Respect Your Readers

He’s fifty shades of WHAT?

There’s often a lot of debate whether or not certain reviews should be “disputed” on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Some indie authors, still to this day, continue to argue with those that give their books low ratings. To that I say, “What are you aiming to accomplish, here? They read the book and made their decision.”

Getting a critical, or negative review is always tough the first few times, but the fact of the matter is that you want those reviews. Not only do you want them, you need them. People are less inclined to purchase something with only glowing five-star reviews because they think someone is gaming the system. By writing a critical review, that reader did you a favor.

Although… it may not feel like it at first.

Bad press is better than no press at all. A book with only one review that is two or three stars will sell more copies than a book with none at all. People are curious creatures by nature, and want to “check things out for themselves.” Sometimes, reviews that are only negative will sell lots of copies based solely on people’s curiosity. Individuals will wonder “could it really be that bad?” There are few books out there these days that are so terrible that they warrant one star. Even I have been pulled in by a book’s mass of one-star reviews that slam a book’s god-awful writing and storyline. I too wonder “Is it really that bad? I have to check this out, and if it really is that terrible, I wonder if I’ll have a good laugh at it.”

Of course, no one wants to believe or hear that their book is “laughable.” But think of it this way: those critics are encouraging you to write something better the next time around. Show them that they can read something serious and well-written from you by improving yourself.

As an author, your job is to write, stand aside, and let people discuss it without you. Some say that you should completely ignore reviews altogether and never read them. I have to disagree with that. If the majority states that your book is garbage, it’d be good to know. You need to understand where to improve on the next book, and readers will help you by explaining themselves. Just don’t argue with them. Never argue with them. Don’t even explain yourself, or your book, to them. You cannot change their opinion. It is who they are. They have a right to that opinion as a person.

I’m not only an author. I’m also a reader. From a reader’s standpoint, I trust the author not to glom on to every little thing I say. I trust the author not to follow me around on various websites and harass me. I trust the author not to take things personally. I trust an author to not suddenly turn into a psychopath and stalk me and hunt me down like I’m a trophy for their wall. Only the truly arrogant, the narcissistic, and the spiteful do things like that. If you’re about to attack a reader for whatever they say about your novel, take a moment to think about how utterly crazy you’re about to behave. Even if you’re about to say something objective, and maybe even a little positive (“Thanks for your feedback and taking the time to read my book!”), it’s seen in a negative light. It’s seen as ego-stroking. It shows the reviewer, and other readers for that matter, that you pay very close attention to what is said about you; that you aren’t just interested in improving your writing. You’re interested in proving yourself as an individual to people you’ve never met. This rubs people the wrong way. It certainly does for me.

Me and my book are the greatest things to ever happen to you, baby.

Think about why you’re planning to do this, and ask what your real motivation is. Are you trying to get them to apologize? Are you trying to keep them as a reader? Why? If they hate your book, let them go. They wouldn’t be interested in your other ones. Your writing style just might not be their cup of tea. Are you trying to show someone, a complete stranger, on the Internet, that you’re worth the time and money because you’re so spectacularly, stupendously awesome-tastic? Look, a reader wants a good story with good characters and good flow. That’s all. They don’t want to talk to who wrote it unless they’re already a friend. They want to get something worth their money. Your job is to give them something worth it.

A book is a product, and your readers are consumers. If you owned a store, and someone purchased something in it, only to return it the next day because it didn’t work for them, would you sit there and explain to them why they’re wrong? No, because that’d be insane. Your readers expect to read something that isn’t a pile of garbage. If you take the time to polish and spit-shine your work, they will appreciate it even if they don’t like the story, because it shows that you care about them. You should care about them. They’re the ones making you money. They’re the ones making you who you are.

There’s something else I’ve seen in the indie literary world regarding readers, and even as an author, it gets under my skin– because if an author ever said these things to me as a reader, I’d be more than just a little annoyed. Authors will claim that readers should be forced or obligated to review what they read.

You have no right, even as the author of the book, to tell a reader when to review your book or how to review it.

I’ve seen many indie authors say things like: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Are you kidding me? As if the ones who create that rule ever follow it themselves. You know damn well that if you bought a faulty, useless, or PoS product, you’d have something to say to those selling it to you. Your ego is not as important as those who care enough to tell other readers what they’re buying. Statistically, very few people review the things they buy on Amazon. People who buy books on Amazon are even less inclined to review them than they would other products (10% of buyers on Amazon actually review things– and the number is lower for books). There are many reasons for this.

1. They couldn’t finish the book, for some reason or other. It’s not your business why.

2. They got it free, and will never even look at it, let alone open it.

3. They completely forget to leave a review (I’m guilty of this– even when the book is really good!).

4. The book isn’t very good to them and they feel guilty giving a poor review of an indie book.

5. They don’t have the time.

6. They’re afraid a negative review will result in a scary author pointing their finger in their face and telling them how wrong they are.

So… did you like it? DID YOU LIKE IT?!

I’m sure the list goes on for reasons why readers don’t take the time to give you reviews. With those in mind, it seems pretty unfair to try to “call them out” and tell them they’re “obligated” to review the book they read. No, they aren’t obligated at all. They’re free to do whatever they wish. Just as you want to be respected as an author and person, they want to be respected as a reader and person. You cannot– I repeat– cannot tell them when or how to review something. If an author constantly hounded me for a review, I’d block them forever out of my life and never read another thing by them. They soiled my opinion of them. Instead of thinking “hm, I might buy their next book, this one isn’t bad,” I’m going to think, “What an effing psycho. If I review anything they wrote, I know they’d take it really personally, and I’m not boarding that crazy ship.”

Basically… don’t be “that guy.” There are millions of different types of people out there, and they are all wonderful for even giving your book the time of day, whether it’s worth it or not. There are shy people, outgoing people, brash people, nasty-asshole people, and if they’re buying your book, they’re welcome to it! Let them have their cake and eat it, too. Don’t focus on the things said about you or your books. Focus on writing the next one, you big ol’ fancy writer, you!

And now a serious moment to the authors out there:

I know I might make it sound like your feelings don’t matter, and that’s not true at all. Just as you have no right to attack a reviewer, a reviewer doesn’t have a right to attack you personally. Sure, they can bash your book, but that doesn’t make it okay for them to get personal with you– to call the author nasty names like “effing idiot” or “moron” or “dumb whore” or any of the awful things people on the Internet for some reason think is okay to say. If things ever get way too touchy, and a review is an obvious attack on your person and not on the book itself, Amazon will look into as abusive and will probably remove it.

In that same regard, remember that just because you’re publishing something on the Internet doesn’t mean that those anonymous souls reading your work aren’t actual people. They have feelings, just like you. Some people are spiteful, and take their rage and hurt out on others. The Internet allows them to do that. But those that are objectively critical are just trying to help out– trying to help you, and trying to help your readers. Not everyone who reads something is willing to do this. It’s important to let them speak freely.

And keep giving them more, better stuff to read!

Here is where I say: Thank you, readers, for making me someone I never would have been years ago.

And keep those beautiful printing presses turning!

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