When authors throw a wobbly…

jelly2If you had told me four years ago that I would be reviewing books on a regular basis, I might have looked at you as if you had suddenly sprouted a rainbow-coloured big toe on your head. Me? A book reviewer? You’re havin’ a larf!

But, reviewing is what I started to do. It marked the beginning of my ‘deep and meaningful’ (relationship) with my new Kindle three years ago. Well, my first Kindle. I’ve divorced six and am on my seventh now. (Don’t ask.) Zsa Zsa Gabor has got competition, let me tell you.

And so my reviewing blog was born. It’s a bit of fun for me. It will be something I can look back on in my dotage, when eyesight and memory are fading and reading is a losing battle because I’ll lose the plot…literally. I’ll be able to look back at all the books I read when I joined the digital book revolution. And fun it has been. Overwhelming too. I’ve been inundated with books to read by generous authors, who have given me their pride and joy to review. Some I know are disappointed I haven’t read them yet, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and way too many of those are filled with must-dos. I will honour my promises, though.

What has come as a shock is that, call it naïve if you want, the reviewing process is not all sunshine and roses. I’ve enjoyed ninety-five percent of the books I’ve read. I don’t use a star system on my blog, but if we go by the Amazon ratings, that ninety-five percent are three stars and up. In my book, that makes them good books. Now…I’m asked to give an honest review…so, that’s what I do.

What has recently been a shock to me is the reaction of authors (let me stress…very, very few) if I didn’t enjoy their books. I was recently the victim of some unpleasantness from Mr Disgruntled (let’s call him Mr D) because of a one-star review. I was called some not-so-nice names by him and his followers, attacked on Amazon by other five-star reviewers, privately messaged and Facebook-blocked.

As some of you know, I’m incredibly supportive of the indie community and very protective of it when it’s attacked by the staunch followers of traditional publishing. But those actions of one of the bitter few did momentarily call my support into question. That’s it, I thought. Blow the lot of you. I’ll stick to trads, thank you very much. This is supposed to be fun. But…I can’t do that. Look at all those good books I’d be missing out on.

The contributors here at IU have written various articles about how to react to unfavourable reviews, so I’m not going to go over that ground again. But Mr D blocked some of my Facebook friends too, some of whom might have liked his book, as would have some of their contacts; he has managed, exponentially, to lose a number of sales and readers. We all have diverse tastes and standards. They’re not going to read any of his books now, nor are many, many others who know of the incident. Not because they’re supporting me, let’s be clear, but because they simply don’t need that sort of grief in their lives. And actually, I might have read a second novel by Mr D. I don’t dismiss authors on the basis of just one book I didn’t like; writers learn and grow. Except, in this instance, I won’t.

I’m sure that, out of the next hundred books I read, three or four won’t pass muster. No, wait. Won’t pass my muster. (Let’s not forget, that reviews are merely an opinion.) Even more crucially: Mr D mustn’t forget that I won’t be the last person not to have enjoyed his book.

I don’t agree with those people who won’t post bad reviews. It just blows the whole reviewing system out of the water–in my opinion. Books are for readers. They’re entitled to all viewpoints. Someone’s sow’s ear may well be someone else’s silk purse. Everyone is different.

I don’t know which authors are in the top ten of the New York bestsellers’ list. I haven’t looked. But I’m betting my bottom dollar not one of them outed those people who didn’t like their books. What Mr D is doing is, metaphorically speaking, holding a reviewer at gunpoint and saying, like my book or else.  And worse, putting a black cloud over the indie community, which is still struggling to assert itself.

I teetered and wobbled for a very, very brief instant. I’m at a time in my life when I don’t have to do things I don’t want or don’t like to do. However, I’m a very determined and focussed person. I finish what I start. So, onward and upward. I’m off the life-support now. I’m going to go and put my feet up and continue with the very good (indie) book I’m currently reading.

Ultimately (sadly), I’ve become a little sceptical in my formerly rose-tinted reviewing world. In that vein, my belief is that the successful author is the one who hopes his book will please everyone and that the unsuccessful author is the one who presumes and expects his book will please everyone.

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

53 thoughts on “When authors throw a wobbly…”

  1. Mr. D sounds like a spoiled brat. If he can’t take some people not liking what he writes, he shouldn’t publish in the first place. Some people will love what you write, and some will hate it, but the majority won’t give a fig – that’s life with all its warts. You handled it well, and a pox on Mr. D’s house. Great article.

    1. Thanks, Charlie. The great thing for readers of different tastes is that there are authors to satisfy each of those tastes. The most important thing is that an author reaches his fan base, I feel, and not chastise those s/he can’t convert.

  2. The last paragraph says it all, Cathy. And I’m with Charlie. Spoiled brat – and likely reacts like that to other challenges in life, too.

    I’ve been wondering how trad published authors handle those poor reviews. Perhaps the assumption that if it’s trad it must be good anyway and therefore it may be easier to take.

