Only if the Review is Literate….

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Decisions, Decisions…Maybe I Should Just Flip a Coin!

I grew up on a farm, and I’d love to live on one again–with more animals than people around, no kids hitting my front door with their soccer ball, no noisy neighbors, little traffic. But apartment living is much more practical at this point in my life for a number of reasons–for one, I can’t drive. Intractable epilepsy makes having a driver’s license impossible, along with a number of other activities most people take for granted. Two, arthritis–not only can I not drive, most days I find walking requires a monumental effort. You should see me trying to get off my couch! A small place, easy to keep up with on the cleaning front, makes much more sense. So while I yearn for the solitude of farm life and a good place to set up a telescope and do some serious stargazing, I settle for noisy neighbors and the frequent wail of police sirens. I’m a little fed up with people coming in while we’re not home, though. Collin and I both work at home, so we’re here 95% of the time. Can’t they come while we’re here? The day we came home to find our shoe rack rearranged and a strange device on the wall behind our TV, we bought a security camera so we could see what’s going on in here while we’re out. (It’s cool. We can watch what’s happening at home from Collin’s phone.)

As I grow older, it’s also more difficult to read. Cataracts and glaucoma are a nasty combination. Fortunately, my current favorite authors, Janet Evanovich and Jim Butcher, are available through Audible. These days, though, I find myself choosing nonfiction more often than not. Go figure. Ten years ago, it was all fiction all the time–or almost all the time, anyway. I usually steer clear of my publisher’s Facebook page these days, as most of the authors there are looking for reviews–you know, “I’ll review yours if you review mine.” With my vision problems, it would take so long to read just one book for review, I don’t volunteer, and I don’t ask for reviews. Wouldn’t be fair to ask if I can’t reciprocate.

I have the same ambivalence as a writer. The ideas are there. The motivation isn’t. I can write something funny and it comes as easily as breathing. Mysteries and romance, not so much. What once came effortlessly is now a daily struggle. Eventually, I’ll finish something.

Eventually. Maybe.


I hate doing promotion and marketing, though. That’s one of the few things I miss about traditional publishing–they did all of that for me. I refuse to do it now, even if it means lower sales. No offense to my fellow authors, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who finds the tsunami of Buy My Book posts on social media annoying. There’s promotion, and then there’s taking it way too far. Authors are fast replacing proud new parents and grandparents armed with baby photos as the people everyone goes out of their way to avoid. (Have any of you ever seen the episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy and Ricky are at odds with Fred and Ethel over Ricky’s nightly showings of his home movies? I don’t want people throwing rocks at me.)

I know self-promotion is a necessary evil for authors trying to build their careers, whether they’re self, indie or traditionally published (unless, in the latter case, they’re lucky enough to be in one of the top spots on a Big Five publisher’s list and the recipient of a portion of their publisher’s promotional budget). It’s not easy. I’ve known talented authors who would rather give up writing than have to do their own marketing. Some of them actually have.

Whatever happened to word-of-mouth being the best sales tool? I guess I’ll find out….

The Good, The Bad and the Really, Really Ugly….

I’m always amused when, upon hearing I’m an author, a new acquaintance responds with, “I might write a book myself.” As if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s not. Traditionally published authors have to put up with getting small percentages of royalties (if you even get that far), having to write at night while working at a full-time day job (I didn’t, but I lucked out–I had a really good agent), delivering a manuscript only to be told it will need extensive revisions and/or rewrites and holding your breath while you wait to see how good or bad the reviews and sale turn out to be. Self-published authors deal with a lot of criticism, not being taken seriously most of the time, and trying to write while also marketing their own work. No fun.

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In short, your ego can take a major beatdown, no matter which way you go.

I much prefer the new breed of publisher, like Creativia, my current publisher. I have full control over what I write…though what I’m “writing” for them at the moment is reissues of my backlist books, which means reformatting text lifted from the pages of the published books. I’m too lazy and too slow on the keyboard to retype them, and don’t have backups of the originals that are compatible with current technology. I’ve had mixed feelings about even bothering to republish the old books. They were originally published back in the ’80s and ’90s, and trends were quite different then. The five books originally published by Berkley–Dance of the Gods, Angels at Midnight, A Time for Legends, Solitaire and Luck of the Draw–were written and published at a time when the big, glitzy romance novel was king. Now, that’s not so popular. My nine series romances are a big question mark. Is that genre still selling?

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I don’t expect to have a second run at the bestseller lists with any of them. I’m content to have them reissued and maybe make modest sales while putting my chips, so to speak, on the newer works. Chasing the Wind (2008) and Final Hours (2009) are not exactly new, but definitely more recent. The latter was a gamble; I knew that when I wrote it. A male protagonist who’s an adulterer isn’t a hero by any stretch. Chasing the Wind, however, is the basis for what I hope will be a series. Time will tell. These days, it takes me much longer to write a book than it used to. Sometimes, I think my mind wandered and got lost!

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The worst part, I think, is working on a book for months or years and, nearing completion, discovering you got it all wrong and having to start over. This is what happened with Sam’s Story. It was a difficult book to write, because while Sam has been gone for over five years now, it’s painful for me to even think about him without tearing up. He was with us for almost all of his twenty-one years.

The first draft was too short. The second, I discovered, was too much of a downer. I wanted the story to be fun and uplifting. So a few days ago, I started over. I took a different approach and it seems to be working. The story is coming easily, flowing smoothly. For how long, I wonder?

