What Stace had to say on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
Freedom of Speech

So. Yesterday I ranted a bit, and I’m going to do it some more now. As with yesterday’s post, I’m not entirely sure where this is going to go. As with yesterday’s post, this is my attempt to get some things straight in my head and to explore this subject, so I may be a bit harsh; I may say things as part of playing Devil’s Advocate; I may go off on little tangents (probably will, because let’s face it, that’s what I tend to do).

First, a couple of things I forgot or didn’t get to say yesterday. First, authors? Don’t review your own books, either on Amazon or Goodreads or anywhere else. Don’t rate them on Goodreads, even if your “review” says something like, “Well, I wrote it so obviously I think it’s good!” Like that’s funny or charming or something (hint: it’s not).

I was going to say that reviewing/rating your own books under your own name just makes you look like a tool, rather than being actually sleazy, but then I realized that your rating shows up as part of the book’s overall rating; I can think of a couple of books (all by the same author, what a shock) who have pretty decent overall ratings on Goodreads, but then when you look at them you realize that’s only because the author and his/her (not giving you clues as to who it is) “agent” and/or editor have all given the book five stars, whereas the two readers who rated/reviewed it gave it two or three. So, sorry, reviewing/rating your books under your own name is sleazy. Having your agent or editor review/rate them is also sleazy, and honestly, I’m not aware of any editors with major houses or the big epubs who do so (there could be some, but I’m not aware of them).

I do have my own books on my Goodreads and LibraryThing “shelves.” I didn’t intend to do so, but both sites said specifically that I should. So I do. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but it does seem to be standard and expected. I rarely visit Goodreads, to be honest (more on that in a bit) and as I’ve said before, I *never* visit/read posts in the “Terrible Fever” Goodreads group or the Downside Shelfari group. Those are reader spaces, for you guys to discuss the books; they’re not for me and I actually think it would be creepy for me to lurk over them watching you all. And might make you feel uncomfortable or inhibited. So I stay away. I believe that’s the right thing to do.

I don’t think I have to say that reviewing your own books under a sockpuppet account makes you scum just like pressuring/begging your friends and family to do so does. Anytime you’re lying to readers, anytime you’re attempting to jerryrig your reviews or rankings, you’re doing something unethical. And, you’ll probably be caught, and that will be bad. Really bad.

Ask yourself this, before you post something anywhere: Would I say this under my real name? If the answer is no, it’s probably not a good idea to say it.

Also? It’s totally scuzzy–I think I mentioned this yesterday–to send your family/friends/readers to rebut or comment on negative reviews.

My family and friends are expressly forbidden, and have been for years, from ever reviewing or commenting on my work in any way, anywhere online. Period.

Oh, and. Okay. Lots of us writers use pseudonyms online. I don’t mean a pseudonym like the name we write under, but like to participate in discussions elsewhere. There are a few places I hang out online where I don’t use my name; I don’t keep my identity a big secret there, but those are places where I just want to be another reader/fan/whatever, so I use a different name and don’t generally tell people who I am (although I do if asked; I’m not a spy or anything, just a writer who wants to be one of the gang). There’s nothing in the world wrong with this.

What *is* wrong, and I don’t care how big a name you are or think you are, is when you use that pseudonym to push your own books. Guys, I’ve actually refrained from recommending my books to people just because I was in my “secret identity,” and wanted to avoid even the faintest appearance of sockpuppetry (full disclosure: I did once mention my book, but it was in response to someone asking for a specific recommendation and I genuinely, objectively thought that based on her criteria she’d like it. And it was one of a half-dozen or so titles I gave her. I still felt weird about it, though, and never did it again). So it drives me nuts when I see someone hiding behind a pseudonym (which at that point really kinda becomes nothing more than a sockpuppet) constantly listing their own books as “must-reads” or whatever. Stop it. You’re not fooling anyone; do you think we don’t notice that you’re always recommending that one particular writer? ALWAYS? Do you think we don’t notice that when you tell us about your career it happens to follow the exact same trajectory as that author you’re always telling us is Teh Most Awesomest? Do you think we’re stupid and you’re just so much cleverer than we are? Because we’re not, and you’re not. Seriously, when you do that so often you don’t even look sleazy, you just look foolish and crazy egotistical.

Now that that’s out of the way…let’s get back to reviews and readers and stuff.

