Authors Reviewing Authors

Authors reviewing authors – is that a good or a bad idea? It depends. When I stumbled upon an online group where authors can exchange reviews, I thought that was a great idea. Unfortunately, participating in such a review round didn’t turn out well for me.

What could possibly go wrong with authors reviewing authors? Well, everything could go wrong and you could end up screwing your book in the process. Don’t get me wrong: it’s all right to get negative reviews because we can always learn from them. The problem is where those reviews end up. Anyways, we only learn from failures and now you have the opportunity to learn from mine without having to cope with the collateral damage. ?

Doctors are the worst patients. Are authors the worst reviewers?

In order to understand how author reviews can go wrong, we gotta have a closer look at their psychological make-up. Authors (including myself) are self-absorbed and bias … sorry, that didn’t come out right.

How can I say this in a nice way? Authors need to focus and do things their way. Whats’ wrong with that? Nothing wrong with that. To write a book is an arduous task, an author needs to make a stand in front of the world, decide on content and style and stick to it. There’s no room for doubts. And they need a healthy portion of selfishness and introversion to go the extra mile.

Having said that in a nice way, this post isn’t about authors writing books, but authors reviewing authors and that’s where things go wrong. The management of the review group was aware of that. Therefore the advice: wear a ‘reviewer hat’ while participating in review rounds. Unfortunately that vital advice was ignored by many.

These are the four adverse author characters you can meet (not just in a review group and yes, I exaggerate to make my point):

The Bias

The book I uploaded for review was a spiritual book. I knew I had to keep conservative Christians at a distance, so I put the following phrase into the book’s disclaimer: This book contains alternative interpretations of the Bible, reader discretion advised. This worked until I got into this review group. Ups – Murphy’s law made sure that my book fell into the hands of such conservative Christian writers. This is the summary of one review: I didn’t understand a thing and I didn’t like the unusual interpretation of the Bible, so I give it one star … no, I’m a nice person, I give it two. My comment: lol.

The Ignorant

Bias usually comes with ignorance. Another reviewer was a person with a strong scientific inclination who had since long lost any belief in spirituality (so he openly confessed). Accordingly, he experienced the book as too difficult and irritating. Yep, that’s Murphy’s law at work right again: if the wrong reviewer can find your book he will find your book. But really? How if he would have to review Einstein’s Relative Theory and didn’t understand a thing either? Would he still have given it a low rating? He may have at the time Einstein wasn’t famous yet. No, wait, he’s a scientist – I chose the wrong example. ?

The Abusive

I sent a copy of my book to another reviewer on December 28, time stamp 11:40 (noon). He put his review online on the very same day! Wow – I’m the author and I need a week to read my own book, but he did it within 12 hours!? 85,000 dense spiritual words consumed by a novice in half a day – that guy must be a genius! Not surprisingly, he found my work inaccessible. Dude,next time try not to gulp a whole novel down like a shot of tequila. Also, if it gets stuck in your throat it’s not the books fault. :-)

On a side note: it could also have been that he didn’t read the book at all, which brings me to the next character. 

The Lazy

I admit, when I arrived at this site I hoped to get positive reviews for little effort. This is human and I understand if other authors feel the same way. But at least I tried to make an effort. I can’t prove it, but I got the feeling that some reviewers don’t really read the books, they just skim through some pages and copy existing reviews. Like the fourth reviewer, who just repeated what other reviewers wrote and added some quotes in the lack of having something to say on his own.

Why This Post?

I can read your thoughts: you think that I’m writing this post, because I’m angry at those negative reviews. I admit that it was tough. Four low star reviews out of five. I was a bit angry alright, but not at the reviews. They taught me exactly what I needed to know. I was angry at people’s attitudes. Anyways, if my book wouldn’t have been beaten to a pulp, I didn’t write this post.

The thing is that some reviewers didn’t just post their negative reviews on the review site, but also on Amazon, the market place. That’s why you can screw your book by participating in such review rounds. If you get 3 to 4 negative reviews, your book is dead in the water and as an unknown indie author it’ll be very hard to fix that.

The remedy? Relaunch your book under a different title. You could also do a couple of review rounds without the original title. If you get good reviews, you can ask the reviewer to re-post their reviewers for your re-named or re-launched book.

The Red Flags

Here are the red flags. My book had all of them and was flashing like a Christmas tree. ?

A) Your Book is Too Long

Authors are busy people and don’t have time to review other people’s books. If they participate in review groups, they do so because they are a bit desperate (I was). They arrive there with the intention to get reviews, not to give reviews. Every book over 40,000 words is a risk (my book had 85,000 and was doomed).

On a side note: some readers complained that my book is too cramped. I never thought that would be an issue, but apparently readers don’t like a lofty content/price ratio. Solution: split your book.

B) Your Book is Highly Specialized

In this case, the reviewing author draws a blank and that’s a 50/50 chance to get a low star review. It didn’t only happen to my book, but also to a book about how to sell real-estate in Australia – you get the picture.

C) Your Book is Controversial

Don’t think that authors are open-minded people. Trust me – I’m one of them. Once, I posted a an alternative interpretation of the Genesis in a Christian author and writer group on Facebook – I was almost crucified.

D) Your Book is Written in an Unusual Style

If it comes to style and grammar, author’s opinions are carved in stone. One author-reviewer gave a lower rating because of SPAGs. What happened to indies helping indies? When I did my reviews I noted down SPAGs and notified the author in a separate email. It didn’t even occur to me to mention SPAGS in a review – show me a book without SPAG – anyone?

Conclusion

Do you know Huis Clos (No Exit) from Jean-Paul Sartre? It’s an inspiring, existentialistic drama that plays in hell: three people are locked into a room to torture each other. Huis Clos is the source of the popular quote Hell is other People. Anyways, such a review group has no exits. Books are assigned for review and reviewers have no choice in the matter.

However, you can still make this work for you, and this brings me to the closing advice of this post. Make use of the author psychology I outlined here and write a short book that appeals to anyone, avoids controversies, and sticks to popular writing rules and five-star reviews will rain upon your book. But then, which author wants to be just a white flag in the wind? Hmm … maybe we could add our controversies later on … is that cheating?

Let’s keep this in mind, it’s good to have at least one book that sells to pay the bills, allowing us to write all those cool books that are lining up in our heads.

You may find other scenarios where the review group doors aren’t closed. There are a few sites where you can upload your book and wait for a reviewer to like it and pick it up. It’s still a risk though – the abuser mentioned above happened to actually choose my book. Remedy: do your best to discourage reviewers you feel will hurt your book.

If you want to start in a merciful environment, I recommend www.fanstory.com. Reviewers on this site are nice. I have been there for more than three years and bumped into bias reviewers only once or twice. The disadvantage is that you only get reviews for chapters, not the entire book. It’s still useful and you can mention positive chapter reviews in your blurb or book description.

*Fanstory has a facility where authors review entire books, but you gotta apply for that and there’s no guarantee that your book will be picked.


Picture attribution: copyright georgemuresan / 123RF Stock Photo

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