(Part 2 of a 3-part "On reviews and reviewing" Thursday Morning Coffee sequence).
Good morning, and welcome to coffee! The man is off to work, the Sprite is off to school, the dog is asleep on the couch, and the cat is either napping or plotting his escape. And the sun is shining. All is shiny and happy in my little world.
Well, except for this cold, and this back-wigging-out thing, but whatever. Close enough to perfect for today.
This Thursday Morning Coffee gig is kind of the home of my random thoughts and housekeeping, with a snippet of fiction thrown in there just to give some kind of focus. Last week I somehow ended up talking about how I receive reviews of my work.
And because I brought that up, I feel a little exploration of writers as reviewers might be in order.
I still feel that way. I can read a well-written, engaging book in less than a day.
I was a reader long before I was a writer.
But I did not become a reviewer until I became a published author.
I am, to the core of my being, a reader. And I am a picky reader.
But I have also become, kind of by accident, a reviewer. And being a picky reader, I've become a critical reviewer.
Before December 2011 I wrote very few reviews. I remember one review I wrote in a fit of frustration. It was a series that had showed such promise, I was amped up and ready to fall in love - but the subsequent books just didn't get it done. I was incredibly disappointed, and it led me to write a negative review.
And even though the review was honest, I didn't feel all that great about writing it. My review niche wasn't going to be warning people away from books.
But last December I started getting involved with some multi-author group promotional efforts. Like I am not a great reviewer, I'm also not so great at self-promotion. I am a niche writer - gay erotic vampires, anyone? - so screaming "buy my book" from the mountaintops is pretty uncomfortable. Hell, my books can be pretty darn uncomfortable, so dragging in the unsuspecting reader isn't my goal.
What I found in these groups were a lot of indie authors asking everyone to "like" and "tag" their books on Amazon, and offering their book to other participants in exchange for reviews. No one said outright that they would only accept 4 and 5 star reviews. Here's a nice post from Emlyn Chand about how to review books.
Again, I will say, I am a picky reader. I tend to be a 3-star reviewer. If I truly enjoyed a book and there weren't too many typos, I'll give 4-stars. If I couldn't stop reading, or had to stop reading but couldn't stop thinking about the characters, or stayed up late into the night to reach the end - that's a 5-star. I'm pretty frugal about giving out stars. Christopher Allen has a detailed post about the 5-star rating system, and how he uses it to improve both his listening experience (iTunes) and reading experience (Amazon).
I spent hours doing the "like" and "tag" thing for other indie writers - but it felt underhanded. Here I am liking books that I haven't even read, trying to guess which Amazon tags will be appropriate to get someone's book to show up on the right list of recommendations to generate sales to the right kind of audience.
It was exhausting. And while I noticed was that yes, my own book rose in the Amazon ranking system, that improved ranking only lasted for a couple of days. I would hope that a true improvement in ranking would be driven by actual sales.
So between feeling like the tactic was underhanded, and not seeing it make a significant and lasting difference, I quit doing the "like" and "tag" thing for books that I have not read.
And this is where I've run into trouble.
I may have left honest reviews in cases where the author did not ask for an honest review.
I might have left a 3-star, slightly critical, unsolicited review, being the honest bastard that I am. I know. The horror. What a terrible thing to do to another author.
In my defense - I do not publicly trash people's books. If I don't like a book, I stop reading it (more on that topic next week). I don't post negative reviews because wallowing in negativity not how I want to spend my time.
But I also don't post fake 5-star reviews. Period.
If I really love it, it gets 5 stars.
If it was a pretty good story, but had too many info-dumps, too much telling instead of showing, or too much showing and then over-explaining, had places where I fell out of the story, got confused, or some of the characters were cardboard, or there were inconsistencies in the narrative... I give 3-stars and usually explain where I found trouble.
Is that arrogant? Is it unprofessional?
I'm a reader. A picky reader.
But I'm a writer, too.
Am I wrong, as a writer, to review the work of other writers if I'm not willing to give 5 stars?
I dunno. You tell me.
[Because this post became rather long-winded, I will not be sharing fiction today].