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Recently, I saw the cover for a foreign edition of Luck of the Draw on the internet. I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t even know it had any foreign sales! I don’t remember signing a contract for it. I’ll have to check with my agent. I probably signed the contract and just forgot about it. That sort of thing happens more often than I care to admit. It wasn’t exactly my agent’s favorite of my books. If Berkley hadn’t given me a contract for an untitled, unknown fifth novel, I doubt my agent would ever have sent it to them. I’m surprised she sent it out to any foreign publishers. It’s more of an historical suspense novel than a glitzy romance.

I also discovered a review of Dance of the Gods that had been posted a few years ago. When a review starts with “I consider myself a connoiseur of bad romance novels…” you can be sure it’s not good news. But I wish I could find the link again. It was actually pretty funny. Like most established authors, I’ve learned to not take bad reviews personally. Nobody can please everyone all the time, and bad reviews are a fact of the author’s life. You deal with it and move on, if you want a career in this nutty business.

Some of us used to compare bad reviews to see who got the worst. And we cried all the way to the bank, as the saying goes.

Would You Buy a Book Based on This Review?

As an author, I pay attention to reviews—to an extent. A review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and other professional publications is one thing—but the customer reviews on Amazon and other sites are quite another. Which ones are valid and which should be ignored? I have a few suggestions.

Be wary of any book that gets only five-star reviews. They were likely all written by friends and/or relatives. Watch out for the “sock puppets”—reviews written under fake names, usually by authors attacking other authors. It’s easier than one might think to set up bogus accounts just to take a shot at another author’s work without, as one author suggested in her blog, the risk of retaliation. And definitely be on the lookout for reviews, positive or negative, that are poorly-written. These reviewers are not the best judge of a book’s literary merit.

Here’s an example of one from a reviewer who appears to be barely able to write a grocery list. Would you buy a book on her recommendation? (I’ve omitted book titles and author and reviewer names in all examples.)

For a first novel that (author) wrote I think it was a great novel. It showed romance between two strangers that then learned to love each other deeply (main characters). To me (author) gave great description of each character and helped me get a perfect picture of how they looked. I enjoyed this novel very much because each chapter that I read was interesting and entertaining that helped me imagine everything that was happening like if i was there. The fact that it was double spaced made it easier for me to read and I liked that. Also even though it was short chapters it made me want to read more because (author) knows how to keep the reader hanging wanting to know what’s going to happen next.I am now waiting for the second sequel of this amazing novel that I hope it is soon to come out. (Author) did an amazing job writing this book for a beginner. I hope she goes really far with her novel to show her fans the amazing author she is becoming as she goes on with her talent as a writer.

It was followed by this review. The reviewer in this instance was understandably unhappy that he’d been misled by the previous rave review….

I have been trying to find out more about the author after receiving the book yesterday. Haven’t had much luck…is this a young author?? Middle school, high school?? If a young girl wrote the book, then I understand the double spaced copy, numerous grammatical errors, misspellings, omissions, poor word usage. The dialogue and repetitive word choice leads me to believe a young person wrote the book, and if this is the case I would have had different expectations and perhaps my review would have a more positive tone. If this is the work of an adult, I am at a loss. The reviews listed were all very positive which is why I purchased the book. I can’t bring myself to continue reading it and am quite disappointed. If you are looking for a mature novel, this isn’t it. I have learned to be a little more skeptical of the reviews in the future when looking for my next great read.

The following review was written by someone claiming to be an English teacher. The review is for one of my all-time favorite novels, which was an international bestseller. It was so long-winded, I had to condense it to a few of the reviewer’s more glaring mistakes….

(The author) writes in a flat, unentertaining way… as though he expects his readers to be struggling with English, like an 8 year old forced to read this at school…characters are as flat, unlikeable and unbelievable as a 4 year old’s superhero comic book, used as toilet paper and then unfolded to be read again. Imagine that twin daughters are *polite coughing* evil and good, in the extreme…yet their family is completely unaware of this, for decades. Imagine a wealthy playboy who goes around raping, beating, and sodomizing wealthy women… but goes unjailed, unnoticed, and undisciplined. Having difficulty imagining this? Blame (the author), who thinks you’ve got the intelligence of the average preschooler.

(The author’s) plots are as unbelievable as a 1950s cigarette ad claiming “not a cough in a carload”. In this particular book (small spoiler alert), imagine how you’d feel after reading near the beginning that a white man and a black man in 1800s South Africa could be fairly good friends, without a hint of racism. Now break with reality again, and imagine that two people without tools could pick up enough diamonds on a beach (yep…diamons, lying around on a beach?!) in a few hours could collect enough wealth to compete against–and topple– a millionaire who has 40 guys searching that SAME beach every day, all day, for years.

Notice that above and below this book review are 11 pages of shills and clacquers, using !!!exclamation points!!!, CAPITAL LETTERS, catchy lines…and all giving this crappity book 10/10 stars. Clearly, Amazon has not done enough to keep out the marketing weenies who are posing as real, unbiased readers as they try to sell this steaming heap of rotting firewood to an unsuspecting audience.

And then there’s my very own sock puppet! In spite of the reviewer’s unimaginative alias, it wasn’t too hard to figure out who had written it. From the nonexistent profile to the lack of any other reviews to the brilliant writing (double commas, inappropriate caps and lack of analytical observations), it has “bogus” stamped all over it!

And for the record, the photographer is not a hippie.

Self-made billionaire meets hippie photographer in Earthquake; falls ridiculously in love, never gets the guts to tell his wife,, etc.. Oh, and the Earth is going to be destroyed by a returning asteroid,,etc..A little lame.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe every reader has the right to express his or her opinion of any book, movie, etc. But I also believe some reviews should not be My question to you is this: have you ever received bad reviews written by someone who seems barely literate? Have you ever bought a book based on customer reviews? If so, do you give any credence to reviews that are full of spelling and grammatical errors?