Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Overuse Of Commas, or why it's important to be honest in reviews.

This is a response to Andrew Leon's review of an indie novel (which you can find here) and PT Dilloway's response to that review, which you can find here.

There was so much potential in this well written but totally discombobulated book. Several different and interesting story lines ended up going nowhere. The characters spent most of each chapter agonizing and internalizing over whether they had behaved correctly to situations or if they should have behaved differently, or how other people perceived their actions. I learned to just skim over the internalizing pages and then try to pick up on the thread of the story. On top of that, the plot(s) kept jumping timelines which confused me. Sort of a Robert Altman film without the benefit of visuals. I would give this a 1 star but I appreciate that is was well written and without gore, raunchy sex, or gutter language.

That is a review of my book Up So Down.

You, too, can own the book whose only
redeeming quality is that there
isn't a lot of raunchy sex!
Click here to buy it.
Up So Down is a book I'm really very proud of.  I spent a long time writing it -- I started it, actually, about when my twins were born in 2006, and I didn't publish it until 2012, after it had made it almost to publication by a traditional publisher, and after I had serialized it on a blog and made some major revisions to it.  After all that, which is an almost unprecedented level of work for me on a book, I published it, and then two years after it first came out, I got that review.

That was not my only negative review, even for that book.  PT Dilloway commented that there were 'missing pieces,' (although he gave it five stars and was generally positive) and Andrew Leon gave it four stars but commented that while the story was fine, the book suffered from some editing problems:

Mostly, it's nothing all that serious, an overuse of commas that most people won't notice, but there are some spots where there are wrong words or names and a couple of those spots did make me have to go back to figure out who was talking at a given a moment

I am thinking about those reviews -- the seriously bad one, and the ones that liked my book but found problems with it -- because those two authors, Dilloway and Leon, are right now in the middle of a debate (some would say fight) about the propriety of giving a negative review to an indie author's book.

The brouhaha is superficially about Andrew's review of Sandra Ulbrich Almazan's Lyon's Legacywhich you can read here, but it seems to me it is more actually about what kind of authors indie authors are, and how they should be treated.

Average rating on Amazon:
4.5 of 5 stars.
Click here to buy it and
make up your own
mind about the book, which
has its merits.
I had read Lyon's Legacy a while back and gave it five stars and a very good review.  When I saw Andrew's review, and when Andrew and I discussed his reaction to the book off the record, I was honest with him, and, finally, with myself -- if not with my review.  The book, I admitted, wasn't really worth 5 stars.  I had inflated the grade a bit because I liked Sandra and wanted to support her and felt, at the time, like I shouldn't give even a little negativity to a fellow indie author. Especially in retrospect, I felt the book was more of a three-star book: an interesting story, functionally well-written, but not a compelling must read that a five-star rating would merit.  I admitted to Andrew that if I reviewed it now, with my new thinking about reviews and indie authors, I would have probably given it 3 stars, and thus I wouldn't have posted a review at all.

That's my own compromise with ethics and reviewing and supporting indie authors: I won't post a negative review of an indie author.  I used to take that stance and find something positive to say about the indie book, no matter what, and never point out flaws.  Now, I take that stance and either post an honest review of a good book, or I won't review it at all.

(PS If I've read your book and haven't posted a review, that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I rarely post reviews, period, and there are great books that I haven't gotten around to posting reviews of because I really don't like to review books.)
I didn't go back and change Sandra's review or ranking, mostly out of laziness.  Instead, I read Andrew's review, and then I read the vituperative comments and back-and-forth debate about whether or not an indie author should give a bad review to another indie author.

Should one indie author give a bad review to another?

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Final Thought

If you followed this site, you've probably noticed no one has posted in months.  Yeah, we at Indie Writers Monthly have all gone our separate ways, so first the magazine and then the blog were no more.  Well, they still technically exist, but they're just relics of another time.

I wanted to close my run on the blog with a final thought based on something happened recently.  What happened is one former IWM author gave another former IWM's book one-star.  He made sure to do this on Goodreads, and on Amazon (two stars there but still), and on his blog.  You know, in case anyone he knew might have missed that he really didn't like that book.  I've read the book and if I were in a bad mood I'd at worst give it three stars.  For me one star (or two) means more than "I didn't enjoy it" or "I didn't get it."  It means the book is so wretched that I would throw it in a fire if I could.  Did this book deserve that?  No.

