Technology always changes our reality and there are inevitable growing pains that go part and parcel with any innovation. Every meaningful advance always has social consequences.
From the Gutenberg Press to the Model-T to electric lighting humans have had to adjust, shift and learn to balance great benefits with never before encountered consequences.
With the digital age? Here we go again.
As I’ve mentioned before, as early as 2004 when I was puttering around a site called Gather, I saw what social media was going to evolve into, that we were looking at likely the largest shift in communication since the Gutenberg Press. I knew even then that this was likely going to be the end of publishing as we had known it for well over a hundred years.
But I would be lying if I said I didn’t have mixed emotions.
By 2006, novelists were dying due to the predatory practices of mega-bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble (for more on why, go HERE). These businesses had made next to impossible for novelists to make a living wage. Their methods obliterated the author middle class and replaced a balanced economy with a Publishing Third World where most of the wealth was concentrated at the top with the super well-known brands.
Mid-list authors were leaving writing altogether and going back to “real” jobs like teaching. New authors were finding it increasingly difficult to “break out.”
The reason is that, to offer so many books so deeply discounted, books had a far shorter shelf life. Also, unlike say a B. Dalton, the mega stores didn’t carry backlist so a mid-list author was no longer making royalties off eight or ten or fifteen books, she was making royalties off of ONE. The backlist was pulled and essentially stuffed in storage.
The problem was that how platforms were traditionally built was by an author being able to offer multiple titles. Without multiple titles in circulation? Platforms dissolved or never formed at all.
If you were a new author, you had to hope for a proper alignment of stars and hope the book took off and made impact like a literary meteor strike. Because, if you didn’t? There was no good way to keep fan fires burning because older titles got pulled.
Enter social media….
I saw that it was now going to be possible for an emerging writer to cultivate an audience and fan base before the first book was ever published much the same way non-fiction authors could do. Additionally, authors now had a way to offer interaction and content with fans between books.
When Amazon, Smash Words, etc. entered the scene with e-books? The future got brighter. Mid-list authors who were leaving publishing in defeat now could take that backlist and put it out with new life and power this engine using social media. Not only could they build and maintain a brand and platform with social interaction on, say, Twitter or Facebook, but they were back to having those multiple titles SO critical for any brand.
Authors who’d been driven practically into poverty now were making incomes unlike anything they’d seen before.
Before sites like Amazon, writers had two choices. Legacy press or the pay-to-play vanity press. But the steep cost of vanity press acted as a sort of gatekeeper. Also, without social media, vanity press was pretty much a sure way to end up with $10,000 worth of books in our garage. This meant that 1) bad books never really made it into circulation and 2) writers had time to learn and grow and mature before their book was good enough to be accepted by a legacy press.
Granted, I am not saying everything NY accepted was great literature. Nor am I saying they didn’t reject some amazing works because of their business model. But, I think I am fairly safe saying that writers who had no plot (I mean NO plot), poor grammar and atrocious spelling likely didn’t make the cut.
So places like Amazon have been wonderful and have given us gems like Wool and The Martian and it has given new life to old series we wouldn’t have been able to buy unless we struck gold at a garage sale or used bookstore.
Even I have benefitted greatly. NY didn’t want a social media branding book. Even though they were insisting every one of their authors BE on social media, they refused to publish the manual on HOW to do it well.
Yeah, I know. Go fig. But Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World would have been impossible without self-pub and writers would have had to figure everything out the hard way.
But one of the reasons I was not fully gung-ho on self-publishing is that I also saw it was going to bring a LOT of problems. The slush pile would be dumped in the reader’s lap and it would devalue what it meant to say, “I am a published author.” And, by giving any person who’d finished a book the title of “published author” it was going to be harder and harder to correct bad writing.
You guys know I am all about writers being supportive of each other. We have a tough job and we already endure friends, family and the world knifing us, we don’t need to be doing it to each other. I have always had a policy on doing book reviews. If I can’t leave at least three stars, I don’t say anything at all.
But I am starting to have REAL internal conflict about this policy because…
Publishing is the New Participation Trophy
We are drowning in a sea of participation trophies and this is problematic not only for readers, it is devastating to the writing community. Writers who were in no way ready to be published are, but because they are “published” this makes it all but impossible to offer meaningful correction so they can actually grow.
Social media only exacerbates this. Groups of writers band together to offer “support” by reading and reviewing but one of two things is happening. Since the writer is a “friend” others might be offering good reviews that simply were not earned in order to “help.”
Or, they remain silent.
By remaining silent, the author is given no meaningful feedback on how to get any better so the author is just going to keep putting out bad books only making the problem worse.
Then because the writer now is an “author” they are far harder to correct. I have had folks who have won my 20 page critique who sent in writing so bad I could barely make it through. When I red-penned it, I got ripped on how the work was already published and had “great reviews” (All my friends and family LOVE me so you are an idiot).
Failure to Thrive
We are seeing real problems with the millennial generation, and reaping the consequences of handing out participation trophies, banning any failed grades and making teachers use blue pens for grading because “red ink hurts feelings”. We have young people who are bright and passionate and who want to change the world, but they are vastly unrealistic and virtually impossible to correct.
They are addicted to instant gratification and for being rewarded for “trying.” Because of social media, they also have the ability to surround themselves in an ideological echo chamber so anyone who challenges their beliefs or opinions can be “unfriended” and replaced with a more compliant “friend.” When they leave the university and enter the real world they are getting discouraged because creating a career is a long hard journey with lots of work and no one cares if you “tried.”
What is happening is that our intelligent and idealistic youth are suffering unprecedented rates of depression and they are giving up before they should, all because the world doesn’t match their skewed world view. We all are suffering because these kids DO have a tremendous amount to offer, but have been knee-capped by misguided benevolence.
They were not allowed to fail. And by not being allowed to fail, we stole the joy of authentic success. We devalued those who’d earned success. Failure is the best teacher. Humans are wired to learn from failure.
And while that is a whole other blog altogether, I am seeing what I feared back in 2004 happening to the writing world. The same crisis facing our millennials is devastating our writers.
We have created Generation Author Snowflake.
A title that once meant something is open to anyone with a computer. Not only does this discourage writers who did the hard work by handing rewards to those who skipped key parts, but it gives many writers a skewed sense of their abilities. Because failure has been removed from the equation, many writers keep putting out books that aren’t any better than the first bad book that really wasn’t ready to begin with.
I frequently tell writers the key to success is multiple titles (like above) but this is assuming the author is putting out quality material people want to read. Simply writing book after book with no plot or one-dimensional characters is only padding a virtual slush pile.
Additionally, benchmarks of success have been devalued. Years ago, there was a writer in my old writing group whose writing was SO horrible we felt like we were hostages, not critique partners. He never took a single suggestion even though we endured that terrible book for 18 months. When he invited me to his “book signing” at Barnes & Noble? I died a little inside. To this day a “book signing” means less because of this.
But it gets worse. Because we really don’t want to hurt feelings or suffer a backlash, those of us who might actually help a writer grow remain quiet. I recently tried to read a book that was unbelievably bad. But the author was popular, so I guess that is all that matters, right?
I really struggled.
If I wrote the scathing review the book deserved, then I am a jerk for publicly stabbing another writer (and risk tanking my brand for “being mean”). If I write an e-mail, then that would likely fall flat because so many others said the book was better than unicorn tears. But if I remain quiet, who really suffers?
One, the reader for being recommended a 5-star book that hardly earned the rating and for more reasons than simple subjective taste (no plot, repetitive words, bizarre body movements, flawed facts, etc). But the author never grows because the social media echo chamber of popularity is offering a distorted reality.
In the end, I have no good answer. I still can’t bring myself to write bad reviews but then am I contributing to Generation Author Snowflake?
I get messages from writers who have friends who published and, being a good friend, they bought and read the book then were are all, “W…T…H?”
This book is awful! Kristen, what do I do?
I got nothing. Sorry.
But this is the reason behind my post. One of the great benefits of social media is the hive mind. I am only so smart, can only have so many answers. But with you guys? Maybe we can figure out how to change things because I want to get better. I don’t want to get trolled, but I don’t want sunshine blown up my skirt, either. I want to believe I earned what I got and I don’t think I am alone.
I am so thrilled we have all the advantages of e-books and Amazon and blogs and social media. But there are some serious consequences we need to address and correct. Writers are getting discouraged and giving up. Their careers are lacking meaning and they feel like failures, much like the millennials who have corners filled with ribbons and medals they know they didn’t earn (but with no authentic feedback how to improve).
Maybe they really DO have talent, but because they have no correction it really never develops. Or, sad to say, maybe they just aren’t good writers and they need to treat writing as a hobby and stop hemorrhaging money in marketing because they lack what it takes to do this as a career.
No matter what way I look at it, this is bad. It need to change.
So what are your thoughts? Do you have writers around you who are less open to feedback because they are “published”? Do you struggle with reviews? Do you have any ideas or thoughts or suggestions? How do you handle it when a friend has a book that really wasn’t yet ready to be published? Do you find that old benchmarks mean less? Do book signings or book launches fall a bit flatter for you? Do your real successes mean less than they might have 15 years ago?
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.
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Reblogged this on authorkdrose.
Amen. I’ve found myself in the predicament of agreeing to read and review a book, and it is… not good. I hasten to add I know my own writing needs work, and I always read and at least consider all feedback/criticism I receive.
Ultimately, readers without a stake in publishing need to police the market. Writers make the best reviewers, and one hopes their endorsements are sincere, but a gold star (five, actually) from a stranger is the ultimate shot in the arm, IMHO.
This is where a pen name can come in handy. Write honest reviews under one name and publish under another! LOL.
In all seriousness, though, I don’t know the answer to this one. Social media has silenced a lot of differing oppinions because if you don’t agree with the loudest group, you get harassed or worse. Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t read 4 and 5 star reviews anymore. I look for what folks say the problems are. There’s danger in that too though. I try to really examine what a reviewer is saying. If I see a few reviews that are identical, there’s probably some sock puppetry going on. If I see several that say relatively the same thing, well, I’m more likely to listen. I think we are quickly coming to a point where reviews are totally useless.
I know what you mean about the good reviews, especially the ones that have all 5 stars. It’s sad when you can’t even trust that. I’m more likely to buy a book that has a few 4 star reviews along with detailed text on what was good AND bad.
Yes– I try and read two or three good reviews and two or three bad ones, and decide whether there are any recurring themes I should take into consideration.
I guess I’ve found this not to be a problem. I’ve found several books that were self-published that were terrific and several that were traditionally published that were bland. But I’m picky and I have friends who make great recommendations.
I have a problem with blaming the millennials for this. If you want to go with the participation trophy argument, you need to remember who started giving them out. Bad parents.
I did blame them. I said WE stole it (meaning the older generations who came up with the “bright idea” to begin with). Sadly the millennials are enduring the tough consequences 🙁 .
I always bring this up too! It seems like milennials get the bad rap–and sometimes deservedly, but the whole idea of participation medals and sheltering came from that gen’s parents.
