked it
5 – it was amazing
Seems simple, right? Like most people who dabble in reviewing, I toss out 1 and 2. I don’t want to crush people’s hopes and dreams. If I feel a 1 or 2 star review is warranted, I will keep it to myself. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Just on general principles, I dislike the word “amazing” because I think it’s one of the most over-utilized words on the planet. Very few things in life are truly amazing. But “really, really good” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Here’s where I like Amazon’s take better. I love a lot of things: sunshine, Vanilla Coke, sea salt and vinegar potato chips; I could totally see myself loving the right book.
Given my personal idiosyncrasies, that leaves most of the reviews I would write (on Goodreads at least) somewhere between the 3 and 4 star range. I have given a 5 star review before, but I don’t hand them out like candy. Maybe that comes from having a boss years ago in the banking world who would never give any employee the best score on an evaluation, as there was always room for improvement. Or I’m a hard-ass. You take your pick.
Goodreads seems to agree with me. The average rating of the books that I have on my shelf is – you guessed it – between 3 and 4. This seems reasonable. Lingering between “liked it” and “really liked it” doesn’t seem such a bad place to be.
Any self-pubbed author will tell you that reviews are like tiny treasures. I still remember the night I stumbled across the first Amazon review I ever got. It was a 4 star, unsolicited review and I may have gotten a little misty-eyed. They were tears of joy, mind you.
As someone who puts their work on display for others to judge, you have to develop a thick skin. Not all authors have learned this, though, and their feelings get hurt if they get anything less than a 5 star review. Some authors have gone as far as to badmouth or even threaten those individuals who give less than perfect reviews. Sure, we all want people to appreciate our work, but does it have to be at an “amazing” level all of the time? Since when is liking something not good enough?
I don’t write hoping that other people will see the end result and give it a 5 star review. I write the story that I want to and have faith that it will resonate with someone else the way it has with me. I realize when I let my work fly off on its own that some people will like it and others won’t. That’s just the nature of the game.
If I wanted an ego boost and a string of 5 star reviews, I’d email a copy to my friends and family and be done with it. (And I’d choose those people wisely). I wouldn’t send it out into the real world and let it fight on its own. But since I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done, I’ll march bravely out into the big electronic bookstore and take what comes.
I’m talking about honest, thoughtful reviews here, of course. Reviews that back up what they’re saying with examples. Reviews that are written respectfully. Not the petty, bullying reviews that pop up from time to time. Thankfully, I’m not considered a threat on anyone’s radar, so I don’t get attacked with 1 and 2 star reviews in retaliation. And I try not to be a polarizing figure so that people won’t judge my books solely on who I am. That really shouldn’t ever be part of the equation anyway. Sure, I get the point that the author is part of the brand, but if someone is rating my novels based on the fact that I have a nose piercing and I’m a huge Red Wings fan, then I’m probably doing something wrong.
Allowing the voice of the general public to be heard is one of the big reasons that self-pubbed authors are experiencing success. Authors need to accept the fact that we won’t always agree with what those voices have to say. We need to check our egos at the door and accept criticism graciously. After all, if we bite the hand that feeds us, eventually that well will dry up.
I, for one, want to hear what readers think. Even if they only liked it.