Did you ever feel the nice guy(or girl) always finishes last when it comes to book sales and popularity? There are those who cause unfounded drama only to have folks rally round them with battle cries of “buy the book!” in the hopes of making them feel better. Mostly they are small time authors who are unable to take critique on their golden words and perceive any negativity about their book as a direct attack on them personally. Sometimes they are people who just want to ride the publicity machine. They cry bullying because some nasty reviewer didn’t think their precious baby was beautiful. Usually the reviewer isn’t nasty at all and the baby just isn’t all that beautiful to every person who encounters it. Sometimes they are not so small time and are individuals who should know better.
The thing is, publishing is a very hard business, and it’s huge! There are bound to be clashes of personality and disagreements. Especially now most authors are out there on social media speaking their mind about anything and everything. The wall between reviewer and author is almost non-existent. Making sales isn’t easy and getting reviews is even harder. Even if you’ve put out the most amazing work of perfection. Only a tiny fraction of readers will review. Some misguided authors would like to make it even harder.
Publishing is business not a playground. Being an author means putting on big pants and sucking up the amazing with the not so amazing. Authors who regularly throw their dummies out of the pram are doing no favors to themselves or everyone else who is trying wade through publishing waters with some dignity.
Well, I’m glad to say nice guys and girls don’t always finish last. I know a number of authors who are just lovely, kind, gracious, and supportive of others, regardless of if they are successful already or just starting out. But, there’s always going to be the few who want to pee in the water and ruin it for the rest of us.
Which brings us to the point of my post via the scenic route. There are two petitions about Amazon doing the rounds at the moment. One is demanding that Amazon only allow verified accounts and people who use their real name to write reviews and participate in forums. The other newer petition wants things to stay the same.
Petition to Protect the Anonymity of Amazon Users (keep things the same)
I signed the one to keep things the same. As I don’t believe in punishing the majority because of a few bad apples. I generally don’t believe in the forced stripping of privacy.
There’s no doubt there are fake reviews on Amazon. I’ve never to my knowledge had one but I know some high profile authors admitted to buying reviews. There are cases of authors setting up their own sock-puppet accounts, and I don’t deny some reviews and comments can get pretty vicious. I give the buying public credit for being able to tell the difference between a book with mostly general fake 5 star reviews, or reviews meant to tarnish, and a book with reviews from people who have obviously read it.
Then there is the whole aspect of reviewer bullying. The issues over the last couple of years surrounding this subject are complex. There is no easy way to water it down for people only now learning about the subject of the StGB site(which I won’t link) and authors behaving badly. To put it shortly and bluntly, if the authors involved in setting up and maintaining the site spent as much time creating the fiction in their books, their reviews would probably have been a heck of a lot better in the first place. Anyone who supports this site needs to brush up on research skills. There is a lot of reading involved and as the saying goes, “The Truth is Out There”.
I’m not saying attacks on authors don’t happen. There have been times where attacking everything that’s wrong with a book in the opinion of a reviewer overflowed into what they perceive to be wrong with the author. On the flipside of that, there’s been many more times where an author has interpreted a negative reaction to their work as a negative reaction to them, and retaliated with gusto.
I believe in respecting the opinion of readers, positive or negative. No writer can hope to please every reader and negative reviews have their place. What one reader doesn’t enjoy might be the very thing that prompts another reader to pick up the book. I feel if a reviewer wants an author’s opinion on their review, they will ask for it. I don’t think it’s any author’s place to answer negative reviews of their work uninvited. Even invited, I’d feel it’s unprofessional to contradict a reviewer’s opinion, to basically tell them their feelings are invalid. If an author feels personally threatened by ordinary negative reviews about their books, they are in the wrong business. If they feel the review is not a review but is a genuine threat to their person, then they need to contact authorities and allow them to deal with it. Considering the vast number of books published every year and the number of reviews written on all of those books, the number of genuine threats to authors are miniscule over the years, not rampant or daily as some would have you believe.
As I said, I have already signed the petition to keep Amazon reviews as they are. I believe reviewers have the right to use a screen name if they wish. Everyone is entitled to as much or as little privacy as they desire. When authors publish a book, they put the book out in the world and choose to put their name to it, likewise they can choose to use a pen name. When a reviewer writes a review they should at least be awarded the same consideration. If they choose a pen name, that should be respected.
Put it like this, when the kindle hit big, so did erotica. We all know erotica has been around forever, but not many average house wives would have sat on a busy bus reading a BDSM book with whips and chains on the cover. They don’t necessarily want everyone and their neighbour to have that kind of insight into their reading habits or what excites them between the pages. The kindle lends a certain anonymity to reading.
Likewise with reviews, not everyone will want their real name associated with the reading material they enjoy in their private time, whether that’s YA, Slash Erotica, or certain Non-Fiction subjects for whatever reason. Maybe they are from a particularly religious family or community. Maybe they don’t want an ex to read up on what they are up to. Maybe they just don’t feel like people knowing their business. And some authors would have it that these folks have no right to an opinion on their book if they are not prepared to put their name to it on the internet. I think that’s wrong.
I said earlier reviews are hard to come by. Authors supporting a drive to restrict reviewers are not helping other authors. They are not helping themselves. The upshot will be less reviews for everyone in general. Genuine reviewers who would have previously reviewed under a screen name will have the choice of exposing their reading habits to family, friends, and the entire internet, as well as leaving themselves open to abuse from less than professional authors, or not reviewing. Personally, I would choose to not review at all.
While that probably won’t be an issue for the like of Anne Rice, who is spearheading the campaign to restrict reviewers, because she has an established audience who will purchase and review. She might get less reviews, but probably not enough to dent sales. She calls the idea that reviewers are ever placed in danger, or that their children have ever been placed in danger (see STGRB debacle) as “Hogwash”. She would silence reviewers, saying “If you really think you’re in danger, then don’t review!” But why should any reviewer ever feel they are in danger of having their personal information revealed by an author or a website because they didn’t like a book. In my opinion, a statement similar to the above one coming from any author with a history of confronting reviewers about negative reviews could be interpreted as if you don’t like my book, then don’t review.
A one star review is not a threat. If there is a genuine concern of threat to safety of person, contact relevant authorities, that goes for authors and reviewers. They will be able to confirm if the threat is real and what should be done.
Basically when you become an author, you are putting your work into the world. The world will then have an opinion on it and you won’t always like that opinion. Show some dignity and professionalism. Have a good ole cry and a group of trusted friends to unload to. Don’t try to ruin it for everyone else.