No, y’all are dead correct. Millennials got a bad deal. No argument here.
I’ve seen this at my work. When i started at my company 10 years ago in my 20s I was one of the youngest there. Now we regularly hire college grads and they are often coming into bachelor level degree jobs with a masters because the market is still tough for a lot of new grads. They have worked and worked to achieve all these education levels and then they get into the workforce and it’s a bit of a letdown. Some of them are very motivated to climb the ladder and honestly have invigorated the company with energy and great ideas.
My friend was feeling depressed by all this and I encouraged her to invest in her outside-of-work life. My creative life is what gives me joy. I’m not looking for life satisfaction from my day job. I want a steady paycheck and healthcare. We work for a company with a solid mission and good ethics. I will take that paycheck and use my free time for my dream of being an author. I think a lot of millennials want more — they want the dream all the time, and they were raised to believe in that. Whether that was good or bad, we’ll probably all differ, but I really dislike seeing the older generation blame younger for being too idealistic. When you stop paying for your adult kids’ rent and cell phones maybe i’ll believe you!
(note: I may possibly be a disgruntled at being generationless as I land between gen X and millennial and don’t feel I fit either one!)
I agree and I think the Millennials get picked on but what they are going through really wasn’t their fault. Of course they are now adults and can choose but older generations set that up. I didn’t have kids in my 20s but I remember friends who did and me losing MY MIND over this “everyone is special” “you can do anything” “everyone is a winner” and taking away authentic critique, failure and consequences. I recall being furious because I could see what was being set for these kids. Yes, many are passionate, creative and idealistic and we need that but we really need to change how we do things because when everyone is special no one is 😉 .
I agree that there have been books I’ve purchased over the last few years that disappointed me when I found typos, misused words and even parts of sentences left out. Even blatant mistakes that turn the story or instruction into a bad read. I do remember these writers names and I don’t buy them anymore. Hopefully, the market will tell on us if we don’t put out a good product.
I am still in pj’s with sounds of heavy soft rain coming in. I read this first thing on my phone and will reread on computer tonight.
i have been inactive on my blog for over 2 years. My husband passsed, car burned up on one side, several housing changes and hospital stays and precious little time to write.
That said thrive and vibrancy pour out And, i teach The Courage to Write to homeless women, the underserved and the well healed. I have a concept about the arts in the future and will send out another response tonight. Thank you so much for this article. It was superb
I relate to this oh so much. My response to the overwhelming amount of unedited material being self-published is to take courses in editing. However I can’t do it for free, and many indie authors out there can’t afford to pay for editing, which is the other problem.
I might be able to help a few, but for the rest, I’m as lost as you are. Great article, Kristen. 🙂
I do wonder if the ultimate problem is that so many customers are out there willing to pay (at least a token amount) for any old pile of words that someone can put in front of their eyes as long as it’s theoretically a story in their favorite genre.
There was always plenty of schlock over the the years in magazines and paperback, but even the flimsiest zines had some sort of editorial control over what they’d put out. But now, if I want to take my disjointed ramblings and call it a sci-fi epic, it ends up categorized as such on Amazon, and I can promote the heck out of it to an international audience all day, every day on social media for pennies.
Maybe Amazon and other publishers will eventually be forced to do some quality control, just as the old publishing houses did, so as to not garner a reputation of publishing garbage.
Thanks for sharing, I enjoy your blog as always.
Hasn’t Kindle Unlimited now changed their rules so that authors only get paid based on how far into the book their buyers read? That seems to me to be some kind of quality control.
All great points. However, I am more concerned with the effect on the rest of us, namely “Indie-Author Stigma.” The “Author-Snowflakes” are publically producing a vast body of work that you referred to as “slush pile,” also those works garner unworthy reviews which also has a devastating effect on our own.
I believe these actions have an effect not only on the purchasing decisions of all the J.Q. Readers out there, but also on their assessment concerning the quality of an indie-authored book.
Well that was the other side of it. It IS impacting us and devaluing good work or at least making it far harder to find. Our other option is to go legacy for the status, but that can come with a serious pay cut since they have yet to update their business model where authors can be paid well.
If an author friend asks me for a review, and I honestly can’t give the work four stars or higher, I write the review and send it to them. If they want me to NOT post it, I don’t. But I don’t post something I don’t mean either.
I haven’t given less than three stars (even to horrible things I can’t even finish) since reading Kristen’s opinion about it. Of course, I always explain why I’m giving a poor rating, too. And anyone who follows my reviews understands that a five-star rating means something from me.
I haven’t seen any “payback” reviews on my writing, but I don’t know if that really means anything.
The truth is, unless those published authors are willing to listen to honest feedback from others, nothing will change. The reason I’m still trying for a traditional contract is that I want the gatekeepers there to keep me from putting my own stuff out there before it’s ready. I want to improve.
I also understand that story enjoyment is subjective. I will always state that first off in my reviews “this isn’t a genre I normally read” or “I’m not a fan of epic fantasy because.” That way, those who read on can take my perspective into consideration.
The more I learn about structure and good writing, the less tolerant I am of reading books that have weak structure and poor writing.
But I’ve had writer friends say, “Well thanks for your feedback but so many others are giving me great reviews (and I think my writing is pretty amazing…which remains unstated but since I’ve been there, I know it’s lurking), so it’s obvious this just wasn’t a good fit for you.” Rather than taking my mention of tangents, sagging middles, meaningless additions and one-dimensional or unrelatable characters to heart.
I think being honest in reviews is a must, though. Silence never changed anything.
“The more I learn about structure and good writing, the less tolerant I am of reading books that have weak structure and poor writing.”
Good! I’m not the only one, then! It’s also because I have less time on my minds these days, so anything I read has to be worth my while, unless I really like the person. That’s the quandary I’m in now; I’m reading the work of another author who has been supportive of my story, and I’m struggling because the story has a horribly pretentious writing style and I haven’t the courage to point this out.
I recently reviewed a book that was a more “literary” style than I write. The author had beta read a novel I’m polishing for submission, and had mentioned my style was more casual than she usually read. Maybe this is the same issue you see?
I have found that I’m not a fan of “literary” even if I find some amazing turns of phrase. I feel like I’m being “talked down to.” I don’t think you should be afraid to tell your friend what you think. The friend I’m talking about totally “got it” and we decided that we wouldn’t be big fans of each other’s writing (although she did enjoy my story and found it hard to put down).
This is a great article Kristen. I am totally with you that the young generation are growing up in a world where meritocracy is not only condoned, it is actually given accolades. I see this particularly in music where children with no talent and who have not practiced their pieces are allowed to perform in school concerts and the poor parents have to suffer through the whole sad affair. It is the same with writing. We are not doing the youth any favours by not giving them correction and guidance but it is really hard to go against the tide.
I’m so happy I read this post. I’m currently struggling through a story by a fellow author who is very nice and has been very supportive of my work. So I felt that we as writers need to be reciprocal and support each other. In this frame of mind, I began her story. I feel terrible in having to say this, because I know I’m not perfect as a writer, but I’m finding the writing style incredibly pretentious. It’s a historical romance fiction and even though I know the language should be antiquated, the author is badly mimicking writers of the period. I can’t bring myself to point this out in a review, although I have tried pointing out the massive overuse of ellipses and the repetitive sentence structure, but chapter after chapter comes and still I see no change in writing style. I think I’m just going to sit quietly and struggle through the rest, terrible as that sounds. If I said what I really felt, I would really regret it. Besides, I don’t want to feel as though I am making myself sound like the final authority on writing. I have no idea what else might work.
This is a real pickle – especially for you, Kristen, because you are protecting your own brand. But for the majority of us who are not quite as well-known, maybe not so much. Being much older than dirt (I’m a Boomer), I was always taught that distinction has to be earned. I was also brought up in a military household, so garnering ANY sort of praise meant that you had really worked your a** off to get it. And yet, things are very different today. Most of my staff at the day job are Millenials and they are, erm, challenging to manage to say the least. Every little task requires a pat on the head and big projects are expected to be followed by garlands and raises and maybe a parade.
My first published book was certainly not my best book, but it was the best that I was capable of at that point in my career. I worked hard at it and people seemed to enjoy it. and I’m enormously proud of the effort and act of will and courage it took to push that button. I got reviews across the spectrum and tried to take all but the “troll” review to heart and listen to what was being said, so that the following books were better. My third book is almost ready for publication and I must say that it is a better book because I listened, learned and worked even harder on this one. Shampoo, rinse and repeat, right? I expect I’ll get a mixed bag of reviews on this one too, that’s just the way that goes. The troll reviews hurt and yes, they make me cry — but I still pick myself up and carry on (after sobbing over coffee with my bestie). That’s just what grown ups do.
I guess perhaps we need to teach our fellow writers to, if you’ll pardon my language, grow a pair. My father would have said: Suck it up, soldier. If a reader doesn’t like something, chances are there are other readers out there who think the same thing but didn’t have the courage to say it. Even troll reviews might harbor some element of truth. ANYTHING you can do to make your book better, you should consider. Unless you’re just in this business for the strokes – and in that case, there are way easier things to do to get them. I kinda feel like all writers should be forced to take a class called “Learning from Critiques 101” (along with being beaten frequently with a copy of Strunk and White until they absorb it by osmosis).
So I say, go ahead. Write those reviews that are less than glittering. Point out, honestly but kindly, those glaring flaws, and if you are able, perhaps point the writer in a possible direction for fixing them. It’s not necessary to be a troll about it, but if no one corrects someone when they make a mistake, how are they ever going to learn to do it better?
If people take umbrage with the truth, then so be it. Yes, sometimes the truth hurts – but that, my friends, is real life.
Um… sorry for the novella, here. This post really struck a nerve.
No LOVE the novella and yeah it is really sticky for me since I teach writers and enjoy nurturing the new ones so it does get dicey.
Agree on the “Learning from Critiques 101”. I went to college for art and it was required as part of the grade to participate in critiques of the projects. I consider that to be the best thing I learned because it taught me how to give and receive feedback.
I so hear you. One of the problems is that good stuff is drowned, never to be heard from again. And learn. I have gotten some bad reviews that were absolutely spot-on and led to changes (after I stopped curling up in a fetal ball and eating chocolate, mind you, I may be a Boomer but I have my snowflake moments). My way of reacting is to first, cringe, and then later, look things over and say, ‘oh sh*t, they’re RIGHT. But I thought of a way I can fix this…’
Writing is learning, no matter how long you’ve been at it. And when even a bestselling author stops learning, well, we can all name names, now can’t we?
Absolutely agree! Well said!
YA twitter has had a lot of blowups over the past year where bloggers or authors have pointed out problematic themes in books (often about bad representation of minority culture or race) and then an inevitable pile-on happens where we are reminded to “keep YA kind” or in other words, only say nice things because criticism hurts feelings for people who worked hard. In a recent example, the author’s husband came online and attacked a teen blogger. Yet if nothing is said, then problematic books keep getting published and sometimes even championed by publishers. It’s all pretty messed up and I wish I had an answer for it too. I give stars to books that I truly liked, otherwise no review from me.
