If I give you a book, do you owe me a review?

This was a discussion that started in my Facebook feed last week and I’ve been thinking about it, ever since. Not surprisingly, I suppose, there were many varying views on this question.

The original post went something like this, “If you are given a free book, you are obligated to post a review.”

As an author, I certainly agree with the spirit of the statement. All writers hope to get reviews, positive ones, but even negative reviews are helpful. And it is a difficult task to get reviews. I don’t know if there are any statistics on it but it seems that a very small percentage of readers actually post reviews on anything they read.

However, the question for me is if I give away one of my books freely is the receiver obligated to write a review?

In my case, no. I make no assumption that giving away one of my books will result in a review. I would certainly be happy if that were the case, but it isn’t something I expect. Just as I wouldn’t expect my buddy Zelda to buy me a latte this week because I treated her to one last week.

Why do authors give away books anyway?

There are many reasons authors give away books, certainly the hope of getting reviews would be one of them. Probably because they’ve been told by a marketing ‘expert’ that giving away books results in getting reviews, will skyrocket them to the top 100 list, make them super visible to potential readers, somehow make them a best-selling author, etc. I know plenty of authors who would disagree with that ‘conventional wisdom.’

But an author may also give away a book to:

  • Entice you to sign up for their mailing list
  • Get you acquainted with their writing and become a fan
  • Increase their rankings in various bookstores within Amazon and on other online book retailers
  • Encourage you to buy and read their other books
  • Otherwise increase their sales stats
  • And probably some reasons that none of us would think of

However, regardless of the reason that an author may give you a free book, does that obligate you to give them something in return?

I don’t think it does. And if it does, perhaps it should be called a trade rather than a freebie?

What about you? Do you believe that if an author gives you a free book that you are obligated to review it? Do you typically review the books you read? If not, how come? Is the offer of a free book intriguing to you or a sign of desperation? What do you think about free books? Feel free to share your views in the comments below.

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The Unvarnished Truth – Do We Want it?

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Porter Anderson wrote a very thought-provoking post on Writer Unboxed the other day: Truth Be Told? Truth Is on Thin Ice.

He opens with a formula for ‘authenticity’ as developed by branding expert, Marc Ecko, which is this:

Authenticity is equal to your unique voice,
multiplied by truthfulness,
plus your capacity for change,
multiplied by range of emotional impact,
raised to the power of imagination.

And then Porter uses this formula to springboard into the main topic, which is truth in publishing. And poses these questions:

How good are you at truthfulness? Why don’t we tell the truth more in publishing? And especially in writing?

He answers them in part by using his own experiences from an event called Author Day that he put on in London. Long story short, during the conference things were said that were kind and encouraging, afterward criticism was launched from the same people that was not so kind.

And then he makes the point that many of us have made. We say things that we don’t mean about books we don’t read, to be nice. Or write reviews that a more glowing than they should be, and so it goes. And it’s of course, something that all of us have done. We have our reasons. Maybe to be nice. Maybe to avoid conflict. Maybe because we’re worried that if we are totally truthful, someone may turn around and do the same to us. And each person has their own version of truthfulness, and some versions can be quite devastating.

The Truth Bureau – are we ready for it?

Ultimately, Porter suggests developing what he calls the Truth Bureau. A group of anonymous readers who agree to give the unvarnished truth about books that are submitted for their critique. The books of course would be anonymous too, with no clue as to the author or any other identifying data that might give a clue. This would then ensure that we could learn the real truth about our books. It would possibly be set up as a service for which authors would pay. All from the view of course, of improving their work.

I found this to be a very interesting idea. Certainly on the face of it, there is a lot of potential to opening the doors of truly improving our work. And I don’t know any writer who is serious about their craft who doesn’t want to be better than they are. It’s a natural desire for any artist to strive for improvement – otherwise, you are in essence just phoning it in. And what writer worth their weight in words wants that?

Of course there is the bugaboo of having yet another thing that we indies must pay for. And you can’t swing a dead cat (sorry cat lovers) without hitting some guy with a service that guarantees he will realize your writer dreams. There’s even one guy out there promising people he will make you a best selling author on Amazon – even if you hate to write. Think about that one for a minute. Gives one pause, doesn’t it?