Okay, here’s the thing. When I was reading the long discussion thread at Goodreads over one of the latest dust-ups, I saw a comment from a reader who said that she only ever reviewed books she likes (I’m using this as an example but I’ve seen this exact discussion several times before; it was even mentioned in comments to my previous post).

Another reader replied to say that was scummy and wrong of her, that she was doing people a disservice, and that obviously her reviews weren’t trustworthy.

Huh?

Now, given that this is a reader-reader issue maybe I shouldn’t even be commenting on it. But at the same time I believe every reader has the right to say whatever they want and review however they like. And I’m sorry, but since when is it anyone’s place to tell the reviewer who only wants to review books she liked that it’s wrong of her to do so? She’s entitled to review however she wants. She’s entitled to decide that books she disliked aren’t worth reviewing.

I could see the point about the reliability of her reviews had she said she gives everything a good review even if she hated it or didn’t read it or didn’t finish it. That’s lying and it’s dishonorable (*cough*HarrietKlausner*Cough*), and it means that no, your reviews are not really reliable. (More on this below.) But who are any of us to tell Reader A that she MUST review books she didn’t like if she doesn’t want to be seen as somehow worthy of mistrust? No, sorry. If you don’t want to read a site which only talks about books it likes and ignores those it didn’t, that’s fine, but it’s in no way wrong for anyone to decide they’d rather spend their time reviewing and talking about books they liked. Who are you to force her to write anything, much less reviews for books she disliked? Who are you to tell her what she is and is not allowed to discuss on her own damn blog, or in her own damn Goodreads account? Who are you to give her shit for the way she relates to books?

Personally, I only rate books I liked on Goodreads, and I’ll only mention a book here if I like it. Not out of fear or hypocrisy, but because I like to recommend things to my readers. Tastes are subjective; I think it’s a lot easier for me to say “This book is kind of like mine, so if you like mine you might very well like it,” rather than “This is nothing like mine so you won’t,” because how the hell do I know what else my readers might like? I like my Goodreads account to be a list of books I enjoy and/or find useful (in the case of nonfiction), so if I’m asked for a recommendation I can go there and see a list of books worthy of that (I don’t keep many books on my list there, but that’s because of time restrictions). That’s my choice and my right, just as it is the right of Laura Reader to decide that she only wants to spend her valuable time writing about books which gave her pleasure rather than books she found boring, stupid, infuriating, or insipid.

There are reviewers who say things like “Overall I didn’t like this, but it had these good points,” or whatever else because they want to find the positive in everything, and that’s fine too. People are entitled to write reviews with an eye toward being positive if they want, too; there are many people out there who think there’s too much negativity, or that it’s not their place to be too negative, and they’re entitled to that; you may not like it and you may decide not to pay attention to their reviews, but again, it’s not fair to attack or berate them for doing so.

Personally, while I’ll happily read and trust a site that only reviews books it likes, I won’t read and trust a site that only ever gives positive reviews despite what they thought of the book. Again, if that’s the kind of site you want to run that’s your choice and no one can or should tell you it’s wrong, but I definitely think that if that’s your editorial decision you should make that clear; don’t pretend to readers that you’re objective and honest when you’re deliberately misleading them about the quality of certain books. If you’re playing the “Let’s pass this around to every reviewer until we can find one who doesn’t puke” game, you’re not being honest with your readership. (I think you should warn them, but then I also think they’re smart enough to figure it out on their own pretty damn fast.)

And speaking as an author on this point, it means your review is “worthless” when it comes to blurbs or whatever; sorry, but if your site loves every shitty book it comes across, I’m not going to be that thrilled that it loved mine and I’m not going to quote you on my website because any fool can see it’s a “Send us anything and we’ll give it a good review” type of site. And, when I see quotes from you on the websites of other writers, I’m probably going to assume those writers haven’t been around for long, haven’t gotten many reviews at all, or–more damningly–haven’t gotten any positive ones. (And for those writers getting upset now and wondering how you’re supposed to get reviews from sites people respect, or saying your publisher Love’s Beautiful Dream sent your book to Good Reviews R Us and nowhere else so what are you supposed to do? Publishing with a house people respect is generally the first step. Stop handing your work to every fly-by-night amateur with no experience and some publishing software and you’ll find legit sites will be more likely to review you. Sorry to be harsh, but it’s true.)

