Thursday, 19 September 2013

Authors Have Feelings Too

Q: when is a review not a review?
A: when it’s a tirade of abuse.

I recently removed some titles from the Amazon Kindle Store.


Because of some of the reviews attached to them

Aw come on, most authors get bad reviews now and again, you’ve just got to take it on the chin.

I agree. Bad reviews are part and parcel of the book business, and more especially of the ebook business because of the instant ability to publish comments on something just read. Authors have to grow a thick skin to some extent. Not everyone can like the same thing. For every reader that hates your book there might be a dozen or more who love it. The sad thing is that the one who hates it might be the only one who bothers to write a review. ;-)

In some cases I’ve learned from what initially seemed a negative review - and that’s when a bad review can become a good review. In a few instances the writer of an unfavourable review has given me an insight into an aspect of a story that I missed at the time of writing it. It’s made me think: ‘wow, yes, I get their point, yeah, I can see why that might not have worked for them, how did I miss that, and so on.’ A ‘good’ bad review is one that gives you a fresh ‘editorial’ eye. It spurs you on to do better.

A review has to tell other readers something about a book or story. It has to give a clue as to content, but without giving away essential aspects of the story. Of course it’s also about the reviewer’s reaction to the story and characters, whether they liked it or not, why it didn’t work for them. Reviews on the whole are just personal opinions. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I have no problem with well-expressed opinions even if they are not especially in my favour.

However, when opinion takes the form of empty abusiveness then something is wrong. Amazon, I think, is infected with the same ethos that can make social networking sites a nightmare. It’s a breeding ground for bullies. The relative anonymity of the Internet and the almost instant ability to publish an opinion allows some people to abandon all notions of self-control. It seems to encourage so many people to give free rein to vindictive aspects of their personality.

Calling an author ‘stupid’ or branding them ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ is not and should not be a permissible aspect of a book review. Amazon should not publish reviews that make such personal remarks. A book review should not consist of phrases like: this was dross, or this is stupid, another pile of poo from this dumb writer. Abusive phrases and insults do not constitute a review. They do not inform other readers about the story content. If you are going to state that something is dross then you should back it up with clear evidence as to why you think it is dross.

Reviewing is a skill and many readers do not posses the skill to write an informed review. Writing something along the lines of: ‘I hated this stupid story’ is not a review. It’s akin to a toddler throwing a temper tantrum because the rattle they’re sucking isn’t a lollypop.

A friend recently directed me to a review someone had left on one of my stories. The reviewer felt obliged to criticise my spelling and grammar. I wouldn’t have minded, but he or she could barely string together a coherent sentence. Seriously, this person who criticised my grammar, was barely comprehensible. It was laughable. I’m educated to degree level and while my grammar is not perfect by any means, it certainly isn’t as poor as this person claimed. As for spelling, I check and recheck my spelling. My editor checks my spelling. I suspect the reviewer may have been reading on a device whose default language was set for U.S. grammar. I write in U.K. English and not U.S. English. It can make a difference.

So, getting back to the stories I unpublished. Some had decent little reviews attached, but others were so unfair, insulting and abusive that I began to feel physically ill at the mere thought of checking my reviews. I’d start to shake and feel sick. It undermined my confidence in my writing. I began to question my ability and indeed my ‘right’ to write. Perhaps these rude people had a point? Perhaps I am an ‘idiot’ and a writer of ‘dross’ and ‘garbage.’ I felt humiliated, so much so that I even had thoughts of suicide.

As a consequence I’ve now lost all pleasure in writing. Something that helped me cope with depression and anxiety has now become just another source of depression and anxiety.

I haven’t written anything new in months. I don’t know if I ever will again. The ‘Postcards’ book I was working on has been shelved because I simply can’t face working on it. I get it up on screen and immediately my mind is flooded with those hateful, hurtful little remarks and insults. I’m now totally inhibited. I hope it will pass in time. You can't really afford to be a sensitive soul when you're a writer, but unfortunately I am. 

