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Duty to self-publishing authors?

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message 1: by David (new)

David Watkins | 5 comments When is it appropriate to slam a novel? I recently slammed a self published book on Amazon and Audible because 1) it was very bad (really execreble) and 2) it had an astonishing number of 4 and 5 ratings. I don't really regret my ratings, but I wonder how to balance the reviewer's responsibility to other readers with the need to support the creative process and authors early in their careers. On one hand, writing is hard; and it must take guts to put ones work out in the noosphere exposing oneself to abuse. On the other hand, someone has to protect the paying public from work which has only received the scrutiny of loving moms and a spell-checker. I just read Blood Song and was amazed at the quality of this self published fantasy gem; and I know, de gustibus ..etc; but WOW some of this other stuff is really bad. In the old days literature was filtered through a publishing company, but now it's like amateur hour at the local pub, and we are expected to pay for it. I worry I sound like a pompous ass, but I suppose the shoe fits pretty well, and I'll walk around in it for this thread at least.
What do y'all think? How do you promote self publishing in a world of quality work crowded out by crap with inflated ( bogus?) reviews?
David - Dallas


message 2: by Gregor (new)

Gregor Xane (gregorxane) | 111 comments If you read something that you don't enjoy, no matter who published it or how, feel free to write a scathing review of it. Reviews are for other readers, not authors.

If you love a book, no matter who published it or how, spread the word.

Readers should expect a professional product, no matter how it's published. Self-published authors shouldn't be mollycoddled until they learn not to foist crummy books onto the paying public.


message 3: by Stopher (new)

Stopher C. Thomas | 7 comments I think you have to stick with your gut and be honest when critiquing a book, or any art form for that matter.
I majored in art and my professors never pulled punches, because they understood what it takes to grow in your craft, writing in this case.
Me and a few others I know started a writing group and
I expect them to tell me what they honestly think. How else am I going to improve? If people keep telling me that my stories are great, I'll never grow.
People who blow smoke because they're afraid to hurt the author's feeling are doing the author an injustice.

As far as how to promote self published work, I'd recommend this. http://www.reddit.com/r/write2publish


message 4: by Gary (last edited Jul 07, 2014 02:12PM) (new)

Gary I have some pretty strong thoughts on this one, and they come mostly from dealing with my own writing and work. In fact, I've struggled a lot with it, and I have to say I don't think many people who self-publish their work have given this any real thought--it shows in their product, and in their responses to both critics and readers. So, I'm going to take this opportunity to spell out some ideas.

Here are some numbers:

If a person reads 100 books per year and lives to be 100 years old, that is 10,000 books for a lifetime of reading. I think we have to recognize that that is pretty optimistic. According to Pew Research the average man reads four books per year, and the average woman six. So, that 10,000 books in a lifetime is for a pretty serious (and long-lived) reading hobbyist.

If each of those books is 200 pages and if it takes a person half a minute a page to read them then we're talking about 1,000,000 minutes/16-17,000 hours. (Again, those are optimistic numbers.) By comparison, a full-time job is around 2,000 hours per year at work. That reading time represents what could be eight years at a job, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It could be several college diplomas. Heck, it approaches the time required to raise a child.... A serious reader should be given the respect that you would give any other person doing a job.

Keep that 10,000 books in a lifetime in mind for a moment. According to this article, there were 391,000 self-published books in 2012, up from around 235,000 in 2011. According to this 2013 Forbes article there are "between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone.... Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published."

Let those numbers wash over you for a second. In the past three years there have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 self-published books in the U.S. A serious, dedicated reader will read 1% of them over the course of their life if they live another 100 years, stop picking up books produced in the future, and ignore everything else in print since Gutenberg set up shop. (The printing press, not the website....)

So, what is the obligation of a reviewer to the writer of a self-published book? You'll have draw your own conclusions, of course, but mine is that while getting to read someone's book is a privilege, it is often a dubious one. As you note, writing is hard, and we should respect that process. However, I have to note that that has always been the case, and for most writers, being read is also a privilege. Being read means that the writer's book was plucked out of the massive pool of options available to the reader, and that reader has had the goodness to dedicate a serious amount of time and effort to the writer's work in the hopes that the writer will come through on their promise to entertain, enlighten, educate, amuse or just distract that reader for a few hours.

