Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is It Better To Be "Nice" Or Honest? Part Two

I'm guest posting today over at Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out on the topic of reviews for "Indie" authors. We agreed that the topic was big enough for more than one post, so I'm continuing what I started over there over here. You should really pop over and read part one, first, though, before reading this one.
[One a completely separate note, I also have an interview up today over at the A to Z Challenge blog, stop by and check that out, too.]

To bring the impact of the “nice” review down to a more personal level, when the the independent market suffers the effects of undeserved good reviews, so do you.
Let me put this another way: The only way you can ever become successful as an independent author is if the larger audience of readers begins to buy your books. It's all well and good for your blogging friends and a few of their friends to buy your book, but, really, that's just a handful of sales. To make it, to really make it, you have to break through the “friend” barrier out into people that don't know you. That is a hard thing to do.
You want to know why it's a hard thing to do? Because the larger audience of readers doesn't trust the independent market. They don't even really trust the small publishers, so how do you expect them to trust you, some anonymous author with a sign saying, “Buy my book! It's really good!”
See, when we just do the “nice” thing and give good reviews to our peers, the independent market suffers, as I said, but, also, you, specifically you, as an independently published author, suffer. You are not immune to the overall perception that people will have of a market place full of good reviews that don't mean anything.
 You want to know how I know this? Because I don't buy independently published books except from people I know or that have been strongly recommended to me by people whose opinions I trust. Why? Because I can't tell what's good and what's not. And, even then, half the stuff (and I'm being generous here) I've read from people I know or has been recommended to me shouldn't be out there available for purchase, anyway, so why would I expect that other stuff is any different. But, yet, I can browse through the "indie book shelf" (yes, I just made that up) and find plenty of books with a stack of good reviews (on Amazon or on blogs) that I know to be... dishonest, for lack of a better word. In some cases, I don't think the person giving the review even read the book, because the review is about the author not the work.
A review beginning with “this is a great guy” or “I went to high school with this guy and he wrote a book” or “this girl spends all of her time writing” does not inspire me to buy the book or give me any faith in the independent market. If you didn't read it, don't go click 5-stars on it! Just don't do it.
To make this as clear as I can, it doesn't matter if you genuinely have written a great book, the best book ever, even, if no one can find it. It's like being the one apple tree in the middle of a forest of crab apple trees. The only way to be seen in all of that other mess is if reviews, all reviews, are honest reviews and are clearly labeled “crab apple” instead of “apple.”
So far, we've been pretty self-centered and only talked about how all of this stuff affects ourselves, but let's look at how the “nice” review affects the author in question. Does the “nice” review actually help him/her? Again, I'm going to say “no.”
Sure, as I said in Part One, getting the “nice” review may gain the author a few sales, but, if the book is really not good or not ready or not whatever, it's going to hurt the author more in the long run.
First, people buying the book are going to find “oh, this book sucks” and decide to never buy another book from that author again. It doesn't matter if, later, the author does put out something good, why would a buyer (that doesn't know the author) come back and try again after getting burned once? Most people are just going to remember to not buy anything from him/her again (like I won't buy any more Goodkin or Hamilton, I don't care how good people say they are).
But what's the likelihood that the author is going to improve if everyone is just being nice? The author, at that point, believes that the work is fine and s/he can continue in the same manner. I've seen a lot of this out there, too. Authors that whip out some 40,000 word "epic" in a couple or few months, get some nice reviews and continue on doing the same. Over and over again. Their friends are all giving them good reviews and telling them how great they are, so they never bother to actually look at the work or how much (little) time they're spending on it. They don't edit beyond spell check or have anyone with any kind of skill read the manuscript before they hit the publish button.
These authors think everything is just fine. “Look at how all my friends love what I'm doing!” But no one is buying their books. Why? Because they're no good. But no one is brave enough to tell them that. No one wants to damage the friendship by saying, “Hey, you need to work on this some more.” Again, it's a short term gain, but it's kind of like allowing your friend to walk around with a huge booger on his/her face. Sure, s/he'd be embarrassed if you told him, but how mad at you is she going to be when she finds out that you didn't.
Doing the “nice” thing doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help the market, it doesn't help you, and it doesn't help the author in question. Not in the long run. Yeah, I know, it can be really difficult to see past the short run to the long run, but, if we want independent publishing to survive, we have to do that. Right now, the big publishers are out there banking on one thing, that this lack of quality among independently published books will drive people back to only buying from them. The sad thing is they may not be wrong. Until we, the independent authors, have the courage and fortitude to be honest about what we're flooding the market with, people will continue to orbit the big publishers as their main source of reading material.