Many of the stories with the abusive ‘reviews’ were promotional freebies. Many authors feel obliged to offer free fiction, or virtually free fiction, just to stand a chance of being noticed in an ever-expanding market. I have my reservations about this ‘free’ ebook culture. I suspect it works more to Amazon’s advantage than anything else. (And to the advantage of all other ebook retail sites who offer freebies as an inducement to snare readers)

I think ‘free’ fiction leads many readers to assume that it’s okay to be nasty. There’s an assumption that if the writer is giving it away then it’s crap anyway. I think the Amazon low price culture has contributed to this ‘insult’ phenomenon. People can download book after book after book and not pay a dime, so they have no respect at all for the thought, expense and time that many authors put into their work. A free book might be free for a reader, but most indie authors have to pay for cover design, formatting and so on.

Amazon should stop publishing reviews that include pejorative terms. A book review consisting of: this is crap I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, or, this writer is stupid, should not be published, because it isn’t a review. It says nothing about the story. It’s just the opinion of a spiteful person who feels thwarted because a book wasn’t to their personal taste.

I’ve seen readers give a free book one star, not because it was a poor book in terms of writing style and content, but because it wasn’t long enough for them. That’s another Internet publishing phenomena, the belief that a book has to be, not only preferably free or very cheap, but also mega HUGE to be of any worth. Many readers actually seem to feel cheated and short changed if a free book isn’t a blockbuster! The short story is now an endangered species. It’s a shame. I’m rather fond of short stories, probably because my writing roots are in poetry.

Not everyone gets my brand of gay romance fiction, it falls somewhat awkwardly between traditional romance and BDSM romance. It’s okay not to ‘get’ my style of fiction. It’s okay not to like my stories. We all have different tastes. However, it is not okay to slam me as stupid or a moron. It is not okay to be personal. You have never met me. You have no right to attempt to belittle me as a human being. I am not stupid. I am not a moron or an idiot. It is not okay to be unpleasant, cruel and abusive just because my style of storytelling isn’t to your personal taste.  

If you are going to review a book then review the story, review the characters, and say how it worked or didn’t work for you. Give your opinion, but please strive to at least keep it respectful and polite. Avoid derogatory language. Just because you didn’t like a story doesn’t make it ‘dross.’ Authors have feelings too, we’re not supposed to have them, but we do.  :-)

If you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy and rather self-indulgent monologue then I’m grateful. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

Fabian Black


A.L.Rose. Author of The Paramour Series said...

It's too bad that people have little or no reguard for the work Authors do. I once had a review that was heartbreaking. The person wrote that (and I quote) "I'm glad i read this book before my son had a chance to. Why would you write something that could make impressionable teenage boys gay?"....... I thought, "Lady, its not contagious or learn-able" I thought about replying to the review then thought better of it. If people are going to be that naive, let them. As far as spelling, and grammar goes, I have a quote for you my dear and I live by it, "You do not have to know how to spell to write" Thats what editing is for. Plus, I haven't noticed anything wrong with that aspect of your books hun.
All this being said, I love your writing and can't wait for Postcards. You should most definitely finish it. Like you said, for every bad review, there are dozens of good ones. They may stay unwritten but, people love you. Hold on to that.
A.L.Rose (Anna)

Fabian Black said...

Cheers, Anna! And good luck with the second book in your series.

Lisa said...

I decided to check your blog this evening to see when the next Postcards book was going to be released. When I saw this blog post, I felt like I needed to leave a comment. I am so sorry these people and their "reviews" made you feel this way. I really don't understand why people have to act so negative and mean spirited to others. I cringe when I read reviews like that. I would never say such hurtful things. I agree with you. Reviews shouldn't become personal. They should reflect your thoughts on the actual story. If you don't like it, then tactfully explain why. I once saw a 1 star review posted on Amazon. It had nothing to do with the story, but this particular person was upset about the formatting and how it didn't load properly. Good grief! Call customer service. About freebies, I appreciate them and realize authors don't have to give them to us. I consider them a gift.

