I'm back on the couch with the heating pad, having messed up my back again. It's not nearly as bad this time as in the past, but I'm going to take it easy for at least a few hours.
Some comments on Twitter this morning got me to thinking about the whole issue of negative book reviews, and I'm not sure if I'm coming at this from the right direction. I almost dismissed my concerns until I went back and reread Debbie's comment on my earlier review here.
Lots of publicity enterprises making money generating positive reviews that illegally (on U.S. sites) don't disclose were reviewing for the publicity firm, for the author, for the publisher or as an exchange of reviews between authors or group of authors (FTC considers that a service received, I.e., payment the same as a cash fee). Always suspicious when a flurry of 4-5 star reviews are around release dates, promotions, blog tours or other events (or release date of still yet another new edition.
Yes, there are bloggers and semi-professional (getting free books) reviewers who only post positive reviews. We've been through this before. There are also the genuine consumers who leave reviews, sometimes honest, sometimes dishonest but kind. Authors, including Roger Hayden who wrote The Haunting of Saxton Mansion, often leave requests for reviews in the digital books themselves:
As an indie author, Amazon reviews can have a huge impact on my livelihood. So if you enjoyed the story please leave a review letting me and the rest of the digital world know. And if there was anything you found troubling, please email me. Your feedback helps improve my work, and allows me to continue writing stories that will promise to thrill and excite in the future. But be sure to exclude any spoilers.
I would love if you could take a second to leave a review: Click here to leave a review on Amazon!
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 8053-8059). Kindle Edition.
(I won't comment on the dangling modifier in the opening sentence of the above snippet. Oh, I guess I just did. My bad.)
Because of Amazon's policies regarding reviews by other authors -- which are actually in line with FTC restrictions, too -- some of the more knowledgeable people about the quality of the writing are not permitted to express their opinions when the quality falls short. Negative reviews all too often attract reprisals and/or retribution, and thus honesty is discouraged. A culture has developed of "If you can't leave a positive review, don't leave any at all."
In some cases, it's justified/rationalized/excused by respect for the author's effort. "Even a badly written book required the writer's time and effort. I have to respect that."
My question, however, is this: What obligation does any reader have to refrain from expressing a negative opinion? And to whom is that obligation owed?
Years ago, I noticed what appeared to be a pattern of bad behavior by one of my son's teachers. When I spoke to other parents, they agreed that her actions were problematic, but they weren't willing to make a formal complaint. They didn't want to rock the boat or risk retaliation against their children. The teacher's behavior worsened, to the point that I finally took my concerns to the principal. I presented evidence of the teacher's blatant favoritism and her constant belittling and harassment of the students who weren't her favorites. The situation reached a crisis point with the principal (of a K-5 school!) calling me a lying bitch in front of a dozen students, and the teacher exploding in a temper tantrum at me in front of her entire class and most of the students' parents. Only later did I get an acknowledgement from the principal that yes, I was right and the teacher had shown grossly unfair favoritism. The problem was going to be addressed, but it was too late for too many students.
Is there some kind of equivalency between poor teaching techniques and poor writing? Probably not. So let me take it another notch higher.
Of the more than 150 young women who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, many reported his behavior over the decades of his abuse. Decades. Those young women, some of them really only girls, were either ignored, or not believed, or dismissed. Many others didn't even know that what he was doing to them was wrong, because no one told them. Many others said nothing because they knew they wouldn't be believed. Some even kept silent because they thought they themselves were somehow to blame! University officials knew, but for their own reasons they, too, chose silence. The governing body of the gymnastics sport also maintained silence. We don't yet know who else protected themselves and their own interests through silence, while hundreds of young people suffered.
Is there some kind of equivalency between sexual abuse of children and writing a lousy book? No, of course not. But is there some kind of equivalency between the silence with which many people treat the wrongdoing that they see in front of them?
Have we all developed a habit of self-preservation through silence?
"First they came for the _______________, but I said nothing because I was not a _______________."
When a book is badly written, when it has numerous typographical errors and misspellings and grammatical mistakes and factual inaccuracies, when it has gaping plot holes and character inconsistencies and logical impossibilities, what do we accomplish with our silence? Have we given that author an "A for Effort" trophy without even knowing if she/he made a sincere effort rather than just slapping something together and putting a 99-cent price tag on it? Are we just giving ourselves the protection of not having to say something bad about someone who has, essentially, done a bad thing?