Many self-published books are the literary equivalent of finger-painting. I've seen them, and I've seen some wildly dishonest reviews from people apparently being paid in one way or another to write them. This is fraud and graft. It certainly doesn't rise to the level of the banking crisis, but it is lying for profit, and in a just world would be called out for what it is. We don't live in that world, of course, but it behooves us to call it out when we see it, if not for other readers then in the hopes that somehow, in some way, the writers who engage in such activities will see the error of their ways, learn their craft, and turn out a better piece of work.


message 5: by Sky (new)

Sky Corbelli | 352 comments Speaking as a reader, I appreciate honest reviews. People could have honestly liked the book just as much as you honestly disliked it, and both of those are important pieces of data when I'm looking at reviews. So keep reviewing, and don't pull any punches.

Speaking as someone who has read a decent number of self-published books, I would recommend downloading the preview before you buy. Actually, forget that self-published part. Do this for all books. It will make you happier. Reviews are great, and I like to trust them... but I also like to verify that the book is something I want to read.

Speaking as one of those vile self-published authors, I can tell you that a critical review is ten times harder to read than a positive review and a million times more useful. That's a pretty good ratio.

If you didn't like the book for personal reasons, it's important to remind the author that not everyone will enjoy their book.

If you thought the plot was weak or filled with nonsense, it's important to let the author know so they can grow their craft.

If the author needed an editor and didn't hire one, it's important to chastise them for it so that they'll realize professional editing is actually worth every penny.

Hell, even if you're a troll handing out one-star reviews without even reading the blurb (I am not encouraging this in any way, nor am I implying that any of the wonderful people here are guilty of it), it's important for the author to remember that sometimes people are just mean and authors need thick skins.

Feedback is how we learn, and all feedback is good feedback.


message 6: by Wilmar (new)

Wilmar Luna (wilmarluna) | 241 comments Me personally, I'd just be happy for people to have read my book. I'm no stranger to 1 star reviews or even 5 star reviews. It's much more important that people read my work than what they say about it.

At the end of the day, the book is what it is and it cannot be changed unless it's going to be re-released. In fact, I'm one of those people that prefer to read the bad reviews first before I jump into the good ones.

The ONLY rule I have when writing a scathing review is not to personally bash the author. If it devolves into this author is an idiot a neanderthal or anything that has nothing to do with the book. Then that's an unhelpful review.

So do what you want with your reviews, just don't make it personal.


message 7: by Jake (new)

Jake Scholl (jakeschollwriter) | 6 comments As a self-published writer, I like getting any review, whether its a good review, or a bad one. Everyone's opinions are important, and makes authors better.


message 8: by David (new)

David Watkins | 5 comments Good advice from all. Maybe I should not take it too personally either. The whole genre of fantasy is built on narrative tropes that authors play off of to meet their needs. True storyline originality may not exist anymore. That being said, there remains the pleasure that can be had in character development and observation and foundationally at least some respect for the play of language. It is galling, however, to be fed leaden prose in service of bad representations of classic storylines with few or no new ideas.


message 9: by David (last edited Jul 07, 2014 12:26PM) (new)

David Watkins | 5 comments Gary wrote: "I have some pretty strong thoughts on this one, and they come mostly from dealing with my own writing and work. In fact, I've struggled a lot with it, and I have to say I don't think many people w..."

Don't hold back, Gary. Tell us what you really think.

Thanks for the insightful response.


message 10: by Gary (new)

Gary David wrote: "Don't hold back, Gary. Tell us what you really think.

Thanks for the insightful response."


