The Negative Side to Positive Reviews – Guest Blog by Author Riley Banks

The Negative Side of Positive Reviews – making indie authors soft

by 

Riley Banks

At the risk of being wildly unpopular, I am going to go out on a limb and say the mechanisms surrounding self-publishing are making authors soft.

I’m not being antagonistic, particularly as I’m one of those ‘soft’ Indie authors in question.

But think about it for a second.

Before self-publishing became easily accessible to the masses, there were only two ways to get your manuscript published.

The first was to jump through a plethora of ever-increasing hoops that started with writing the best damned manuscript you could, then condensing it down to a 2 or 3 page synopsis, then querying agents and/or publishers, going through the heartbreak of watching your letter box only to receive yet another rejection slip saying ‘Sorry but your book just isn’t quite what we’re looking for’.

If you were one of the lucky few, you eventually got picked up by a publishing house and paid a modest sum to be a legitimate author but had to wait up to two years to see your manuscript as a book on a bookstore shelf.

Once your book was released to the public, you had to sit back and watch as it was subjected to rigorous critiquing by a bunch of jaded critics paid to tear your baby apart.

If you were lucky, you won a couple of awards and got some positive feedback. Less than 1% of authors became bestsellers and made a substantial living off their books.

The other way to be published was to pay out your hard earned money for a vanity press to print off your manuscript, which then sat around in your garage or basement in boxes while you tried to flog it off to your neighbours, family, friends, work mates and every single person who had the misfortune of stumbling into your path. Luck, for the
vanity publisher, was breaking even and making back the initial outlay.  Occasionally self-help or non-fiction books sold well enough through vanity publishing to make the author a modicum of money but generally it supplemented income made through other avenues.

That all changed with the explosion of ebooks and Print-On-Demand publishing.

Now literally anyone can – and does – publish books.

I’d be a fool to decry the self-publishing boom. It has made my life easier and got my book into the public arena in a fraction of the time it would have taken in the past.

It also allowed me to bypass my least favourite step – writing that dreaded synopsis (writing the book is a breeze compared to trying to condense it all down to a couple of pages).

As stated in an earlier blog post, by using a combination of Amazon, Smashwords and Createspace, I was able to publish The William S Club for under $1000 (I paid for cover art and editing and spent some money promoting my book online). I also used a test audience to read through the manuscript. They gave me the confidence to believe the
book was ready for the general public.

To promote my book, I started looking around for sites that do book reviews. The big ones won’t touch an Indie author with a ten foot pole.  But there are hundreds of thousands of book bloggers and book sites out there doing a great job to promote new authors and books.

I’m a firm believer in giving back to the community. As I was looking for book reviewers to help me get word out there about my book, I let people know I would review books on my site.

Within a week, I’d been inundated with Indie authors wanting their work reviewed, and I was only too happy to help out.

But the further I delve into the books I’ve been sent, the more jaded I’ve become and the more I have started to question the process of self-publishing. It’s as if book bloggers have taken the place of proverbial slush pile.

Even worse, we’re supposed to find something positive to say about books that are not up to industry standards and, frankly, are little better than rough first drafts. We have to be nice because, God forbid, we hurt someone’s feelings and tell them their writing needs more work.

And it’s not just books I’ve been sent. I love reading and have book cases packed full of the old fashioned paperback books. It took me a long time to come around to reading ebooks (and admittedly, while I read them, I still prefer a book in the hand to ten on my iPad) but the more I read, the more I am appalled to find poor quality manuscripts
being passed off as finished works.

Too many Indie authors are skipping the important steps of editing and polishing their manuscript, hurrying inferior works onto virtual shelves in time to jump on any old bandwagon rolling by.

Take the flood of 50 Shades of Grey knock-offs doing the rounds on the Internet. Two years ago BDSM books languished around the fringes of the publishing industry –  generally on those shelves at the back of the adult book store where you had to wear a disguise to go in and purchase.

But when 50 SOG took off, so did the copy cats.

I can’t even count the amount of BDSM erotica books on the market right now. A couple are remarkably well-written and deserve to be read.  The vast majority are utter rubbish and would be better off lining the bottom of my cat’s litter tray.

Unfortunately, this is a growing trend in the erotica genre, and catching on in all others as well. ‘Authors’, and I use that term loosely, think that if they liberally dust their books with explicit sex scenes that people will be so turned on that they overlook the poor plot structure, the abundance of grammatical and spelling errors or the unlikable
characters. Or if they copy the plot structure from their favourite popular novels that the audience will lap it up.

Alas, it’s true. People are buying it but at what cost?

Are we just perpetuating the myth (or is that the truth) that self-published books are inferior to trade published?

And what role do book bloggers play in this charade?

By giving overly positive reviews for books that are inferior, are we helping to clean up the image of self-published authors or are we just ensuring the market is flooded with more inferior writing?

Is it possible to be critical without being harsh? To give feedback rather than useless, non-helpful fluff that praises what does not deserve to be praised.

I’m not saying we should be routinely ripping books to shreds but we should be giving fair and honest appraisals of how a book stacks up against others in its genre. We should not be giving leniency just because a book is Indie-published. In fact, quite the opposite is true – we should be holding it to a higher standard as we take the place of the
publishing industry that would have ensured the kinks were ironed out before it got to the buying public.

We owe it to the people who read our reviews to give them honest opinions. And we owe it to the Indie authors out there – myself included – to give constructive criticism. If there are plot holes or weak characters, let them know. If you struggled to finish the book, tell them. You don’t have to be nasty. You don’t have to cut their legs out from underneath them and destroy their publishing dreams. They’re, hopefully, not going to run off and slit their wrists because we tell them the truth about their writing.

