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text 2016-10-27 23:49
Speculation regarding Amazon's "new" product review guidelines

http://greywarden.booklikes.com/post/1488937/presenting-amazon-s-early-reviewer-program

 

Not sure whether reblogging would mess things up worse, but I didn't want to hijack the original post with a huge long reply.  Then again, that may have been the best solution.  Oh, well, I usually screw things up anyway, so what the heck.  I'll cross reference this to it just in case.

 

Disclosure I:  I do not and will not review anything on Amazon.  As an author, I'm restricted to posting only positive reviews of books like might be close to my genre, which currently means anything in the romance category, plus paranormal/fantasy and mystery/suspense.  Rather than risk losing my KDP privileges, I just don't review anything.

 

Disclosure II:  Being banned from Goodreads for daring to call out shills and unethical authors, I don't review there either.  I never had any secret accounts there and have never attempted to set up any.  I have no interest in being on a site where I can't be honest, or where the dishonest are given more credibility, visibility, and leeway than I am.

 

After reading the Amazon info that Grey Warden posted in the linked blog and the subsequent discussions there and on Obsidian Black Death's reblog, I took about an hour away from the computer and did some thinking.  Which leads to - - - - -

 

Disclosure III:  As an author re-entering the publishing arena with new material, rather than just republishing old stuff, I have ulterior motives.  I do not have the means to pay for promotion, and I'm uncomfortable doing it myself, so I have relied on occasional mentions of my work here and on Facebook, then on word of mouth (or fingers, as the case may be).  I DO NOT READ ANY OF MY REVIEWS, but I do track my sales and sales ranking, and that requires a glance at the listing for my book on Amazon.  (I do not look at Goodreads or any other site, including BL)  As of this afternoon, the book has 7 reviews and an average of something around four stars.  I'm happy.  I have no idea who reviewed it or what they wrote, but my sales and Kindle Unlimited reads have been satisfying.  I sent out exactly one free ARC; all other copies have been purchased at full retail price or borrowed through Kindle lending programs.

 

With all of that out of the way, some observations and speculations.

 

Though it's been over three years since the Amazon merger with Goodreads and the subsequent GR September Purge, my belief is that Amazon has been under some pressure -- perhaps from the FTC but perhaps internal pressure -- to clean up the review mess.  I haven't even followed this "coupon club" issue, but from what I saw today, it looks like just another venue for scamming, and Amazon already has enough of that.

 

The fake reviews, whether they come from fiverr, from indie blogger shills, from review swap groups, or from reviewers who like the freebies that come with high reviewer ranking, could only hurt Amazon's brand.  I think we all know this.  And while Amazon may be the biggest online retailer and have a huge, huge, huge share of the SPA ebook market, thousands of five-star reviews for crap products could not be good for their brand.

 

If there were threats of enforcement from the FTC, that would make it even worse.

 

So down comes the hammer on the shills on 3 October, and now, less than a month later, a new program designed/hoped to further restrict the fake reviews.

 

The key part of the Early Rewards program, in my opinion, is that the product has to be purchased from Amazon.  This prevents sellers from shipping out freebies to solicit reviews.  It does not, however, weed out the organized shills, such as on fiverr, who simply charge the price of the product so they can buy it and review it and get the "verified purchase" tag.  And in the event of fulfillment by Seller, rather than by Amazon, more shenanigans are possible.

 

If the ER program is limited to fulfillment by Amazon, that problem may be taken care of.

 

But the real problem is still being masked, and that is the issue of Amazon selling crap products.  It's not the reviews that are hurting their brand; it's the crap they're allowing to flood their marketplace.

 

A year ago, when Amazon launched their Handmade @ Amazon platform, sellers had to apply and be accepted before they could list items in the marketplace.  Once a Seller was approved, they could pretty much list just about anything within the parameters; they weren't required to have new products juried in.  Though I haven't done any research at all, I suspect there are some sellers in the H@A marketplace who are selling items that would not have passed the original vetting process.  There's nothing *I* can do about it, though Amazon should take a hand in policing it.  They probably don't and probably won't.

 

Because they're so damn greedy and want every single selling fee they can get their hands on, consumers be damned AND sellers be damned.