Heh. Honestly, I'm regretting putting that up on Goodreads. I should have filled it out a bit more, and put it up on a blog.... Meh. I can still do that. We'll see.


message 11: by Alan (new)

Alan | 534 comments I find it hard to judge a self-published author as harshly as I do a successful author who has written a book well below their usual standard. Self-published books feel a little bit like tossing messages in bottles into the ocean ... and my writing a completely honest review in response feels almost callous. I know that's not logical but it feels like I'm insulting someone rather than reviewing their work.


message 12: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4148 comments I don't know if you owe a duty to self published authors, it's more like you owe a duty to yourself to be fair. I've enjoyed self-published authors - Kate Danley comes to mind. The third book in her Maggie for Hire series had a significant number of typos. But that wasn't worse than the first edition of Niven's Ringworld. One release of Percy Jackson was so bad that the publishers suggested a re-download and told purchasers when it was available.

For any work that seems overly well reviewed, it is fair to leave your own honest review and perhaps a mention that the other reviews seem overly generous. It is not anyone's job to "swing the pendulum the other way."

Keep in mind that reviews are needed for any self-published work to get noticed. Independent authors can organize friends and family, or even pay for reviews. They may consider this fair since reviewers of more mainstream works are paid, either by the publication they review for, or in kind gifts, or both. I don't do it, but don't judge others who do. You can also enter contests for a fee and be a "semi finalist" fairly easily. It's all part of the game.

The reviewing game is in perpetual flux. Two years ago people got traction by asking Amazon's top reviewers to look at their book. Now those reviewers are so flooded they don't even respond. Web sites that offered reviews now don't respond, as they have gotten overwhelmed as well. Meanwhile, some promotional channels are open only to those with a certain number of reviews at a certain number, commonly ten reviews of 4 or higher.

I won't judge anyone for using whatever means they have to promote their work. That's not to say I would want to buy it based on fake reviews - and I feel those reviews are easily spotted. For that matter, I wouldn't lecture a working writer on what to write, although for instance I disliked the Foundation followups and wish Asimov had resisted. Clarke needn't have written four followups to 2001 although, sigh, I bought and read them all. At least those had some merit, unlike the Rama continuances which were taken straight from Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker.

In short, do what you will, but be fair. If something isn't your cuppa, feel free to say so. But don't overstate the case because you feel the author did something you don't like. Address the work and not any motives you think you may glimpse. You may well be wrong.


message 13: by Darren (last edited Jul 07, 2014 10:21PM) (new)

Darren The reviews aren't there for the authors, they are there for other readers.


message 14: by Jason (new)

Jason Chapman | 17 comments There are writers and then there are writers. I think a lot of people see writing a book as a fast track to an endless money pot. So they write their books and throw them onto amazon.

There are readers and then there are readers. There are people who look past grammar and spelling mistakes and focus on the story that the self-published author is trying to tell.

Then there are people who will curse every misspelt word and grammar error in the entire book.

Most indie authors try their best to make sure their work is up to scratch. I do my best, I did receive a scathing review on Amazon a few weeks back, but its to be expected.

What people need to do is focus on those indie authors that genuinely try to tell a good story and ignore those who write trash.


message 15: by Nancy (new)

Nancy O'Toole (temporaryworlds) | 135 comments There are some reasons why I might cushion my reviews a little. If it's a debut novel for example. People rarely get it all right on the first try. Or, if I'm not in the target audience. A well written book is a well written books, but sometimes you need to understand that you're just not in the 9-12 target age range.

But I never do this for self published author. The way I see it, a lot of self pubbers are struggling to be taken seriously as legitimate writers, so I make sure I treat them just like everyone else.


message 16: by Jason (new)

Jason Chapman | 17 comments Nancy wrote: "There are some reasons why I might cushion my reviews a little. If it's a debut novel for example. People rarely get it all right on the first try. Or, if I'm not in the target audience. A well wri..."

All good answers Nancy :)


message 17: by Nancy (new)

Nancy O'Toole (temporaryworlds) | 135 comments Thanks Jason!


message 18: by Paul (new)

Paul Kleynhans | 11 comments As a (a very recently) self-published author with no reviews as yet, any feedback at all would be good. But, as far as I am concerned, if it's not honest, then it's worthless.

As has been mentioned already, they are for other reader, not the authors. I'm sure authors get valuable feedback from them, but that's secondary.

Just don't get personal I guess.


message 19: by Ben (new)

Ben Nash | 200 comments I think it helps to be descriptive. If you didn't like it, say so, but also tell why. If it contains tropes I don't like, that's different from containing basic errors of grammar and spelling.