Romance has run into similar issues.
I’ve stopped reviewing in my own genre. It’s too easy to be accused of trying to “sink the competition” if the review is less than glowing. Or to be “playing favorites/sucking up” for good reviews. I have no answers, either. I also rarely “blurb” nonfiction books any more, unless I know the author/work personally and know it’s bound to be good. Most times when folks ask you to review, they’re looking for praise–not a critique–and once it’s published, the time for critique is passed. *shrug*
Reblogged this on Claudia Blood.
In my family we call it the ‘Just Showing Up’ Award.The only thing to do about it is treat it with the scorn it deserves. Parents who let them get away with no work, no struggle, aren’t doing their kids or themselves any favors. They need to get those rough edges worn off when they’re young, by the time they’re graduating and trying to get a job it’s too late.
I am immediately suspicious of any book that has all 5 star reviews. I read a few of the good reviews and then I read a few of the bad ones before making a purchase decision. I strive for honesty when I leave a review and it gets uncomfortable when I know the author. So far I’ve been able to keep friends and my integrity.
Thanks for the great article, Kristen. I too struggle with what to do when I read a book by an online friend and think it’s terrible. My first question is, what if I’m wrong? I’m not published yet. Do I really know enough to say the dialogue is stiff and dull and the characters unmotivated and unbelievable?
I won’t give bad reviews either, not so much because I’m worried about my author brand as because I’d feel so mean doing it. On the other hand, I won’t give five stars to a book that sucked. Given these two things, I don’t unconditionally promise honest reviews to writer friends any more. Instead I offer to read the book and post a review it if I think it’s good, or send them an email with my issues if I couldn’t honestly give a positive review. I can’t make anyone listen, but I can talk.
I question your claim that not taking criticism is largely a millennial thing, though. Many older writer are terrible at taking feedback.
Okay I am NOT picking on millennials. I am drawing a comparison about how their growth and feelings of meaning have been knee-capped by good intentions. That has filtered into ALL of our worlds. We get that millennials got a raw deal and we are going to work to repair the damage because we did REAL damage. BUT, we need to look at how that generation got screwed and make sure we aren’t making the same mistakes ALL over again.
As far as your review, YOU ARE A READER. You don’t need to be a NYTBSA to know if you liked a book 😉 .
Reblogged this on Nan Sampson – Author and commented:
Food for (really good, introspective) thought for 2017. Check out Kristen Lamb’s new blog on Generation Snowflake.
When I read reviews I start with the 2-4 star reviews. They’re often the ones most balanced. It’s an overgeneralization, but I view the 5s as family/friend reviews and the 1s as trolls.
I’ll remember 2016 as the year I found two critique partners who taught me what it is to write a novel while possessing no craft knowledge (no more partners without sampling their work). They also redefined what it is to have minimal tolerance for criticism. It manifests itself as passive-aggressive emails designed to remind you how your cruelty scared them for life (even though you softened the critique with an ocean’s worth of hand-holding because you saw the meltdown coming).
But, oh, by the way, would you mind fixing everything that’s wrong with their book?
The rule holds: if there are major issues in the first chapter it won’t get better (and you can’t unsee them for the rest of your life).
Criticism is difficult to accept, no one will debate that, but is it that difficult to understand? You accept it/dismiss it and move on. It’s a painful gift that helps you grow. Maybe you ask for clarification, but you don’t attack the person trying to help you. You also don’t devote your time to convincing the partner they’re wrong. This aspect of 2016 was more discouraging than any other.
During one of my jobs at a publisher who has now since closed, I had written for, another author asked me to read and review their work because we were publisher buddies so to speak. I read her book. I didn’t like it. I wrote up what I would say in my review and told her I would give it a 2 or 3 star (I can’t remember now) and her response was something along the lines of: If you post that review your are undermining our publisher and showing them incompetent.
I didn’t post the review- I can’t remember her exact words, but this author and I do not speak because I viewed that as a threat. The publisher was not a bad publisher, indie yes, so there were indie editors and such too which means errors are made and I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to hurt my publishers brand either. This was back in 2013. Now things aren’t much better. I struggle with giving reviews also because I want to help others. I started reviewing based on entertainment value, I don’t post under 3 stars, but one thing I had consider doing was using the 3 star to do a more critical style review. I will be trying it out in 2017 and will give the 3 star but with criticism as well. I agree that not giving out the correct star or not saying anything isn’t beneficial and even worse is if you do give it and say something that backlash is super bad with readers who adore the work or are so supportive they ‘troll’ those bad reviewers. Is it horrible then that I review under my real name and am so glad I publish under a pen name?
*Jayne Wolfe **(Summer Ross)* Website Facebook
Over the past 20 years or so, I’ve taught many (painting) students, quite a few of whom are returning students, who have spent tens of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours busy never getting better. The improvement-resistant ones are much like the writers you describe: But I got an award for this painting! But I’m in a gallery! – or as in your example, But I’m published!
Despite the most thoughtful, focused approach an instructor or coach could possibly offer, there are simply some people who really can’t open themselves to accept that something they’re doing needs to change, if they want the work to change. And there are some who just don’t have the basics in place, and for whom it’s just too late to start – here I am thinking abut grammar, vocabulary, reading, all the things you’ve discussed. Perhaps they don’t believe that the work should change at all, and are more of the mind that it is the instructor/coach/critic who needs to change. There’s no point investing more time there. But there are some people who do want to learn and have no trouble understanding that there’s a whole lot of work to do – and they make it all worthwhile.
I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying,”If you feel you can give a positive honest public review, I would love it. If you feel that you have some constructive criticism to offer, I would love to hear that directly from you, too, because I’d like my next work to be better, and you can help me with that. Here is my email, and thank you for your time.”
I love your solution.
This post resonated with me. Thanks for articulating something that I’ve been thinking.
As a millennial, I totally agree with everything you have said. I’ve met many writers my age that suffer from chronic narcissism when it comes to their work. I had one girl in my creative writing class a few years back who was convinced she was going to be as big as Harry Potter and yet her work was subpar at best. It was rife with spelling errors, had flat characters, and was, overall, totally uninteresting. When she received criticism on her work, she completely shut down and instead blamed the professor who pointed out the story’s shortcomings. I get critiques can be hard to swallow sometimes, but several people in that class didn’t seem to get that the entire point of taking creative writing was to help us better our writing skill and not, as you put it, blow sunshine up our skirts. Admitting your story has errors doesn’t make you a bad writer. Refusing to get better does.
I sympathize with your inner conflict, Kristen! I say protect your brand and maintain your policy. You can always message an author privately with your input if you want to mentor.
As far as posting a critical review when a book deserves it and the other reviews don’t reflect what’s really going on, I’d say you have no such obligation. When we readers take a chance on a book and check out the reviews, most of us already understand that fiction is subjective and the reviews may not be giving us the full picture.
Besides, Amazon (and other venues) allows us to “kick the tires” and test drive that puppy by downloading a sample. I often do that when considering a new author. That should be sufficient for prospective readers to evaluate whether the book is their cup of tea.
Hugs, and Happy New Year!
P.S. – I’m not worried about the millennials. Despite some of the issues you’ve pointed out, they have a lot going for them. They’ll figure it out. *wink*
Hey, Kristen! Love your stuff. There’s a lot of common sense on this blog, and that’s about the best compliment I can give for advice of any kind, not just writing. I was wondering if you could let me know how to join your group sprints. (I think it’s called WANA or some such?)
Hi! The home page is wanatribe.com – it’s been a while since I joined, but I imagine there are prompts to get you started with signing up. Happy New Year!
I’ll check it out. Thank you, ma’am! And a Happy New Year to you as well.
Kristen, this is a timely post and I appreciate the many dilemmas you’ve pointed out. I’m not a millennial – far older – but I’ve had lots of failure, in life, career, and writing. I used to work at one of the big bookstores. The model for publishing and showcasing books has long been to make money for the publishers, bookstores, and stockholders, way before the Internet. I suspect there is less interest in promoting good literature than in stuffing wallets. Some great books were ignored, some crappy books got hard covers, lots of decent writers are floundering.
I saw the video about the poor millennial generation getting stiffed and it’s not their fault, because the entire generation before them showed them such a flashy world. But it is their fault. It is up to adults in any field to figure out what went wrong with their early life and fix it, not whine about it.
I belong to a writing critique group and if I say some of us are published, I’m stretching the meaning of that word. Self-pubbing is not the same as traditional publishing, because anything can and does get published in the selfie world. We are a group of older writers. We give decent and often strident critiques but many of the writers refuse to listen to decent advice. So they self-pub weak books and set themselves up as writers of middle school ability. Snowflakes exist in all generations – I hope I’m not one of them.
I’ve written 3 novels. I’m not published, so no expertise here, but I listen to advice and weigh it carefully. I dislike querying but am determined to make it the focus of 2017. I suspect I will end up self-pubbing because I lack the credentials many traditional houses want, but I haven’t given up yet.
I also don’t review books I think are weak, but I’m a nobody. No one cares what I think. I respect your position not to review a book of low writing quality, but maybe you’d be doing writers and readers a favor by being honest. At least those who are turned down can surmise from your position where their baby might stand on your scale. That silence says a great deal.
Thanks as always for excellent and thoughtful articles. I learn a lot from you.
I try not to read or write reviews.
Many times I’ve been deceived into buying a book with 2 million (maybe this is a slight exaggeration) great reviews only to discover the book is awful. I also don’t write reviews for the reasons you mentioned in the post, Kristen, unless I really enjoyed the book and can give it a solid, positive 3-5 stars. For most of my book purchases I remain silent, though.
As for no longer reading reviews, having been caught in the ‘this book is crap and I’ve wasted my money’ scenario, I now determine whether to purchase a book based on three things. Real-life friend recommendations (because I can quiz then about the why and how of their book suggestion). The blurb and the preview read offered on Amazon (or the book site I’m shopping at).
As an author, I realize that reviews are imperative to the Amazon algorithm for success and that many readers go ‘Oh look, 2 mill, 5 star reviews, I’ll buy it.’ Unfortunately I don’t have loads of reviews but I know the ones I have (and yes, there are some negative reviews among them) weren’t paid for, negotiated over or traded. I don’t know what the answer is in relation to the snowflake generation but I do know something needs to be done in relation to the skewed impact of the current review process, particularly on Amazon.
I think maybe we all just need to leave the bad reviews under a fake name. I’m not saying go into stealth mode to bash an author, but use a different name than the one you write under to leave less than four start reviews.
You don’t have to be mean to give an honest review. Just say what you didn’t like. If there were things you did like, start with that.
I feel the same way about many self published (or even trad published) books. I can not, for the life of me, figure out how it is so successful. As an author in this indie world since 2010 I can tell you “popularity” carries more weight than talent. People want to be in a certain clique or fan group with authors. Readers want it. Authors want it. They use this popularity to leverage one another into success. I find it totally astounding but I also know that people really do like crappy books. There is a place for crappy books in this world and more people seem to like them than makes sense to me.