This also goes if your review site is littered with typos or all of your reviews sound like those fake 5-star Amazon reviews written by the author’s best friend: “You won’t be able to put it down!….You’ll be so caught up in the beautiful story, the author did such a good job of making you feel like you’re right in the story with the characters……I can’t wait for more buy this author. I really recommend this story, it kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat with its excellent plot and great characters and story…..definitaly by this story you won’t regret it!!!” (I don’t know what the connection is between sockpuppets and pseudo-ellipsis abuse, but it’s there.)

Yes, I’m aware that as a writer my opinion of review sites doesn’t matter (beyond whether or not I’d quote you on my site). Reviews are not for me and your site is not for me. I could say, “But I’m a reader, too,” but let’s face it. We all know that’s bullshit, isn’t it? Not that I read–I read as much as I can, I love to read and always have–but that I can in any way present myself to others as one of you, just a reader reading books here, ho de do, don’t mind us readers. I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I’m no longer able to fully and completely put myself in the “not a writer but a reader” mindset, and because you won’t accept me as “not a writer but a reader” anyway.

And that’s what I’ll discuss tomorrow.

8 comments to “Freedom of Speech”

  1. BernardL
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    1
    · January 10th, 2012 at 8:11 am · Link

    Rating your own book with a sock puppet army is pretty funny, but I understand why an author does it. We’re under pressure to promote like carnival barkers, but that particular manner is not for me, mostly because I only have one ID on line or anywhere else. :) I’m the same as the reader rating only the books she liked. I don’t get into slamming because I know if I’ve ended up reading a book I don’t like with all the excerpts available to readers, it’s more my fault than the author’s. I just figure I wasn’t the intended audience. I do slam TV shows and movies I hate though. :)



  2. Pam Bitner
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    2
    · January 10th, 2012 at 8:13 am · Link

    A friend turned me on to your blog and I’m glad she did! Preach it, sister! I had another writer friend who had her family write reviews on Amazon for her debut novella. She even wrote one on Goodreads. I read the book, and through the process, left notes on Goodreads along the way. She was angry that I didn’t heap praise and and called me harsh. I didn’t finish the review(or the book… it was too borish and rambling for my tastes) and I also informed her I wouldn’t be buying anything else she might get published.

    I don’t write nice reviews. I’m not here to cotton candy fart dance for an author. I’m going to tell you what I liked and didn’t like about it, no matter how new or well-established you are. Period.



  3. kindle-aholic
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    3
    · January 10th, 2012 at 11:42 am · Link

    Thank you for writing this (yesterday & today). Everyone has their own style of reviewing, and completely agree with you – so long as they are being honest and not just saying they love everything no matter what, more power to them. A while ago I got a comment on an Amazon review that the person had purchased the book because of my review. That lead to a “holy crap then I really hope you liked it as much as I did” moment (it was the first time in my short review-writing experience that someone told me that), but it is something to remember as you write reviews – someone might be using that to spend their hard-earned cash, so be honest with your review.



  4. Shiloh Walker
    Comment
    4
    · January 10th, 2012 at 12:30 pm · Link

    Geez, what serious writer has time to create a sock puppet army, anyway?

    I don’t generally rate books I don’t like on GoodReads for a reason… if I don’t like it…I’m not finishing it. :mrgreen: I’ve got this thing where I don’t waste my time on books I’m not enjoying. Only so many minutes in a day.



  5. Cheryl
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    5
    · January 10th, 2012 at 2:38 pm · Link

    Checking my RSS feeds and seeing your posts from yesterday and today was a bit shocking. I have to admit that I’m surprised to see you diving into this after the writer/reviewer fiasco but I’m glad to see that it hasn’t gotten you down. I like it when you’re swinging. 😉



  6. Melissa
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    6
    · January 10th, 2012 at 5:47 pm · Link

    You have made me think here, and I think that it is a good thing. I am one of those “only review stuff I like” people – for the most part. There are a few things I have posted reviews for because I accepted a review copy and so feel obligated to post my opinion, even if it’s not terribly positive.

    If I can’t find at least ONE nice thing to say about the book, though, I won’t post anything at all. I mostly stick to “X and Y did not work for me but if you are okay with X or a fan of Y then this book may work better for you.”

    You have me wondering, though, if I shouldn’t change some of the way I work on this. Which is good. Questioning oneself is how we grow.



  7. Michele Lee
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    7
    · January 10th, 2012 at 9:33 pm · Link

    Oh, Stacia, where to begin? These posts have been like a nail gun to the head of all the issues I’ve been thinking of lately. So I’m just going to warn you that this post is going to be long and rambly, but I am so very interested in this conversation.

