By now, everyone should know that reviews are an Indie author's bread and butter. Readers find new books based on word-of-mouth advertising and often, the first places they go when looking for a new read include Amazon and Goodreads. They browse through the reviews, check out the book's cover, and if it looks interesting, may download a sample to their Kindles, or just buy the book. Although it's true that reviews are subjective, people put a lot into what others think of a book and many shoppers will purchase a book based on the reviews alone.
Today, many of us are connected to our favourite authors on Facebook, Twitter, or on a number of other social media platforms. We become 'friends' with these people and want to help spread the word about their upcoming books, sales, or works in progress. This is all fine and well, but there seems to be a growing trend of 'ass kissing' in the horror community lately. Readers want to stay on an author's good side and to do so, leave 5-star reviews for books that don't deserve them.
To understand why this is a bad thing, let's look at how reviews help authors.
The most obvious thing reviews do is drive sales. A book with a lot of great reviews will undoubtedly sell more copies than a book with mediocre or bad reviews. Makes sense, yeah? Sure, by giving a bad book a 5-star review, you will be helping the author sell a few more books, but in the end, all you're doing is deceiving readers.
Besides driving sales, reviews also help an author hone his craft. Well thought out critical reviews can alert the author to problems within the story. Maybe the editing was off or maybe there were formatting issues that prevented the book from displaying properly. Without the reviews that point these and other things out, how is the author supposed to fix the issues and prevent them from happening in the future? Simply put: he can't.
Let me give you an example. (Stop groaning; I'll make it short) Recently, I read and reviewed a book that I absolutely loved, but it had a few glaring editing issues. I pointed this out in the review,which is posted here on The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, and a few days later, the author contacted me to thank me for pointing out the issues. He had the book edited again and resolved the issues so that it could be as perfect as possible. That's how a professional handles constructive criticism.
I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas and decided to head over to the site to purchase some new books. (Like I need any more books, but I digress.) I checked out some new authors, then came across one whose name I recognised. The book was his latest release and I noticed overall, it had an average of only 2.5 stars, which is surprising considering most of his other titles carry at least a 4-star overall rating.
I began reading the reviews, of which over 40-percent were 1-star. Phrases like “I could not even get to 20% of the book,” “I had to re-read several sentences to see what was missing and now 12% in and I can't stand it any more,” and “Some parts I had to re-read several times before making sense of it” were common.
Now, let's compare those 40-percent to the 19-percent of 5-star reviews the book has received thus far. In many of these 'good' reviews, there was not one mention of plot holes, bad editing, or any other problems almost all the 1-star reviews mentioned.
Being the type of person I am, I downloaded the sample to have a look for myself, because I'm nosy like that. On the very first page I found sentences that didn't make sense and it only got worse as I continued reading. I made it to page 3 before I quit. I know that every writer makes mistakes and the first draft of any story is usually shit. That's why good authors hire editors to help them iron out the rough spots, proofreaders to catch anything the editor misses, and beta readers to give it one final pass. In the case of this book, it looks like the author skimped on all of these.
One of the 5-star reviews this author received was from a person who runs a somewhat popular horror Facebook page. This person gives almost anything she reads 5-stars and always fails to point out the obvious errors everyone else sees. That is ass kissing at its finest, folks and it does no one any good. Not only does this prevent the author from improving, it misleads people into purchasing a book they probably won't enjoy. But guess what? She's held on to her popularity among those authors she's 'friends' with but her integrity as a reviewer is completely gone, and I for one will not pay any attention to her reviews.
I completely understand that telling an author he made some mistakes is hard. The first author I ever did a beta/proofread for was Iain Rob Wright a few years ago. He asked his beta readers to point out grammar and spelling errors and encouraged us to let him know if there were problems with plot continuity. It was so hard for me to tell him that his writing had errors. After all, this was something he put his heart and soul into, not to mention a whole lot of time, and here I was, a little freelance writer, coming along telling him he made mistakes. Then he pointed out that it's okay to tell him he messed up and in order for the book to be the best it could be, he had to be made aware of the mistakes. Since then, I've come to understand the importance of honesty in beta reads as well as in reviews.
Sure, most authors love nothing more than to have their egos stroked at every available opportunity. (Who doesn't?) However, those who want to improve will always be willing to accept constructive criticism. Reviewers should not be afraid to give that criticism as long as they do it in a kind and helpful way. Writing a review that says, “This book sucked!” is not the way to go about it.
I know some reviewers, many of whom are authors, will not leave a bad review. They believe the old adage that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. To a degree, I understand that way of thinking. However, I think in many cases, a bad review might be just what an author needs to improve.
If you're going to write a “bad” review, which, if done correctly, isn't bad at all, do so using specific examples, if possible. Don't attempt to criticise a book when you're in a bad mood or right after the author makes a political post you don't quite agree with. Keep your emotions in check and your author friendships out of it, talk about the good as well as the bad, and make your review intelligent and insightful.
If you're penning a 'good' review, be honest with your praise. Authors and other readers/reviewers will respect you for it.
In order for horror stories to improve and evolve, authors need us, those who read and review their work, to be open and honest about what works and what doesn't. They need us to tell them if their editors aren't doing the job they're paid for, and they need to know if plot holes large enough to drive a truck through exist in their stories.
If you happen to lose an author “friend” over an honest review, perhaps it's time to rethink your friendships. Reviewing isn't a popularity contest. By being honest, not only do you hang onto your integrity and gain the respect of authors and readers, you also help authors and other readers in the process.
THE HEART ANBD SOUL OF HORROR REVIEWS