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I Call BullSh*t: Authors Shouldn’t Read Reviews

productReviewI know I haven’t been the best about blogging regularly lately. So many new things going on and so many excuses to give you.  So now, I wanted to get back into this with the regular feature I promised, but never delivered on. The I Call Bullshit series where I take things I was told starting out in writing and blow them apart.  The first one was on how I was told that social media marketing was really easy.  It is not.  This time I am going to go over a big one.

I was always told, don’t read the reviews of your work.  Just ignore them all and keep putting out books.  But that is complete bullshit. Perhaps if you are George R.R. Martin you can pass on reading the reviews, I suppose your success tells you what you need to know.  But even still, I think he should be reading his reviews too. And who knows, maybe he is.

First people tell you that everyone is a critic, and this is true. It is also true that you can’t please everyone.  Some people will genuinely hate your work and for no other reason than your style. Not every book is good for everyone. I think once you realize that, there isn’t any reason not to read the reviews.  Even the bad ones have something for you in them.

And there is the reason you should be reading your reviews, there is feedback from actual readers there. You would listen to your Beta readers if they told you they didn’t like something, you may not change it, but you would listen. So why wouldn’t you listen to the person who paid money for it? Some of that money you received.  Readers should be the reason you are writing stories. So to ignore their comments is a spit in the face of the reason you write.  Sure, you may write for yourself. Or you may write because you like to create. But if you took that writing and had it published in anyway, you did it because you wanted someone else to read it.  So you should be listening to their reviews.

Reviews, good and bad, are a precious gift. They are so hard to get.  I have had just one review on Volition Agent since July 6th of 2013. One review and a year of nothing.  Broken Trust has had just one review since itsrelease over a month ago.  And Dissolution of Peace has 20 reviews, but it has taken three years to amass that many.  So getting reviews is far from easy. I have given away free copies asking for a review in return. I have done promotions to get the book in thousands of hands through a KDP free day.  And, I’ve begged and pleaded with my friends to write a review. And it doesn’t come easy.

The point is this. Even a bad reviewer took the time. Something so many readers will not do.  They took the time to tell the author and other customers how they felt about the book. So I make sure to check them at least weekly and to read them. I do this because it is feedback. Feedback from someone who took the time to let other readers know what they liked and disliked.  It is the reviews that lead to a second edition of Dissolution of Peace, because there was consistent feedback that too many typo and grammar mistakes slipped through the cracks.  And it is the same set of reviews that has pushed me to get the sequel out.

And I am not just talking about Amazon or Goodreads reviews.  I am also talking about the blogger, the Facebook comment, the Tweet, and all the other ways that authors get a review.  We should be reading those because they speak volumes about what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong (or at least not to our reader’s enjoyment).

Because I will tell you my stance.  Getting no reviews for a full year, that stings a whole lot more than getting a sub-par review.  I am sure there are people who read it who must have liked it, but they couldn’t be bothered to review it. And that feels like I did something really wrong.

I have noticed a shift starting to happen in this “don’t read reviews” movement. That is the independent author.  Authors like me who are publishing our own work.  I am seeing more and more independent authors saying that we should be reading reviews. And I think this comes from the fact that we are typically the struggling artists who finally decided to take our work into our own hands and put it out there for the world to see. And, we are desperate to know if we made the right choice.

valid-stampThe main difference is that Traditionally Published Authors already have that validation. They have an agent, editor, and publisher that loved their work enough to put it out on shelves and stamp it with their name. Where as the independent author, the only validation that our work gets is from the readers.

But, as time passes I suspect we will continue to shift away from this idea that authors should avoid their reviews. I think it is important we listen to our readers and become better from it.

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Updates: Moving, Depression, and Failing to Write

The Bad

I Don't KnowAs a pessimist, I’ll start with the bad first.

Some of you may know from previous posts, and if you follow me on social media, that I recently underwent a major move.  I moved from my hometown of Vacaville, CA to Auburn, Washington.  I’ve rarely left the State of California for vacation.  The farthest I lived from Vacaville was about 5 years in Folsom, CA about an hour away.  So needless to say moving two states away was a big move, and a little bit scary of one too.

To top it off, I’ve gone from a four bedroom house to a three bedroom apartment.  This is another big adjustment.  I am not used to neighbors walking around above me.  Or having to walk forever to the trash.  Or even the smaller size of an apartment.  My family has had to adjust to the smaller spaces and the lack of a yard, or other things we are used to having in a house.

