Undaunted by the hostile response to a 2* star review that she’d left on Amazon, indie author Karen Myers asserts her right to post honest reviews of self-published books – and she invites you to join the debate.
The independent publishing scene is characterized by an unusual sense of camaraderie among its participants. Writers share sales numbers, how-to tips for publishing and distribution, and all sorts of information.
I’m quite astonished by the degree of professionalism I encounter. In particular, there is a general desire to be helpful, coupled with a determination not to take things personally, not to react defensively to suggestions and advice. There’s a real sense of “we’re all in this together,” especially in these early stages of indie writing and self-publishing.
In fact this seems so normal to me now that it’s easy to forget that it’s not like that everywhere.
Recently I read a mediocre book and was moved to write a negative (2-star) review about it on Amazon, where I purchased it. I wrote about what happened on the ALLi membership Facebook page, and a very interesting discussion ensued.
Why I Wrote A 2* Review
To begin with, it’s clear that many of us feel badly for other independent authors who may not have produced gems (in our opinion) or even particularly competent work. Though everyone advises you to read good examples of writing in order to learn, I find that being able to see where something went wrong from a not-so-great writer is also valuable, helping me avoid pitfalls I might not otherwise have noticed.
Many of the folks in the discussion mentioned that if they couldn’t say something good about a book (and give it 3-5 Amazon stars), they would prefer to just pass over it in silence, not wanting (I suppose) to break someone else’s rice bowl.
I do sympathize with this point of view and do the same for what I consider to be “forgivable” offences, the small formatting, editing, plot hole issues that fall into the “there but for the grace of God go I” categories. I don’t see any need to dwell on much of that in the form of reviews destined to be read primarily by readers.
But when I come across books where the author doesn’t even try, where there are gaping plot problems, historical bloopers, and a general air of “it’s good enough for my dumb readers,” then I object both as a reader and as another independent writer. So this time I wrote a 2-star review detailing the issues, for the benefit of other readers.
This is not without its perils, however. I don’t maintain a sock-puppet ID on Amazon for this purpose, so I used my real name. It didn’t occur to me until too late that that could leave me open to retaliation. I shrugged it off, but it’s happened before to others, and many of the folks in the discussion mentioned that this possibility intimidated them from giving negative reviews.
The Hostile Response
On this occasion, my review (one of 200 of this book) triggered a tribe of responders, who replied so quickly that they must have been alerted by the author. They promptly posted comments which, without rebutting any of my review’s criticisms, basically maintained that “they loved the book and who cares about all those silly details anyway and I was a bad person, etc.” The speed of the response was chilling, and the attempt to intimidate was clear. I didn’t mention that I was a writer (thank goodness) and they have yet to launch a retaliatory strike, but that could happen – clearly the will is there, and the lack of judgment.
Why shouldn’t writers give honest reviews from the point of view of other readers? Why should they be held hostage to the threat of retaliation if their reviews are substantive and not hostile? Do we all need to cultivate sock puppet IDS or else hold our tongues? Aren’t you sometimes moved by a sort of duty to tell the potential readership about real stinkers, even if they are also independent authors, even if life is too short to do it very often? Or what’s our integrity worth?
No wonder there’s such rampant “review inflation” on sites like Amazon, and I don’t like contributing to that. Personally, I don’t intimidate easily.
What do you think?