Part II: Letter to my Earlier Self about #Book #Reviews and #Reviewers

Part II: Letter to my Earlier Self about #Book #Reviews and #Reviewers

This is Letter Two of Four of my “open letter to my earlier self” series that first appeared on The Book Cove, http://www.thebookcove.com/2014/12/author-sally-ember-edd-open-letter-to.html, late November – December, 2014.
Letter One appeared on my site, http://www.sallyember.com/blog, on 3/26/15.
Letters Three and Four post on April 11 and 18, 2015.

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I published my first ebook in December, 2013, and my second in June, 2014. My third just published last month, March, 2015. What I wish I had known before my first ebook went into pre-sales in November, 2013, about book reviews and reviewers could probably fill a book all by itself. I will try to make my life lessons more pithy, here.

Dear Sally,

You undoubtedly feel all excited about your first science-fiction/romance ebook’s publication, as you should. You are eager to read the first reviews, wondering how readers will respond, right?

Part of your preparation has been to read reviews and write reviews yourself on Goodreads. You have mostly been reading books you get from the library from rather well-known authors and writing reviews of those.

Alternatively, you have been reading a few works-in-progress by new and indie authors on http://www.Authonomy.com and http://www.Wattpad.com and leaving comments. Some authors have been commenting on your excerpts, also.

Several authors and bloggers are volunteering to review your first ebook and you are searching sites for other possible reviewers. You have been lucky: several have agreed, so you are able to put some of their choice reviewers’ comments into the final epub version’s front matter of your first Volume of The Spanners Series, This Changes Everything, prior to its actual release!

5 stars and lower

image from http://mandydegeit.wordpress.com

You are feeling great! Many of the reviewers are quite positive, giving the book 5 and 4 stars. Even the 3-star reviews have positive comments amidst the critiques and offer valuable points of view. You are psyched!

Then, the DNF (Did Not Finish) “reviews” start to appear, with 1- or 2-star ratings even though they didn’t read even half (and in some cases, even one-quarter) of your 323-pg book. Now come the lessons.

DNF quote

image from http://authorceo.com

  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 1: Do not expect all reviewers actually to read your book or to behave like professional reviewers.

    What? How do non-readers get to call themselves “reviewers”?

    People who only watch a few minutes of a movie or TV show or walk out at intermission for a live performance aren’t entitled to submit a full review much less a rating. Why are these readers doing this? What gives them any right to even comment, much less evaluate your book with so little experience of it? Reviewers are supposed to READ the book, first, aren’t they?

    HA HA HA HA HA! You wish!

    It’s all right. Calm down. Blog about DNFs and move on. Enjoy their snarky comments(some of the are quite witty and even funny), post them right along with the other reviewers’ insightful remarks. What do you care? It’s not as if their DNF opinions matter: they did not read your book! Ignore.

    NO DNF logo

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  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 2: Not all readers will comment; not all downloads lead to readers.

    Do not expect all readers to leave comments or reviews.

    No comment bubble

    image from http://oscarmini.com

  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 3: Reviewers are all volunteers (or mostly) and often do not have the ability to meet stated deadlines.

    Do not expect all reviewers who say they will review your book to do it in a timely fashion or at all. Waiting for reviews? May as well be waiting for Godot. “There is nothing to be done.”

    Waiting for Godot

    image from http://blogs.mprnews.org

  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 4: Reviewers will not always respond to requests.

    Do not be surprised when requests for reviews are ignored even when you follow all the reviewers’ guidelines and fill out their forms, even when your book falls within their genre specifications and meets their criteria perfectly, not even when they claim they will respond to all requests.

  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 5: Be open to a “swap” or don’t join the clubs.

    When you say that you are not a “review swap” kind of author, explaining that, on the rare occasion you do accept another author’s book to read and review (because you’re very busy writing), that:
    a) you cannot promise to provide their book with a 4- or 5-Star ranking,
    b) you do not know what you will think of their book prior to reading it, and
    c) you can’t promise a “positive” review,
    do not be surprised when some reviewers/authors refuse to review your book at all (and some are quite snarky about it).

    The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) developed a Code of Ethics(#ethicalauthor) http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/ethical-author-campaign/ in November, 2014, that included these statements in the Reviewing and Rating books section, which I like (except for the missing apostrophe on the final use of reader):
    “I do not review or rate my own or another author’s books in any way that misleads or deceives the reader. I am transparent about my relationships with other authors when reviewing their books.