The other main stumbling block, I believe to something like the Truth Bureau is I think, human nature. We can be quite cruel to one another, especially when anonymous. The Internet is teeming with trolls and flamers and people who love to visit their hatred on poor unsuspecting strangers. The whole review system online is problematic. There are so many concerns people have; if they are authors they know that whatever they say online can be found and used against them; writers are cautioned against responding to negative reviews; and conversely I’ve seen writers attack reviewers, which only ends up making people think twice about writing them. And the list goes on. And what’s to say that people wouldn’t sign up to be an anonymous reviewer just to get their hate on?

Likely a service like this would have better oversight than Amazon, where anybody can lob hate bombs with impunity, but there would still probably be damage done before they were removed from participating.

What about a co-op?

Personally, I do like the idea of a Truth Bureau because it has great potential to help authors and thusly readers. Perhaps a co-op of writers and readers who are not completely anonymous but instead are committed to truthfulness. With a list of criteria to follow in their critiques, to avoid the feedback from becoming personal would work. The names of the authors could be left off, so that wouldn’t act as influence and perhaps the reader picks a genre that they read and gets a choice of 3 or 4 titles to choose from. Or perhaps I’ve just described a critique group. Not sure.

I do agree with Porter though, who I believe to be one of the good guys out there, telling the truth as best he can. We need more truth online in general, and in publishing specifically. The current review system is broken. Is is unpoliced and you honestly have no idea what you’ll get. Good. Bad. Hate. Love. It’s all up for grabs. And a crap shoot at best.

In the meantime

But in the meantime, given the way things are currently I will probably still continue to give overly nice reviews. Sorry but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Even with authors I don’t know, I am ever aware of the fact that if I’m too honest I will be attacked whether by the author or their fans or someone else. So, for now, I won’t write the unvarnished truth. Is this wrong? Perhaps. But in my experience, it is the rare person who wants the total truth about their creations. And sometimes a little truth goes a long way.

What about you? Are you totally truthful in critiquing another’s work? Are your reviews/critiques overly nice? Short and sweet? Any ideas on how a Truth Bureau could work? Feel free to tell us what you think in the comments.

Note: I’m offline for a few days but will happily respond to any comments when I return.

Annie

Reviews – so far, so good

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Well, I’ve survived my first month as a self-pubbed author and the first reviews for Coffee & Crime are trickling in. So far, nobody hates it. I’m still waiting for the first bad one to see how much chocolate and coffee it will take to revive me.

So I thought I’d share.

“So, about the story: Scotti Fitzgerald has not had an easy life. Abandoned soon after her birth, she grew-up in the California foster care system. She had one friend, Zelda Carter, who was also a foster kid. The experience made her a cynical and suspicious adult, but it also taught her self-reliance. Now Scotti and Zelda are working as waitresses in a diner owned by “Manny the Cuban”. Scotti’s claim to fame in local circles is her culinary skill, especially when it comes to deserts, which she provides for Manny’s diner. Tired of living in California, and anxious to get home to his native Miami, Manny has agreed to sell his diner to Scotti. Her benefactor is George Manston, an affluent personal injury lawyer that admires her tenacity, as well as her brownies, and he has agreed to help her finance the purchase of the diner. But when George dies unexpectedly, Scotti and Zelda are thrust into a complicated web of deceit and murder. As the mystery unfolds, we discover there are many suspects, including Scotti, who is desperate to clear her name. Coffee and Crime is a fun read, and a real page-turner, as we piece the clues together with Scotti and Zelda to ultimately bring the villain to justice.

So, about the author: I think Anita Rogers is an excellent writer and story-teller. She presents Coffee and Crime as a first-person narrative, which I find very bold. Too often first-person authors get so lost in didacticism, that the reader is bored to tears. Ms. Rogers isn’t one of these authors! She masterfully creates drama and context by weaving Scotti’s thoughts and words into the descriptive panorama of the world seen through her eyes. We discover her personality, as well as those around her by the way she experiences their interactions. Sometimes she’s right, but sometimes she’s wrong, which grounds the story in reality, and lends plausibility to the plot. I’m a sucker for the old pulp fiction crime stories, and Ms. Rogers writing is reminiscent of those, but with a modern twist.”
Jody

“This is a fun book. Even though it’s a mystery and a good one, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I loved Scotti Fitzgerald, the heroine and narrator. There were several places where I chuckled out loud at her jokes and comments. Lots of colorful writing and characters. A good read.”
Andrea K

“The first in the series, Coffee & Crime introduces you to Scotti Fitzgerald and her friend Zelda. Their quirky attributes make them real, like friends you’ve known all your life. The author’s pithy writing style incorporates colorful descriptions that are very graphic and get to the point quickly.