I have a lot of thoughts on trad publishing as well. I have decided that it’s not a game I want to play. You can spend hours querying agents who will not send feedback (if they send anything at all). They will tell you vampires are out of style when we all know vampires never go out of style. They have lists of rules and demands about how they want the email sent to them which makes authors break into sweat just sending a freaking email. They may be the gate keepers on grammar and plot but then again, we all know that’s not exactly true either. I gave up on that circus a long time ago. Honestly, I feel like most of the negatives in self publishing are a direct result of the gatekeepers making it so impossible to deal with.
I was in a critique group a few years back. At first it started out well but then some disturbing things started showing themselves. The authors rallied around each other and only had glowing things to say about each other. If an author got a rejection, it was because of the editor or agent. It was never the author’s fault. One particular author would always post about how hard it was to break into the big leagues and none of the editors or agents understood. THEY WERE ALL WRONG! All of them? I thought to myself. I’d read her stuff. I’d critiqued it. She was good, but she wasn’t ready for the big houses she was submitting to. When I tried to say that in a tactful round-about way I was quickly shut down by all of them in the group and I ended up leaving. I don’t want authors to tell me how great I am all the time. I want authors to tell me what I need to improve. They wanted something different. It was time to get out.
I’m having this dilemma myself. My sister-in-law published a book this year after four years of trying to sell her MS via an agent, through a publisher which edits only for grammar and style. She spent close to $4000 on a book promoter alone, not to mention her publishing costs for print runs. She narrowed down the KDP category enough, and promoted it widely enough, that it sold several copies and then the book could be labeled a “best-seller” due to its first-week sales performance.
It isn’t a *terrible* book. The grammar’s fine, the premise is actually pretty cool (it’s a middle-grade/YA sci-fi)… but there’s no conflict, so the whole thing winds up flabby and lacking any tension about whether the protags are going to make it through. Mary Sue characters abound. The aliens are benign. Chapters 2 and 4 are, in their entirety, infodumps. Thing is, when I read the advance copy in 2012, I tried to tell her about these things. She had asked for my specific reactions, but absolutely did not want to hear them. Told me before it was published, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s been changed a lot since you read it.” NOPE.
Right now on Amazon, ten months after release, it has garnered eleven reviews: one 3-star, the others 5-stars. None of those reviews are mine, and I know that SIL is wondering why. She’s hurt that I haven’t recommended it on Facebook, and linked to her FB posts, and given it rave reviews on Amazon.
AARRRRRRGH. And now she’s working on a sequel. What to do, what to do.
I couldn’t agree more, Kristen. I once had one of the best selling authors in our genre–whose stuff I haven’t been able to get past page 2 on for all the writing problems–offer me a page of unsolicited advice.
I showed my HS age son her advice and he spent half an hour picking apart why she was wrong and didn’t know what she was talking about. (And he HASN’T published a book LOL. )
She’s got the idea she’s a fabulous author because of all the glowing reviews, but her writing craft is atrocious. Nothing will convince her of it though, because of the reviews. Even worse, IMHO, she now believes she entitled to privately critique others and pass on her own brand of terrible advice. I suppose I should be glad it was private.
I’m part of the Generation Snow Flake. That being said, I haven’t self-published my original novel.
Anyway, what do you think of fanfiction? It’s a way to learn how to write a story because you’ll be playing with another authors’ creation but at the same time, it’s a way to develop a platform. Most of the time, you cannot make money off of it but now, Amazon has a program called Kindle Worlds for fanfic authors of a few fandoms so you can self-publish and make money off of your fanfic. Traditionally, it’s looked down upon but times have changed. While the majority of what was written would to go to slush pile, it also has produced a lot of NYT bestselling authors, some of which eventually become traditionally published (E.L. James, Anna Todd, Cassandra Claire).
It works a little bit differently than blogging but if you can build a platform using your fanfiction stories, you can kill two birds in one stone. You can learn how to write better (they do some workshops for writing fanfiction) and at the same time you can build your audience. You need to write regularly in order to grow your audience and interact with them. The question is how to transfer your audience to the readers that would support your actual novel.
Your post really hit a hot spot for me, Kristen. As an developmental specialist editor working with primarily first-book authors, I have found that nearly every manuscript I work on contains a story that simply isn’t fulfilled. The characters leap from scene to scene, have no logic path to their thoughts or actions, and seem to have very stilted approaches to finding ‘answers’. This trend I’m seeing seems to relate to the lack of true life learning through failures and intellect growth. The author doesn’t know the path, so can’t write an enriched story.
These manuscripts are also full of people ‘trying’ to do something. It also doesn’t seem to matter if they fail to do it, the consequences are minimal. I find myself repeating a mantra: “Trying is not an action. Doing is.” The hero doesn’t ‘try’ to reach the baby going over the waterfall in a basket. The hero leaps and swims and nearly drowns and grabs but misses and finally lunges and fingers catch the edge to avert tragedy. All that ‘doing’ is the ‘trying’ — but I’m not encountering authors writing the ‘doing’ — only ‘he tried’…
hmmmm That hot spot is apparently a bit hotter than I realized… I hope you explore this idea of younger writers and how their passion has no walls to crash against. I mean, dayum, angst and frustration and passion denied and dreams smashed and fighting for what you believe in and earning rewards based on ‘doing’ and learning that failure can make you smarter and stronger — all this and more — make up our intellect, compassion, and desire to survive.
Thanks — as always, your posts are fantastic — and usually whip me into some mild frenzy (shouts of ‘finally! someone is bringing this up! at the screen).
Great insight but sadly Snowflake Author is no particular age group, rather a point of entry; the writers of the digital age who have grown spoiled with not having to appease gatekeepers and who have been coddled lest any critic risk being labeled a troll.
As always, an excellent post. I do try to get better with each book. I try and pay attention when you or another author lets me know my work is less than stellar. (Yes, I have had one or two of your classes and received feedback.) I guess I’m saying, give the feedback, be constructive, keep it simple and polite and do your best. I’ll try to do the same.
When I joined the writers world. Was lucky enough to work hard and be able to retire earily. I could see the big changes taking place already in news in magazines and with e books, as you have said. But I have to believe better understanding is out there. I am not the youth of the millenial generation, but it often referred to my children’s age. But they would be highly offended to be compared to the discription now implied. I do see it out there and agree with your point on how unread authors are published and the down effects.
For me I did not seek family or friends unless I could count on that needed talent. I see ked a fifteen year experienced author and asked questions of all kinds of that 15 years. There are writers so full of themselves that have few books but are building a bussiness in writing and have how-to books and videos and all to tell you how to be like them or how they wrote a novel in a perimid. take my course, buy these books. You are so right if there is not the traditional for many and many more. Well, I am running the guntelett and hope to have a published book at the end of it. If traditional does not happen to work for me. I will look the amazon way.
As the big house publisher go they are putting the bussiness name on the book and the talent. Giving a book review should be* simple it is your name. First you have to be of size earned by finding great talent. Then you pic and choose. Till then you group yourself with other of similar and be the big size to pic and choose and have your back. Even in the mob of social media.
I want to write reviews but I will pick the books. It is through reviews that I pick my next read. And trust me if I bought on a raved review and it falls short. I make note and comment as to.
I am sorry of they would be offended but I am not making this up. Though not every broad stroke description applies to everyone, every area of industry is having trouble with this generation being ill-prepared. They are bright and enthusiastic and I have confidence they will figure it out. But to act as if there was not significant damage done is just not looking at reality. And frankly, that is the problem with the generation in a nutshell…being offended. If it doesn’t apply? Don’t worry about it.
But the same tactics that hobbled an entire generation are filtering into publishing with similar consequences. Writers are giving up. They are depressed. They can’t figure out why they aren’t making sales…but we have created a system where everyone is special and those who criticize risk being labeled “bullies.” The writer might have talent, but who will ever know?
Thank you for this post. I came into the self-publishing world in 2004 too. The first book I published was never the one I wanted to be my first. However, after 9/11/01 was when I started to do my research. And I then did do my due diligence for the following 7 years, through much help from friends and family. Ultimately, the first book that I did self-publish was (partly) responsible for the demise of my life as I knew it. The book, Dear Tommy, is a grief memoir, with input from friends and family alike; however, in 2008, shortly after publishing it, my whole life fell apart and crumbled around me, leaving me in a position to have to start all over by January 2009. Luckily I learned about other methods of getting books out, but your post rings very true for me. I’m gearing up to publish my next book in March of 2017 and hoping that will be realistic.
Reblogged this on North of Andover.
I’m from Poland, so we caught up with it later on, especially due to Amazon’s publishing policy in foreign languages. What I suffer from is that I can’t tell from a critical review, if it’s my book, or the reviewer is overly critical and/or has his own taste. Moreover, I think that the readers have the same problem, and any bad reivew is going to hurt my sales (which is probably not true, but really stressful). Overall people are suspicious over all books unless they are already popular. This is “a winner takes it all” situation. And I’m by no way a new writer – I’ve got three legit paper books under my belt, with a copy number in middle range, and I know that there are people who genuinely like and recommend my writing. Also, I can’t change everything people don’t like, because they, well, often contradict each other.
I’ve settled on getting feedback from my true-and-tried sources and lean heavily on my editor’s opinion – fortunately I have a good one. But if there is no bestseller, what should I do, exactly? If my older novel series can’t get published, should I hide it in the drawer, or try once more? Is it me, or the situation in the publishing industry? I can never know.
(I’m not asking for a critical review, since it’s all in Polish).
I agree, I agree. But my advice, for what it’s worth Kristen, is protect yourself and your brand first. One individual cannot change a cultural problem. Sorry. You’re good, but you’re not *that* good! 😉 Don’t leave the negative reviews – they are public and they might come back to bite you. When individual writers ask for your feedback then you can give the negatives, if there are some to give. Oh, and commentary, such as you give in this blog, is a valuable contribution to solving the problem.
Looking back, I am glad I started writing while it was either legacy publishing or vanity publishing. I went with vanity presses, and I cringe when I think of the quality of my writing in those books. I had so much to learn but didn’t realize it. (Not to say I don’t still need to learn. I’m always learning something new all the time about the complex nature of storytelling.) But I am so glad those old books were not written when KDP and Smashwords took off.
Your picture of the book with the words “Thank GOD it was before Amazon” gave me a good laugh. I think that whenever I look back on those books I paid a vanity press to publish for me. 🙂
Reblogged this on Love's Last Refuge and commented:
Kristen tells it like it is: honest, forthright and oh-so-necessary. 5*
For reviews, I’m in the “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” category. I will leave a 3 star and I’ll give my opinion to any writer who asks me. I treasure that kind of feedback. It was through the bad reviews of my books that I learned the most from. They pointed out issues, that even my publisher didn’t catch. I used these to strengthen my writing and never stop studying the craft.