Those things are mostly useful to other readers, but the author can also find use. It's easier to take "I'm not into the romance elements" or "I'm not into the hard SF elements" than it is to take "I don't like this book."


message 20: by PointyEars42 (new)

PointyEars42 | 44 comments Plenty of good self-publishing authors blog about the free-lance editors they hire AND the number of times they've sent their work out to beta readers before putting it up for sale... and if you're not willing to polish your work like they do, you definitely deserve every criticism coming your way.

Mind you, I've encountered some truly cringe-inducing stuff from formal publishers too. I think they often just provide a site to sell through and basic formatting & spell-checking.

Sigh, all those English majors who end up flipping burgers instead of rising through the editorial ranks.


message 21: by Mark (new)

Mark (markmtz) | 2526 comments Have you ever been asked to change a review? A few months back a Goodreads author sent me a message offering a free copy of a book, because I had written a review of one of Myke Cole's Shadow Ops novels. I accepted the offer, read the book and wrote a review. In the review I mentioned that the author provided a free copy. Later, the author contacted me and asked me to remove mention of a free copy. I declined. That was the end of it. It just seems odd. Anyone else with a similar experience reviewing?


message 22: by Gregor (new)

Gregor Xane (gregorxane) | 111 comments Mark wrote: "Have you ever been asked to change a review? A few months back a Goodreads author sent me a message offering a free copy of a book, because I had written a review of one of [author:Myke Cole|804399..."

I'm pretty sure you're legally obligated to mention that you received a copy of the book in exchange for a review.


message 23: by James (new)

James H. (jhedrick) | 128 comments Ben wrote: "I think it helps to be descriptive. If you didn't like it, say so, but also tell why. If it contains tropes I don't like, that's different from containing basic errors of grammar and spelling.

Tho..."

I agree with Ben. I've self-published as well and all reviews are good reviews. Does help for readers and reviewers to be honest about why they disliked the book. though. No formatting and poor editing are universally bad; getting high-fantasy when you wanted steampunk is something else.

Admittedly, I've given really bad reviews to major publications (I'm looking at you "Wildcards: Deuces Down") for poor formatting, especially for Kindle, while being a little nicer to self-published pieces with worse problems. It helps when the self-published pieces are cheaper as well. If I'm out $2-4 bucks on a bad self-published book, it doesn't bother me as much. If I'm spending $8-15 on a book that has presumedly gone through some sort of professional editing process and everything is unjustified and typos are taking me out of the story, then I'm a little more perturbed.

Boils down to good for the self-publishers for DIY-ing it. Keep your criticisms accurate and specific across the spectrum, but nail the pros for a shoddy product, if it is one.

Full-disclosure, I'm a pure e-reader now. Can't remember the last time I read a dead-tree edition of anything.


message 24: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 34 comments Neither authors nor readers are served well by a dishonest review. That’s hardly a controversial position, but while writing a review takes time and effort on the part of the reader, I think it is well worth it to the entire community even if it isn't ‘owed.” I too like to encourage authors with talent self-published or not. I realize writing is difficult both artistically and financially, but that’s all the more reason to give constructive criticism. It seems obvious but I’ll repeat it – that doesn't include personal attacks or even simply calling the work stupid. Be specific about the flaws and why you are giving the low rating. I try (if it is possible) to say something positive such as pointing out the good ideas and how they might have been poorly executed. I have written some scathing reviews in my time and sometimes I feel guilty but I also read reviews by others and am grateful if another reader saves me the time of reading something that isn't worth it. For me, it isn't the money but the time that I resent spending on bad writing.
If something simply isn't to my liking, I generally have no one to blame but myself unless the blurb was completely dishonest about the type of novel it was. There was one book that I avoided reading because the blurb sounded interesting but multiple reviews of people who had read it criticized that it was a total bait and switch. The novel was completely misrepresented by the description.


message 25: by Jason (new)

Jason Chapman | 17 comments It mystifies me how some of these indie authors can get hundreds of reviews, I count myself lucky to have gotten 11 reviews for my novel on Amazon UK and 2 on Amazon US.


message 26: by S. Usher (new)

S. Usher Evans (susherevans) | 9 comments Sky wrote: "Speaking as a reader, I appreciate honest reviews. People could have honestly liked the book just as much as you honestly disliked it, and both of those are important pieces of data when I'm lookin..."