I hope as a little time goes by you will begin to feel better. I really hope you will continue your writing. I love your stories. Spanking Dee-Dee, Destiny Calling, Kit's Demerits, and Deadlines are all favorites of mine. I have also really enjoyed your Postcards series and Burdens & Riding With the Wind. Your stories make me laugh at times and they also bring tears to my eyes. I have a definite soft spot for your characters. They have touched my heart. You are a very talented writer and I hope to read more of your stories in the future. If you choose not to, I can understand that too. I am way too sensitive. I would never be able to make it as a writer. Most importantly, take care of yourself and do what's best for you. Sorry for my long comment. I tend to get carried away. :)

Fabian Black said...

Hi, Lisa,

Thanks so much for your kind comments and good wishes. I really do appreciate them. :)

I think a lot of writers probably go through periods of impasse, and I hope I get past mine at some point soon. Writing about my feelings did me good. It got it off my chest so to speak.

Thank you again for taking time to read and comment.

Take care. :)

Fabian Black

Anonymous said...

I too feel sad that you've had to deal with such unpleasant comments from what is no doubt a small but vitriolic group of people. Presumably they have no talent themselves and thus seek to undermine those who do - the term is bully I believe!

I regret the shelving of your new story particularly as I have been obssessively checking your site since it was first mooted but hope that you may feel inclined to return to it in due time.

I have been reading your work since it seems forever, certainly prior to them being in print, and when the books became available bought them and return to them again and again. Once again the mindless minority spoil things for others and apparently get their pleasure from hurting others with their spite. I am sorry you have become one of their victims.

To my shame I do not write reviews partly because I am uncomfortable with exposure to a general mass - English don't you know - which of course gives the nasty ones more credence by not having the leaven of joyful ones. Sorry about that. However, there is nothing you have written that I haven't enjoyed, your characters remain with me and the details of life and emotion involve me always and I thank you for that.


Fabian Black said...

Hi, Valerie,

Thank you for your kind comments. :)

There's a lot of store set on reviews in the publishing world. I've been thinking a lot about it and I've come to the conclusion that for me personally the most important thing is the creation of my stories. Getting caught up in the whole obsession with reviews has spoiled my pleasure in writing. If only a few people 'get' my style and like it, then that's great. I'm not going to read reviews any more. What I can't see can't hurt me. ;-)

Thanks again, Valerie.

Anonymous said...

I must say, I really love your stories! The characters are sweet and compelling. I discovered your books today and I already bought and finished several of your stories. Out of Tune and Spanking Dee Dee are two of my favorites. I also think the Jack and Danny Chronicles are hilarious. I know many others share my feelings. Don't let a few unkind people take away the joy you get from writing. If anything, at least write for yourself somewhere privately. Your talent is too precious to waste.

Best wishes.

Fabian Black said...

Thank you! I really appreciate your nice comments. I'm so glad you have enjoyed reading some of my fiction. :-)

Sharon said...

I'm sorry about your experiences with a nasty minority. I've bought most of your books and really enjoyed the Postcards series. I actually visited your site and blog tonight to see when the next one will be released.
I hope that one day you will be able to return to writing. If you write I know that I will read.
Until then, take care

Mayte said...

I'm late to this post but please...don't give up writting
I love your books , I find something in them that's so difficult to find with other books.Your work is beautiful , don't let those hateful "critics" stop you.

Mayte said...

I love your books , they are tender , funny and spicy at the same time . Please dont't stop writting because of those hateful "reviews" stop you.

Sharon said...

I'm really sorry that this has happened to you. I personally love your books and have bought all of them.
I just hope that one day you will publish again because I know that I will buy, read and enjoy anything that you produce.

Fabian Black said...

Thank You, Sharon and Mayte.