 

There are crafters and artisans who will not list on H@A because they don't want to deal with the policies of the customer is always right and refunds are always given to quell complaints.  This has fostered an attitude amongst sellers -- it's rampant on eBay, too -- that the customer must be satisfied at all costs to avoid any kind of negative feedback.   Some Amazon sellers are successful enough that they can afford this kind of refund-on-demand, but others can't and are intimidated by it.  This, of course, encourages the purchasing of positive reviews, and it's what has gotten everything so messed up.

 

(The review policy on Etsy.com is much more restrictive -- only persons who have purchased the item can review it, and they can only review that specific product.  The system gets gamed, but not as badly as Amazon or Goodreads.)

 

At some point, Amazon may find itself forced to restrict what products it allows independent sellers to list on the site.  Attempts to regulate reviews and reviewers may simply not be enough, because if there are sellers who are trying to game the product system in the first place, they will continue to find ways to game the review system.

 

And at some point also, Amazon may very well have to take a position on how it justifies treating books as a separate product category.

 

Why is an ARC of a book any less of a free product than a bottle of organic vitamins or a non-stick waffle iron or a solar-powered phone charger?

 

Furthermore, why is a perma-free Kindle book, downloaded 20,000 times to get 100 five-star reviews, any less an incentive?

 

And what about the incentives and solicitations listed in the books themselves, encouraging readers to leave good reviews so the author can sell more?

 

How will all of the new regulations -- not just the October 3rd memo with its requirement that the reviewer have purchased $50 worth of merchandise but this new program and any others -- affect reviews on Goodreads?  They are no less sales devices than the reviews on Amazon, and I have a feeling it wouldn't take me long to find that some of our favorite fiverr shills are still at work there.  (The last time I looked was a few months ago, and it took me about ten minutes to locate the first one and then tie it to an Amazon review.)

 

Amazon wants the best of all worlds.  They want to sell all the products all the time, but they only want legit reviews, and preferably positive ones that sell product.  They don't want the hassle of vetting the products -- or the legal liability that would come with it -- but they want all products under the Amazon brand.  I think this newest program is an attempt -- and it has both strengths and weaknesses that I can see -- to clean up a horrific mess of their own making, but without actually cleaning it up.

 

As long as Goodreads is under the Amazon umbrella, there will be just as much dishonesty there as on Amazon, and perhaps much more.  Will GR start requiring purchases from Amazon in order to review?  What about reviews for out-of-print books not for sale on Amazon, or only on sale through affiliate/independent sellers?  What about reviews of library books, borrowed from friends?  Many of these books may not even be listed on Amazon.

 

If reviews are restricted on Amazon -- which they should have been from the beginning -- because Amazon is a retail site, will authors/publishers turn to Goodreads for shilling?  Will Goodreads be able to regulate it?  Or will Goodreads have to start instituting the same kind of restrictions as on Amazon?

 

I think that down the road, this new program by Amazon is going to have a big impact on book bloggers.  If ARCs and Kindle freebies are allowed to be reviewed, then why not free products in exchange for reviews?  And if free products are not permitted, then ARC and freebies should be banned, too.

 

I can't speak for non-book products, but I do believe, in all sincerity, that without a fully independent book reviewing site, this problem is going to continue and continue and get worse long before it gets better.

 

And now I'll shut up.  At least for a while.  Long enough to fix supper.

 

 

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text 2016-07-22 20:49
Amazon (Finally) Suing Sellers Over Fake Reviews

(reblogged from MarketingLand.com)

 

 

 
amazon-orange-1920

 

One of Amazon’s most appealing features is the unbiased reviews provided to members. Unfortunately, it turns out that some sellers have taken it upon themselves to feed fake reviews to their customers-to-be. This wouldn’t be a prudent idea. Amazon is (and has been) suing those sellers that are buying positive reviews.

 

Amazon has previously sued to stop websites that sell fake Amazon reviews, along with individuals offering to write fake reviews. This latest batch of lawsuits is against the companies that buy fake reviews for their products.

 

A story from TechCrunch this week reports that three new lawsuits were brought against sellers where the fake reviews made up 30 percent to 45 percent of the overall reviews. According to TechCrunch, the defendants are Michael Abbara of California, Kurt Bauer of Pennsylvania and a Chinese company called CCBetter Direct.