    “I am transparent about any reciprocal reviewing arrangements, and avoid any practices that result in the reader being deceived.”

    Then, they also included this part in Reacting to reviews, which I thoroughly agree with:

    “I do not react to any book review by harassing the reviewer, getting a third party to harass the reviewer, or making any form of intrusive contact with the reviewer. If I’ve been the subject of a personal attack in a review, I respond in a way that is consistent with professional behaviour.”

    Read the entire Ethical Author Code and decide if you, as an author, want to adhere to it, or you as a reader want authors to adhere to it. If you do, download the badge, below, and spread the word! http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/alli-campaigns/ethical-author/

    ALLiEthicalAuthor_Final-Outlines-300x173

  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 6: Most reviews and authors’ groups do not accept “negative” reviews.

    Some even have agreements up front that they will not post or give any books lower than a 3-Stars ranking. They consider a 3 (out of 5) to be a “terrible” rating.

    When you are involved with some authors’ groups which require “review swaps” as part of “belonging” to their “club” (which I heartily recommend AGAINST joining for precisely that reason and more besides) and you read the book you have chosen or been assigned and discover that it is a book you have to give a 2-star rating to (and that is being generous, in your opinion), do not be surprised when the club leaders seem supportive but it turns out that they are not.

    Be prepared for the author to tell you that s/he is “too thin-skinned” to talk to you about your responses prior to your posting the review. You do wonder, however, how anyone can publish books, put their writing out in public, expect all their readers to react positively every time and make no emotional preparations for the eventuality of rejection or negative feedback from readers.

    Take it in stride when the leaders refuse to post your review even though it meets all their stated criteria, you warned them in advance that it was not “positive,” and they emailed you that “an honest opinion was all they wanted or expected from their members.” Do not take their lack of integrity personally, even when they cast aspersions on your character and hint that you are “being unfair” and “unkind.” Do not take the bait, even when they keep asking you questions that imply how heartless you are to rate that book so low, such as, “Don’t you know how hard this author worked on that book?”

    We wish everyone realized that rational, negative reviews can be helpful, as blogger Jody Hedlund points out in this great meme:

    Negative reviews can be helpful

    image from http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com

  • Reviews and Reviewers Lesson No. 7: Even the readers who chose to review your book may not like your genre or understand your book, yet will blame you for their lack of enjoyment and comprehension.

    Why, you wonder, would a reader who already knows she doesn’t like science-fiction choose to read, much less claim to want to review, a science-fiction book? There are ALIENS on the cover. There is no mistaking the genre of this book! What is the deal?

    The components of Buddhism and Judaism figure prominently in your books and you make that clear in blurbs and your bio. So, why would a born-again Christian, a devout Muslim or Catholic or any other religious-leaning person who has problems accepting Buddhism or Judaism in fictional characters and plots (or in real life, actually) choose YOUR books to review? What were they imagining would happen?

    You put information right in the first chapters of your books regarding its format (all in the present tense on purpose, for example, and presentations of multiple timelines), yet some reviewers will criticize your writing for these exact components, commenting that you “needed a better editor” since you “obviously don’t know how to use verb tenses,” or complain that “there were too many versions of the same story.”

We authors can’t please everyone, nor should we even try. Write your best book, Sally. Appreciate ALL reviews, even the DNFs. Keep going. By the time you get to Volume III or IV, this “newbie indie author” phase will seem as if it happened in another lifetime.

Meanwhile, support other indie authors. Write and leave reviews, rankings, comments and LIKES.

Support indie authors 2

image from http://alifeboundbybooks.blogspot.com

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Won’t Retweet, Won’t do Review Swaps, Won’t “Vote Up” Reviews: Why I Don’t Automatically Play Along with Many Writers’ Groups Anymore

Won’t Retweet, Won’t do Review Swaps, Won’t “Vote Up” Reviews:
Why I Don’t Automatically Play Along with Many Writers’ Groups Anymore

As Holly Near sings in her iconic relationship-gone-sour song, “Started Out Fine,” it “started out fine; we were moving ahead.” [Great song: go watch her sing it!]

Holly’s “Started Out Fine” on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qhxkd6Gn0E

When I first decided to become an independent author and self-publish after having gone the trad route with nonfiction and made a few attempts to go the trad route for fiction, I knew next-to-nothing about the social media circus I was about to join. I was starry-eyed, optimistic, eager and trusting.