But that's not the real point.  The real point, the thing I take umbrage to, is one indie author trashing another's book.  Not even some random author, but one he knew and had worked with on this blog and magazine for over a year.  That's just lowdown BS in my book.

His defense is "I'm just being honest."  And going on about "ethics" and "integrity" and so on and so forth like he's some great paragon of virtue.  You know what's a virtue to me:  loyalty.  I don't sell out my friends and I hope they won't sell me out in kind.

Can I tell you something you might not have realized?  Selling books is fucking hard.  It's hard for midlist authors with big publishers.  It's harder for those with small presses and it's harder still for those who are indie published.  When you indie publish you've got a whole mountain of obstacles to climb.  It's a real battle to get any kind of positive recognition.

That's why you need friends.  Or if not friends, then at least allies.  If you want any chance in Hell of being successful, you need help.  You need people to help you spread the gospel so maybe a few people will take note of it amongst the millions, nay billions of other books out there in "the Cloud."

When other people ask me to help them, I do it.  I don't hem and haw about doing a cover reveal because I haven't read the book in question.  I don't whine about "honesty" and "integrity."  I do it because I'd want them to help me should I ask for it.  I can't expect them to go to bat for me when I won't do it for them.  It's a two-way street.  There have been times when I've asked for help and people have come through for me.  Like say when someone made me an awesome book cover and didn't charge me.

Or when publisher of said book just dumped it out there without warning and I needed to throw together a spontaneous blog tour.  People let me announce my book on their blog and I don't think it compromised their "integrity" one iota.  And hey, if they ever ask me to spotlight something, my blog is theirs.  No questions asked.  No pissing and moaning about "ethics."  It's what you do.

Because maybe this guy doesn't get it, but we're a community here.  You can't build a community by throwing rocks at someone else just to make yourself feel more important.  But hey, isn't that what you're doing?  That's why I'm not using his name.  He'll know who he is and he won't be ashamed, though he should be for what he did.  As I said, there are so many obstacles we have to overcome in this business that we don't need allies turning on us too.

People on his side will say they respect his choice, freedom of speech, blah blah blah.  Here's my response:  you didn't like the book?  Why say anything at all?  Was there anyone chomping at the bit to read your opinion?  Did anyone solicit you for your review of said book?  I'm pretty sure that answer to that is no.  If you don't like the book and it violates your precious "ethics" to be merciful, then just do what your mom always said:  If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Am I advocating no one ever post any bad reviews of anything, ever?  No.  You want to give the latest James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks book 1-star, please do.  They have legions of fans.  Their books have thousands of reviews.  Just last week I gave 1-star to a book being published by Amazon.  And you know what, it won't fucking matter!  That book has hundreds of reviews already; mine is just crying out in the wilderness.  There's no harm to it.  There is harm when you do that to a book that has only a few reviews or no reviews.  Then your opinion can actually do some damage.

I complain all the time about people who frivolously give a book 1 or 2 stars.  They simply don't understand that for indie authors word-of-mouth is important.  Especially someone in my situation who needs all the sales I can get so I don't end up living under a fucking bridge with the other 18,000 or so homeless in Detroit.  I don't need your venom or your "integrity;" if you're not going to help then at least just stay out of my way.

Of course it wasn't my book that was trashed--yet.  I'm sure the person in question is even now sharpening his knives because I changed an overly generous 5-star review of his book to 1-star to let him have a taste of his own medicine.  He'll probably go give one or more of my books 1-star, all the while trying to crow about what a paragon of virtue he is.  LOL.

But anyway, the point is that as indie authors we're all in the same boat.  When rowing a boat everyone has to pull in the same direction or you're going nowhere.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, not yours.  It was fun writing on the blog and magazine for the last year and change.  The best moment was when I wrote about "Authors Anonymous" and the writer of the movie actually chimed in.  That was quite a shock.

You'll note I've turned reader comments off for this post.  I don't want to start a flame war in the comments.  Anything the guilty party wants to say he can do so in his own post.

Farewell.  Oh, and buy my books!