 

We reached out to Amazon for comment and received the following in regard to these cases:

While we cannot comment on active litigation, we can share that since the beginning of 2015, we have sued over 1,000 defendants who offered to post fake reviews for payment. We are constantly monitoring and will take action against abusive sellers by suspending and closing their accounts and by taking further legal action. Our goal is to eliminate the incentives for sellers to engage in review abuse and shut down this ecosystem around fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation. Lawsuits are only one piece of the puzzle. We are working hard on technologies that allow us to detect and take enforcement action against perpetrators while also preventing fake reviews from ever surfacing. As always, it is important for customers to know that these remain a very small fraction of the reviews on Amazon and we introduced a review ranking system so that the most recent, helpful reviews appear first. The vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day.

The rules in this type of a case are fairly straightforward. Amazon has sellers agree to the following:

You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.

Furthermore, when sellers choose to break selling policies, they may find themselves without much recourse. The seller policies make it clear that any disputes or claims will be resolved by binding arbitration and won’t go to court and that each party waives their right to a trial.

 

So sellers take heed, if you want a good review, make sure your product/service earns it. To make sure that you are adhering to Amazon’s rules, read the full Participation Agreement in its entirety.

 

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text 2015-04-10 15:29
It boggles the mind: An update on arrogance, hypocrisy, and deceit

http://lindahilton.booklikes.com/post/977093/when-arrogance-hypocrisy-and-deceit-all-come-together-in-one-place

 

Self-publishing author Sandy Nathan, who calls reviewers stupid and tells them how to review, who buys reviews and perhaps Amazon up-votes on fiverr, is a Vine Voice preferred reviewer on Amazon.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Prayers-Heart-Year-Old/product-reviews/1499632401/ref=cm_cr_pr_btm_link_2?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=recent&reviewerType=all_reviews&formatType=all_formats&filterByStar=all_stars&pageNumber=

2

 

 

"Vine Voice" reviewers are selected by Amazon and invited into the program.  The invitation is based at least in part on the reviewer's ranking, especially on how "helpful" their reviews are.  At least that's what Amazon says; the actual process of selection remains . . . mysterious.

 

Amazon Vine invites the most trusted reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make informed purchase decisions. Amazon invites customers to become Vine Voices based on their reviewer rank, which is a reflection of the quality and helpfulness of their reviews as judged by other Amazon customers.  (http://www.amazon.com/gp/vine/help)

 

Since it's very possible Sandy Nathan was buying "helpful" votes from fiverr sellers, was she essentially buying her way into the Vine program?  (Nathan has, apparently, been a Vine Voice reviewer since 2012, so it's not likely she used fiverr votes to get into the program, but it's possible.)

 

That "Vine Voice" label, along with other marks of Amazon reviewer status such as numerical ranking, implies a certain stamp of approval by Amazon that the review and the reviewer are somehow a little more credible than the average "Kindle Customer" or other screen name chosen by the reviewer.  After all, "Vine Voice" reviewers are chosen by Amazon,  One can't apply to be a Vine Voice reviewer; there are no auditions.

 

Even if the review written isn't of a Vine product, the review still shows the reviewer's tag of "Vine Voice."

 

I found Sandy Nathan's above review quite by accident last night.  After the news of Amazon's lawsuit against a supplier of fake product reviews was announced a few days ago, I went to check on some of the fiverr reviewers I'd tagged months ago.  Many had been removed from Goodreads, but none, not a single one, had ever been removed from Amazon.  I wasn't the only person reporting them, but still, nothing happened.

 

So last night I just went to the Amazon.com page and keyed in the name of an author I knew had been buying fiverr reviews and who was himself a fiverr reviewer, Michael Beas.  You can see my Booklikes report on Mr. Beas's relationship with fiverr here.

 

The first of Mr. Beas's books to come up on Amazon was Reflections: Prayers from the heart of a 14 year old boy.  As I skimmed down through the reviews written for this book last summer and fall, I recognized a lot of the old familiar fiverr account names:  Chloe H, R. Coker, Stan Law (who bought lots and lots and lots of fiverr reviews).  I wasn't shocked to see Sandy Nathan's name, because I already knew she was affiliated with fiverr as a buyer of reviews and other stuff, and because I knew she wrote in a shall we say spiritual vein. 