  1. I read part two before going back to part one. Trust me, my brain will put the two together.
    I understand the gist of what you're saying. Great reviews from friends just because they are being nice when the book isn't good isn't fair to the buying public.
    That's why there are a few books I just didn't review. I couldn't lie and I couldn't hurt the author's feelings. So I just didn't review it.
    And you are quite busy online today sir!

  2. Like Alex said, some people just avoid writing reviews if they can't say something nice. I think that does people a disservice, though... and that maybe we indy/hitherto unpublished authors need to start taking classes on how to receive and process criticism. Because sure, everyone wants praise, but if all you ever get is positive feedback, how are you EVER going to grow as a PERSON, much less an author, right?

    Whenever I give feedback, I'm always a little wary of the reaction I am going to receive, but that doesn't change the feedback I give. Call me a heartless monster. :)

  3. "But what's the likelihood that the author is going to improve if everyone is just being nice?" Exactly :)

  4. Very intriguing post. I agree with your logic, and when I look back over my reviews I can see where I usually gave a bump to indie or small press authors that I don't pass on to books by big houses. BUT - I do try to find something I do feel worked well and focus on that in my review. I'm still being honest, but I'm not being as harsh a critic at the same time.

    That said, there are some indie books out there that I've read that I've never admitted to publicly because they are so unbelievably bad that I couldn't even find that one little thing to latch on to in order to praise.

    Whatever, I still sleep at night, so I can't be too evil.

    Today's post will stick with me for awhile though. I listened to a podcast on this topic recently, you should have been on it.

  5. I worry that this will never go away. Or even worse, in the next decade or so, it will become the fad for amateur writers to publish their first attempts at writing, unedited, but with fancy, eyecatching covers, then have their 700 facebook friends flood amazon with 5 star reviews. This trend will kill self-publishing. Makes me wish I had time to do book reviews.

  6. TOTALLY see the point when weeding the good from the not good in the indies. I honestly agree completely that there really IS a lot of crap published. It makes it very hard to find the good in the midst.

    At the same time, if a FRIEND of mine put out a lousy book, I'd go about THAT critique in private. I might recommend they pull it and revise if it was truly awful. Or I might say, 'you know next time you really ought to hire a professional editor' or even offer to beta read their next one. But I guess I don't think a horrible public review is something I'm willing to do to a new author. (one who has already made millions like Stephenie Meyer, YES, but not a newbie) I will just skip reviewing if it's that bad...

  7. Now that I'm more awake, I'll add that the real reason I don't give bad reviews is that if a book is bad, I won't get past the third chapter. And you can't really review a book you haven't read.

  8. completely agree with this post.

  9. Being honest with friends always pays off Andy. With tact of course. If the person is putting so much effort into something then it would be unkind not to give them constructive criticism to take it to the next level.

  10. I've done a few book reviews on my blog and even more on Amazon. It's not something I do with everything I read, but I'll do it for a blogger or a book that has really impacted me--negatively or positively.

    I'm the kind of person who tends to look at all sides of something so that if I go negative, I will usually counterbalance it with something positive. It's rare that I'll just come right out and tell people not to buy something. I will usually qualify a non-recommendation with my statement that this is only my opinion and that some people might like this sort of thing. I like to acknowledge the effort and time that someone has put into what they are doing and give them credit for that, while expressing the time that I felt that I've wasted personally spending time with the book.