I would get reviewers. I would network. I would make online author friends. I’d become part of communities I would find online. Yippee!

Oy.

Sure, I had a Facebook page, I had opened (and never used) a Twitter account, and I was listed on LinkedIn, for professional purposes (but hardly ever used it).

social-sites

I had found Authonomy http://www.Authonomy.com and Wattpad http://www.Wattpad.com and decided to post excerpts on these sites, hoping to begin to get readers, reviewers, friends, colleagues.

My niece set up my first website, Sally Ember, Ed.D., and I began to “blog my book,” posting excerpts there and on Facebook for weeks prior to publication (catching up with both excerpts sites, above, before release day).

I researched and decided to go with Smashwords, first, with a pre-order period (several posts about Pre-orders are on my blog, http://www.sallyember.com), then publish to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) when my first ebook went live.

That was the entirety of my social media presence in the summer of 2013, a few months before I hit the “publish” button on my first of the ten volumes in The Spanners Series. Some of these endeavors resulted in my finding exactly what I was looking for: a community of indie and/or self-pub writers, many of whom were also somewhat new, volunteering to review, comment, enjoy my excerpts and then my book! I was so delighted and grateful!

Some of these new connections invited me into groups I’d previously been unaware of, but I happily became quite active in them, for a while. These groups had members who were (and ARE) so supportive, showing me a variety of ways to be involved in cross-promoting one another’s writing.

At first, it was all sunny skies and rainbows. My ebook was gaining visibility, I was making online friends, gaining more reviews and having a good time. Mutual respect, support, encouragement, laughs, tips, ideas and more were flowing around groups and quite helpful to me. I even had some to share back to them. Awesome…for a while.

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image from: http://www.dreamstime.com

The clouds rolled in all too soon. Has any of this happened to you?
“Sure! I’ll ReTweet [RT] glowing praise for your book(s) [even though I’ve never read anything you’ve written]!”

“Of course, if you read and review my book, I’d be delighted to read and review yours [until I read a few that were AWFUL!]!”

“Please be assured that, if you vote up my book’s good reviews on Amazon or my book on Goodreads’ Lists or put my book on your “shelves” on Goodreads, I’ll do the same for yours [even though… {PICK ONE: I’ve never read these other writers’ books OR I don’t like the genre and would never read them OR I have started to read them but couldn’t continue because they were AWFUL}]!”

“Oh, great! I’d love to be part of this ‘review each other’s blog’ swap. Oh, what? You’re assigning me to an erotica site when my brand is PG-13?!?!? No can do. Oh, it’s required? Oh, you’re now calling me names, like ‘prude,’ and telling me I’m being ‘judgmental’? ‘Bye, then.”

thunderheads_canisbay
image from: http://www.artcountrycanada.com

Struck by scolding/lightning one too many times, I dropped out each of those writers’ groups that had absurd or untenable “member responsibilities.” I eventually dropped out of all but a few groups.

Whew! Relieved!

<strong>My integrity has been restored by establishing for myself some great ground rules:
1) I am not on “Tweet teams” which require members to RT every and all Tweets.
2) I do not do “obligatory” reviews or “swaps.”
3) I do cross-promoting only after I’ve gotten to know/read and respect the other person and his/her writing enough to put my name on a public recommendation.
4) I don’t “vote up” any reviews or books unless I’ve read and agree with the votes.
5) I don’t vote for book covers or books for voting-related rewards unless I actually believe they deserve to win.

The best part of being “older but wiser, now” about how writers use social media? If you see my name on a book or blog review, a promotional Tweet, a shared or reblogged post, you can rest assured I believe in what I’m sharing/promoting.

When I haven’t read the work of the authors and don’t know their blog or them at all except as members’ names, I only share or RT general promotions for the GROUP. That’s the way I handle all that social media group cross-promotion pressure, now.

Also, when an individual requests any of the actions I now refuse to take, I gently let them know I don’t do those actions and some I send to the ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) Ethical Code, which I signed and promote on my blog, GLADLY: http://www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com/2014/11/alli-launch-ethical-author-code.html Go read it. Sign it. Share it. We all should!

ALLiEthicalAuthor_Final-Outlines-300x173

So, however you respect my taste and/or me, you can follow my recommendations or leads as you wish.

All the best to you!