    I started reviewing as a way to “break into” publishing. Not to get name recognition, but a way to build confidence since talking about books was one of the few ways to over power my lack of self esteem. It was an effort to make my self more well read, a way to analyze what worked or didn’t about books to try to improve my own writing, to force myself outside of my reading comfort zone.

    Now I’ve been reviewing for about six years, professionally for four and spent a chunk of last year as a in-a-bookstore bookseller which other than stuff like cleaning the store and knowing how to use the cash register is really just pitching review to people face to face.

    I thought I was still doing the same thing I ever was, expanding my reading horizons, trying to find the keys to writing better, and sharing my love of good stories. But at some point it’s all changed. And now there are people (okay, so only a few, but still) who actively seek my approval of their work. My reviewing work landed me a freelance editing job last year because the publisher thought I was more well versed in the genre they were seeking to acquire than they were.

    So even if I think I’m just a reviewer who is giving one of a hundred possible opinions on the book I have seen dozens of people pull out their Kindle or phone (or wallet) and buy a book on the spot because I recommended it. Sure it’s a good feeling, especially when they love it! But it’s a little unnerving too.

    It’s also had the effect of so many people seeking out my opinion that I have very little time to read the books I buy for myself, and some of the same people who want a good review from me are startled to discover I have a book coming out.

    When I started I did, and I still do, believe in posting bad and good reviews. But with that I also make myself include a why. See, I know from all my experience (ha! that makes me feel old!) that bad and good doesn’t matter as much as the description and the whys. Just because I didn’t like a book because it was cliche doesn’t mean I couldn’t name a dozen people who would love it. And just because I adored a book doesn’t mean it being in verse (Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow), being slow not actiony (or featuring a lead character who looks 14 and is a prostitute, Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Viktor Pelvin), having stuffed animals as lead characters (Amberville by Tim Davys) or features a functional druggie (your books) won’t annoy the piss out of other readers.

    This is why I debated so much over just rating book on GoodReads/Amazon instead of giving them a full review. Stars are an opinion with no context, but I still think even a snarky, nasty review is better than radio silence from your readers, which is why I feel the need to keep giving my opinion.

    I think my point is that even if you aren’t a well published author you can easily become an Opinion Who Matters just by putting your voice out there so much. I find the idea of never talking about the books I love unacceptable (I know you weren’t suggesting that, because we’ve had this conversation before). But I totally get why someone else would prefer to keep their head down. In fact, I agree that most people should because it’s damned hard to write a bad review.

    But seriously, I don’t get the sock puppet/friend & family reviews thing because if they don’t mean it, if you haven’t really earned those reviews from people who like your work then it’s all just smoke being blow up your ass and is good for nothing.

    On Amazon right now I have three self published novellas. Two are part of a romance series. The first has 3 (I think) reviews. The second has none. The second has outsold the first by about 20 books and was released three months after it. You don’t need five star reviews to sell books. You don’t need armies of likers or dislikers to help you. Heck, Rot, my zombie novella, has been out of print since August and it was on TWO recommended lists for end of/holiday shopping 2011 lists.

    That kind of behavior is dishonest and worse, it perpetuates the feeling in readers that they are just there to line the author’s pockets. There is no worse feeling to give a reader than that of being ripped off.



  8. Jo
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    · January 15th, 2012 at 11:54 am · Link

    I want to quickly talk about my own reviewing. I, like you, am of the opinion that my reviews are for readers, not authors. I review all books I read, whether I enjoyed them or not. When it comes to negative reviews, with the idea that I review for other readers in mind, I do tend to try to write it so that those people are able to decide either way from my review. That’s not to say all of my reviews are positive – if I didn’t like a book, it’s quite clear that I didn’t like it, and I give reasons for not liking it. However, I’m aware of the fact that the whoever is reading my review might like it. I feel, personally, for my own reviews, I can’t say “this book is crap, don’t even bother.” Instead, I like to say “I didn’t like this book because of XYZ. However, if XYZ is something that doesn’t bother you, then maybe you’ll like it.” I even encourage people to look up other people’s reviews to see what other people think, and not just steer clear of a book because I wasn’t a fan. I’ve had a few people comment on my reviews saying that they’ll be trying out a book based on my review even though I clearly didn’t like it. I think that can only be a good thing.



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