My mother is an artist, who at 80, is still learning. I am the same with the writing craft. What is the purpose of pursuing art if you don’t strive to become more proficient?
Getting honest reviews and feedback is part of that craft. Without it, how would we grow? Those authors only seeking good reviews are missing out on a real learning opportunity.
I’m hoping that these types of published authors get bored with their lack of sales and just drop out of the market. As a reader, I now download the sample or read an excerpt before taking a chance on an author, even with good reviews. If you can’t trust the reviews, then you have to discover new authors the best way you can. As a writer, I know that my best book is far in front of me and plan to keep writing and learning to be able to produce that best book.
Holy cow is it bad when it’s bad. I read book that was truly awful, and had the gall to publish the review (amidst about 30 4-5 star reviews!). The author demanded I take it down, and decided to remove their review of my book (not a review exchange, but we ended up cross reading). I complied, but later went back and answered the Amazon questions and left my 2 star rating with no review. It doesn’t factor into what the reader sees, but I think Amazon takes it into consideration. Now I only review authors I don’t know, or approach them before I post. Many authors are cool, but some are downright delusional when it comes to their own writing. Not gonna lie, a bad review hurts, but if I rejected everything negative, I would never grow. I still think it’s a good idea to let authors and readers know what they’re getting into. A 5 star book that hasn’t earned it’s place tends to give indies a bad rap, and I’ve found some absolute gems. And I think readers deserve to know what they’re getting. I try to find positive things to say, no matter what, but am definitely gun shy when it comes to anything below a 3-star. Thanks for posting this!
Maybe what you need is a dragon-lady alter ego who leaves scrupulously fair and honest reviews – of whatever sort. Not so much Kristen Lamb as Kristen Hawk. The readers have a right to know. So do the writers, but if they won’t listen, that doesn’t mean it’s your job to cover for them.
Question: how do you know if your book is ready for human consumption? I don’t want to be faffing around with the WIP for years trying to endlessly improve it, but nor do I want to foist a puddle of pondscum on the unsuspecting public.
I am not thin skinned. I would prefer to get a critical evaluation so I can improve. Babying me will not make me better or make me appreciate you more. I want to read well written and interesting books. I want to write them also. I accept that I am handicapped by having spent 50 years writing governmenteze (not a real word :-)) but describes the past experience. My writing tends to be terse and I have to work to include descriptive details.
I recognize my shortcomings. I want good constructive reviews when I ask. I got that from three individuals who critiqued the first chapter of my nanowrimo book. They opened my eyes to things I missed in the three rewrites I did before submitting it. The revision is so much better.
I thank them, Kristen for blogs like this, and all of the wonderful people of write craft.
Happy New Year to all wherever you are.
Kristen, any author who wants to be handed something for nothing deserves a bad review. Those of us who want brutal honesty, so we can improve and make better sentences that congeal into novels, will be wounded for the moment but in the end will go forth and write better stories!
Your following trusts your opinion and wouldn’t subject you to the torment of calling you a big-fat-meanie-head for giving a bad review of a book that is truly bad.This is why we follow you! We respect your opinion.
Also, I look at reviews as a whole, not a single persons’s opinion. If there are several reviews that say similar things, I tend to believe there might be something to it.
However, I’ve read books I thought were awful, only to find reviews on Goodreads that proclaim the book is amazing.
In the end we all have to remember, our novels won’t be for everyone, but they may be for someone.
Devil’s advocate – does quality matter? Let’s draw analogy to wine – to connoisseurs, a $500 bottle of wine is both delectable and makes most other wines taste like a mix of mouthwash and horse urine by comparison, but they’ve spent years or decades refining their palate. Most of the rest of us plebs are perfectly happy with a $12 bottle of whatever is on sale at the supermarket.
I don’t mean to suggest plot holes and flat characters aren’t real flaws, but let’s face it, in writing as in just about every other consumable product in our society, there is ample evidence that the vast majority of the populace enjoys gas station wine, fast-food, Michael Bay movies, and Twilight.
But the abundance of low-quality fare does not mean that there are no highly-regarded vintners, chefs, directors, or authors anymore, and even the most boorish among us can recognize the difference between an expertly prepared duck breast and McDonald’s Fried We-Promise-It’s-At-Least-Some-Species-Of-Bird-wich.
The prior gatekeepers meant that prior generations had to spend time refining their wine-making, but now the gates have fallen and they find themselves awash in cheap plonk. The ecosystem has changed, but the existence of swill does not prevent the existence of excellence.
I would like nothing more than to become the person everyone can depend on to honestly tear a book to pieces. Heck I do it to society all the time!
Problem being, I would have to read them right? Hmmm… 🙂
Great points. Oddly, I just watched a dude explaining the gen millen crisis. Why do they think we are accusing them of something, when it is a fear we hold for them?
It is amazing how passionate, driven, tolerant, creative, etc these youth are… it is the lack of patience, and satisfaction and purpose that is a sad aspect agrivated by the world they face now where EVERYTHING is devalued from being made equal, whether it is or not.
I have an idea who to blame, and its not them… but somehow I do so hope we can encourage them to break out of where they have been placed.
I think they will actually! For those with enough stamina…
(oh, I only have one chapter written, and then decided I still had everything there is to learn about writing, to learn! Much like a surgeon in their first trimester of study.Years, I say, years! ;)So nevermind me in your draw… or if I win… can I give it too an author friend?? )
You just captured all the thoughts that have been rummaging around in my head the past few weeks/months, which has saved me the time of writing it down. I’ll just link to your post. Thanks!
As a writer, I’ve worked for decades to constantly improve my writing and craft. As an editor, I’ve turned away countless clients who wanted to pay me money to edit their novel, and I had to tell them, “Save your money. Go learn to write and contact me in five years or so.” Yes, I said it more diplomatically than that. But I’m sure they either found an editor who would take their money or they just self-pubbed anyway, to the adulation of their adoring friends and family, and to the chagrin of any readers who plunked down a hard-earned 99 cents.
I love this post! For me, the issue is how to talk to someone I only know online about how I really didn’t like their new book all that much. The “can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” idea has definite problems if it leaves you with little to say. The author will sense you are avoiding the ugly stuff and possibly still be hurt.
I’ve been thinking about this lately and like the idea of writing a review that I send to the author, instead of posting it. Only I’m also thinking maybe I should just ask: would you like some feedback on your book? Because I can spend a whole lot of time trying to explain myself in a review and what’s the point if the author isn’t interested?
I’m very slow at developing relationships online and am afraid of being the bull in the china shop. I know I have insanely high standards — plenty of best sellers get set aside unfinished because they disappointed me — and I don’t know if it’s fair to hold others to them or not. I am not a professional coach or editor, so maybe I should keep my opinions to myself.
I am also thinking there are really two reviews here: what you tell other readers and what you tell the author. Those should not read the same. What readers care about is not always what writers care about. Readers care about experience, how the book performs. Writers care about the underlying structure, the nuts and bolts. Maybe we can send our insights privately to our writer friends and let them decide whether or not to pay attention.
Thank you for such a timely post. This is something I’ve been struggling with too. I really want to help and support my writer friends, both the ones I know personally and the online ones I’ve met through social media. What I’ve decided is that I don’t have the time or energy to help all of them become better writers (if they need it). I will buy indie books to help my friends financially, but that’s it. If I don’t like a book, it doesn’t get a review. I never tell writers that I’m reading their books, so if I don’t like them, they will never know. If I do like a book I’ll give it a good review (usually 4 stars, I rarely give 5). Another reason I stay silent is that sometimes an author goes online to complain about a bad review and the rest of the group jumps into the fray to insult the reviewer. The reviewer is a troll. The reviewer doesn’t know how to review. The reviewer is an idiot who doesn’t know anything. It’s brutal. It’s no wonder I’m reluctant to write a less than positive review. I don’t want to be torn to shreds because the author wrote a book I didn’t like! So I don’t sound like a terribly selfish person, I do help my author friends who I know personally. I give my time to them freely.
More hack and slash at millennials, but like many people who knock that generational group, they don’t acknowledge their own weakness. The worst books I reviewed weren’t written by millennials, but by people his generation. I’ve read horrible books by younger authors, but no greater proportion than the older folks.
I don’t agree the traditional publishing really provided a way to check quality of writing. It doesn’t. It checks for sellability. To a certain extent sellability demands quality, but not as a primary focus. Look at the technical writing skills of JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. Guess which one was rejected 16 times?
There is a problem with indie book quality, and the author of the article is most definitely part of the problem. Anyone who thinks they are doing the author or reader a favour by writing only three plus reviews is skewing the whole review system and making it all but useless. The most important things reviews do is allow authors to get marketing ads. Most readers don’t pay attention to them anymore than they write them. Part of that is they know the reviews aren’t real. Nobody has the guts to write a true honest review which is not complimentary, but if we are to revive reviews as useful tools, we need to start handing out well earning two and even one star reviews. They won’t end an author’s career.
First thanks for the comment. Then…
Please reread what I said about millennials. I didn’t bash them at all (if anything I bashed us as the parent generation). I said they are facing very real challenges that are byproducts of good intentions that backfired. Good intentions by an older generation who robbed them of a lot (namely learning from failure and experiencing the thrill of earned victory). And to not acknowledge this generation is facing big difficulties is just ignoring reality. Anyone who works in Corporate America has had the challenge of working with kids who really don’t know how to fail because the system was set to prop everyone up for trying. Unfortunately as an adult, you just get fired. What older generations did was certainly well-meaning, but it did no favors.
BUT…the same tactics that gave an entire generation serious problems to overcome (I.e. no understanding/appreciation of failure) is something that can have a far larger impact if we don’t start countering it. Digital Age Authors (like Millennials) grew up with instant everything. If you want to know about structure, Google it. Want to hear from Stephen King? Look for him on Twitter.
They didn’t have to go to libraries or conferences or hope they caught an interview with Anne Rice last night when it aired on the news. They had instant. They didn’t have to write a book on a typewriter or hand mail letters to agents and wait months to see if they were accepted. No, they could used spell check and grammar check and make their own cover and publish themselves from a computer. And while all of that is AMAZING, it has had very serious consequences on the skill and psyche of emerging authors.
And as for one or two star reviews not ruining an author’s career, that works for regular readers. But say an author like me who has a brand to protect? I give the wrong writer a one-star review and I likely could get trolled off the internet. I have seen it happen. And that is crazy since people should have a right to have an opinion without fearing a lynch mob. But because they DO fear a lynch mob, they stay quiet. Then the author doesn’t grow and the cycle repeats.