I want to frame this entire post and put it on a wall somewhere.


message 27: by Oliver (new)

Oliver | 18 comments As an indie author also, I'm a bit half and half on this.

Self published authors need some support, and many cannot afford an editor. They do not yet have the money or sales to support their writing full time, so I tend to be more patient with them.

However, for me it's perfectly okay to slam a self published author who already got a lot of good reviews, at least it's balanced. Before I buy from Amazon anyway I make sure to read the 1 or 2 star reviews first. And most self published authors don't make that much money anyway. They don't get that much sales for the amount of time they put in writing the book. There's so many books out there, their work don't stand out.


message 28: by G.R. (new)

G.R. Paskoff (grpaskoff) | 55 comments Lots of words of wisdom in these posts. Thanks, David, for starting this thread. Obviously, honesty matters, but as a self-pubbed author I could be a bit biased. Personally, I can handle a negative review, but there's nothing more frustrating than a negative review that is not specific about what the reader didn't like. There's a big difference between not connecting with the author's message and poor spelling and grammar. The first is expected (not every story suits every audience), the second is inexcusable (that's what beta readers are for).

Even though a negative review stings at first, if writing is truly your passion you will learn to take those criticisms to heart and work on perfecting your craft.


message 29: by Jason (new)

Jason Chapman | 17 comments That's one of the problems with being an indie author. I cannot afford an editor I still have a full time job I am desperate to get out of. But I keep going.


message 30: by Wilmar (last edited Jul 08, 2014 10:07PM) (new)

Wilmar Luna (wilmarluna) | 241 comments I don't buy into not being able to afford an editor. I had a full-time job that paid peanuts, but I saved that money to buy an editor which cost me around $700 for the first time and then $1,400 for the second time.

There are plenty of editors with flexible budgets. If you are going to be a self published author, then you HAVE to have money to invest into your product.

There seems to be this illusion that self publishing just requires that you write the book. This is wrong, completely wrong.

If you self publish a book: you are accepting the fact that you need to have a great cover, need a professional looking website, need an editor, and sometimes you need to buy marketing space.

If you've jumped into writing without having money for at least one of these, you're already on your way to an uphill battle.

This cover alone: The Silver Ninja: Indoctrination photo Silver2KINDLE_zps6adf6f69.jpg

Cost me over $1,000 dollars to produce. I didn't just magically come into money either. I saved the peanuts I had from my measly, mind numbing job and spent my hard earned money on a professional studio.

I did the same for the editor (though granted, finding a good editor is a difficult process as well.) You should never, ever, jump into self publishing without having some money saved up. It's not just about writing the book, but getting exposure for your book and treating it like a business.

Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I think it's important that writers are aware that self publishing costs money. If you don't have enough money for an editor then you might as well publish your book as a vanity project because no one is going to read it.

I'd be more than happy to discuss it further if someone would like to start a separate thread.


message 31: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Cherney | 4 comments I'm going to echo a lot of what's already been said in this thread, but honesty is the best policy when it comes to reviews. While readers will simply look at the reviews to see what they might like or not like on a book and if it is worth their time, for an author, even a beginning one, those reviews are our feedback and sometimes our only form of it. Speaking as a self published author any reviews are good- sure the negative reviews will sting but it comes with the territory. I completely agree that if you are leaving a negative review be specific since like others point out, there is a huge difference between poor execution and something simply that the reader didn't care for personally in the story. I agree with Elizabeth's way of doing it, especially if you're worried about hurting beginning author's feelings with being negative. Begin by saying the positive about the book and then go into the negative. Sometimes it's all about the balance.


message 32: by Oliver (new)

Oliver | 18 comments "Begin by saying the positive about the book and then go into the negative. Sometimes it's all about the balance. "

That says it exactly,


message 33: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Greyling 'Life is too short to read books I don't enjoy'. I took this philosophy from my own favourite author and I think it's a good one. In the past, I would force myself to finish a novel regardless of the quality, but now I'd rather put it aside and look for another gem, so I don't post reviews on books I 'hate'.


message 34: by PointyEars42 (new)

PointyEars42 | 44 comments Caroline wrote: "'Life is too short to read books I don't enjoy'. I took this philosophy from my own favourite author and I think it's a good one. In the past, I would force myself to finish a novel regardless of t..."

