Okay so the title is a little strange but bear with me and it’ll become clear and I’m very aware that after reading this my following may plummet and I’m fully ready for the fallout and any anger that is targeted at me 😦 . The last few days have been very stressful and upsetting for me. Some of you may have noticed I’ve gone a little AWOL from this blog and social media. The reason for this is that certain circumstances had plunged me into a deep depression, to the point I was seriously thinking about deleting this entire blog, and I’m still feeling bad today. While amazon was the final straw to break my back, it’s not the main reason for my depression.
After reading another piece of fiction sent to me on request I’ve struggled to give it a star rating, Normally I don’t struggle to give any product or book a rating but for the first time I struggled. My problem wasn’t with knowing what to rate the book, in my mind the result was clear, but for the first time I had clouded judgement because I knew the effect it would have on someone if I told them the truth.
Reviewing a book has always been simple for me. I write what the book is about, listing both good and bad points (if any) are there and conclude with how the book was for me, giving a star rating based on my own personal opinion on the book. Until now I’ve always found it easy to review books I’ve bought as well as those offered to me for review. But for the last few days I couldn’t rate a book because I knew if I did, it would be a negative review and it would crush the person who wrote it.
The Start of this stress
For the past few weeks I’ve been receiving many more review requests than I ever have before. These have been through various sources. While I’ve accepted to review most books (I’ve been able to check out their books using previews and such), others have offered books that are badly edited and poorly written. This is obvious from that ‘Look Inside’ feature that amazon has. However it’s not always possible to see if a book is good and I’ve already had the displeasure of having to tell one author that I didn’t enjoy their work. I did it in a tactful way and with some coaching from a friend but it wasn’t easy. The way I approached that author was giving them the option of me not reviewing the book, given the low star rating. It’s something I’ve seen many book bloggers put on their submissions pages: They won’t rate a book below 3 stars, others state that they won’t review books they ‘don’t get along with’. However I have a dilemma with this type of reviewing and it’s what’s been tearing me apart for the last few days.
I started out as an amazon reviewer. I’ve always been honest about everything I’ve reviewed and although it would take a lot for me to give a book a bad rating, it can happen. However if I was reviewing a book I’d bought, or one sent from a publisher I would happily rate it without feeling this ‘guilt’ I have when dealing directly with authors. Giving authors the option of me not posting the review when it’s a bad rating just feels like I’m cheating both myself and the whole reviewing system I stand by. As harsh and horrible as it would be for any author to hear they’re getting a low star review (believe me I feel your pain too, and I wouldn’t enjoy doing it) it’s unfair to treat indie books with a different rule to traditionally published or ones I’d bought.
Many authors tell me they want an honest opinion. In fact it’s something I always state when accepting review requests: I cannot guarantee a positive review, only an honest one. Though there are authors out there who do understand this and who are able to tolerate a bad rating or criticism to their work, I come across a lot of them who can’t. These authors will say they are fine with an honest review, but after I’ve had that dreaded conversation about their book with them, their actions speak of everything but ‘fine’. From authors sulking, ignoring me, breaking contact with me, to harassing comments and other such behaviour, I know these authors are anything but ‘fine’ when I criticise their work.
Of course I understand people being upset. I’m sensitive myself to criticism. I’ve heard a lot of it over the years (from horrid bullying to teachers criticising me) and cried enough tears to fill many glasses. But I’ve learned to have a thick skin, or at least as thick as I can and I know and accept that there are people who don’t agree with me and who may hate what I say or write. But a lot of indie authors, what I call ‘bad’ indie authors are giving the whole industry a bad name and are forcing me to make a hard decision in accepting new requests.
I’ve been subjected to more than any reviewer should ever go through in the last few months. Three bouts of ‘bad’ indie authors has plunged me into three horrible depressive episodes. Each problem has led me to a darker place than the last and it took a lot of energy and willpower to climb out of that hole and continue on with blogging. But the last few days have been the most severe, I even contemplated shutting down the entire blog, just deleting it to save me the pain of having to deal with any more of the ‘bad’ indie authors.
So how bad are ‘bad’ indie authors?
I know from what I have said so far that nothing seems too harsh. Well the truth is that with every incident I’ve described in the past on my blog, the story I tell is a very light version of events. By far the scariest event was the attack on facebook. Not only was I dealing with someone who was irate and with a greatly inflated ego of their own work, but this person scared me more when I had further contact with them, contact I never spoke of on my blog. I truly split personality that I have no doubt would have sought to stalk me online had I run this blog using my real name.