What a great post! I am part of a non-author forum and recently purchased an AWFUL $10 first book (eBook!) by a friend on the forum. It was so awful – not just from the disjointed storyline, but the formatting and the punctuation and grammatical errors as well. He has 20 5-Star Reviews (ALL WITH GUNG-HO COMMENTS!). He recently unfriended me on the forum and on FB. We are pretty close and I messaged him and asked him what happened. He laid into me and told me that I was no kind of friend because I hadn’t left a review on his book!!!!! I told him I had purchased it and I was, as an author, making notes to help him with the formatting. He called me so many nasty names, told everyone he could think of what a selfish (w)itch I am, and was so offensive I finally had to block him. Problem is – I feel bad for all the people who buy his book on the strength of the reviews! If they read the LOOK INSIDE they will be able to tell right off the bat, but what a travesty. I’ve read the comments here, and would LOVE to know how to handle this situation. Bad books written by good friends has happened more times that I can count.
This discussion resonates deeply with me. As an unpublished writer with several books in process and revision, I’ve had agents interested, then had the manuscript sent back for more revision, and I understand full well how much time and work it takes to put out “quality.” I WANT to put out quality. I have since finished an intensive editing course and done some editing for friends, only to lose one over what I can only guess was hurt feelings over my lack of effusive praise, even though I am as gentle and encouraging as I can possibly be. I once said I seldom give more than a 4-star review unless the book is exceptional, and I think that met with disapproval too. And I, too, feel caught between publishing worlds. I keep reading the work of self-pubbed acquaintances, only to find the editing (among other problems) sorely lacking, which makes me want to put the book in my rapidly increasing pile of “not good enough to finish.” I’m really sorry it is so hard to “make it” as an author, but we can’t dumb it down just to protect people’s feelings. First, writers need to read craft books. Then they need to LISTEN to feedback and really work at fixing the problems. Then, ESPECIALLY if they will self-publish, they need to pay for a good editor!! Don’t they realize the books that sell well have had several sets of professional eyes on them? Why be in such a hurry to publish your book that you send it out with high hopes only to sell a handful of copies to your friends and relatives and make nothing on it? I can only believe that people don’t know what they don’t know about their abilities. I’m really tired of the whole scene even though I love it. Kristen, thank you for bringing up this topic. It helps to know others see the problems too, and maybe someone will find a way to better the situation. ~Diana Grabau, writing as Kim Kendall
One thing that can help is getting into a professional group that does reviews and having an honest review done. I work with the Paranormal Romance Guild as a reviewer. I’ve been reviewing books for them since 2012. Most of them are around 3-4 with an outstanding occasional 5-star. I’ve had a few 2’s and 1’s, and I am not bashful about telling what is wrong. We will give the author the ability to decide whether to have a review under a 3 put up on the website. Most don’t do it, they want to rework it and resubmit. Right now, I’m serving a third term as secretary of the organization.
PRG has been around since 1999. We also have beta readers, editors, and other professional services for premium members. These are good for both new authors as well as the experienced author. I know that, as an author, I’ve gotten some great contacts as well as made some good friends in the group, people who know how to do things I’m still learning and I share what I know about things as well.
I know that there are many professional author organizations, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Science Fiction Writers Association are the big three but if you do a Google on writer’s organizations, you’ll find many more. Belonging to one that supports and teaches authors is one of the best investments you can have.
And for readers, searching out these organizations and finding out who their authors are and the reviews out there for them is a great place to find new reads that have been vetted by those who know what they are doing.
Anyway, that’s my .05 worth. Love the topic, Kristen.
I am afraid that I am very much like you. I won’t leave any review with less than 4 stars and with both 4 and 5 stars I explain what I liked about the book. I admit that I am a chicken and like chickens only want to fly low under the hazing wire of social media ostracism. However, I do appreciate constructive, but hate reviews that say I only gave this book 4 stars because the rider didn’t include any XYZ type of animals or something else that’s totally subjective to the reader .
Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
Truth or Dare
I’ve seen the attitude you describe all too often among college students and middle schoolers alike. There is a mentality of “I’m too good to listen to you.” This is a frightening protective as society has such access to free modalities of publication. I can remember reading one friend’s eBook and cringing as the story progresses without enough character development, without proper grammar, and without a real plot. I left no feedback. I would have felt too guilty for tearing this piece to shreds with my blunt honesty. What kind of world do we live in when you can’t even offer sincere and honest feedback without fear of backlash?
Another great post, Kristen. I often meant to comment about leaving reviews, but your policy was always if you couldn’t give good review, give no review. Writer support writers. I do get that, but I would rather have reviews of all types on my books, good, bad, ugly. I would read them with a critical eye to decide if they were helpful.
I have read many self published novels, often with the intention of helping a novice writer make a sale. I found some gems – wonderful stories, professionally presented. But even more often I found terrible amateur stories with weak plots and stereotyped characters. Some of them have a good story that’s buried under piles of bad writing. I feel like contacting the writer and offering advice, but fear it would be overstepping.
But I am not afraid of leaving a one or two star review, not to be mean, but to help. I would never say, “this is garbage.” I explain why the story did not work for me or that a pro editor would have helped. Then it’s up to the writer. I also leave critical reviews for well-known writers if there are discernible flaws that should have been corrected. And I find many who started out great, then churn out book after book often lose their way. Why should they not realize this fact? And yes, I admit I do not review under my own name, for the reasons you state.
And lastly, I question those who offer free copies in exchange for an honest review. What constitutes this honest review? I guess I would rather not be beholden to a writer.
Thanks for your insightful blog.
Great post! This I can agree with in so many ways. I teach writing students and it is very hard today to strike the balance of encouragement versus critique. They need critique but often can’t bear to hear it. I remember with nostalgia the writing critique groups in the back rooms of used bookstores in the 1990s, when a good day was when you left the group in tears. But more than that, I also find myself as a professional writer with twenty years experience for the first time suffering from a lack of authentic peer review. Where have the real critique groups gone? Those with serious writers and actual hardball critique? Even after all these years, I am never too good to improve but without such groups I am stumbling around in the dark with only a flashlight and a few flickering candles (the copyeditor and a some inexperienced beta readers). Experienced writers need experienced writers.
Not taking critique isn’t just a millennial problem. I used to know a writer who was probably Generation X. Hated his day job and wanted to quit and write full time. He had the productivity down for full time writer. But his stories looked the same at the beginning of the year as they did at the end of the year. He was making the same beginner mistakes. The problem was that he was getting some acceptances at non-paying magazines and got lucky with a semi-pro, and one of his critique groups happily told him, “Your stories are great.” He left the group where people were actually giving him suggestions that might have pushed him to a higher level. It was hard for that group, because we could see the potential in his writing, and all thought was that he could accomplish his dream by writing a lot and marketing.
As many have stated, I’m not sure this problem is entirely about Generation Snowflake, but it certainly has effected every aspect of my development as a writer. I am an older writer, having persued 2 other careers and two college degrees, neither of which are writing related, before I began to write.
The self-publishing-fake-review-everyone-gets-a-book has inflitrated into every cranny of this profession and its ancillary support system. From the Fiction Writing Class at my local State University, taught by a woman whose horrendous, violent, ‘abuse themed’ romance novel is easily the most dreadful work I have ever read in any genre, to the local writer’s group whose web page I find myself at about once a year, to online Writer’s Meet Ups and even the University of Iowa’s online How Writer’s Write Fiction Workshop, poor quality writing masquerades as popular entertainment, or even deep thinking, every where I look.
I can’t tell you have difficult it has been to find any kind of support system in my area, due to my desire to improve my writing skills. Reading a bit of the self pubbed works by the local writer’s group turns me back to my books on craft every time. If a group of people sitting together, face to face, can’t identify multiple uses of the passive voice in the opening paragraphs (which are supposed to shine, as we all know) of a work, what hope do I have of getting commentary on voice, structure, pacing and subplot in my own work. Oh, and yeah, I know I have terrible time with comma placement and slip into the passive at times.
I could go on and on about the horrendous self pubbed books I have read and the few I have left reviews of, but I don’t have time. Suffice it to say, that I’m still at my day job and trading reviews isn’t something I need or want to do. I have almost completely stopped reading self pubbed work. The one exception I made was in order to write a review for a start up literary mag which found me on Twitter. I submitted what I thought was a thoughtful, tough but also fair piece. I never heard back on wheter it was accepted or not, and don’t feel like paying $59 for a subscription to find out if it made the cut. I might be able to lay that at the feet of the Millennials, but probably more my fault for not following up.
Thank you for this! It so closely echoes my own sentiments on self-publishing. Yes, there are some gems, but they’re hidden–and will probably remain hidden–because the slush pile is now so very deep. (Fav line: The slush pile would be dumped in the reader’s lap and it would devalue what it meant to say, “I am a published author.”) Linked back on my blog here: http://lynnehinkey.blogspot.com/
Writing groups are good, but getting writers to critique other members correctly is uncommon and it doesn’t have to be. Critique done right is invaluable. Here are a few guidelines for critique. First , the goal is better writing. Critique is done with mutual improvements firmly in mind. Critique the work, not the person who wrote it. Don’t let drama and interpersonal differences influence critique’s goal–better writing. If you have a comment, back it up with facts and conventions. “Say Bob, your dialogue all sounds the same, why not give each character a little more individuality in their speech patterns?” Cite an example or two, just don’t tell Bob his dialogue sucks. If you don’t know a lot, focus on what you do know well, as in, if you are a good line editor do that more for your critique partners. If concept is you thing, share what you know. Don’t argue for or defend your writing. We all have blind sides so listen ( really listen!) and accept what you hear open minded then think about it without emotions. If it’s bad advice, inappropriate or mean spirited reject it but not out of hand. There may be gold inside that cow pie. Justify both ways with writing conventions and identify such gems in what others say about your work. The idea behind it isn’t about building ego, or seeking undue congratulations; it’s not about picking anyone apart however much the work may be, it’s done for the betterment of each others work. Go at it with a positive attitude bent on the goal. Use stark but genital honesty. Don’t attack. Seek repairs with joy. If that’s not happening, if the others are bummers, bail. If you can’t rise to the purpose and stand the heat (there shouldn’t be any heat.Consider if the heat comes from the boiler of your mind) go find a shrink.
One way to balance a review might be:
* Make the star ratings honest, unless you think the author or your relationship to them can’t handle that truth (if so, don’t leave the review at all). With so much weak writing out there, ratings are meaningless if we only mention the good stuff. It’s no fun being the only one to leave a two-star review, but the system NEEDS more honesty, and the sooner we all start that, the better.
* Then, besides the rating, we could make the review title and content a mix of what the book did right (or at least what it tried to do; saying this proves you paid attention enough that you’re not just a troll) and what it missed. “Standard suspense but predictable characters” is an easy enough title to write.
The hardest part might be how much effort a review deserves. A really slapdash review might never be noticed, but it’s hard (or else it’s all too easy) to take long explaining why something isn’t *worth* a reader’s time. Especially when the one with the most to gain, the author, might be one of those stubborn types who won’t listen to it.
Still, I think we ought to start giving just a minute or two for it. We say that the best gift we can give a (good) author is a review… but in a world where everything is 5 stars, the best gift we can give *readers* might be a warning sign. Who knows, the author might even realize they have some non-crazy feedback in there, and things begin to change again.