 

What did surprise me, however, was that "Vine Voice" seal of Amazon approval attached to her name.

 

In the wake of the recent lawsuit filed by Amazon against a company that sold "fake" product reviews, there's been additional attention given to Amazon's own policies on reviewing.

 

Two specific policies appear to apply to the Sandy Nathan "Vine Voice" situation.  I'll address the second one first, since it's more relative to what I've already posted.

 

Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact. Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary.

 

Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are designated by a green line (which I can't personally verify because I didn't take the time to go looking for a verified Vine Voice green lined review), but all reviews by a Vine Voicer receive that tag.  How many Amazon review readers are aware of the distinction?

 

Furthermore, however, if Amazon does not permit helpful votes to be purchased, what is their mechanism for verifying that?  How is anyone supposed to know that any given reviewer -- Vine Voice or not -- has achieved their ranking via legitimate votes or via purchased votes?

 

It should be noted, also, that fiverr.com has apparently cracked down somewhat on Gigs(r) openly offering such votes for sale, whether they are "like" votes on Facebook or Twitter or other sites, as they violate the Terms of Service on those sites.  No one has any way of knowing, of course, how many such votes anyone has already purchased.  Again, it is possible that Sandy Nathan purchased the votes that put her into the Vine Program and gave her reviews the added weight of credibility.

 

But there is another part of the Amazon review guidelines that applies to this situation.

  • Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.

As an author, Sandy Nathan is not permitted by Amazon to post a negative review of a competing product.  Although Amazon used to specify that authors could not post negative reviews of other books in their own genre, the parameters were never spelled out.  Could an author of historical romances write negative reviews of contemporary romances?  Could an author of academic non-fiction write negative reviews of popular fiction? 

 

As a Vine Voice reviewer, however, Nathan is supposed to be scrupulously honest.  Well, we should all be at least reasonably honest, but for those bearing the Vine Voice tag, you would think a higher level of honesty on reviews was in order.  Of course it is quite possible that Sandy Nathan reviewed Michael Beas's because it's in the same sortof spiritual category that she writes in, but she's required by the Amazon guideline posted above to give a positive review . . . or none at all.  She can't, if she wants to abide by the review guidelines, be honest.  And yet honesty is required of Vine Voicers.

 

Amazon has filed suit against a supplier of paid, fake reviews.  It looks like maybe Amazon should either stop throwing stones from their own glass house, or sue themselves.

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text 2015-04-09 01:50
Amazon files suit against seller of fake reviews. (No, I'm not making this up.)

(Edited the title to better reflect the facts.)

 

http://www.geekwire.com/2015/amazon-files-first-ever-suit-over-fake-reviews-alleging-calif-man-sold-fraudulent-praise-for-products/

 

 

[snip]

 

Amazon has filed suit against the alleged operator of several sites that offer Amazon sellers the ability to purchase fake 4- and 5-star customer reviews of their products.

 

The suit, the first of its kind from the Seattle company, was filed in King County Superior Court against a California man, Jay Gentile, identified in Amazon’s filings as the operator of sites including buyazonreviews.com, buyamazonreviews.com, bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com. The site also targets unidentified “John Does” also believed to be involved in the scheme.

 

The case is part of a broader effort by the company to crack down on fake reviews.

 

“While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand,” the suit says. “Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews.

 

[end snip]

 

I don't have a gif for ROFLSHIAWMP.

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text 2015-01-16 03:44
Why you NEED one-star reviews. Yes, you.

(Note:  I'm posting this as a rough draft.  It's almost midnight and I'm tired, but I don't want to wait until tomorrow to post this.  If I need to revise it, I'll revise it tomorrow.)

 

 

There are over 3,500 Kindle books on my computer.  (The Kindle itself will only hold about 1,500.)  I need to start doing something with them.

