10/13/2013

How To Be An Author: Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

How to Be An Author: Reviewing Your Reading In Your Own Genre
There are dozens of things I wish someone had told me about reviews before my first book came out. So many, I can't even think of them all right now. I'm sure this is a subject I'll be revisiting many times in this space as thoughts make their way to the front of my admittedly cluttered and often malfunctioning brain.
For today though, one of the important things I wish someone had told me was that reviewing books you read in the genre you write is a dangerous past time. Oh, not so much as say base jumping, solo climbing and cave diving, but nevertheless. At least with these activities you get the adrenaline rush of excitement and the mini-orgasm of accomplishment – if you live to talk about it, that is.
I read a lot of books, in a wide variety of genres, and my personal policy on reviewing is simple. I don't read things I don't like, so I won't review things I don't like, and the majority of my reviews come out as "I really enjoyed this" or "This was great". Occasionally I encounter something that is soul-touching and warrants more in depth comments.
If I’m not liking something, I put it aside, delete it from my kindle, or donate it to the library if it’s a paperback. Life is too short to read stuff you don't like.
However, there are people out there who actually enjoy reading "bad books" and writing up "bad reviews" for them.
I could have finished out my span of days on this earth without knowing that.
It doesn't take a long time in this industry before you start hearing the whispers either. Some of the harshest critics are authors themselves. They write, and they read, and so they review.
Recently, Amazon imposed a rule against reviewing in the genre in which you write. Amazon thought they'd clean up the review program by deleting reviews by authors. But why can't an author review in their own genre?
Because.  Reviewing the competition? Rating every other erotic novel a one star so that yours will shine? Giving bad reviews to authors you deem to be your strongest competitors? Without saying right there in the review "I am also an author of XYZ type books".
Yes, there are authors who do that.
Look at it this way. If restaurant critic A owned a restaurant of his own, and went about town writing snarky reviews of all the other restaurants, but not his own, isn't that still a conflict of interest?
Wouldn't the agency that employed him fire him?
Then again, there are many, many more authors who fairly evaluate and review based on their personal taste just like all the other readers out there. However, even positive reviews are suspect. I've seen claims that five star reviews are bought not earned, that this author or that is trading 5 star reviews with other authors, that sock puppets are responsible for a huge percentage of good reviews.
You should know this:
Author reviews are immediately suspect, whether they are positive or negative.
If an author rates a book he's read poorly, then he's viewed as a jealous, egotistical prick. (Yes, I've seen it in groups across the web, "He said my book was (insert criticism of choice)! Well, he's a jealous egotistical prick!) If he rates it highly, then "he must be friends with the author".
If an author reviews, he leaves himself open to attack. Someone doesn't like your review, you just might find yourself dropping swiftly in the ratings as they and all their friends leave you lovely little one star reviews and snide comments. You might get hate mail. You might get kudos and public support. You might get dog shit on your doorstep.
It is what it is. We can't fathom everyone's motive, whether they're writing reviews honestly and from the heart or as the ancients believed, from the bitterness of the spleen or with the logical approach of the brain. And we don't really have any right to censor their voices, as Amazon apparently decided when they revoked that "authors can't review in their own genre" non-sense.
*shrugs* I wish someone had told me all this before I published. Then I could have made an informed decision. As it is, I'm sticking with my blindly made policy. If I like a story enough to finish reading it, I’ll review/rate it.
The fact of the matter is, when you become a public figure (and wow is it stretching my imagination to think of myself as one!) you are curtailing some of your rights (such as that oh so important first amendment right to freedom of speech!) voluntarily. Exercise them with care, because even the purest intent can have repercussions.




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To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955