Over the past few months there have been several posts, on varying social media platforms, calling out ‘Bad Author Behavior’ (let’s call it BAB for brevity). Most of these have been directed at indie authors and most have been justified. While most authors don’t behave badly (or at least we try our best to behave well) there’s always someone, right? Someone who just can’t help themselves and for whatever reason, thinks this sort of b/s isn’t okay. It is not okay. Before I go any further, let me clarify for the sake of self preservation, there’s a world of difference between a bad day where you make an offhand statement that you regret (and hopefully apologize for) and behaving like an entitled starlet. Because that, folks, is always a bad look. Always. And it taints the entire pool. How can readers trust authors if some of them are out there behaving like assholes?
One complaint that has been surfacing far too regularly – and was highlighted again this morning – is reviews. Or to be more specific, authors requesting reviews – and then throwing tantrums when the reviews don’t appear or don’t appear in the manner they, the author, had wanted. Now back in my old life in print journalism – yes, yes I know, I’m a dinosaur – I would regularly be asked if I wanted to review a book and sometimes interview the author. I would be sent the book for free – known as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) and the instructions were usually along the lines of ‘please do not post any reviews before….’ because often the book hadn’t yet been released to the public. Indies do the same thing – we send out copies to our ARC teams (if we have them) and we hope they’ll leave us a review after the book releases. It doesn’t seem to matter how big or small your ARC team is, not everyone leaves a review. Sometimes life gets in the way. People get sick or they have family responsibilties or there’s some kind of emergency. They forgot. They didn’t want to – possibly because they didn’t like the book.
Today’s example of BAB is an author who insisted that only 4 and 5 star reviews be left for the first two weeks after release, harrassed ARC readers who didn’t leave a review, and when someone left a 3 star (the reader immediately realized their ‘mistake’ and was taking it down) they not only allowed their ‘posse’ to go after that reader, they encouraged it. This is NOT OKAY.
Let me say that again for those in the back. Nobody owes an author a review – let a lone a good review. My ARC team has around 50 people and of course I hope I will get 50 great or at least good reviews around the release day but if I don’t…that’s life. Generally, as far as I know, around 50% of my ARC team review in the obvious places – Amazon, Bookbub, and/or GoodReads but they could also review in places I don’t know about. Or they didn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever removed an ARC reader for not reviewing. I do give them the option of receiving an ARC – there is no point asking someone to read about Pascal, Rorik, and Leif if silly, fluffy, light fantasy novellas isn’t their thing. Or sending a copy of a book like Joey to someone who could be potentially triggered by the content. Regardless of who I send an ARC to, they do not owe me a review. I do not care if you promised faithfully you would leave one – there is no contractual obligation here. You are not being paid to do this, you don’t *HAVE* to leave one. If you are on an ARC list and NEVER leave a review – the worst that should happen is you might get dropped from the list eventually. Operative word: might. Maybe. First of all, the Amazon Terms and Conditions explicity forbid authors (I’m curious as to whether this applies to just indies or includes big name trad published authors – but that’s a different issue) put any expectation on ARC reviews. If they even suspect that pressure, payment, or any other form of obligation has been used to get reviews, they will and do remove said reviews. (Yes, Amazon often removes/rejects legit reviews in error – another different issue).
Here’s the thing: first and foremost, your reviews are your opinion and you’re entitled to them. You are allowed to adore a book and you are allowed to hate a book. You are allowed to say as much in any review. I have a review for Joey – a long detailed review – from a reader who Did Not Finish (DNF) because they felt Rick was abusive (their problem was adressed after the point of DNF but as a reader, that’s their right). Do I agree? No – but hey I wrote the book. I might be a little biased. Do I like it? Well, no of course not. That not the point and never will be – it’s not about me agreeing with or liking the review. Have I asked for it to be removed? Absolutely not. Why would I? Reveiws are about getting the books into the hands of (hopefully) the right readers. A lot of readers put more stock in lower star reviews than they do in the big shiny All The Stars ones. There is a feeling that when a book’s release is followed by a flurry of four or five star reviews, those reviews are potentially biased in favor of the author/book. In some cases they are. So that burst of fours and fives doesn’t always work the way one might think.
So let’s talk about star ratings while we’re here, shall we? Now, I am not A Big Name Author. On my good days, I am at best, a solid midlister, okay? So, I don’t have thousands and thousands of reviews (I wish) but I have a few. And I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with a three star review. A three star is to me a solid C+ pass. Would I have preferred an A – of course I would have. I’m human. But you like it enough to say yeah, that works…that’s a win in my opinion. That review for Joey, I mentioned earlier? It has 3 stars. The reviewer could easily have left one star. Speaking of one star reviews….nobody liks getting a one or a two star review but they come with the territory. Are there people out there who leave them maliciously? Yes, but they’e usually fairly easy to spot and deal with. A lot of readers check the one, two, and three star reviews for things that might appeal to them – because you know…one person’s yuck is another person’s yum.
Perhaps more importantly is the fact that not everyone is going to like our books and they are entitled to say as much. As an author, does it hurt to see one and two star reviews? It’s less about it hurting and more about lightly bruising our egos. We’re human – we wrote this book that we love and want you to love and if it didn’t hit the markers for you we will sit them wondering what we could have done differently. It is – or should be – a Wine and Chocolate moment: grab a small glass of wine (or your favorite beverage) and your favorite chocolate/treat and move on. If there are a lot of negative reviews, then reassess what you did. Revisit the story maybe. Or don’t.
If you are a reader and you do not like a book/character I’ve written you can safely go onto Zon or GR or where ever and say so. I will not be coming after you, I will not be blackballing you. I will not be asking other people to do those things eithers. I will be a little sad and I will probably too much chocolate but that’s the extent of my response. This is also assuming I saw your review of course….I try to not read reviews, good or bad, because I firmly believe that reviews are there to help other people know about my book and decide if they want to read it. They are not there to stroke my ego. All I ask is that if you, as a reader, are reviewing one of my books and you didn’t like it (cue chocolate) that you do not: send me the review via email, post the review in Cocktails & Denim or on my FB author page, ,or tag me in any reviews left elsewhere. Seriously, please don’t do that to authors.
As Chuck above whined, writing is hard! At least some days it is. Publishing is harder, and at release we are at our most emotionally vulnerable. Being tagged in bad reviews is horrible. What about the good ones? Well, speaking for myself, I’m happy if you simply say “hey I left you a review, liked/loved it”. I try to not read reviews including the good ones – but not because I don’t want you to review. Reviews are not for my ego, they’re to help other readers decide if they want to read me or not. So, leave your reviews but leave us off the notification list. Trust me, we will find it eventually – good or bad – because sooner or later we give in and look.
Authors are human. Many juggle multiple jobs, all of us juggle multiple roles within our writing and publishing business. We fuck up. We try not to but we do. Responding to reviews should not be a thing we fuck up though. In general most of us love our readers. There is no bigger thrill for an author than hearing “I loved that book”. Someone telling me how much they love one of my guys never gets old. NEVER. I don’t even care if you’ve told me a million times already – that shit rocks! Just as the person who said “this is awful. It reads like it was written in a different language and put through Google Translate” absolutely sucked. But…that reader is entitled to not like my work, my guys, hell they can dislike my cat (weirdo – my cat is adorable).
Nearly every author I know says some variant of “if nobody read anything I write, I’d still write.” If we really, really feel that way then it shouldn’t matter what the reviews are but since we’re human and humans are inherently fragile the correct response to a bad review is a bit of a sniffle, a piece of chocolate (or whatever), and to start writing the next book.