If you've read through all this so far, I have something to add regarding the book that started it, The Haunting of Saxton Mansion as assembled in the collection Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset.
I had no intention of reading any more of either Roger Hayden's contribution or any of the other three stories in the set, but I did want to see if Hayden had included a request for reviews at the end of his section. As I skimmed through the Kindle pages, a few odd words caught my eye here and there, enough that curiosity prompted me to stop and read.
The Haunting of Saxton Mansion is composed of three "books." As I posted in my review of Book 0, the setting of the mansion itself is not logical and there are errors of fact (the Dom Perignon stuff), along with a lot of generic writing flubs.
But Book 0 opens with Gerald Saxton arriving home; Book 1 opens similarly, but some of the details have changed!
Cypress Creek, Florida
December 22, 1982
The fireplace crackled, casting dancing shadows on the wall. The tree in the corner filled the living room with a scent of fresh pine. Lights of green, red, blue, and orange were wrapped from its top to the base, along with silver tinsel and ornaments hanging from the branches. Christmas music played lightly from the stereo. An open bottle of red wine rested atop the coffee table near the black leather sofa where Gerald Saxton and his wife, Annette, sat, glasses in hand.
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2291-2296). Kindle Edition.
Same date as Book 0, same location, same characters. Okay, so the details regarding the Dom Perignon aren't there, and we've got a more generic red wine, but something didn't feel right as I skimmed across the Kindle pages.
Gerald had purchased their two-story three-bedroom, two-bath Victorian dream house from his father four years prior.
The gated property had a courtyard and fountain, a two-car garage, a large front deck, and even a tennis court. There wasn't a house quite like it for miles--and it was the only home on the narrow dead-end road known as Pennington Drive. Gerald and Annette loved their house and had spared no expense on renovations. The upkeep was, and would always be, a challenge, but that was to be expected with a house over twenty years old.
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2299-2303). Kindle Edition.
What the hell? The details are different! Now the house is over twenty years old, not twelve! Is Book 1 a revision of Book 0, or what?
Out of a curiosity that was now spiked with anger, I skipped ahead to Book 2.
Cypress Creek, Florida
December 23, 1982
It was past midnight. The lights were on in the Saxton mansion, an isolated estate at the end of a dead-end street. Shadowed flames from the fireplace danced against the living room wall. Outside, a black BMW sat parked next to the courtyard fountain, where water calmly flowed. A tennis court lay on the left side of the house under heavy shadow, its iron fence barely visible. A two-car garage sat housed on the other side, connected to a long driveway that ran down through the gated entrance.
There was no home quite like the Saxton mansion in the entire neighborhood. Isolated as it was, few ever ventured down Pennington Drive to see it. That night, danger was brewing inside, though nothing looked unusual from outside the gate. It was just another quiet evening in the small town of Cypress Creek, where an evil had descended upon the Saxton family.
The mansion’s elaborate Victorian architectural style included a wood exterior, arched roofs on both sides, and a tiny attic window in the center. The front porch had Christmas lights running along the railing and up the tall white columns that reached to the ceiling. The expansive front yard seemed limitless in its space, while the surrounding forest provided a sense of privacy and tranquility, shielding the mansion from view of the nearby homes that made up the neighborhood. For this reason alone, its seclusion, no one was aware of what was happening until it was too late.
That evening, the Saxtons had received two unexpected visitors. Gerald and Annette Saxton were enjoying the evening together in the living room as their children slept upstairs.
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 4679-4692). Kindle Edition.
How much of each "Book" is a reiteration of the others? Is the opening just a summary of what happened in the previous books? If so, then why are the details different? How much is a recap, and how much is new material? Does the reader need to buy/read Book 0 and Book 1, or is the whole story contained complete in Book 2? I'm not inclined to read any further to find out. How many of the "reviews" on Amazon of each book are just empty but positive blathering about a product? I don't know. (Book 2 has far fewer reviews, but it was only released earlier this month.)
As a writer who truly does put effort into each of my works, I'm appalled that reviewers hold back on bad books. As a reader in search of good material, I'm frankly disgusted by those who spew out only positives for their own benefit and thereby prove their own indifference to their audience.
The gymnasts deserved a whole lot better. Don't reviewers owe readers honesty, at a bare minimum?