I reblogged this wonderful post and told everyone about it!
Julie Hedlund has created a wonderful online community “writer incubator” for writers and illustrators of picture books, called 12 x 12. There are different levels of participation, from newbie to committed professional. Simply offering three levels of participation invites aspiring writers to consider where they are in the development of their craft and career. The online forum also allows members to give and receive critiques on partial and full drafts, as well as cover letters and pitches. Also, members are encouraged to form online critique groups and look for each other at conferences. Best of all, the whole point of 12 x 12 is to create 12 new picture book drafts in 12 months, which means that all participants are continually working on their craft. I think 12 x 12 could be a great model for other writers that are striving to elevate their craft and support each other, as a community. Check it out!
I had no idea you tinkered around in Gather! That’s where I accidentally fell in with a group of unpublished writers who convinced me I should try it as well. I will forever be grateful for their pushiness. Several of them went on to become trad pubbed authors, and then went on to self-pub. One of them became a popular editor with an amazing blog, who has always been blessedly honest with me about my own work. It stung at first, but I got better. I try to pay back all their free support and advice and lessons by occasionally judging contests for various RWA chapters. And doing that is a real eye-opener. Out of maybe ten entries, I’m lucky to find one shining star, and one or two that have potential. The rest are seriously flawed in soooooo many ways. I try hard to offer gentle critic, to find one nice thing to say, and to focus on one or two things the writer should be working on (rather than piling on the whole litany of crap-tastic disasters in the writing). I only write reviews these days for books I actually like. Reviews are hard work and I’m not wasting my time dumping coals on somebody’s head. I wish I knew the answer on how to provide gentle guidance but there are too many folks who either wither away at the slightest criticism or go nuclear. And the friends/family/sock puppet reviews on Amazon tend to make me leery. I never buy a book these days without checking the “look inside” thing, and even then I’ve gotten some stinkers (great first chapter, then it all turns to sewage. Le sigh.) I think the best we can do is carefully curate our writing friends for those who are truly supportive and willing to both teach and learn and create our own tribes and keep an eye open for new folks coming along who have potential and could use the support and adopt them into our circles.
“I think the best we can do is carefully curate our writing friends for those who are truly supportive and willing to both teach and learn and create our own tribes and keep an eye open for new folks coming along who have potential and could use the support and adopt them into our circles.”
That is a lovely thought.
This is why I firmly believe in constructive criticism. It is unacceptable to degrade or disrespect a writer. However, writers do need to hear where their plot or (heaven forbid) grammar need help. I think writers need to learn that if they receive this response, it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean their careers are over. In fact, with digital publishing they have the opportunity to go back and redeem themselves. It bothers me when I hear the argument of not posting reviews lower than “three stars” simply for the sake of supporting one another.
Every point you make is right on target, Kristen. We need to accept the fact that there are a few good things from legacy publishing, and one of them is the system of checks and balances that didn’t allow loose cannon books on the market. Are all books published under legacy publishing good? No, of course not. But at least the grammar was acceptable.
We should be our own checks and balances. We should be willing to be honest with one another in terms of the quality of our work, and we should be happy that we have a community where the feedback is almost instant. We don’t have to wait years just to hear crickets or to get a form rejection letter. We have the respect and, most importantly, the talent pool to help one another succeed. If we’re willing to listen.
This is actually something I’ve struggled with.
Once, I was a huge proponent of Amazon and Smashwords. But after some of the worst books I’ve ever read in my life, all with glowing 5 star reviews, I became jaded.
I understand that it’s possible to have all your family and friends write great things about your book. You can even pay third parties to write glowing reviews so you go up the Amazon ranking and get to the point that Amazon starts recommending your book.
Because of this, I have stopped buying all Indie authors unless they are personally recommended to me.
Not sure what to think. I know that because of this, I’m at least going to try legacy publishing first. Not there yet, but I will be.
One thing’s for sure, though, I *love* back lists!! I find an author I like, and I’ll buy three more of her books (learned the hard way not to buy them all as some authors change dramatically). Amazon is spectacular for this. Especially as I’ve given up on B&N.
May I enquire why you’re giving up on B&N? I was thinking of using them as another outlet.
I always hated participation trophies growing up because I know I didn’t earn it. I’d go as far to say it even made me feel insulted. I rather live with losing. I’m a millennial it’s kind of true for the most part people my age are only interested in working and spending way more money than they have. I don’t know there is hope for us yet. I also haven’t published anything yet because anyone can be an author these days and I want make sure my book is really great before I publish.
I like your posts, but in my experience (and I’m a Millennial), I don’t agree with this. No one has praised me for my writing, and members of the generation under me, and my own generation have cyberbullied in the writing communities.
Honestly, I don’t think younger generations get that much praise for just writing a story, but you have seen different things than me. I’ve seen “popular” writers in all generations treat other writers online poorly, They also dismiss those writers’ stories as bad because they are not popular online.
Personally, I’m starting to feel online writing communities are overrated.
When I am referring to writers I am not singling out any age. I am saying the same “well-meaning” ideas that have given Millennials undue challenges is filtering into publishing. The whole, everything instant, publishing without earning it, getting a book signing without really having to work for it. In theory it seems nice, but it has hard consequences on all writers no matter the age.
I am sure the Millennial issue is going to be different depending on country and region and whether or not the kids are in rural or urban areas. It is a broad brush, but I can say that I see how technology is negatively impacting me in similar ways and I didn’t spend my formative years with tech.
Ah, I see, and yeah, people will always want to take the easy way out. I’ve seen some of the worst, poorly written stories online get publishing deals and millions of reads. And those writers think they are amazing, it happens.
I received a request from an author I did not know. I think he saw from my blog or from Linked-in that I was an English teacher and a writer. He asked if I would read his first book and offer some comments. I explained I was not a reader of his genre (Old West memoir). He assured me it was an interesting story. It wasn’t to me. But I plowed through most of it (scanning the last chapter) and wrote out notes about the need for better character development, redundancy, language usage. I suggested he make some serious edits to tighten the story line. I intended to go back and read the last chapter, but he emailed asking for my input. He didn’t like it and told me I shouldn’t be offering advice when I’d only scanned his book. I thought about writing back, but I knew he really wasn’t looking for constructive advice but affirmation. I am just not good at being diplomatic and would make a terrible critic, so I think I’ll stick to writing in the future. I also have had problems with blogger friends who ask me for an Amazon review of their books that could have used a lot more edits before publishing. This whole process is problematic for me and I feel reviews should be left in the hands of the people who know what they’re doing. This clamor for Amazon reviews, media and dust jacket blurbs is all about hype. It’s just one big popularity contest and I wonder who I can actually trust to give me relevant feedback on my own work in progress. This article has articulated my feelings and is much appreciated. Thanks, Kristen
Love this post.
If you are worried about what the author, and especially people other than the author, think of your review you cannot give an honest opinion. If giving an honest review damages your “brand”, then you need to a) make it a stated policy to never give reviews, or b) revise the perceived brand attributes (starting with your own perception). “Reviewerly correct” behavior damages the craft in the same way the helicopter parents have damaged the Snowflakes. Writing/publishing is the current shiny object and is being frantically hyped by hordes of book whisperers who see a quick buck in selling the smoke. We saw this same arc in the art licensing business; the good news is that, like everything, it’s a bell curve. It will end. The majority of the newbies will move on as it becomes apparent that lightning didn’t strike and they need to work long and hard on their craft to become better than average. The bad news is that the damage the unwashed masses have done to the industry and our readers will remain. It doesn’t mean the unfair and lopsided publishing industry didn’t need disruption, it did but the long term depression of earnings will be the new normal. Writers pounding out paragraphs in dark smoky bedrooms will be replaced by multi-channel producers who can also turn a good phrase. Not inherently a bad thing, look at the big names now—they are already doing it. Those of us who scrape a living off the printed page should not sit idly by and lament the losses. I love helping new writers however when the writing sucks we should tell them, constructively, why the writing sucks. Bright lights can melt the snowflakes but if you turn them off they lose the path in the darkness. The mantra for those hard lessons is “I am not here to help you feel better, I am here to help you BE better.”
Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.
Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire and commented:
Ah Kristen, you speak to my heart. It took me 9 months to write the first draft of my first novel. It took 4 years to publish and most of that was spent in rewrites, proof readers, beta readers, editors (both copy and content). In the end I have a novel I can be proud of and use all the coaching I got along the way to write an even better book 2 of the series. Like you, if I can’t give a book at least 3 stars, I don’t review it. And that leaves me frustrated and sad at times.
Hi Kristen – I think you’ve precisely hit the nail on the head. To me the issue is a pretty good demonstration of Dunning-Kruger syndrome – and without an ability to take critique on board, those stuck in that position won’t leave it. What worries me is that there is talent out there being lost. Just a few months ago I proof-edited a story for a publisher whose author was clearly struggling to write even at basic sentence and narrative execution level. Yet the idea of the story was brilliant. The author had real talent and a wonderful imagination that I felt had tremendous potential, but needed to learn how to execute it. I hope I was able to help.
And so writing is changing again – and the problem, I think, for those penning the good stuff is discovery. That is increasingly difficult at a time when everybody has much the same tools and their voices are lost in the noise. What you describe for fiction, incidentally, is also true of non-fiction – which to my mind demands exactly the same skill-set. Today there is some truly dire NF emerging, although that field always did have its share of writers whose enthusiasm for their subject overwhelmed their ability to express it.
Reblogged this on One Writer's Journey by Chris Owens and commented:
A good explanation of what’s happened in the publishing industry over the past 10-20 years and how it affects writers today.
Spot on! In my line of work (high school teacher), I see it all of the time. If you try to make a student work for their grade, then you have parents sending a bombardment of nasty emails.
I have also read a friend’s published book that was riddled with typos and timeline errors. I offered to peer edit it. He accepted my suggestions, but the book remains as he first published it. I believe Amazon is now filtering out ebooks that contain errors. Maybe it will force authors to produce better quality work. We shall see.
So it’s not just me having this feeling. So sad.
I always say that I don’t feel this is the best time to be a writer, as so many (especially indie) authors say. I do think this is one of the worst times to be a writer, for the reason you so aptly describe.
I always try to be honest, especially with friend writers, but it has indeed happened to me that I was told: “Everybody else loved it.” So I’m a jerk, right?
I try to give reasons why I think something works or doesn’t work (not why I like it or not, I try to leave my likings out of my critiques as much as possible) but yeah, sometimes I just choose to be silent, especially if I’ve seen that the author is not receptive.
Personally, I’ve learned a lot from confronting myself with fellow writers. I always suggests to take part in a critiquing group, because this has been so beneficial to me. Many don’t bother trying. I had at least one author tell me she doesn’t take part in critiquing groups because she doesn’t have time to waist reading other people and giving them advice.
I work in a small publishing house. I once had a conversation with my boss about the new publishing world. He told me, “Everybody can publish now, whether they have the preparation or not. And because professionals and non-professionals are getting to the same resoults – having a book published – people, both new authors and readers, can’t even tell the difference between a professional job and an amatourish one.”
