Sunday, July 22, 2012

Indie Authors: Your Sales are Your Fault

Okay, I had a number of other blogs set to post before this one. But, I just got wind of what appears to be a huge war between select authors and some reviewers. To sum in up, there were probably some snarky reviews written, and there were probably some authors who were not happy about it. The whole thing got ridiculous. I mean, really, it's a mess. As I am not supporting the harassment that has been associated with this reviewer/author war, I am not linking to anything that would drive traffic to further this abuse.

That being said... on to what made me want to write this blog.

There have been a thousand blogs (probably) written about how to take negative reviews. But, this really has little to do with reviews and more to do with what any indie author should expect and their consequential behavior.

I was disgusted when I saw a friend of mine smeared on one of the links I clicked on. I must admit, what she said was a bit snarky... when taken out of context. But, I know her. I've had coffee with her. She is snarky, full of commentary, but completely sane and non-harassing. Her reviews are intelligently written, and she always gives a justified response for why she didn't like a book. And even most of those are accompanied by "it didn't work for me. This doesn't mean it won't work for you." I've put books on my "to-read" shelves that she didn't care for at all. And this is someone who was slandered. I'm a bit baffled.

Let's take this one step further. This reviewer has seen the first couple of chapters of my book. She wasn't impressed. Honestly, I'm thankful for that. Why? Because I know not to dare try publishing it yet!

I can almost guarantee this whole war was started by indie authors. How do I know this? Because the public relations departments at publishing houses aren't going to condone or represent this type of unabashed harassment from their authors.

What You Need To Know:
If you are an indie author, you need to be prepared to not make any money. More likely than not, you will be "in the red" due to all the costs to get a good looking, readable book. This includes money spent on editors, book cover designers, formatting, and whatever else you want to do to make your book beautiful. (Yes, I know it is possible to publish without these expenditures, but let's not get into that.)

So, before you plunge into publishing indie, you need to know that you might lose money on your book.

That's only item #1. Let's continue.

You've heard it before. I'm sure you've had plenty of readers tell you that your book is phenomenal. Then a well-known or well-followed reviewer comes along and gives you a bad review. This makes your sales drop. And for those of us who make money this way, that can be quite a challenging thing to ignore. But, you must. It's called integrity. In today's world of instant access to whomever we want, this is even more important. I have no interest in reading books by authors who have tarnished their own reputation by coarsely disagreeing with reviewers. There are plenty of books out there that are not surrounded by a shroud of sketchiness.

To those of you who only write the "good" reviews, shame on you. In a way, I somewhat appreciate it. But, in a way, you are encouraging crap to continue floating around out there. By posting a bad review, you are not dashing someone's dreams on the rocks. There are ways to post reviews that would be called "bad reviews" but are really critiques on where the author failed to perform.

Did you read that last line thoroughly? It's where authors failed to perform. So the fault is really with the author. Sometimes, this is okay! Really! How can a religious author please an atheist? How can can a YA author please the erotica reader? (Sure... I'm sure you're saying it can be done, but really most authors tend to aim to please their audience.)

I'm not telling you how to take your reviews. You can take them however you want. But, take your complaints and gripes offline and out of sight of other readers. Because, in essence, reviewers are readers and by dashing a reviewer, you are dashing your readers. This is obviously a bad idea. Your sales will surely will drop.

So, to recap point #2: Don't hate on people who took the time to read what you wrote. It comes across as being insecure or entitled. Until you are a household name, don't act that way. Most household names don't act that way, why do you think you can?

Also, authors, if these reviewers wanted to interact with you they would probably go to your blog/website/Facebook/Twitter and make contact that way.

Seriously, folks. Publishing a book does not guarantee sales, and reviewers are not really the reason why your books aren't getting sales. Truth is, most people didn't like your book enough to rave about it. It happens. Get over it. Move on, and get better.

These reviewers may end up being the indie world's version of trad pub's gatekeeper. So, in my experience, getting mad at the gatekeeper doesn't do you any good. If anything, make friends, follow their reviews and figure out what it is that they have to teach you, the author.

As a side note, I really think that this boils down to the fact that indie authors, not all, are getting self-righteous because they have finally figured out a way to say, "screw you!" to the agents and publishing houses that have had control over this industry. Well, guess what, by removing agents and publishing houses, you've only redirected the power from the highly funded marketing super engines into the hands of the readers. Authors will never hold the power... we will always be at the mercy of our readers. Don't forget that.


  1. Thanks, Ashley. I completely agree with this and want to thank you for writing it. Except for one thing. I have an issue with bloggers that write all positive reviews too but at this time with things as they are, I can't honestly blame them. I think some of them are scared to write critical reviews. If I was a blogger just coming into this community right now with things as they are, I think I might be worried about writing critical reviews too. What if an author comes after you? To the ones that write good reviews because they are afraid of dashing dreams and hurting the dreaded book "baby," well those bloggers I don't care for.

    Anyway, thanks for sticking up for me. It's a great post. I do hope indie author sales aren't affected too much, but I will tell you this. I'm not reviewing any more indie books unless I have worked with the author before. It's not worth it. I'm not risking my life or the lives of my family. But when I see an indie author sticking up for bloggers (and I have seen a good number), I'm pretty sure I will sing their praises from every rooftop.

    Hopefully we can all go back to just reading, writing, and reviewing books soon. I'm getting really sick of all of this drama.