    Great pair of posts, Andrew. Thanks for hijacking my blog today. I will be approaching the subject of book reviewing a little bit differently in the future, but not overly so since I have usually been pretty honest in the kindest, most constructive way that I've could.

    Tossing It Out

  11. Boy Andrew you are really getting around! I read your interview over at A to Z (great interview btw), I read the Arlee Bird one and then this one.

    I guess my big question is, are reviews really all that important? I've never bought a book based off of a review I read. Fifty Shades of Grey has gotten a ton of bad reviews, yet it is outselling everything. How do you explain that?

  12. Matthew MacNish is my hero. Why are you still on this topic, Andrew? Some of us disagree with you and some of us are totally on your side. You aren't going to change anyone's mind. You know I still think it is inappropriate and unprofessional for a writer to tear apart another writer in a public forum, especially as one indie to another.

  13. I think the key word here is "honest". Being honest is not equivalent to tearing someone apart with malicious intent. If a book is bad in some way and is being reviewed, the bad parts need to be exposed with credit for the good being given as is due. I think a truly good review will acknowledge all sides.

    I think we should also distinguish between a review and publicity. Shades of Grey may or may not be bad depending upon the reader, but the sales have probably been more motivated by the amount of publicity generated by the book. I think reviews are somewhat important to use as a gauge. I don't always go precisely by a review when deciding to read or purchase, but it helps me put my decision into perspective. I consider the source of the review and the content of the review itself. I have read one star, poorly reviewed books (or viewed films) because I can tell by the review that the content is in my range of interest where it was not for the reviewer.

    If I had a book published, I would hope I had as many reviews as I could get. Some of them are good to use for publicity materials. If the reviews don't carry weight, then why do so many publishers and authors use quotes to promote their book releases?

    Tossing It Out

  14. When I "make it" as an author, then perhaps I'll be more honest. However, I was at a writer's conference, and author Larry Brooks was the keynote speaker. He spoke ill of a few famous authors, and does in his Story Engineering book. Speaking poorly of another author doesn't make the author speaking (or blogging) look any better. It makes them appear as though they think they're better. I don't believe that's a good thing regardless of whether he is or not. Larry's book is full of useful information, but he could write, and give talks without bashing. For me, the best answer is to praise the praiseworthy, and ignore all else.

  15. Alex: I am quite busy! Mostly, now, fielding comments! heh
    No, it's not fair to the buying public to hold something up you don't think is worth buying. I suppose I can understand why agents feel they need to "love" a book before they represent it, from that point-of-view.

    fairbetty: Of course, I agree with you. It's tough to come to something objectively if the person in question has been harsh with you, but I have to look at Lewis and Tolkien in the respect. Even though Tolkien did not like Lewis' Narnia stuff (because of the allegorical content), Lewis always encouraged Tolkien and had only good things to say about Middle Earth. Not because of friendship but because he had nothing but good things to say about it.

    Rusty: Trust me, it's a hard road to follow. Unfortunately, I tend to be a bit stubborn and stick to these kinds of thing when I believe in them.
    1. Indie authors -need- reviews.
    2. Those reviews need to be genuine and honest.

    Stephanie: If anything kills self-publishing, this will be it. Maybe it will all die down somewhat after the people that think they can get rich from it go on to other things.

    Hart: I agree with that, and that's exactly what I tried to do in my review of Venitars. The author told me to review it the way it was.

    Alex (again): Yes, I don't think you should review a book that you didn't read all the way through. At most, a comment along the lines of "I couldn't get into this book."

    mshatch: thanks!

    Maurice: I'm hoping so, anyway. I've been unfriended by friends of people I've reviewed, though, so it can be difficult.

  16. Lee: Thanks for having me Lee! It's certainly been interesting! Hopefully, it's giving people something to think about.

    Michael: Thanks! It was a fun interview.
    Yes, I think reviews are that important, especially for authors that aren't receiving huge amounts of publicity, which is just another form of reviewing. With Grey, the negative reviews play just as big a part in the whole purchasing process (which the publishers count on) because people say "surely it can't be that bad" and buy it to see.