With an engaging pace, jockeying humor and mystery, the book was hard for me to put down. Scotti was prone to rash decisions but very street smart, easily discerning clues that kept leading her more and more into harm’s way. Her character worked well for plot development and creating suspense. You couldn’t help worrying about her yet admiring her courage and drive to seek justice. Was there a bit of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”? Oh yes, indeed, but it was so in character, plus you could relate to that kind of flaw. We’ve all been young and fearlessly foolish at times. Later we look back and marvel at how we’d managed to survive.”
LB

“I’m not done reading the whole book yet, but I can’t put it down. Love Anita Rodgers style of writing. Easy fun reading with an “I wonder what is going to happen next” excitement.”
C Sarg

“a very good read, so much so, that i forgot about dinner in the oven – which fortunately switched itself off.”
Atir

Coffee and Crime new release

Why I Don’t Write Bad Reviews

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Is that weird? That I don’t write bad reviews? If a book is bad, then why wouldn’t I spread the news?

There are lots of reasons to write a good review, in my opinion:

  • It spreads the word to readers anxious for another good book in their favorite genre
  • It often helps an author become more visible to the public, especially new and indie authors
  • A piece of good writing, like any piece of art should be shared
  • It will encourage the author to write more books that you’re likely to love in the future
  • It sends something positive into the world, and can’t we all use more positivity?

And you’d think that writing bad reviews would be helpful too. After all, shouldn’t we warn fellow readers not to waste their time? Maybe. But my observation is that bad reviews can be far more damaging than helpful.  And truthfully, it’s more about the manner in which most bad reviews are written than it is the bad review itself. In my experience bad reviews tend to be:

  • Snarky and filled with personal attacks of the author such as, name calling, insults to the writer’s intelligence, purely negative, with no redeeming qualities noted whatsoever
  • Written personally, as though the author wrote the book to personally enrage or insult the reviewer
  • Demeaning, bordering on bullying, as though the author has the life value of a bug and is undeserving of common courtesy
  • Seems to intend to bring the author down for reasons known only to the reviewer

I’ve seen (far too often) bad review campaigns in which sometimes hundreds will attempt to destroy a book or author by posting countless bad and sometimes untrue reviews. Usually for reasons that have nothing to do with the book or quality of writing, but more the author’s ideology, the topic of the book, or  motives other than to assess the merits (or lack thereof) of the book. In other words, I’ve seen bad reviews used as weapons.

Constructive Criticism vs Bad Reviews

Full disclosure: In case you didn’t know, I’m also an author and have a built-in sensitivity to reviews. Good or bad, a review has an effect. Authors put an enormous amount of energy and pieces of themselves into their books and to see all that torn down in five sentences can be discouraging – sometimes devastating. As noted above, bad review are often not helpful.

However, constructive criticism is another story and can be enormously helpful to the author and the reader. What is constructive criticism? In terms of a review, since you aren’t doing a critique, rather than saying it sucked you could say that it dragged because of ____ and perhaps the author could have _____. If you are going to criticize at least please be specific you’ll help the writer and future readers, because the author will pay attention to your comments and seek to improve, if you can mention something concrete that they can improve. Also, throw in a few things that did work, that you did like – your reviewer’s license won’t be revoked if you do and your review will probably be taken more seriously. I’ve read books that weren’t wonderful but I loved the characters, or the plot twists were so inventive and fresh that I forgave other sins. Maybe you didn’t like it overall, but did  you like something? Mention it. The reader behind you in line might want to read it because of that very thing. Everybody has different tastes and preferences, right?

So, why won’t I write bad reviews?

There are several reasons I won’t write bad reviews and the following are just a few:

  • There are already more than enough people willing to write them
  • I don’t like to discourage writers (yes, that’s a bias)
  • I’d rather spend my limited free time helping other writers, rather than hurting them
  • Criticism, like family secrets should be shared selectively and discreetly
  • It bums out readers and authors
  • The world already has plenty of negativity without my adding to it

More full disclosure: I have been asked to review books and to provide an honest review and I have done so. However, if I found myself in a situation where I knew I couldn’t offer a somewhat positive review, then I would contact the author and tell them that I’d prefer to withdraw from writing a review.