 

Most of them are freebies.  I've told you before that I'm not wealthy, and I'm going to take advantage of offers of free reading material when they're made.  This means many of the books on my Kindle account are public domain classics.  Many others are author-published novels.  I make no secret of the fact that I cruise through the Amazon free listings on just about a daily basis, and although I don't download everything in my chosen genres, I do download a lot.

 

Not all the classic reprints are well formatted, and this makes them difficult to read at times.  But in most cases the writing is competent.  The stories and styles may be dated, but for the most part reviews will be based on the reviewer's personal preference and response rather than objective problems with the writing.

 

The author-published material, however, is another story altogether.  A lot of it is, to be blunt, utter crap.  These are the books that honest reviewers tend to give ratings of zero to 0.5 stars, and often express the wish that there were an even lower rating.  Another large portion of it is one step up from utter crap, in the 0.5 to 1.0 star range.  These two categories probably cover at least 90% of the author-published original fiction offered free on Amazon.  Maybe 95%.  Maybe more.

 

Why is so much of it so bad?  I suspect there are several reasons, but the primary one is that the writers have never taken the time to learn the craft.  They don't really have any clue what goes into the building of a novel (or novella, or whatever).  We know how buildings are built because we've seen them under construction.  We know how cars are made, we know how coal is mined, we know how airplanes are flown.  We watch athletes develop from a young age through their professional careers and then into retirement (and broadcasting, politics, movies, or obscurity).  All of these processes go on around us where we can see them.

 

Writing isn't like that.  It's not even llike painting or sculpting, where there's a visible progression from idea through finished work.  Writing goes straight from the brain to the page.  Or so it appears, because all we ever see is the finished product.

 

As a reviewer, as a reader, as a teacher, as a writer, I've been through the full experience and I know just how much more really goes on.  I've felt for several years, since beginning to read and then participate in the online reading and reviewing community, that many reviewers of author-published books, and almost all of those authors themselves, have completely failed to recognize the value of the one-star (or less) review.

 

It's true that writers need to develop thick skins.  They need to be able to take criticism without going into high dudgeon, without lashing at their critics and calling them names and accusing them of ulterior motives.  A critic is neither a troll nor a bully; and a book is not a baby.  But how does a writer develop this kind of immunity to the sting of criticism? 

 

By getting criticized.  I hate to say it, but there is no other way to do it.  It's painful, yes, sometimes very painful.  But there is simply no shortcut, no easy road.  You've got to gird your loins and take it.

 

If you're too sensitive, then you had damn well better not show your writing to the world.  Show it to friends and family members who will love it the way they love you, and you'll be very happy.  You won't sell many copies, and you won't get rich and famous, but you won't have to deal with the soul-crushing agony of having some total stranger tell you, "This sucks."

 

Because that total stranger is probably correct.

 

Most of us went to school as children and learned the rudiments of our native language.  We learned to read and write, and if we advanced much beyond the primary grades we achieved some reasonable level of competence in written communication.

 

And most of us never took it any further than that.  When it comes to writing a novel, however, the ability to write a coherent excuse for why your son missed school yesterday or compose a thank-you note to Aunt Agnes for the Daffy Duck dish towels she gave you for Christmas is not enough.  It's not even close.  Yes, it's just words on paper (so to speak), but it's so very much more than that.

 

Let's start with the writing itself.  The basic writing skill set that a writer needs goes way beyond just being able to string lots of words together.  They have to be the right words, and they have to be put together in the right way.  A good writer is an absolute master of the mechanics of writing.  Not just spelling.  Not just basic grammar.  All the nuances of punctuation, especially punctuating dialogue.  All the conjugations of the irregular verbs.  Proper use of pronouns and antecedents.  Making sure modifiers are in the correct place relative to whatever they're modifying.  Don't know when to use who or whom?  Which or that?  Do you know the difference between despite and in spite of?  How 'bout infer and imply?  Affect and effect?  Eminent and imminent?  Do you know how to avoid using two conditionals in the same sentence?  What about gerunds and present participles?  Can you define subjunctive?  Do you know why there's no such thing as a passive verb?  Or a passive tense?

 

If any of those give you a hard time, you've not mastered the English language.  The details may be different for different languages, but the rules are still there and you absolutely must know them.  There are no excuses and there are no short cuts.