This attitude and behaviour may sound really out there and like a one-off but in reality, a great many book reviewers and bloggers have encountered these overbearing authors. Most think their books are brilliant, need no editing and that some of us should even pay for the pleasure of reviewing them, but this is wrong, their whole attitude is wrong and it hurts the entire indie industry.
While some authors are overbearing and have forgotten the word ‘humble’, others are nice and kind and sweet but are just too sensitive. I’ve spent a while, quite a few weeks chatting with other reviewers, including my fellow amazon ones. Some are happy to accept indie published books but others are not. I’ve brought this up before with several authors and the general attitude is ‘That’s a shame, why would the do that?’. Many authors can’t understand why reviewers turn away indies. But you haven’t had the experiences we have and you shouldn’t complain until you know what we’ve been through.
Many reviewers, especially the amazon top who refuse books don’t only cite the over demanding authors but the bad quality of many indie books. As strange as this may be to hear for people who read this blog, the quality of a large amount of indie books is really bad and it is still a stigma for the indie industry.
What is a ‘bad’ book?
Before I have you telling me that books are subjective, that different people will like and dislike the same books. This isn’t what I’m talking about. Most books I’ve been offered recently, especially those from outside of the wordpress community, look as if an editor never touched them. I’m speaking of obvious errors such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, to plot holes, unbelievable characters or basically all ‘tell’ and no ‘show’. These sorts of errors are ones that most amazon reviewers actually flag in their reviews as reasons for their low ratings.
While a few amazon reviewers are happy to simply rate books badly, most are actually decent people and don’t want to go and hurt author’s feelings. It’s not easy for any of us to give bad news. One reviewer has told me that the only time they ‘bottled out of reviewing a book critically was when the book read so badly and the author was so sincere, it would break their heart to review it’. Instead of giving a bad rating this reviewer simply told the author ‘I’m sorry I didn’t get along with your book’. This is a statement I see often on blogs and it makes me wonder how many times a blogger or reviewer uses this statement to get out of rating an indie book badly.
In trying to write a review for the book I’ve been struggling to rate I too feel bad about giving a low rating. The author of this book has told me such a sad story of their lost and then regained confidence in writing, I don’t have the heart to tell them that their book still needs a lot of work. But if I continue to never rate any books because of an author’s feelings it calls into question my integrity as a reviewer and why should these authors get special treatment seeing as if I’d bought their book I wouldn’t be contacting them to ask whether they’d want me to leave the review.
Don’t hate me, blame you fellow indies.
So after being though a lot of abuse by authors and almost compromising my integrity with reviews, I’m at a loss as to how i could possibly continue to accept all indie review requests. Many times it’s impossible to see whether a book will be good, some authors come to me with sob stories that DO get to me and then I struggle to review with a critical eye.
Other indies treat me like a commodity, a service to be used, like I don’t matter unless I give them the 5 star review they are secretly wishing for. It may be fine to treat me as a service and complain if I charged them money but I don’t. I do this reviewing for free, as a hobby, I never get paid, so why should I be treated in a way that makes me unhappy?
It’s unfair to be treated in this way and it’s even more unfair for other authors reading this to lay the blame with me.
I’ve seen many articles on the internet.. Bloggers shutting their submissions to indies and getting the blame. Blamed for crushing the indie market all based on a few bad incidents. But the reality is that my experience with the facebook attack was a mild one, a lucky escape that the author didn’t continue to stalk me. I’ve read and heard of a LOT of accounts, even from close friends, of authors using stalking and abusive behaviour towards bloggers. This behaviour has interestingly been geared more towards female bloggers than male, but the fact stands, this DOES happen and it’s forcing me to now ‘vet’ who I will review for in future.
I will still review all the indie authors I’ve previously reviewed for, agreed to review for and who I am on good terms with, those who can take a bad rating if I ever gave one. I will also cautiously accept anyone referred to me via friends or other authors, though this will depend on whether the friend/author believes the book to be good and the knows the attitude of the author, knows that they can handle true criticism and a low rating (if I was going to give one).
I’ll be taking myself off the book review directory listing. Will this hurt a lot of indie authors? Maybe. Will I miss out on a lot of good books? I’m sure I will. But it’s something I have to do to preserve my own mental state and integrity as a reviewer.
BUT before you go leaving comments, complaining about how I’m hurting the industry, hurting my blog, etc….Ask yourself this….Who is REALLY at fault. Me? Or your fellow indie authors? Perhaps instead of blaming me, and complaining about my attitude, you should write open letters to them, blame them for their treatment of bloggers. THEY are the ones hurting your industry. And they’ve now cost you another reviewer.