Remember, honest, not harsh or cruel. You don’t have to be mean to be truthful. You can still point out the positives. The last thing any of us want to become known for is only writing negative reviews.

I’ve seen a number of book blogger sites that say if they don’t like the book, they won’t publish a review. Can you imagine The New York Times Book Review refusing to publish a review of a book because the reader didn’t like it? Can you imagine if they only published positive, overly nice reviews and gave everyone 4 or 5 stars, even if they weren’t
deserved?

Trade published authors learn early on to develop thick skin. They learn to overcome the rejections and criticisms, to take the knock backs and negative reviews and learn from them. Or, like EL James and Stephanie Meyer, they make enough money not to care what people say about their work, knowing that their books won’t appeal to all but are loved by those they do appeal to.

Without exception, all trade published authors have had their fair share of good and bad reviews. On average, 37% of Stephen King’s books get 5 star ratings, with the rest of the percentage spread out between 1 and 4 stars. 39% of The Mockingjay’s (by Suzanne Collins) reviews were 5 star.

I’ve read Indie books that are so badly written, I could not finish them. Yet looking at their ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, I was shocked to see book bloggers giving them 4 and 5 star ratings. One such book 48% 5 star ratings with a further 33% giving it 4 stars.

I was so perplexed by the consistently high ratings the book received that I wondered whether it was just me that was having trouble reading the book. But no, if you read between the lines, very few seemed to love it. Most spoke about the character being highly unlikable until the end when she had a bit of an epiphany and came good. In fact, a large number of them seemed to have all but copied the other reviewers posts repeating the same couple of positives ad nauseum as they struggled to find something good to say.

So why give it 5 stars? To me, a 5 star book is something I would go back and read again and again. If I’ve given a book 5 stars, I loved it and immediately ran off to tell someone about it as soon as I finished reading. Just to clarify, it doesn’t have to be perfectly written to get 5 stars. I’ll make allowances for the occasional grammatical or spelling error but overall, I want to feel passionate about the story. I want it to stay with me long after I have read the last page.

If we hand out 5 star ratings like welfare, all we do is dilute the power of a good 5 star rating.

And in the process, yes, we make Indie authors soft.

They come to think that their books deserve 5 star ratings from everyone and get upset when someone has the audacity to tell them the truth.

I would rather one honest but constructive review than a dozen 5 star reviews that are not deserved. I’ll take an honest 4 over an undeserved 5.

I want my writing to be the very best it can be, which means if my plot has holes big enough to fly a spaceship through, please let me know. If you could not connect to my characters and found it hard to root for any of them, put your hand up and tell me.

That way, the next book I write will get better.

Right, now stepping down off my soap box and getting ready for those that disagree with me. Feel free to post your thoughts.

ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER!

Profile Pic BW

“Creating stories you won’t want to leave.”

With over fifteen years in journalism and over a decade living overseas, Riley
Banks knows how to tell a tale or two. Her fast paced novels hook readers and
keep them hooked to the very last word.

Riley creates worlds readers won’t want to leave.

Whether she’s writing sexy, adult novels or action packed YA, you can rely on her
signature to shine through: Fast pace, gripping suspense and characters so rich
and bold they will stay with you long after you finish.

Her Vampire Origins series is already being touted as the next big thing in YA
literature. Packed full of action, adventure, romance, and evil, Vampire Origins
weaves historical fact with fiction to explore the origins of five very different
vampire tribes: Strigoi, Cambion, Bretonnian, Strix, and Nosferatu.

Riley’s debut novel, The William S Club, is an erotic thriller jam-packed full of
passion, corruption, secrets and blackmail. It takes the reader on an edge-of-
your-seat ride through France, Italy, Dubai and Australia.

For more information on her work, visit her website: http://www.rileybanks.net

A word of thanks! – I had opportunity read Riley’s insightful piece on her site; and she graciously offered to share it with us here on I Be Readin!  It is with fond appreciation, that I would like to pass on my thanks! Riley, you’ve givien me food for thought, my many thanks for guest blogging on I Be Readin!  Best regards, Scott  ibereadin@gmail.com

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4 thoughts on “The Negative Side to Positive Reviews – Guest Blog by Author Riley Banks

  1. You’re welcome Scott. Glad to be of service. And yes, it is food for thought for many. Reviewing books is not (and should not) be a popularity contest. It is actually a service you are providing for prospective buyers. In some ways, we’ve got to stop seeing the author as the ‘client’ and see the reader in that position.

  2. I am one of those book reviewers who will be honest, I try not to be cruel, yet I will point out mistakes and plot holes. I can only think of two books I refused to review, but only because they were so horrid, I was insulted that an indie publishing house would send them out. I did let the publisher know why I would not be reviewing them. I have a rule, if I cannot say anything nice, I’d rather not say anything at all.

    I do find many self published works to be less than ideal for public consumption. Editors are important, and I wonder if these publishers are more interested in making a buck off an author is more important than quality?

    I’d say that self publishing is a mixed bag. For many, it is the only way they will be published, even if their work deserves a big name house pushing their work. On the other hand, now days anyone can write a “book” and here lies the problem. Not everyone who wants to write, should.

  3. I agree with all that you said. A five star book is hard to define but the few I’ve given the rating have been about books that really moved me, that made me recommend them, that I would read again and again.
    What you say is not just for Indie authors but for all authors. We all want honest but not nasty reviews.
    Last, editing is so important and of all the things my publishing house does for me, their editing is the most critical. Indie authors MUST have their work professionally edited or they pull down every book published independently. There’s just no getting around it.
    Thanks Riley

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