Reviews and Amazon Rants

It means a lot to get good reviews. It means quite a lot to get a good rating, though slightly less than a well thought out review. It also means a lot when Amazon decides ‘f*** you, we don’t like you having nice things, so we’ll delete your best reviews’. Though it means a lot in a different way.

They’ve been doing this for a while now on Amazon itself, and since taking over Goodreads, they’ve started doing it there. I’m certainly not the only one noticing the reviews disappearing – and only ever 5-star reviews, it seems. I can’t speak for the deleted reviews of others, but the ones that have disappeared from mine have been from review bloggers, writing detailed, unbiased reviews. Not family members raving about how the books are the best things ever.

Amazon has claimed before that they won’t allow authors to post reviews on books in the same genre as they themselves write. Aside from the fact that this is pathetically stupid and is pretty much censorship, it doesn’t seem to be enforced. My best reviews are written by a sci-fi author, and they’re still there.

Other authors have contacted Amazon to demand to know why this is happening, and Amazon claim ignorance. They say that it’s most likely because of the reviewers removing the reviews, accidentally reviewing the book – I can’t quite get my head around that one – or leaving the site (Goodreads). That doesn’t quite allow for the fact that I asked one reviewer if she knew why her review had disappeared from my book on Amazon, she emailed Amazon to ask why, they said they would put it back, and then never bothered. So what the hell are they playing at?

But that’s enough ranting about the somewhat disgraceful Amazon.

I received one such review just the other day, from The Review Hart. I requested the review months ago – just after I published Acts of Violence, in fact. She scheduled me for August, and I forgot about it. With terms like ‘haunting’, ‘spectacular’, ‘gripping’, and ‘fantastic’ dotted throughout, the review turned out to be very much worth the wait. And it’s a 4-star review which means A) people are more likely to pay attention to it than a 5-star, and B) it’s less likely to be deleted by Amazon.

In fact, reading the review kind of made me want to read the book!

In other news, we have a more definite date for the next anthology, Wyrd Worlds II: September 20-21. Mine will be the first story in the book, and is a sequel to Kira.

Writer’s Block Ego

I wrote recently that the hardest thing about being a writer is not succumbing to the allure of the new book ideas that pop into your head pretty much daily. I think I was wrong. It is damn hard to have a lovely, shiny scene from an unrelated, as-yet unplanned book pop into your head and just jot it down somewhere and continue with what you’re doing. The temptation to open up a brand new Word document and start writing the book that contains that scene is huge, but if we as writers gave in to that temptation, we’d never finish anything.

Another obvious one is writer’s block. I’ve recently noticed a couple of people posting about how they’ve been unable to write for a couple of weeks. I think I’ve only once suffered from writer’s block, when I couldn’t for the life of me think how my characters were going to leave a room. I knew they had to walk out and go somewhere else. I knew where that somewhere else was. I just couldn’t put together the words to have them do it. Really, I should have just not had them go in the room in the first place. It ended up with me not writing a thing for a year. More recently, in my semi-noir thriller, I’ve struggled a little here and there, but really (thankfully) I haven’t suffered from proper writer’s block.

But the problem that no one really thinks of when they think of authors is reviews. It could be argued that it isn’t really a problem, but it’s certainly a something. The last review (at the time of writing) I received on Shadow of the Wraith got to me a little. It wasn’t particularly bad. It was three stars and the basic gist was that she liked it until about halfway through and then it lost a star because of the direction it then took.

The problem is when a reviewer says something that makes so little sense that you feel it must be addressed. But you can’t. To respond to any review, good or bad, invites all sorts of issues. From a simple ‘Well you thanked him, why didn’t you thank me?’ to people thinking you’re an unlikeable ass because you ‘argued’ with a reviewer. I’ve seen the latter happen with an author I know. She addressed a couple of points in a review in the hopes of preventing potential readers from being mislead, and it sparked a whole thing, and her ‘lashing out’ was reported on several blogs and websites.

I’ve had a few like that, but thankfully, the good ones outweigh them. I don’t mean reviews where the reviewer simply didn’t like the book. That’s fine, not everyone will. I’ll give some examples.

In this last review, the reviewer had two main problems. The first was that halfway through, my science FANTASY novel took a turn into ‘unexpected territory’ when it introduced some fantasy elements. Well…aside from the obvious fact that the genre kind of suggested that might happen, the only two fantasy elements I can think of are not all that fantastical. She noted that even the Force in Star Wars makes her cringe. To be honest, I don’t see why a book’s rating should suffer because a reviewer decided to read a book whose genre clearly suggests things that the reviewer knows they won’t like, and then they find things that are not to their liking. But that could just be me.

The second issue was one of my twists. She didn’t like that it came out of nowhere. Now, to me, a twist isn’t really a twist when you’ve known about it from the start. I hinted at it several times (I actually thought when I was writing that the hints might be too obvious), and there was never any cause to reveal it before that point anyway. She thought it was a very convenient way to get the character out of trouble. I think that was what she was saying, anyway. The way she put it confused me entirely. But I don’t really understand that idea. If I get so stuck that I have to come up with something completely over the top to get them out of trouble, then surely I can just rewrite, can’t I?

So she gave it three stars and my average rating suffered for it. But I can’t say anything. I can’t even ask if she could clarify the things that I didn’t understand, because that would be perceived by people as some kind of subtle attack.

Then there’s the outright lies. Or things that are so exaggerated that they just become lies. On Amazon, someone claimed that characters hop from planet to planet in a matter of minutes. Well, that’s just one of those exaggerations that you come out with and don’t necessarily mean to lie, but you just can’t do that when you’re writing a review for a book. Luckily, the few low star reviews I have are so ridiculous that the majority of people won’t take much notice of them anyway, but it’s still difficult to sit back and let it go, when you know that every word these people write could influence potential readers. But reviewers don’t seem to register (or perhaps care) that these reviews and ratings will be there forever and they will affect the book.

Of course, then there are the people who accuse you of plagiarism. I have someone on Facebook who claims I’ve stolen from TV and games. I haven’t seen everything he says I ripped off, but the things I have, I can’t really make sense of. Mass Effect? Well the only similarity I can think of is that the military is called the Alliance. Hardly unique to Mass Effect. Not to mention, mine is structured completely differently anyway. Stargate? Well, I have big platforms in space which open hyperspace to those ships without hyperdrives, and then a big pair of wing type things take them to their destination. They’re round, though, so I suppose that makes it identical to Stargate… But again, I can’t say anything.

I think that although some of it is what I said about every word people say about my work has the potential to affect its sales and its potential readers, a lot of it also comes down to ego. No one likes to be accused, after working hard on something for so long, of stealing from other things. No one likes the idea that people don’t like their work, inevitable and unavoidable as it is. We all like to think that we’ll spend our months or years writing our book, put it out there, and be praised constantly for how great it is. We know that’s not going to happen, but what does reality have to do with it?

So I think perhaps the hardest thing about being a writer is reading reviews. And keeping your mouth shut.