“’But the emperor has nothing on at all!’ said a little child.”
- Hans Christian Andersen
This is going to be a controversial post.
Because I’m not on Twitter (and maybe live under a rock), I was the last to know there had been a hullabaloo regarding a critique of a book by a blogger. I’m not going to mention the name of the book-reviewing blogger or the self-published author that had a very public meltdown in the comments section of the review post.
Until recently, people rarely self-published. And books were reviewed through traditional print channels. There was no relationship between reviewer and author, so reviews had cart-blanche to be as nasty as they wanted to be.
The Internet and self-publishing have democratized publishing and reviewing for authors.
This is great.
And not so great.
Last summer, I attended a BlogHer conference that touted the glories of getting your book out there (as long as it sparkles) without much stigma. And they said how great it was that bloggers and reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon have pretty much taken over the reviewing books.
But there’s another side.
Among quality e-books, there are those littered with spelling and grammar error and awkward sentences that any copy editors would’ve caught. I’ve seen mistakes on the FIRST PAGE.
And for all books, I’ve read many gleaming reviews, so I’ve run out and spent hundreds of dollars only to find out that most of these books didn’t live up to the hype.
I’ve had blogging buddies tell me they’ve bumped up reviews in order to spare an author’s feelings. Or if they haven’t liked a book, they’ve contacted the author privately and haven’t posted a review.
The result? I’ve become skeptical of reviews.
Recently, I posted a review of To Kill a Mockingbird on Goodreads. It’s my favorite book. I gave it 5 stars. It made me think about the other books I’ve rated 5 stars. In the review, I wrote:
I read books that have all the right ingredients: good pacing, interesting/sympathetic characters, believability, just the right detail, compelling story. And I give them a 5. I'm pretty spare with the 5's I give.
But there should be a category for 6 stars. For those books that meet all the criteria and more. The ones that touch you, are so powerful, with such superb writing, few can touch them. This is such a book.
I fear 5 stars has become somewhat of a joke.
Read Karen Gowen’s post about why she doesn’t mind receiving 2 Stars .
And she’s willing to give 2 Stars .
And why should she mind?
1 star means, “I didn’t like it.”
2 stars means, “It was okay.” Okay ISN’T bad. There was some issue or some issues for the reader, but it wasn’t awful. Why do we interpret it that way?
3 stars means, “I liked it.” Most books fall in that range. Why are we afraid to say it?
4 stars means, “I really liked it.” That’s a fair option for books that sweep me along but I have an issue or two.
5 stars means, “It was amazing.” Do all the books we're laving 5 stars on really amaze us?
Not having a 5-star rating won’t break a book. It won’t break an author. When I see 5-10 positive reviews on Amazon, with no negative ones, I don’t believe those reviews come from anyone but friends and family. Even Harry Potter books have negative reviews, and J.K. Rowling has created an empire with her books. I am a mother of two children who wishes I could attend Hogwarts.
And there are readers who don’t agree with me.
When authors become big, few readers worry about hurting their feelings.
When we do it well, we dig deep to expose our deepest selves.
Then we send our work off for critique.
Speaking of critique, if we have critique buddies and beta readers who only serve to pat us on the back and tell us how great we are, does that improve our writing?
If that’s what we expect from our reviewers, we’re going to sell a few books we haven’t otherwise.
But I don’t think we’ll make it for the long haul.
Especially with YA. Is the actual YA audience reading our reviews? No. They’re going by word of mouth. A teen isn’t worried about an author’s feelings.
This March, I didn’t make it to the third round of ABNA. What I did get was a critique. A harsh one. Another blogger received a harsh critique last year, so I was prepared for it. Nobody has been that blunt about what would make it better. I can do an overhaul or I can take what I’ve learned and not make the same mistake with my almost-completed WIP.
And I’m better for it.
Back to that blogger who reviews books. He does self-published authors a big service by reviewing their books. His review was kind, considering the big problems I found when I downloaded the first chapter onto my computer. He complimented the plot and the character’s emotions.
His critique was the awkward language and mistakes pulled him out of the story.
They pulled me out too.
If he’d written a false review or refused to review it, I wouldn’t know it had problems. I might have bought the book. And I would’ve been upset if the reviews steered me in the wrong direction.
The author accused the reviewer of having the wrong copy. He looked at the new copy, which had the same mistakes (as did my pulled chapter from Amazon). She accused him of lying. He was classy. And most of the early commenters were actually trying to give the author advice to stop commenting because she was digging her own grave. But that didn’t stop until she’d said some very rude things; one of them to an agent who’d commented anonymously.
It got brutal after that. People actually posted fake reviews on Amazon, so she now has 1-½ stars.
She behaved unprofessionally. Other self-published authors feel she’s tarnished the image of self-publishing that was just gaining credibility.
I can identify with what happened to that author as a writer who doesn’t want her feelings hurt.
But I choose to identify as a writer and reader who wants the truth.
As an author, do you want to be the emperor with no clothes?