What about you? Do you write negative reviews? If so, how do you approach that? What’s your take on bad reviews? Necessary? Unnecessary?

Feel free to share, debate or disagree in the comments.

Writer Chick

copyright 2014

 

 

Are reviews the best way for you to select a book?

books reviews to select a book?All writers want reviews, preferably good ones. We ask for honest reviews but we secretly hope for good ones. Really good ones. It makes sense, we want to sell books. We want to feel like that year we spent fiddling with words, plot points and character arcs wasn’t wasted. But above all, we want to know that we spoke to you, the reader. That we resonated. That we connected. That we took you on an adventure. Provided entertainment, relief and escape. Because we don’t write novels for ourselves, we write them for you.

But…are book reviews believable?

Have you been fooled by a book review? I have

A few weeks ago I held my new Kindle in my hands, trembling with excitement and dying to download some books and get reading. I particularly wanted to read some indie authors and hopefully find a few new favorites. So, I popped onto Amazon and was completely overwhelmed by the selection. I suppose I could’ve asked around for recommendations but I wanted books right then.

I decided I could download a few freebies first. If I liked the author, then I’d pony up and buy everything they’d written. I scanned through trying to decide which books to download. I reduced the list by filtering for 4-star and up reviews. Still a daunting list, so I checked the blurbs. I found six books that interested me and I wanted to download and watched my Kindle screen as they magically appeared.

I was in heaven. Six brand new mysteries – total brain junk food and I was hungry. I opened the first book but the prologue was indecipherable and when I made it to the first chapter, the author had totally switched gears and was yammering on about a woman’s red fingernail. Next!

The next four books I couldn’t get past the first two or three pages. For various reasons – mind numbingly boring, passive writing, bad editing – in short, I couldn’t engage.

The fifth book showed promise. The author could write and there were passages that were pure brilliance. But there were so many stupid mistakes that could easily have been solved with research that it was astounding.

It was a crime novel and not do only I write mysteries myself, I’ve been reading them since I was eight years old. I have more than a passing understanding of forensics, investigation and procedure. And it was clear that this writer hadn’t researched any of those things or hadn’t retained any of the research. And the main character was a medical examiner.

I actually read the book to the end because I liked some of her characters and the story was clever. The shame of it was that a good editor could have helped to make it a top notch book. I almost fell off my bed when I saw at the end of the book that this author was touted as ‘best selling’ and had written 10 – 12 other books. I couldn’t imagine how this book had gotten five star reviews up the wazoo. Well, the reviews may have gotten me to read one of this author’s books but I won’t read another. So how helpful were those reviews to her in the long run?

You can buy anything on the Internet

We all love the Internet because we can find anything our little hearts desire in that nether cyber-world. Wonderful things on the Internet, also a lot of crap. The trick is in knowing the difference.

To be sure, if there’s something you want to buy, somebody out there is selling it.

Did you know that you can buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Is it a stretch to think that you could also buy reviews? Not really. I’ve seen ads offering money to write reviews, and they aren’t for the New Yorker. And every second there are thousands of online marketeers coming up with new ways to game the system. Because a lot of these marketeers think that marketing is about creating illusions, they don’t understand that marketing is about helping the consumer find what they’re looking for. You don’t have to trick anyone into buying anything if you’ve got what they need and want, right?

So the phrase, Buyer Beware, may apply doubly on the Internet.

How do you know if you can trust the reviews?

There’s no way to know for sure if a review can be trusted. There is always the matter of personal taste. Some readers may prefer a different style or not care about things that drive you nuts as a reader.

But there are a few things you can do to ascertain the veracity of the reviews:

  • Read a few pages before you buy, many Amazon books allow you to read the first few pages to see if you like before purchasing.
  • Check the author’s blog, website or Facebook page to see if you like their style of writing.
  • Ask friends to recommend authors they like
  • Download a free book from the author (if there is one) and sample their writing. Even if there isn’t a free book from the author, most authors offer a free chapter download or other stories for you to read.

In other words, don’t be like me and rush to download because your brain is hungry.

What’s your experience with book reviews? Helpful? Not helpful? How do you choose a book to read?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014