Family is another thing that has changed a bit.  This move was originally planned for the middle of June.  When the kids would be out of school and there would be time for my wife to transfer her job.  But my landlord told us we needed to move right before the holidays.  I had already been fired from my job.  So after a long talk with my wife, we decided that it was practical to move twice.  Once locally and then again six months later in June.  So we had to accelerate the plans.

So Amy and I drove all our belonging up to Washington.  Amy flew back to California and I was left up here alone.  I got really sick (I had already been fighting a cold).  And in the end I didn’t get anything done in the first week.  Things like getting a job didn’t happen.  Then Amy brought our kids up after they finished out the schooling and started winter break.  Then Amy went back to California.  She has to keep working down there until her job transfers, a date that hasn’t been set yet.  So I spent Christmas with the boys.  This is the first Christmas Amy and I haven’t had together in over 10 years.  Even thought one of us always seemed to have to work, we saw each other.

So it has been hard.  I have been suffering form a bit of depression and though I know that is normal, I can’t really slip past it.  I find myself sleeping late, moping around the house.  I force myself to go out, but it isn’t as much fun as it should be.  And the main thing that has suffered is my writing.  I haven’t written anything in almost a month.  I haven’t even opened any of my projects to review.

There have been a lot of delays to add to a already depressed Richard.  For example, I had planned to have responses from beta readers on Broken Trust by December 1.  All but one reader bailed out on me and hasn’t even bothered to respond.  So now I am looking for a new set of readers to look over this.  If you beta read for me, I’ll send you a signed paperback copy of the book when it is released as a Thank You gift (US Residents).  Contact me if you are interested.

Dissolution of Peace CoverThe fixes on Dissolution of Peace are still delayed by the editor.  She is doing the absolute best she can, but delays keep jumping up all over the place.  Hopefully the second edition can be released in January, but I can’t make any more promises on that.

The sequel to Dissolution of Peace is slow going.  Perhaps I should explain why.  Aside from the depression and busy life I’ve had, I am not sure I like how the sequel is progressing.  Originally I wrote the manuscripts for three novels.  The first is now Dissolution of Peace.  The second occurred after a lot of time had passed since the end of the first.  I made a decision that I owed the readers the story that occurred during this time lapse.  So I decided that was what I would write as the sequel.  The problem is, it isn’t progressing the way I thought it would.  I think part of this is my own self being critical of my work.  Depression and a lack of interest in writing anything is probably a huge factor too.

What I really needed to to was to break the slump in my lack of writing.  With all this free time on my hands, I should be writing more not less.  And I should be writing for my own sanity.  Since most of my books are still packed, I need this escape.  As I have mentioned several times over writing is my stress relief.  But honestly, it seems to be the first thing I am distracted from when I get upset.

The Good

IMG_20131215_090428_086

I’ve wanted to move to Washington for over four years.  I’m finally here.  That part I am thrilled about.  This is very beautiful country.  I love the rain, the evergreens, the natural beauty, and the state parks.  Yesterday I discovered Flaming Geyser State Park which is only about 20 minutes from me.  I think I could spend a long time sitting there writing while listening to the rivers and streams.  And I’ll be exploring some more of the State Parks later this week.  My own apartment complex is nestled in the hills surrounded by trees and it is a beautiful setting.  I’ve posted a few pictures here.IMG_20131215_090431_970

The downsizing has also been good.  I’ve managed to purge a lot of stuff I probably should have thrown out years ago.  I made a lot of charitable donations before I left Vacaville with the stuff my family no longer needed.  It has also allowed me to better organize myself since my office has to be shared with my bedroom.  And when Amy does move up here, she won’t want my office clutter everywhere.  There are a few pluses to living in an apartment too.  Things like no yard to maintain, no trash or water bills, and generally lower electric costs.  The lower rent also helps.  Unlike Vacaville, the apartment rents in Auburn are cheaper than the house rents.  And the saved money will be going into our “buy a house” fund.  Something that is on my two years goal list.

There is good news from Broken Trust.  I have cover art for the novel ready.  Mallory Rock, a great cover artist, did this cover for me.  I had a lot of trouble with this cover.  I really wanted to see certain things from it.  But I couldn’t hit the mark.  Mallory managed to hit the mark with this one.  Even thought it didn’t hit all the check boxes I wanted, it did give me what I needed.  A cover that was amazing and reflects the feel of the novel.  Don’t forget, you can get a free signed copy by being a beta reader for this book.  Read an early copy of this book, give me your thoughts and suggestions, and not only will you help shape the book.  I’ll send you a free copy, signed by me.

broken trust

Dissolution of Peace got a very nice shout out on Twitter from @CWVanderReyden.  His rave reviews of my book led to another person buying the book.  This is the first time that I have known of a direct recommendation resulting in the buying of my book.  And it was a simple word of mouth review.  I appreciate those types of reviews and praise a lot.  In many cases they can be more valuable that the professional reviewer.  So please leave  a review of my books on Amazon and Goodreads.  And tell a friend.  They can really make my day when I find out about them.twitter shout out

I forced myself to blog today.  That means I finally wrote something.  I’m hoping that means that when I am done here (and done making my kids lunch), I’ll start writing again on the next novel.  I need to crank that out and get it going for release in 2014.  I had a lofty goal of releasing three novels in 2014.  I think it can be done with how far along Broken Trust is.  But it will be a challenge just the same.  But the only way it will be done it to write.

