Sunday, 26 August 2012

The army of beggars

It seems that the most recent development among self-published authors is to share that ridiculous advice, suggestion, or you could even call it passive plea 'how to support your favourite author'. It suggests that you should buy books (really?), tell your friends (ah?) and leave a review (nope, I'm out!).
To me it feels like the main reason behind that advice is gathering reviews praise. There's almost nothing self-published authors value more than positive reviews and here's where the trouble begins: first, it was the review-exchange, which they quickly learned wasn't the best idea, then there was the bribing of top reviewers; didn't work either, and now it goes a step further: advising educating readers.

Here's the most recent merry-go-round: Click the picture to enlarge.

I'm a reader, too, and I don't want to see a plea or worse: a reminder to leave a review if I liked the book I just finished. What if I didn't like the book and have only one desire: to walk away? What if I feel insecure about giving my opinion? What if I can't be bothered? I bought the book, I read it and that's all you can expect from me. Sorry. What I do after that is my choice, my decision and not yours. I think everyone would agree with me that sharing a book that has touched me, is almost common sense or even human nature. If I have friends who read, I'll recommend it. And, of course, I'll look for another book by that particular author.
The key element here is that a book must really stir something in me, good or bad, before I talk about it. And I would think that applies to most readers. Why recommend a mediocre or terrible book? The latter perhaps for a laugh, but if something doesn't convince me, I move on and forget.

I see people complaining about having plenty of downloads when their books are free, but that nobody leaves a review. It's all over several fora, Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. Some moans I've seen even sounded like demands: I give you a free book, something I've worked on for years, now you have to review praise!
A reader doesn't owe you anything. If you give your book away, it's your choice. A choice you made for marketing purposes. Being snappy because readers grab the opportunity with both hands is wrong.
Free means free and that means it doesn't come with conditions, unless you have an agreement with a reviewer, which is an entirely different case. Expecting something in return is pretty cheeky if you ask me.
People stack up their e-readers, collect freebies; they don't necessarily read the books straight away, or maybe they do and quickly delete it and move on. If they dare to give an honest opinion and bravely leave a negative review, they get shot down and attacked by the author's friends, in some cases even by the author. Because the call for reviews is secretly a call for praise.

Reality check: self-publishing is not a walk in the park.

Speaking of self-publishing: as you know, my experience with self-published books has been catastrophic, so I don't blame any reader who tries and deletes, walking away in silence. I honestly think that many authors would be devastated if they knew what their readers really think. Many authors seem to believe that their offerings are exactly what readers have been waiting for, brainwashed by the success of Hocking, Locke and E.L. James, but those success stories are rare.
Don't get me wrong, I'm in this, too, you know? I had over 4k downloads during my trial with the KPD Select programme, and I didn't get any reviews. Probably for the same reasons: I didn't touch the readers, those of them who read the books. Taste is subjective and if it didn't impress them enough to recommend it to their friends, then there's nothing I can do other than continue to write. I've had people tell me in person, via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and even the Amazon forum that they loved my books, but they didn't leave a review. Did I ask them straight away to do it? No. It's their choice. I said thank you so much and grinned like an idiot for most of the day.
Imagine you walk into a book shop, and at the till you are told to leave feedback, buy another book by the author if you liked it and please share your opinions. You'd probably be pretty gobsmacked, wouldn't you?

Guilt-tripping a reader into a review, recommending your book or else insults a person's intelligence. Leave the reader be; stop blaming everyone around you when your book isn't a success. Start looking at your writing.


  1. I agree with you completely Stella. These incessant cries (read scams) for reviews is a new beast that is corrupting both self publishing and traditional publisher authors.

    I'm sure you would be aware of certain publishers that are now encouraging their contracted authors to post reviews on popular Amazon self published titles to gain exposure and reviews for their own books. While calling the kettle black?

    I have been a reader for a very long time, and until the last couple of years, did I ever write a book review? Was I asked to write one? Never. Reviews were written by professional critics and journalists.

    So what can we expect now that we have a million amateur writers? Very amateur and crude means of garnering amateur book reviews.

    Just to add to our mutual dislike for this new wave of book review scams, there is also a tidal wave of book bloggers now clamouring for Adsense and Amazon Associates revenue from their blogs. At the rate of posting by many of these bloggers, I would estimate they read 6 books a day. FAst readers huh?

    Then there are the sites that are springing up by the day that are posting Free Kindle Ebooks. Another lucrative Amazon Associates income stream.

    So many riding on the coat tails of authors.

    The world has gone mad.

    But just as a postscript, I have had some great and totally unsolicited reviews for books I have promoted with KDP. So there is some honesty out there.

    1. Hi, Derek

      I've heard of publishes (Indie press) who encourage their authors to buy and review books of the same publisher. Their authors review each other to reach a certain amount of positive reviews. Just for marketing purposes. It's not illegal, but it's wrong in my books. Plenty of 5-star-reviews until the 'real' reader comes along, disappointed and feeling he's been tricked. Not good.

      As for the Adsense and Amazon Associates... No idea what that means, I'm afraid. But I heard of authors paying for favourable reviews. Guess it's a case of 'give someone the opportunity and they'll take it'.

      I know there is honesty out there, not saying there isn't. :-) Brilliant that you got some reviews. I've had my books in the programme for 90 days and I won't do that again. Had the odd sale, but that's it. Fine by me. Next book may struck a chord, who knows?

  2. It's always about a book striking a chord Stella. My own favourite book I've written is my very worst seller. So much for my taste huh?

    But for KDP, I was nearly ready to get out about six months ago but thought I would persevere, and learn a bit more. It's paid off. My sales are increasing every month now. But having 12 titles available let's me rotate them and the spin off from one book promotion leads to sales of other titles.

    1. My own favourite book hasn't been published yet. It's coming out by end of this year, depending on how the rewrites go and it won't be a bestseller either.

      I really thought that the Branded series would be a hit. Shows how wrong one can be. But I don't blame anyone else for it. It's like looking in the mirror and thinking: I'm beautiful, then walk out of the house and everyone ignores you and instead goes for that girl sitting at the other table.

      With only three books and only two in a series, it doesn't make sense for me to enroll again.

  3. Hi Stella, Derek can tell you, I had one of the reviews he was talking about a couple of days back. It turned out the reviewer in question hadn't even read the book in question. He just did what his publisher told him and left a hyperlink to his own book.An example of yet another establishment publisher using dirty tactics. :)

    1. Hi, Jack.

      Oh that. Yes, now I see what you mean. It reminds me a lot of authonomy tactics: you just place a superficial once sentence praise to a book and hope the author will return the favour, which gets you up the ranks. It's disgusting that publishers advise their authors to do that. I'd tell that publisher to go where the sun doesn't shine.

  4. Great writeup, Stella. I think a great deal of this kind of thing stems from the pressure indie authors are feeling to "create buzz", or basically manufacture success. Why? My guess would be because they lack the backing of marketing/PR departments and the army of bookstore workers who promote traditionally published books. I'd guess that leaves many to think they lack the "legitimacy" that comes with having Random House, etc. stamped on the inside of the book. Consequently, they perceive the only way to gain that legitimacy is via reviews.

    I'd never fault an author (indie or otherwise) for asking folks to leave an honest review. However, I simply cannot believe that paying for, or otherwise coercing reviews from people, would ultimately be beneficial to a career. The book still needs to be great for a reader to be inclined to purchase the next one. And that doesn't happen with reviews alone.