  2. I don't review indie books for pretty much the reasons given in the comment above. I only review traditional books on my blog, and I'll occasionally review an exceptional indie book just because I enjoyed it and I want to - not because I have been asked.

    I do agree authors are too quick to blame reviewers for bad sales. If the review is fair and objective (even if the author doesn't like it) then the author is to blame for not having polished their book or their writing skills.

  3. I find most of the writers who agree with me are writers who have spent a good deal of time honing their craft and practicing humility. Practicing humility ulitimately leads to better craftsmanship.

    I understand people not wanting to review indie authors. It just sucks because it will only make it harder for people to weed out the good indie from the bad indie... thus resulting in people being discouraged from reading indie authors in general. This is extremely aggravating for the good indie authors out there.

  4. I totally agree with your post and I am an indie author. I've got a bit of dignity and I've worked in PR. I know the value of humility. Next month, I am sending Gunshot Glitter out into the world as professionally as I can afford to. Of course I am terrified of negative reviews, but I also have a massive amount of respect for constructive criticism, how else can I improve as a writer?

    It absolutely breaks my heart that there are reviewers out there who won't review self-published writers, point blank. I want my book to be treated with the respect that any debut novelist from Penguin, Canongate or Random House receives.

    I will be blogging with Duo-lit in the future to tackle that emotive issue. No one likes to be tarred with the same brush. I know I don't. But yes, totally agree that lashing out at a critic is short-sighted behaviour.

    BUT it's not only self-published writers who do it. I've seen best-selling writers do it too, many times. Social Media for their PRs must be an absolute nightmare when their charges do that!

    It's an issue all writers need to think about, irrespective of how their books are published too be honest, but yes it will affect indies more as they already more to prove than their traditionally published brethren.

    1. How many beta readers have you been through? I'm interested to know what of the above listed "expenditures" you've felt were necessary.

    2. I'm sorry I didn't mention any specific expenditures or beta readers in my comment. Have you confused me with someone else? I wouldn't discuss something like that on a blog.

    3. Yes! I'm sorry!! Lol. I should not blog so quickly after I wake up!

  5. It's so frustrating to be lumped in with individuals who cannot seem to act professionally. I am a writer. One of my books has been self-published. My agent is shopping another. My job is to work hard and provide the best stories I can into the hands of readers. Part of that process is obtaining reviews. Honest reviews.

    I can't control what a reviewer says about my work, I can only respond in an appropriate way: by thanking the reviewer for their time, regardless of the review.

    Any writer who does anything else only puts his or her career in jeopardy.

    1. Ya know, I'm in the "say thank you" ship with you. But, as I've recently been told, a lot of reviewers don't really even like that. I've been told it's kind of like a big brother type thing. While reviewers know that authors probably read the reviews, some of them don't like any reminders that they do. This kind of surprised me. But, I can respect it and I was glad that I was told. I'm sure there are reviewers that like getting "thank you's". This whole concept of whether an author should or should not say thank you is relatively new to me, and I just thought I'd pass on what reviewers have shared with me. Thanks for commenting. :)

  6. It's often not what you say, but how you choose to say it that sparks this new version of "us vs. them" on several sites. There's a way to deliver comments without being rude. It's a task I do almost every day as a book reviewer and a self-published author working in critique groups or beta reading for writers. As one of those reviewers who "only gives good reviews" I can't fathom wasting my time on crap and I've told quite a few authors I wouldn't review stuff that clearly needed work. Nothing wrong with saying, "My opinion of this right now is poor. Here are some sections you could improve."

    Two things about the latest debacle fascinate me equally; reviewers post their comments on public sites, yet are puzzled when authors as part of the reading public, see their comments and engage them. Should certain review sites start banning authors altogether to prevent interaction? On the flip side, authors offer up their work to the reading public and are stunned when some think their masterpiece is a turd. Are we so narcissistic to think if the BFF and Mom liked it, everyone else will?

    Lately, I saw a site billing itself as offering a seal of approval to self-published authors. I asked the owners what gave them the cachet to judge the merits of anyone else's work to earn this seal. While I wait for an answer, I do believe we as an indie community need to stop going "rah rah rah" for our writer friends and point out the festering turds hidden among nuggets of gold. At least before a reader / reviewer does. Otherwise, we do a disservice to everyone in the writing community.

    1. I did mention in my response the the previous comment, the reviewers are most likely aware that the authors read their reviews. But, I agree with you whole-heartedly that this should not be a problem and that most of it could be stopped if we would just stand up for what is good. Although, I am a bit unclear on what you meant when you said you are one of those who only writes "good reviews"... so are you saying instead of posting a bad review, you just directly send your criticism to the author instead of posting it on a public review forum?

  7. I love my readers and I have been very fortunate to receive good reviews. Still, I only review classic novels on my site. It's impossible to offend authors who have passed on ;)

  8. Thank you for mentioning the harsh monetary reality of self-publishing. I'm still in the red. It's going to be a long time before I break even, if ever. But I would do it all over again because my work isn't suitable for the masses, and I'm grateful for the fans and friends I've made along the way.

    So many people have this misconception about self-publishing as a get-rich-quick scheme. There's only one Amanda Hocking, and she's definitely an outlier. Again, I think it's great that you mention this. To be able to sell a product you're proud of, money has to be spent on copyediting (which I learned the hard way) and an appropriate eye-catching cover.

    I would call it a labor of love, instead.