And though my wife is not here with me, I do have the advantages of Google+ hangout to see her.  And she will be flying up to see us to the end of January.  And we will just keep our fingers crossed that her job transfer comes quickly and we won’t have to wait out too much longer.  There are a lot of couples who have to spend countless time apart, and I just have to remain optimistic that this will all work out in the long run.

And that about summarizes this move for me.  We moved to Washington to make a change that we couldn’t do in California.  And now that we have made the move, I have to remain optimistic that this was the right choice and that it will all fall into place soon enough.

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Listen to Your Critics

free-lemonsWait, what? No I didn’t typo the title of this blog.  I really do plan to talk about reasons you should listen to your critics.  Sure there are countless blogs posts about all the reasons you should ignore your critics.  I have even written one (or two).  There are lots of great posts on how bad reviews and the critics of your work should be ignored.  You can’t please everyone and you can’t win them all.  But, after careful consideration, I am not sure that is really the best tip to provide authors, or any artist for that matter.

Working in the art industry, and we can’t forget that writing is an art, attracts all kinds of people.  You have the people who love just about everything.  You have the people who hate just about everything.  Then you have the people who really don’t know what they like or hate.  And finally you have the ones who know what they like and why they like it (and they usually know why they don’t like something too).  One might argue that you can also attract the jealous artist.  The one who wants to do what you do (and probably could) but they never bothered to really work at it.

In the past two years I have written a ton of book reviews.  I realized that reviewing a book on Amazon and Goodreads really helped authors.  Soon I was writing them for Plasma Frequency, and now I am writing them for my own blog.  And in all those reviews, I used to feel guilty when I wrote something critical about a book.  I felt like maybe I was being a jerk.  And I knew how critical reviews bothered me sometimes.  But I’ve realized that I am only sharing my opinion.  Other readers, and the author, can take it or leave it.  It is just my opinion, and I am but one reader.

But over the past few weeks, especially after all the inspiration I got from WorldCon, I have realized that perhaps I am thinking about reviews the wrong way.  That ignoring the bad ones, and basking in the good ones, was not necessarily the best method.

First, we should get this out of the way.  There is one review that you can always ignore.  That is the review that just bashes your book to bash it.  There is no logic to the reviews.  That would be the “This book sucks because I said it sucks but I won’t tell you why it sucks” kind of review.  Any blog reviewer worth your time won’t publish a review like that.  But on Amazon and Goodreads you will see those from time to time.  When I say you should ignore those reviews, I mean just that.  Don’t bother with it.  Don’t waste your time getting it removed or asking all your friends to vote the review as being not helpful.  I just mean ignore it.  It isn’t worth the time you put into it.

Recently I have seen an explosion in sales and reviews for Dissolution of Peace.  I was lucky to sell five copies each month in the past six months.  And I thought five was a great month.  I also seemed stuck at 12 reviews for a long time.  But now, I find myself looking at my 18th review on Amazon.  And 28 text reviews on Goodreads, which is great in my opinion.  I’ve also sold an average of 1.75 books per day (not counting my free promotion earlier this month).

So things are going well right?  Yes, and no.  There are some critical elements in these reviews.

I’m consistently seeing reviewers that love the story line of my book.  There has been a sprinkle or two suggesting better character development, and another sprinkle or two that love the characters.  There have been a few that hate the ending.  There have been a few that love the ending.  But one critical comment has been consistent.  They don’t like the grammar and spelling.  They seem to find errors that I didn’t catch.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am very self conciseness when it comes to grammar.  So my first step in dealing with this was to follow the advise we see across the blogging world.  I simply ignored it.  In fact, anything critical, I ignored.  Anything that people loved I relished in, I noted it for the sequel.  I even bragged about it.

But that is a disservice.  Not just to the reviewer, who took time to review the book (which we know many readers do not do), but it is also a disservice to yourself.