And this, I think, it’s what is damaging all of us the most.
Oh, I get you. Wish I were a stranger to all these thoughts you related. (Ha! Wish I were an author, even!)
Just found your site and am awed that you use wp.com. That is quite encouraging, actually. I probably will try the b&m route, and if it fails, go with self. Either way is horrifically tough.
Perhaps some sort of self-authenticating would work? For instance, if several well-known authors would devote time to reading books and rating them, have a website and list good books, it would separate the good and raise them? A sort of “Good Housekeeping” seal for written products? 🙂
As a reader and an indie author, I agree, this is a real problem. I never leave a review for books anymore unless I can give them a four-star or higher, and I treasure honest feedback (scathing or not) from people I trust.
Ultimately, I think that the best way to deal is to support the authors who are putting out quality material, and ignore the authors who are churning out rubbish. Time and sales figures will separate the wheat from the chaff.
Hi Kristen. So many comments have attested to the aptness of your thoughts, so I’d like to turn the conversation a bit. How can we, as writers and readers who care about the art of the written word, support each other in the face of the problems described in your post and the subsequent comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, maybe a future blog post?
For me, the responsibility to help promote genuinely good writing falls, in part, to those of us who cherish it most. If you read a well-crafted book, one in which you can feel the care and effort poured into it, then share it. Help spread the word, so those who do write well, can get the support they need to get their feet off the ground.
I’ve thought about this many times during the two years I’ve been fine tuning my own first work. I’ve read excellent books — fantastic, well-written plots and characters — that do not have much success because, as mentioned, the stars did not align perfectly for them. So even if I get traditionally published, and the benefits that come along with that, how am I going to connect with a wide range of readers?
I know people usually read books because they know someone else enjoyed and talked about it. But without a huge established following, how can I do that? And this is where we can help each other out more. By sharing with those we know when we read quality writing.
Please, I encourage anyone to share.
Where to start? With the famous author’s minion’s best-seller containing three world-class plot holes? Or with the friend who won’t write me a review because he was once attacked with a chair by a writer? Or the “prestigious awards” competitions whose last year’s winners each suck like a fruit-bat on a mango? Or the reviewers who’ve sent me nothing after six months? Or the writer who withdrew from our coöp blog in a “rit of fealous jage” after being shown that his story hung on a huge, contrived coincidence? Or the awful S-P books given me, each word of which is like a needle in my cornea? Or the friend who proudly surprised us with his new publishing contract, emblazoned with “Publish America” across the top? Or KU’s royalty-evasion dodge that can best be described by the simile in Robert Townsend’s Up the Organization? No, I think I’ll just sit in a quiet place and eat chocolate, instead. Aargh.
Great post! Here’s my feedback.
I’ve been writing three titles over the past six years–all developing in beta stages.
My conclusion is that I must gradually broaden the base of my ‘digital social’ contributions to build a knowledge base for my approach to my writing and then be satisfied by drip, drip, drip over years once I publish–winning the big deal!? Like going to Las Vegas–the house always wins–lots of grifters with angles. It’s a gamble. Make you own game. Play honestly. The digital breadth of audience will tell the truth in time.
Me, I just keep crafting and I will know when to release. My less than two cents worth. Best in 2017 to all.
My perspective is inherently different than yours because I don’t already have a brand, and you do. My knee-jerk reaction is to be genuine and honest, but from your perspective that could run the risk of serious consequences – hateful comments, true damage to your brand, etc. (I have to think that if your brand is about being a teacher, then being known as a no-nonsense teacher might ultimately be a good thing. But, that’s not my decision to make; it’s yours.)
I studied art early in my life and the teachers were honest and not always nice. But, it was always about the work and it wasn’t personal and we either learned to have a thick skin or we got out. I studied art more recently and people were so very sensitive, which made no sense to me. If I don’t point out that the pillow you painted looks like a rock, then you won’t know that you need to fix it.
So, this leaves me with two thoughts:
1) I want to surround myself with honest people who are willing to give their time to help each other become better artists/writers
2) I believe that in an age of mediocrity, the truly great can still shine. From a business perspective it is difficult because businesses need to make money and if mediocrity sells then it’s what they will produce. However, true talent will always shine. Talented artists have always needed to surround themselves with people who were better at promoting their work than they were. That is still true and it will still work.
And, as always, thank you for everything you do. Keep up the good work.
Oh, the pain! I had a publicist contact me to review a memoir published by a noted hybrid press that does vet the titles before accepting huge wads of cash to publish them. In spite of a hunch, I did agree to do the review. I was in a double quandry. I knew people who knew the author, and I knew who edited the book. It had some major flaws. I dug deep and decided I could justify four stars. The friend who knew the author jumped on me for not giving it five. “But it had problems…” which I mentioned in the review. Maybe they think paying wads of cash to get published entitles them to great reviews.
Don’t think it’s just millenials who have these ego problems. Not so! These gals are WWII babies.
Thank goodness a noted author I know well is not asking me to review her co-authored books which seem trite and self-promoting, filled with references to the classes they teach. No way could I give work like that more than three stars.
Another time this same publicist twisted my arm to review a book that I had to put down after twenty pages. It was TRASH. “I can’t even read this book,” I said in an email. “You really don’t want me to review it.” “You’re right,” I was reluctant to represent it,” she admitted. Influence peddling is not limited to politics.
A third book from this publicist was seriously lame. “She was advised to leave out the juicy stuff.” Which she then sold separately as a Kindle Short for $.99. Grrr! I did not buy that supplement.
I no longer accept requests from publicists. I seldom review anymore. On the other hand, if a friend writes a book and my name happens to be mentioned in the Acknowledgements as someone who was helpful, I’ll still review it if I think the book rates five stars, but I’ll explain at the top that I’m not disinterested, but here’s why I’m reviewing anyway.
Nothing is simple. I love my book club where everyone reads whatever she wants. We meet once a week at the library. Yes, Once. A. Week! Some people report on two or three titles each week. That’s where I’m getting most of my recommendations, in spite of the fact that there is often disagreement about whether the book is worth reading. I know now whose tastes reflect my own.
One solution for readers (that won’t’ benefit authors too much) is to use the public library!
I feel your pain–so many writers out there reject even the smallest “suggestion,” My favorite response to poor writing is, Keep working on this I think you have a great idea here. That’s all I can offer. Like you, I didn’t get the mean gene, so that’s about as blunt as I get.
I love hearing from YOU – you always manage to tap into the ether!
I could not agree with you more WRT the watering down of the “grading/approval” game with today’s youth. I witnessed the beginning of this departure from reality while my daughter was in High School – you know, bogus subjects like Basket-weaving 101, everybody “passes”, etc. YOU GO GIRL!!
Cheers, Ron in Oz
I am a reviewer of children’s books and have been for nearly a decade. I totally understand your post and agree with you on every count. It has gotten so bad I have stopped accepting self-published books without vetting it first. Even then, crap slips in on later pages. If I say the poetry was not good (meter, rhyming, etc.) and mention how difficult writing poetry really is, I get an earful. I spend time learning craft to write, but also to review.
I cannot stand wasting time reading a book without a plot. I’ve been asked to review a “children’s book” with adult main characters and adults solving all the problems. Kids are an afterthought. And the number of message books has risen dramatically these past few years. If I take a book, and it turns out to be so bad I don’t want to read it let alone review it, the author is so offended. I have been accused of stealing the book they sent in for review.
My other pet peeve are the huge numbers of new “publishers” who release only one person’s books: theirs. Personally, I feel tricked, like these new publishers are there in name only to make reader believe the book is traditionally published. It feels fraudulent. I’m not talking about someone who built a brand and self-publishes a dozen books and counting. It is the one with one horrible book. Most readers do not know one publisher name from another and will believe a book is traditionally published if there is a publisher name in the credits.
I could go on and on, but I’ll make myself stop. I love your post Kristen. It had to be said and I thank you for having the courage to do so.
I’ve been on vacation and just now got around to reading this. It is soooo spot on. If poor writers don’t know they’re bad at it, or aren’t willing to take classes/go to critique, etc., then they’ll never get better and will keep putting out bad writing. If reviews can’t be trusted, then readers will quit trusting them and will stick with the big-5 published books, leaving all the great self-published books sitting. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should, or that what you can do is any good. Thanks for saying this out loud (or in writing), because it needed to be said.
I’ve definitely seen this mentality around and it affects me too. As a Millenial, I’ve always found it hard to be critically honest with people and other writers. I also have a strong fear of failure which can hold my writing back (though that also might just be my personality.) It’s hard for me to put my work out there because I’m afraid I’ll be told it’s no good. But I’m aware of this flaw and am slowly fighting against it. I’ve gotten real critique before and it’s completely changed how I write. I WANT to get better which means I have to want honest critique and invite it. It’s tough though, because any write my age doesn’t want to give a real critique, and they barely say anything about the writing. And it’s doubly hard because I’ve barely met one person my age who is 100% serious about writing. Gah! The writing world is a tough one to get oriented into (but I can’t give up).
I just sent a critical comment to a fanfiction writer who posted a new chapter today. I did it in a PM, not on the public comment board, and he thanked me for the valid feedback and responded to my critiques. He did use the phrase ‘in my defence’, and I hastened to point out that I wasn’t attacking him. An additional upside is that I have a new story idea of my own, if I care to use it.
I actually self-published in 2012, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but I knew in the back of my mind that I wasn’t. When I went back to read my first manuscript, I saw that it was riddled with holes, nothing made sense, and my MC was Too dumb to live. I had put that out there. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and worried that I’d shot myself in the foot.
I’ve since taken it off Amazon, Smashwords, and CreateSpace, and I’m learning about the art of writing and publishing, including the arduous editing process. Hopefully I can rectify the situation, and put out good work in the future. I’ve learned so much just in the last few months. 🙂
Reblogged this on Critique My Novel's blog for writers and commented:
Another great post from Kristen Lamb.
Here’s the important point for me: Reviews aren’t for the author, they’re for future readers.
Admittedly, I don’t have to worry about protecting my brand the way that you do—I haven’t published yet—but I can’t help feeling that I’m doing a disservice to my fellow readers if I don’t provide a counterbalance to the uncritical masses who give 5-stars to books with huge problems. Still, there are occasionally books I can’t review because I loathe them so deeply that there’s no way to express myself without being scathing and vitriolic.
Chiming in late. Behind in my reading. Two things. I also have the policy if I can’t at least say I “liked” the book (which is high praise coming from me) I say nothing at all. As agents used to say and maybe still do, “Mine is just one subjective opinion. Others may feel differently.” Second, I was part of an author cross promotion group for awhile. If I read a book I didn’t like, my alternative was to blog about it rather than post a review. That way I could pick and choose what I said and the way I said it without offending the author (who may or may not have noticed that I never posted a review). I simply can’t lie and post an enthusiastic review for a book I thought was awful.