 

I was reading a sample of an author-published novel a couple nights ago, and I was immediately struck by a major flaw in the writing mechanics.  Rather than quote the book, I'll construct something with the same flaw, because this essay isn't really a review:

Every evening after supper Jacob would go out to the workshop.  Sometimes he would just look at the blocks of oak and maple and cherry and walnut all stacked neatly on the shelves.  Sometimes he would take one or two of them down.  He would hold them in his hands, feeling the smooth grain of the maple or the rougher texture of the oak.  They would always feel good to him, strong and patient and waiting for the day when he would take the tools out of their box and start to work.  First he would sharpen the tools, and only then when he was sure they were ready, he would start to carve.

 

Do you see what's wrong with this passage?  Do you see anything wrong with this passage?   Do you know how to fix what's wrong with it?

 

Readers don't have to see anything wrong with it.  By itself, this paragraph might not attract the notice of even a critical reader, but it probably would.  And the critical reader would immediately suspect that the writer hadn't mastered the language.  Was she capable to putting together coherent sentences?  Yes.  But she hadn't mastered the language.

 

Writers must be masters.  To become a master, the writer must go through an apprenticeship.  As with any craft, that apprenticeship involves learning, and learning involves making mistakes.  The instructor will point out those mistakes, provide the instruction on the correct procedure, and the apprentice will move on. 

 

No learning can take place if the mistakes aren't pointed out, recognized, admitted to, and corrected.  If they aren't pointed out during the writer's apprenticeship period, then they won't be corrected, they'll be repeated, and they'll very likely be pointed out when the work is published.

 

And they'll be pointed out in 1-star (or less) reviews.

 

As a writer, you have a choice.  You submit your work to critics before you publish it and get feedback and fix your errors.  These critics are your critique partners, your wattpad fellows, or anyone else with whom you choose to share your work before you publish it.  You make sure that at least some of them are masters of the language, because you can't learn from instructors who don't know any more than you do.  You pay attention to what your critics tell you, and you swallow your stupid pride enough to admit they may be right.

 

Or, you write out the whole thing and publish it without any feedback, and then you rant and rave because people find flaws with it.

 

If you didn't master the language in school, you have to do so when you begin to write.  But mastering the language is only part of it.  You also have to read.

 

If you set out to write genre fiction, you'd better have read at least 100 books in that genre published no longer ago than the past five years, another 100 published in the past five to 20 years, and another 100 published more than 20 years ago.  Yes, that's 300 books.  Comic books don't count, and movies don't count.  Neither do novelizations of movies.  You need to read at least 300 novels in your chosen genre.

 

Why?  Because you will pick up certain elements of storytelling by osmosis.  If you don't absorb these elements through the reading of 300 books, it's highly unlikely you have the native talent to write.

 

Not everyone does have that talent.  Some of us can shoot 25 out of 25 baskets.  Some of us are lucky to get one out of 25.  Some of us can skate backwards; some of us can't.  Some of us have the talent to create original stories and write them into books, and some of us simply don't.  That doesn't make us bad people or stupid or anything else.  It just means we aren't writers.

 

If you don't like to read and consider 300 novels to be an unfair burden, then you're not likely to be a writer either.  Writers read.  And read.  And read. And read.

 

if you've followed my various blogs and reviews and commentary at all, you know that I am a big fan of three how-to-write resources.  In this essay I'm going to add the fourth essential text, and I seriously can't stress enough how important they are.  Two are short, two are long, and only one is hard to find.

 

The first short one is Josh Olson's essay in the Village Voice, "No, I will not read your fucking script."  The second is Shelly Lowenkopf's 1982 essay from The Writer titled "Creating the Rejection-resistant Novel."  The Lowenkopf isn't always easy to find, but it is well worth the search.

 

The third is Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print.  Larry focuses on the structure of the writing process, and it's absolutely essential to understand the process.

 

Fourth is Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey.  Chris examines the elements required to take the reader on the journey through the novel.  In order for those elements to be there for the reader, the writer has to put them there.  No one else can do it.

 

Again, if you are a writer, you have the choice to learn how to write, or you can skip it and wing it and hope to hell you got it right.  Chances are very, very, very good that you didn't.  But you made that choice, and absolutely no one should feel sorry for you if your book gets ripped to shreds upon publication.