Every artist can grow.  And listening to your readers is a great way to learn where you might want to focus your growth.  It also tells you what you can fix to increase your sales.  For example, I’ve hired a new editor to review and fix the mistakes in Dissolution of Peace that I simply can’t catch.  Once she fixes those, I’ll update the book with a new version.

But grammar isn’t the only critique I have got.  I am looking into how I develop my characters and the way I end my novels.  I am looking into what it is that people really enjoy about the way I write stories.  I’m listening to my readers, even the critics.  Because that is how I will grow as a writer.  That is how I will become better.  And once you think you can’t get any better, you’ve become to arrogant and your readers will eventually notice there is no progression in your work and you will fade out.

So while critics are everywhere, they are also extremely helpful to the arts.  You, as the artists, may not take all their tips.  I am not saying you have to.  But I am saying you should at least listen.  You will benefit from that. If the majority of readers have a consistent complaint, I would suggest correcting that aspect of your writing.  Either in your current book, or in future works in progress.  For those more 50-50 splits, the choice is yours as an artist.  It could be something to change, or it could be that your style is not their style.

But if you want reviewers, you have to listen to them.  You can’t bash them and ignore them.  You can’t accept only the good.  You have to listen to your critics.

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Validation

valid-stampDeep down I think we all seek some type of validation.  It could be with a loved one, in our careers, and in our friendship.  It can also be with parking. We all need it.  I have a confession though, I self doubt a lot.  That is to say that I am constantly needing validation that my choices are the right ones.  This is true of my writing career as well.

But I think writers are a group that need a special type of validation.  There are a lot of people out there that want to be writers.  There are even a lot of people out there who say they are writers and really don’t know what they mean when they say that.  But deep down we writers want to be validated as authors. Unfortunately validation doesn’t always come.

So at what point are you valid in claiming you are an author.  Well, that is a bar that we set for ourselves.  Some set the bar really high, claiming they can only be an author when they get that first professional sale.  Some claim that they can be called an author simply because they say they are.

But what really validates the claim to that title of author?  Well for me it is the recognition of my peers, my readers, and friends.

Last year I felt really good when I took 2nd place in the science fiction and fantasy short story category of the  2011 Preditors and Editors readers poll for “Death Watch”.  I felt even better at all the nice comments I received. I even felt validated as a short story author.  The sale of my first two short stories in a matter of months helped a lot, but being recognized in that poll was special to me.

But what I really wanted to do was sell novels.  So in 2012, I didn’t work on many short story projects.  I put my work towards publishing my first novel, and I did it.  My goal was to get a lot of new readers, and I did that.  My goal was to get a lot of reviews and praise, but that has not really happened.  I’ve had 8 reviews on Amazon US and 2 on UK.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very pleased with those reviews.  But one of my roll models, the person that inspired me to get Dissolution of Peace out, seemed to get a lot of reviews very quickly.  Even a lot of editorial reviews (of which I’ve only had two).  It is my opinion that he made a big splash in the Horror scene, while I seem to have made only a slight ripple (like a pebble dropped into the ocean) in the Sci-Fi scene.

So, I started to question the validity of my claim to be a novelist.  Some of my role models in the independent scene, including the person above, have not even shared (to my knowledge) the work I have done. I think perhaps I expected too much from those I thought would return the favor.  But the point is that I began to question if I was any good at what I was setting out to do.  This is that self doubt I was talking about.

The problem not feeling validated, is that you tend to slump.  And I did a significant slump.  But then the readers poll came around again.  I was nominated for best Science Fiction and Fantasy novel.  There were also 85 other novels nominated.  In the end I took another top ten finish, coming in 5th for the 2012 poll.

There were some great comments in there too. I take great pride in how much people love my work and my characters.  I was ecstatic to see some of these things, they mean a lot to me.

I think the important thing that this post should point out.  If you are a reader, like I am, you need to set out to review ALL the books you read but especially the ones you enjoyed.  You need to make sure to share that with everyone.  Because if you want to see writers continue to write, they need to feel validated.  And for many of us, your reviews, purchases, and kind comments validates our purpose.  I think this is more important than a professional sale, and or even a large book deal, though those all help.  After all, it isn’t about who publishes what we write, but about who enjoys what we write.

So to those who continue to buy my books, vote for my books, comment on my books, review my books, and share my stories: I thank you.  You fuel my my writing career and make it that much more likely that I will someday reach all my writing goals.

As for the parking, I think I will just pay for it.  That is a validation that can be impossible to get.

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Should Authors Write Book Reviews?

Yesterday I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers what they would like me to blog about.  I got only a few responses.  This one, on twitter, caught my eye:

Peter Snede (@Petersnede) wrote: “@Richard_Flores4 I’m interested in a post on authors writing book reviews. Are neg reviews advisable? Do they help them connect w/others?”