    Matthew: I do.

    Charlie: I've stated what I think about it in the posts, so I'm not going to go back into it. I'm "still" on this topic by request. Actually, I have not much been on this topic specifically, only peripherally, so it's totally appropriate for me to state my reasoning.

    Lee: Yes, Lee. I'm not sure, actually, why we are equating honest with negative. And honest review can just as well be positive, but, either way, it is different from the "nice" review.

    Tina: Speaking ill of an author is not okay, because that has nothing to do with the work in question. You can't "review" a person like that. Well, actually, I suppose you could, but I don't think very many of us would enjoy that. At any rate, if you're talking about books, talk about the books.

  17. Yeah, it's Andrew day today. :)

    I completely agree with this. I get a little frustrated when I see five star reviews of books by people who are obviously just trying to be nice to a friend. While I admire their loyalty, I don't think it's fair to the general buying public if the book doesn't deserve it (and let's be real, they don't all deserve it).

  18. Totally agree with your logic & arguments, Andrew. I've said it too a couple of times, and I strongly believe it:
    why should you strive to become any better, if everyone tells you you're perfect just the way you are?

    It's one thing if the encouragement and support is directed at the person and his passion for writing, and another if the product & craftsmanship is endorsed without deserving it.

  19. L.G.: Well, I think we should have "Andrew Day" more often!
    Needless to say, I agree with your agreement. :)

    Vero: Exactly. There has to be a separation between the two and a book review is not about the author or how good a person he may or may not be but about the product.

  20. You are the main man on the internet today!

    I do respect those who honestly review books. I don't like to review books for many reasons, so I don't do it. However, I will do a review on Amazon or Smashwords on someone who is just starting or is independently published, and I will be honest on it.

  21. Excellent post on a timely topic. I agree with most of what you say but I also believe it's possible to give straightforward, intelligent reviews without gushing or going overboard. I rarely review books on my blog but on Goodreads I review everything I read. Of course then there's that category on my Kindle called "self-published, poorly edited, couldn't finish." I don't review them.

  22. nice or honest? Yes , i go for the honest part

  23. Interesting viewpoint, but being 'nice' isn't the same as being positive when writing a book review.

    I can see the need for both types, depending on what the reader is wanting to know.

    I'll agree to disagree. Diversity is good.

  24. I think one of the problems is the idea that anyone who hammers out a shoddily written manuscript is 'talented'..(Just because you can type, it doesn't necessarily follow that you are a 'writer')...people are afraid to hurt people's feelings, and so they don't give an honest opinion, but it is possible to let someone know that they just aren't ready for publishing, without insulting them personally..(and I am talking specifically about 'books' that people are trying to sell, not blogs or journals, which are another thing completely) Come on, are people so deluded that they can't use their big boy/girl brains to figure out that what they're putting out is crap??...Do these people actually READ..and if they do, they should ask themselves, "Have I EVER read anything as poorly written as my manuscript?" I said in my comment in 'part one', if I know something is 'indie' I'm less likely to read it, and I will probably never buy it because I will assume it's an amateur attempt...(and, plus, there's waaay too many vampire and medieval stories, which I don't care for at all..(and that is just an opinion))and I come by that opinion honestly..most of the 'indie' stuff I have read is riddled with spelling mistakes, bad structure and an almost complete lack of editing, so I just don't read it...sometimes trying to get through some of these things is like reading something a kid wrote in grade five..In most cases it's obvious why it was rejected by the big houses..that being said, I have never liked or disliked a proper book based on someone else's know what they say, opinions are like a**holes, everybody's got one!..and I have my own opinion about the kind of books I like.. 50 Shades of Grey is selling, and it's because people heard there was a lot of sex in it...that's what I sells...just like the 'Twilight' books sold because they drilled into teenage fantasy..that's the other thing, 'popular' doesn't mean 'good' either...In the end, I would rather a reviewer be honest about the book instead of 'nice'...when you think about it though, how 'nice' is it really, when you lead some poor person down the path of believeing they really have talent, when you know deep down they suck?! That's mean! I think it's far better for everyone if these people are told, "Look, this just isn't your thing...keep writing for fun, but don't quit your day job!"