    And we love you and need you. Carry on.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I imagine that trad-published authors have managed to reach those heady heights by not reacting viciously to poor reviews and basking in the success of the majority good ones.

  3. I’ve seen a sharp decrease in review bloggers the last few years, precisely because they don’t want to be confronted by an angry author. It’s sad for all of us – reviewers, readers, and authors.. I’m glad you only wobbled for an instant before deciding to press forward and continue.

    1. I agree, Melinda: the actions of a very small minority ruin it for the majority. Reviewers, readers and authors need each other. Why can’t we all play nicely?

  4. Great post, Cathy, and a cautionary tale. When we write and publish, we really need to develop a thick skin and short memory. Don’t like what someone says about our books? Move on. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all gotten the odd 1-star review at some point in time. I refuse to let that, or my response to it, define me. There are more books to write and more readers to read them.

  5. Cathy, I’m very glad you wrote this experience up for us to read. I think it’s important that you stress the need to enjoy reviewing books, and stick to that. Please try to walk away from the wallies – it’s unlikely they’ll learn anything anyway, so why waste the time on them?

  6. I was active in community and semi-professional theatre for many years. I’ve always held to the belief that a bad review is better than no review at all. Though I’m still pretty new at it, I think the same is true for books too, and not just for the “all publicity is good” reason.

    I’m suspicious of anything – a hotel, a product, a play – anything, when all there is are glowing reviews, something is fishy. Nothing is truly that good. The worst I got for my book is a two star, but I’m honestly glad it’s there.

    Maybe I’ve grown a thick skin, working in a fire hall. It’s an environment of “tough love” to say the least. I don’t expect everyone to like me in real life, so why would it be different with my book?

    Writers need to expect critical reviews and reviewers need to expect to encounter the occasional immature, grandiose, ___head writer. Does that justify abuse? No, it doesn’t, but that’s reality. Suck it up and move on.

    Thanks for enduring “the slings and arrows” Cathy. You provide an invaluable service which those of us on the other side will never be able to fully repay. Now if you could just teach me the trick of adjusting to a Kindle… Sorry, but I just can’t let go of the paper.

    1. I’ve read books, John, that have had one-star reviews. And I’ve given the same book five. I just didn’t see the same faults that that reviewer did. But I welcomed his viewpoint. Like you, I’m awfully suspicious of consistently good reviews. Something you said, though…”I don’t expect everyone to like me in real life, so why would it be different with my book?” The point was, my review was about the book, just the book. It wasn’t personal. For all I know Mr D is a nice chap, who knows? I just didn’t like his book!
      As for the Kindle, ah well. You’ll get there in the end!

  7. Ya know, it occurs to me: would I rather be known as an author who occasionally gets a 1 or 2-star review, or as an author who pitches a hissy fit all over the web and flames anyone and anything associated with a bad review. Hmmm ….

  8. I agree with all the comments. It stings a little when I get bad review, but I move on. I would never think of doing any of the things that the bad humored author “D” did. What an extreme diva he is. (Can you call a guy a “diva”, or is that reserved for women?)

  9. Cathy! Kudos to you! Too often indie author egos get in the way of their books. Lately I have been reading a raft of reviewer comments lamenting the behavior of indie authors. Every single one of my titles gets one and two star reviews. Those reviews are the intellectual property of the reviewer. I don’t touch them. Unless it is a launch book, I don’t even read them. But when I first publish, I do–in case the review mentions a glitch in formatting, a dropped quotation mark, or a misspelled word that got by me and my editor. Once those are repaired and I know the book is read for content I trust the four and five star reviews will keep the review average up high enough that I can buy promotion on sites that sell books. Here is a sad fact. Many indie authors do not educate themselves about our digital universe. What they hope for is merely an affirmation that they can write over and over again. The review is not written for the author–it written by a reader to help another reader decide to buy or not. When a reviewer wrote an article for my blog here eNovel Authors at Work, reviewers on two continents weighed in. You are not alone! And you are much appreciated.

  10. Alas, it is ego rearing it’s ugly head. Actually, just so that reviewers and authors know we’re all on the same page, while authors like you take the odd lower-rated review on the chin, so should reviewers wave aside similar reactions as I had, if for no other reason than to show that intimidation is just not on. Thanks for your comments.

  11. Well said, I am happy if just a few people like my books. You are doing a free service, which should be appreciated, regardless of outcome. If the result is not to an author ‘s liking, he should ask himself what he needs to do to improve.

    1. Stephen King said, allegedly: Show your work to ten people. If more than two say the same thing, listen. If not, you can safely ignore all of them. Food for thought.

  12. Sometimes, I’m suspicious of books that only have glowing five-star reviews. If there are a few one, two, or even three stars, I feel the reviews are from actual readers and not just friends and family. When I got my first one-star, I was upset but realized that I actually respect that reader for giving me his/her honest opinion.