I had never really given it much thought.  I’ve written a number of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  I’ve even written a couple of them on here.  But, I never gave much thought  if I was doing a good thing or a bad thing.  I just did it to help out fellow Authors and to help out readers.  So I spent yesterday at work thinking things over on this topic.

We all know that when you get your book ready to sell, you hope to get some reviews.  Whether that be on Amazon, Goodreads, or a blog post.  Generating buzz around your book (positive buzz) will only help you sell more books.  But, what is the benefit in reviewing other author’s books?  Here are some of them:

  • You can hope that the favor is returned.  Perhaps you review their book and they will do the same for you.  If not them directly, then you can hope that your generosity will be rewarded through Karma, fate, good vibes, or whatever you want to call it.
  • Since almost every way you can do a review, you can create a profile that has a link to your site.  You might generate traffic to your website.  If you are reviewing the books on your website or blog, they will find your website when they search for that book.
  • Perhaps your Blog audience enjoys your reviews.  That will certainly help you get more visitors, and get your name out there when you are selling your books.  Chances are if your reviews entertained them, they might take chance on your book.
  • The Author may publicly recognize your review and post it to Twitter, Facebook, or to their own site.  Hopefully that helps you.
  • If you review enough books, name recognition is certainly possible.

The reason I do it is simple:  I enjoyed the book enough that I thought my blog audience would enjoy it as well.  After all a review is my opinion, and for the most part I think my blog audience enjoys my opinion.  I write all these blog posts for my blog audience, not so much for myself.  So, I never gave much thought to all the above benefits as well.  The reason I write reviews on Goodreads and Amazon is to help out fellow authors by increasing their reviews and for the benefit of the buyer who is trying to decide if this book is right for them.

But, Peter asks an important question:  Are negative reviews a good idea?  Well, that was a very tough one for me the first time I had to face a book I didn’t much care for.  When it comes to my blog I only share books I enjoyed.  The reason for that is simple, I want to help my blog audience find the next book they will enjoy.  For me, writing a negative review on my blog serves no purpose to my blog audience, and since my blog is not book review blog anyway, I just don’t do it.

But, when it comes to Amazon or Goodreads, I review books that I don’t like too.  Simply because those are public resources that people come to looking for their next purchase.

But back to the topic:  My moral tough spot.  I had read a book, or rather a collection, that started off horribly.  I even debated putting it down and not reading it anymore.  The problem was, I was given this book for the sole reason of writing an Amazon review.  The even bigger problem was I know the author.  He is a good Author and person.  I talked to my friend and fellow writer about my issue.  He made a good suggestion:  Write the Author and tell them you don’t like it.  Tell them that if you wrote an honest review it would be a bad one.  And explain to them why you don’t like it.  If he insists you still review it, then do so.  If he says well thank you, then you don’t have to review it.

I reviewed it, because it also got a lot better.  I gave it an honest rating and an honest review.  But what if it hadn’t gotten better.  Well, the way I see it that is up to you.  If you are only writing reviews for the benefit of you audience finding books that they will like, then only review books you think are good.  If you run a book review website, you are in a tough spot.  If you are given, and agree to, review a book for your blog.  Then you have to review it.  You could contact the Author and warn them.  Or you could just write the review.

If you are just doing reviews on Goodreads or Amazon you have another option.  If I don’t enjoy a book, I simply rate it.  I don’t write a full review.  I just give it a star rating at leave it at that.

Frankly, unless you are a critic, I don’t think writing a full on bad review does anyone any good.  You won’t change the book, it is already published.  And if you are trying to aspire to be a good Author, then you want to build a positive network of authors.  So, I suggest you follow the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” rule.  Remember a review is way different then the test reading process.  This book has already been published.

Will writing bad reviews end your career?  I don’t think so.  But it won’t boost it either.  However, if you plan to start a blog that reviews books, plan to be an honest book critic (the Siskel & Ebert of books) then you need to take a different approach.  And, I’m not really qualified to give you some guidance on that.

You will notice that I have never once said you should give a false review to a book.  Friend or not, the moment you start writing false reviews you destroy your credibility as an Author and a Reviewer.  Boosting egos won’t work.  If it is a friend, tell them the book is not your style.  If you are not comfortable writing a bad review, don’t do it.  Once of the best things about reviewing is you get to choose what you review.

In summary:  I do recommend that Authors review books.  I don’t think you need to write bad reviews.  And, writing reviews will help you connect with other authors, and with a audience all your own.

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