  25. Shannon: Yeah, I need to find some more of these "hot topics" to post about, I guess!

    KarenG: Well, I would say that if you paid for those "self-published, poorly edited, couldn't finish" books that you should say something. Maybe not a review, because I don't believe in doing a review on something you didn't finish, but a notice of some sort: I found this book to be so poorly edited that I couldn't read it. If you paid money for it, I think it's more than fair.

    Goku: Me, too! Thanks for stopping by!

    D.G.: Being nice is not, but, in this context, being "nice" is.

    Eve: I've run into that attitude more often than I would have liked to, "I wrote a book; therefore, you should buy it" (and give it a good review, because, well, I -wrote- it).
    I wouldn't necessarily tell people to just do it for fun, but it should definitely be pointed out when someone should go back to work on something.
    And I'll add this, many of the short stories in Charter Shorts collection from the middle school creative writing class I taught last year are (much) better than a lot of the "indie" stuff I've read.

  26. I think this could definitely be said of ANY market, even beyond the indie market. We need more quality and less crappy reading out there. And if it's crap, someone needs to - politely - say so before it's published. I've read one too many terrible books lately, thank you.

  27. Great posting and I read both parts :) After reading I can't help thinking about E.L. James, while yes her book is published by Vintage Books, she continues to receive negative reviews yet she is till selling a #1 Best Seller. :) I look at that and can see the negative reviews really don't necessarily hurt an author, it sort of evens out the playing field.

  28. At last, some straight talk about reviews and reviewers. Is it about time Goodreads and Amazon, publishers, etc took a look at the review process, who is allowed to post a review. There is a huge difference between objective review (based on the proper construction of a novel) and a subjective review (loved, liked, whatever, hated). Just saying.

  29. S.L.: Well, yes, but, theoretically, there are people in the mainstream that are supposed to be protecting us from trash, so it's a different sort of weight. -If- people would remember that traditionally published stuff is only published because the publisher thinks they can make money off of it, things might be different.

    GG: No, negative reviews are better than no reviews. It's weird to think that, but it's true.

    Feather: Thanks for stopping in!
    There is a huge difference. People don't understand that saying whether you like something or not is not a review.

  30. I realise I'm commenting a bit late but I just wanted to commend you for these two honest, necessary posts. I try to be honest with my reviews, but I probably fall into the 'only review if I love' category.

    It takes courage to write an honest review, but it's the only way for the independent publishing industry to really gain credibility.

  31. Cally: There is no "late"! Commenting never expires. I actually wish more people would comment on older posts they go back and read. It's not like you quit getting notified when a post "gets old."

    At this point, and maybe it's because I'm crochety, I'm all for credibility.

  32. So I'm currently reading this indie epic fantasy book that has something like 15 five star reviews on Amazon so I went into it thinking it would be a pretty decent read.

    I started this book at the beginning of the month and now, I'm not even half way through it because it's terrible, really, really terrible and reading it has been work. Hard work.

    And I keep thinking back to those five star reviews and wondering how those people thought this book was a fantastic fantasy romp or a spell binding novel or what have you because the only positives I've found is that (a) I received a free copy and (b) it's making me think maybe my own epic fantasy isn't that bad after all.

    So yeah, I'll never write a nice review just for the sake of being nice. But maybe people know that already. It might come back to bite me in the ass when I get twenty zero star reviews of my own book from people who think I'm a bitch, but I'll still stick with my honesty is the best policy philosophy.

    As always, a great post.

  33. M.J.: I share your fear, but I'm not going to let fear sway me into giving a good review to something that wasn't.
    I do hate it when it becomes obvious that the 15 5-star reviews are just there because they are "nice" reviews. Not only did the author cheat me, but so did all those "reviewers."