Why you hated a book, why you didn't or couldn't finish it, is still valid review material and may be exactly what other readers need to see. I always mention in my 1st sentence at what % I stopped reading before I say why, and mark it as being on my "lemmed or dnf" shelf.


message 35: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Greyling PointyEars42 wrote: "Caroline wrote: "'Life is too short to read books I don't enjoy'. I took this philosophy from my own favourite author and I think it's a good one. In the past, I would force myself to finish a nove..."

Hmmm. I personally don't think it's fair for me to review a book I didn't finish. What if the last half is sterling? What if I missed the entire plot or message?
I'm all for constructive criticism but I don't see the point of scathing reviews. Instead of wasting my time writing bad reviews, I choose to spend my precious minutes promoting the quality hard work of some of the amazing authors I've read and to add some quality and quantity to my own wordcount.


message 36: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 34 comments PointyEars42 wrote: "Caroline wrote: "'Life is too short to read books I don't enjoy'. I took this philosophy from my own favourite author and I think it's a good one. In the past, I would force myself to finish a nove..."

Me too, the fact that I couldn't even finish is important information. I couldn't even get past chapter 1 on a book and I wrote that in my review. Maybe it got better, maybe the over all story was good, but it is important for an author to realize that most readers are not going to keep reading if the first chapter is just terrible.


message 37: by David (new)

David Watkins | 5 comments Caroline wrote - "What if the last half is sterling? What if I missed the entire plot or message? "

Thanks to all for contributing to this interesting thread. I didn't finish the book that prompted it. I predicted it would not get better. A literary talent capable of writing a sterling last half of a novel should be able to recognize an execrable first half. To publish it in this uneven state would imply to me a laziness or lack of will on the part of the author which would deserve censure. I shouldn't have to slog through the rest of the book to deliver this warning to others. I probably would not have said written anything about the book if the other reviews had not praised it so highly, and if I hadn't wasted an audible credit on it.


message 38: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 34 comments Caroline wrote: "PointyEars42 wrote: "Caroline wrote: "'Life is too short to read books I don't enjoy'. I took this philosophy from my own favourite author and I think it's a good one. In the past, I would force my..."

Depends on your definition of scathing - when I write a scathing review it is a plot point analysis of how the story or character development completely failed.


message 39: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Greyling Elizabeth wrote: "Caroline wrote: "PointyEars42 wrote: "Caroline wrote: "'Life is too short to read books I don't enjoy'. I took this philosophy from my own favourite author and I think it's a good one. In the past,..."

Spot on - it is all about HOW you say it. Constructive vs destructive.


message 40: by Alexander (last edited Jul 09, 2014 07:51AM) (new)

Alexander (technogoth) | 171 comments I rarely leave reviews on books I don't finish. Unless the book had major faults that I wish to alert the public to. But if I find the story boring or I'm just not into it I won't bother leaving a review. I'm 40% of the way through Magician and I've lost all interest in the story the last few chapter were a chore to finish. But I would leave a review saying I got bored and didn't finish.

I agree with wilmar if you want to be an indie author you have to treat it like any business venture which means spending time and money at it. If you're going spend the time to write 100,000 word novel and then do a quick spell check in word before hitting publish then you're doing yourself a disservice. You need to hire an editor you need beta reads who will give you honest feed back. You need to pay for cover art and then after all that and you have something that ready to be shown to the public you have struggle through the challenges of getting people to read it.

I searched for a long time on deviantart until I found the artist to do the cover art for my novel, but that was because I was looking for a bargain. I spent $500 in the end but he did a fantastic job I think.


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