 

The negative reviews you get are nothing more or less than the lessons you should have paid attention to when you were supposed to be learning to write.  Grammar sucks?  That's not the reviewer's fault.  It's yours.  You're the one claiming to be a writer and you can't even properly conjugate to go!  Or whatever other stupid mistake you made.  And yes, it's a stupid mistake if you write something like "James and his brother's had went to the same school as their father, their uncle's, and their grandfather."

 

What's truly disturbing to me, however, is to read the comments -- whether on Amazon, Goodreads, Booklikes, a blog, a newspaper or magazine -- from reviews who are also writers and who refuse to post negative reviews lest they hurt the author's feelings.  These are reviewers who are also writers who know the writing is bad.  Whatever skills they do or do not have, they apparently believe they have sufficient skill to recognize bad writing, but they will lie (by omission) to potential readers rather than tell the author the truth.

 

What they may not want to recognize is that they are also lying to the writer.  They are, in effect or in fact, telling her that her writing is wonderful even though they know it's not.  They are silently encouraging her to write more of the same, allowing her to make the same mistakes over and over and over even when they know she could fix them and write better.  They've condemned her to remaining a poor writer.

 

If you are one of those writers, you probably think you are just being kind to a colleague.  Wait, there's no probably about it.  I've read your comments and reviews and blog posts.  You refuse to hurt the writer's feelings because you know how much effort goes into writing a book.  You would rather lie to potential readers, lie to other writers, even lie to the writer herself, than hurt her feelings.

 

I don't call that kindness.  I call it the worst kind of cruelty, as well as cowardice and selfishness.  What you really don't want is you don't want the writer not to like you . . . and by extension your own writing.

 

Her writing sucks.  You know it.  I know it.  Instead of helping her, you're hurting her worse.  You're setting her up for further ridicule.  You're helping her deny the truth, a truth you yourself know:  Her writing sucks.  Her plot is contrived.  Her characters are shallow and inconsistent.  Her research is flimsy.  Her writing sucks.

 

Do you think that by lying to her she will in turn lie to and for you about your writing?  Why would you want someone to lie to you?  Wouldn't you want someone to tell you the truth so you can become a better writer?

 

The more I think about this -- and I've thought about it a lot over the past couple of years -- the more I've come to believe that most of the really bad writers out there know that they're bad writers and they don't care.  They don't want to be good writers, because they know it's hard work to become a good writer.  They don't want to learn grammar and spelling and punctuation.  They don't want to read and analyze 300 novels or even 30.  They don't want to write and rewrite, outline and draft.  They want to be published.  They want the fame, if not the fortune.

 

They aren't really writers at all.

 

If you are, or if you have serious aspirations to becoming a writer, you should cheer every single one of those one-star (or less) reviews.  Maybe, if there are enough of them, those writers will either quit and get out of our collective way, or they will wise up and learn their craft so they aren't bad writers any more.  Readers will benefit, and so will other writers, especially the self-publishing ones, who won't have to cringe in shame at being lumped with all the sucky writers.

 

If you are, or if you have serious aspirations to becoming a writer, you should seek out those one-star (or less) reviews, and extract every bit of criticism you can from them.  At least it's not your book being ripped to shreds this time.  Learn from someone else's pain and suffering.  Learn from their foolishness.  Learn from their stupid mistakes.

 

If you are a reader, don't be afraid to leave a one-star (or less) review.  Be honest with yourself, with other readers, with other writers, and with the writer of the sucky book.  She can't improve if she thinks she's made no mistakes.  If you owe her anything at all -- and readers really don't -- don't you at least owe her your honesty?

 

Don't you owe yourself that honesty, too?

 

I wouldn't be surprised if your answer is no.  The past few years have taught me that there are a lot of people who do not care about the truth when it comes to their writing.  They will lie, they will buy reviews, they will create sock puppet accounts to give their own books good reviews.  They will join review swap circles, they will enter contests that guarantee awards.  They will accuse their critics of lying, of jealousy, of bullying.  What they will not do is learn how to write.

 

And that's why readers need those one-star (and less) reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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