Monday, 30 January 2012

Indie Authors - are we brave? Or stupid? Oh, and a little message to all those 1 and 2 star reviewers...

Well, it's Monday morning, and I had a sort-of relaxing weekend.  Saturday was good - apart from the hour long interruption to the evening when most of South-West Durham suffered a blackout when the electricity went off (again! - I tell you, I honestly think I'm doing a Sam Tyler and have somehow been transported back to 1973 - Life on Mars has got nothing on where I live, believe me...), but at least it had waited until the end credits of 'Casualty' before plunging us all into total darkness meaning we had had to play cards by gaslight and listen to people raging on about Bankers' Bonuses on Radio 5 Live.  Wasn't my ideal idea of a Saturday night, but someone must have found which switch to flick because by 10pm we had electricity again and Saturday night was resumed as per normal with a glass of wine and a movie.

OK, I've rambled on again, that's got to stop... where was I?  Oh yeah, it's Monday morning and my weekend was going fine.  Until I (obsessively) decided to check reviews and ratings on Goodreads on my 'phone while I waited for the roast potatoes to cook yesterday, and saw that someone had left me a nice 1-star rating for See You At The Show -  no review, just a 1-star rating.  Now, after last week I can handle this a lot better than I would normally have done, because that particular book also has 3,4 and 5 star ratings, so it's just another example of how you really can't please all of the people all of the time.  If someone could devise a formula to enable people to do that then I'm sure every Dragon in the Den would be falling over themselves to invest in them!

But it's impossible.  So, rather than it upsetting me (my skin is fast becoming very thick after the past couple of weeks!), it just got me thinking about the way readers who buy our books rate and review them, and what it means for us authors (especially indie authors like me) and potential readers.  I know!  A bit of a heavy subject for me to be tackling first thing on a Monday morning, but unfortunately all movies watched this weekend were devoid of Keanu Reeves/Bradley Cooper/George Clooney/Ryan Gosling so I have nothing shallow to start the week off with.  I'm going semi-intelligent instead! ;-)

So, what every writer (especially every indie writer - or is that just me?) dreads - the one or two star rating/review.  Some of us have had them, some of us haven't, and I suspect that we all handle how we receive them very differently.  But what's - I'd like to say annoyed but that's not quite the right word - what's frustrated me more than anything about the 1 and 2 star reviews I've received (all for See You At The Show, which is leading me to think that this could become my 'Marmite' book - you either love it or you hate it!) is that they weren't at all constructive.  Leaving a review that says reading the book was a "waste of time" or that it "drove me crazy" is pointless, really.  Why was it a waste of time?  And what was it that drove you crazy?  Reviews like that drive me crazy, in fact, the only thing that drives me crazy more is when someone leaves a 1-star rating (as they did on Goodreads over the weekend) and then doesn't leave any kind of review or comment at all!  Do you know what, if you really, really disliked a book that much that you felt the need to give it only 1 star, then at least have the decency to let the author know just what it was about the book that you disliked so much because just clicking that 1 star and then tootling off onto your next read is fine for you - whoever you are - but it's bloody frustrating for us authors!

I'm going to start calling this my 'controversial' book! ;-)
I'm an indie author, therefore I am striving hard with each book I write to try and do the best that I can, to try and make these books I put out there the best they can possibly be because us indies have a hard enough job as it is, convincing people to check out our work.  And I am all for reviews - of any kind, good or bad - but the bad ones, well, I would prefer it if those were at least constructive in some way.  I would prefer it if they at least gave me some idea as to why that reader didn't like the book, and then maybe I could work out whether it's a problem that I can work on, something that could be improved within my writing, or whether that person just simply didn't like the story/my writing/the type of book it is.  Saying nothing, just giving it a 1 star rating, or simply saying it was rubbish and you didn't enjoy it really isn't helpful in any way - to author or reader.  If you're a person who genuinely enjoys reading, and you come across a book that just doesn't float your boat and you want to say something about that, then please try and cobble together some kind of review or comment that will help the author, and also guide readers into making their own decisions as to whether that book is for them or not.  And this is possible.  I did a little bit of research last night, looking at other authors and their 1 and 2 star reviews (and there are a LOT of established authors out there, such as Penny Smith and even Jackie Collins who have reviews ranging from 1 to 5 stars, so I suppose I'm in good company!) and a good handful of those reviews were actually quite constructive, obviously written by genuine readers who didn't just want to rubbish a book, they just wanted to explain why it wasn't for them, therefore letting other potential readers make their own minds up.  It's not difficult to do, and I'm sure every reader has the ability to do it, it's just pure laziness to say something was rubbish, in my opinion.  Remember, whether you liked a book or not, someone worked damn hard to get that book out there, that's all I'm saying.

As authors  - and, again, especially as indie authors - we work bloody hard to make our books the best we can.  None of this happens overnight, and it isn't easy, believe me.  And, to be honest, I can't decide whether we're really brave or really stupid for putting ourselves and our books out there for the whole world to see, I just know that it's what I've always wanted to do and - on the whole - I love doing it.  So, if you're one of those readers who's ever left a 1 or 2 star rating/review, think about it for a second... would you ever be brave enough to do what us indie authors are doing?  Could you ever put yourselves out there in the spotlight for people to pick apart and criticise?  Because that's what we do, and I think it takes a lot of guts to do that, I really do, and yes, it's all part and parcel of being a writer, but it becomes bloody frustrating when the ratings mean nothing and the reviews tell us bugger all about the reasons why people disliked what someone has written. 

And I've realised another thing over the weekend too - gaining half decent reviews and readers that genuinely like my work is way more important than bucket-loads of sales because, over the weekend, I've sold quite a few books, but instead of that making me dance round the room with a happy smile on my face, it's actually making me incredibly nervous.  Why?  Well, for one, it's only reinforced the reason why I started this writing lark in the first place, and that was for people to enjoy my work, not to make money, and that's the truth.  Yes, I want to sell books, but it's way, way more important for me to gain readers who like what I do rather than make money.
And secondly, it's making me nervous because I have no idea how those readers that have just bought my books are going to receive them, do I?  Are they going to be the kind of readers who will leave a review - whether they love or hate the book - that will be constructive and intelligent, or will they just leave one that will rubbish my books and have no useful quality at all?  Everyone is, of course, entitled to do whatever they please, but all I'm asking is that - on behalf of all the indie authors out there - at least try and let us know your genuine feelings on our books, be they good or bad.  Let us know whether it was bad grammar, a poor story, or the genre you just didn't like.  Or whether that particualr author just isn't for you, because that - more than anything - is quite important.  A writer may not be for you, but that writer could certainly be somebody elses cup of tea, and to just say a book was rubbish or a waste of time could quite easily stop other readers who may well like that author's style of writing from stopping by and trying them out.  Please, remember that.

So, just stop and think before you click those star ratings or write that review because, if you really, really can't be bothered to write something that can help both author and potential reader, then maybe it's best you just say nothing at all...

Oh, and a little note for all those people who read books and enjoy them - let the world know your views too!  A balance of reviews is all important, and I know it's time consuming, but it can really help us indie authors... it can really, really help...

Now, go read something fabulous!  ;-)

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