Hi guys! So, this week I was preparing for the release of my newest book, Hunter’s Moon (which got a fabulous 4 Star rating from Kelly’s Book Blog, thanks so very much Kelly! I’m so glad you liked the story! :) ) when I was hit with something rather unexpected. It wasn’t very pleasant, and some people might call me an inexperienced newb because of my reaction to it, but I wasn’t precisely thrilled.
Before I get started on what it was, however, I’d like to mention one of the universal truths of writing, which is a pretty simple truth; not everyone is going to like your book(s). You can do all of the legwork from creating a perfect cover to editing until your fingers bleed, then hiring professional editors to go through what you’ve already hacked away at until their own fingers fall off. You can give it the most intriguing title in the world, and have a plot that literally shits gold.
But not everyone is going to like it. Period.
So authors have to be prepared to receive negative feedback, and not only learn how to get the most information out of that criticism to improve their work going forward, but also to spot the difference between constructive criticism that’s helpful, and an opinion that’s not going to benefit your work (i.e., flaming and spam). This is a very important factor to keep in mind if you’re planning to publish your work considering one bad review doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, but several people tuck tail and run if they get even a hint that someone doesn’t like what they’ve written.
This is just the way things are, no one can do anything about it, and you have to learn to take the bad with the good!
I’ve always known this, and believe you me, I’ve received criticism on many occasions. A large amount of that was, in fact, flaming (it’s easy to spot a troll after you’ve dealt with them just once) and I’ve done my best to take the actual criticism to heart and implement the advice into my writing style.
So negative criticism? I think I’m equipped well enough to handle it. No one likes to hear that they didn’t succeed in their endeavors, that a story they’ve spent a large amount of time polishing until they felt it would provide the most enjoyable experience possible actually wasn’t enjoyable at all. But this doesn’t mean you’ve failed. The only way you fail is if you give up and don’t try to learn from the experience.
So, with that said, let me get back on topic of what happened. At this point, you’re probably thinking one of my books got blasted with a horrible review, right? Well, actually, that didn’t happen at all. I didn’t receive any negative commentary, nor did I hear from someone who’d recently read one of my books and wanted to tell me how horrible it was and how I should just quit. So why did I mention how author’s need a thick skin if I didn’t?
To explain that, allow me to tell you a story, and trust me, it’s a good one. Telling stories is just what I do. :P
Yesterday, December 1st, 2016, I was surfing the web and checking my messages. I hopped onto goodreads for a moment to check a friend request and in the process, I noticed that Hunter’s Moon had a single star rating. I stared at the page for a moment, confused. Hunter’s Moon wasn’t set to publish until the next day (December 2nd), so how could it have a rating? I’d sent an ARC of the book to three reviewers, people who have read and reviewed all of my older books, and for a moment, I thought that perhaps they’d already rated the book and I’d disappointed them with my sixth story.
Not so. I checked the page, and didn’t see either of those reviewers names listed, at least, not beyond a notification that they were reading the book. So where had this 1 star rating come from? I was extremely confused, and thought that maybe goodreads had glitched, and perhaps they were updating their website and what I was seeing was just inaccurate.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the case, either. Just an hour or so later, the information popped up. My unpublished book had a 1 star rating from someone I’d never heard of before. I checked their page because I was curious–how could someone read and review my book if it wasn’t published? Well, the answer was pretty obvious; they hadn’t read my book, but decided to give it a one star rating anyway.
But that’s not the only thing; they’d given all of my books a 1 star rating, and had done the same to several other stories. In fact, there were over 13 pages of books they’d bestowed with 1 star. That’s when I realized this was a spam rater who, if my unpublished book was any indication, hadn’t read the stories they were rating, they’d just given them a rating and moved on.
I was extremely unhappy about this for obvious reasons. Why would you rate a story you hadn’t read? Not only is that going to make the overall rating of the book inaccurate, but it’s just unfair. So I sent an email to goodreads regarding the matter, and had a few conversations with people about it, and in the process, I realized something very important.
I’d emailed goodreads for no reason. Spam ratings are apparently “Just a Thing” that happens, and we shouldn’t complain about it.
Or at least, that’s what many people say. Some raters on goodreads just rate books willy nilly, perhaps to get at that top rater’s spot, or even just to show how interested they might be in reading a book from the start. Then again, maybe they’re rating the cover of a book and not the contents. But whatever the reason, this is just something that happens, and like receiving negative criticism, it can’t be helped. Your best bet is to simply let it bounce off that thick skin, and move on. Eventually, other reviews will bury their rating at the back of the pages where no one will see it, and it’s likely that readers won’t pay much attention to it, anyway.
Still, I’m not satisfied. Perhaps I’m just howling at the moon, but I do find this problematic, particularly for authors who aren’t widely known and don’t actually get many ratings from the start. Unless the rules changed when I wasn’t looking, ratings are meant to say, “I’ve read this story and this is how I felt about it,” not “I just saw this story and it looks like something I would like/dislike.” After all, I wouldn’t think it would be difficult to implement a system where a reader can mark a book as “Interested” or “Not Interested” instead of just rating it based on their probability of reading it to begin with.
The biggest reason why this doesn’t settle well with me is that today’s publishing industry demands that, if authors are to be successful, in many cases their strongest tool is to have a reader rate and review their work. Amazon doesn’t promote any story unless its received 50 reviews (yep, 50), but only 10% of readers (if I’m recalling my facts correctly) actually take the time out to leave a comment on a story saying whether or not they liked it. Ratings and reviews are an essential part in helping someone decide if they’d like to read your story, or just ignore it altogether.
So no, I’m not satisfied with saying, “They were just rating it to indicate whether or not they’d be interested in reading it from the start.” But this happens frequently on goodreads, specifically with bestselling authors who have a large audience. When those authors announce a new title, fans will go and spam their new book’s page with ratings indicative of their interest in reading it, and may go back to edit that rating once the story has been released.
Again, it’s “Just a Thing.” Put on your adult pants and move on.
It seems where Amazon is potentially too strict with their review policies (i.e., removing reviews for “knowing the author which makes it biased”), goodreads is much too lenient, meaning neither site is going to give you an accurate idea of a book’s reception in all cases, nor are they going to do anything about their policies. I do believe some policies need to be in place, particularly regarding whether or not you’ve actually read the book you’re rating, but I really can’t see why some things would be left as is when there are some very obvious ways to fix it. Then again, I guess those solutions would cost money they don’t want to spend.
Please feel free to leave a comment! Do you think these review policies are too lenient? Too strict?