  13. Years ago I got a stinking review from my version of Mr D. He’d sent me a manuscript asking for help to find a publisher. I told him very politely that it needed 90% less expletives and, since it read like a deconstructed Walter Mitty version of a Boys Own adventure, with great passages copied directly from Wikipedia, most publishers would be reluctant to read it, let alone consider publication. If he could get some help to tidy up the language and sort out his plot, it might be worth another try. (I always try to be encouraging of those who want to write).
    Well he took Umm, in a big way; found himself someone to write a hatchet job review that ran to about ten pages, and posted it under her name. The next week he sent me a printed copy of his review, which he’d signed himself!
    I haven’t laughed so much for ages. His review sold me over 200 copies because people just didn’t believe my book could be that bad. Since then it’s been reprinted and is about to enter a second edition.
    I never found out what he really thought of my book. I’ve published six more books since then and he has been noticeably absent from my reviews which suggest more than a few people enjoy my books.

  14. I’m so sorry you’ve had this bad experience, Cathy. It’s unfortunately that there are authors who don’t realise writing is a profession, not an ego-stroke, and should behave professionally. All kudos to you that this hasn’t put you off reviewing.

  15. This is a balanced article, Cathy. It’s good to see how others approach the book reviewing process. I think Mr. D. should follow the online writing standard that was once given to me: write the message, save it, and read it again the next day. I don’t think we should ever press the “send” button in anger. Not doing so is an easy way to make the world a better place.

  16. Thank goodness you decided to hang in there, Cathy. Mr. D and his buddies aren’t worth dumping the whole enterprise over — just as a 1-star review isn’t worth starting a flame war over. 😉

  17. Great post, Cathy. For anyone who has not had Ms. Speight review their book, I would recommend that you submit it to her. She is incredibly well-versed and equally fair as a reviewer.

  18. I started thinking that we need a way to support those reviewers, to remind them that the vast majority of us are not like that and really value their input.

    But maybe we need something more. Maybe we need some form of group which shows that we aren’t the type to pull such unpleasant tricks – because if we did we’d no longer be part of the group. Something a bit like the association of british travel agents or the like. Self policed and with clear guidelines of what would mean you lost your group status (or had it put on probation maybe for a first offence). Something for all authors that wanted to join, not just indie.

    I’m definitely not volunteering to set it up or run it – nowhere near enough time. But I think it might have value if anyone wants to run with it. Maybe even run it under the IU brand, if those who run this site like the idea.

    1. I think, deep down, reviewers do know this, but they get thrown off kilter by that one bad egg. It just sometimes takes a little time to get back on track.

  19. As an indie author, *of course* I’m disappointed when someone doesn’t like my book. It’s my baby. But I’m just disappointed for a little while, then go one with my life. It is impossible to write a book that is universally loved. No one has ever done. Ever. People don’t like Shakespeare, Milton, Yeats, Stoker, Hemingway, King, Rice– hell, Judy Blume. You just can’t do it. And it’s shame that Mr. D (which stands for something else completely different in my mind now) can’t be humble enough to realize that.

    Thank you for reviewing, thank you for enjoying as many book as you do, and thank you most of all for you honesty. Nothing makes me happier than an honest (even if it’s not great) review.

    1. Well said, Mistress Kay R. I’m sure you speak for most of us in this view.
      Mr D needs to go away and do a little growing up, methinks.

    2. You said it: it’s impossible to write a book that’s universally liked. Just like it’s impossible to write or sing a song that’s universally liked, or make a movie, or paint a picture, or design a car, or cook a dish, or sew a garment that’s universally liked. Because we all have different tastes. Which is a good thing. How boring it would be if we all liked the same thing!

  20. Wow! I’m sorry you were subjected to that. As a writer I’ve certainly come across the more sensitive of our breed when critiquing and beta reading. I completely agree that we shouldn’t be avoiding bad reviews. No-one wins from that situation. The author is bolstered by an inaccurate ratings and doesn’t learn from the experience. Even worse, readers are lied to through omission. I am happy to receive negative feedback. I am a writer who wants to learn and grow. I can only do that if people, like you, are brave enough to tell me where I’ve gone wrong.

  21. I got a stroppy e-mail yesterday from an author whose book I reviewed recently in which I said I found it difficult to get involved with the story because it didn’t resonate with me. The book was otherwise well written and the use of language was interesting, but my failure to connect obviously offended. The email asked what’s wrong with me, and if I am mentally deficient not to be able to understand the multiple layers of the story.

    Interestingly the review had been written three months ago and the author has only just noticed.

    1. I think these authors should be publicly outed. An Amazon page of authors who diss their reviewers if the reviews are less than 4/5 stars. That oughta do it.

  22. If someone doesn’t like my review, that’s their problem. I always try to be honest but at the same time polite and constructive. I don’t seek to be offensive or to belittle the author, simply to offer an objective opinion on the book. It’s never personal and I always state the reasons for my view.
    That’s what reviews are all about, and if anyone has asked for a review, the onus is on them to accept what they get.
    I’m equally not going to get into a tit-for-tat spat with any author.

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