When is the Author Dead?

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This is a rare time I am not writing about books, but instead want to write about something going on in the community. The thought that has been going over and over in my mind is simple: who exactly are book reviews for?

It’s been a weird month out in the community for authors and book reviews for me. First, Book Riot posted this article about how you should tag authors in negative reviews, which received the backlash expected on social media. I am not going to defend the article as I don’t agree with it at all, but it is probably the starting point of my thought process recently.

How involved should authors be in their reviews or fans? Most authors I follow don’t want to read the reviews, good or bad, because what does it accomplish? You can’t pull the books back and rewrite them, and what good would defending the book be? If you couldn’t get your point across to the reviewer on the pages, you aren’t going to change their mind. And that is okay – no book is going to please everyone.

After the Book Riot article came out, I ran into other instances of weirdness when it comes to books and book reviews:

  • An author demanded that fans participate by showing proof of recommending his books, buying his books, or reviewing his books
  • Netgalley recommended a book that, once I reviewed the Goodreads page, showed the author commenting on every single review
  • Someone liked a review of mine that I reduced to one star after it became apparent the author was paying for fake reviews

I can’t imagine how hard it is to be an author these days. It’s a world I want to get into, but it is a world I fear quite a bit too. Where is the line? Obviously authors should be grateful to fans and not demand they do something (sorry but that is an insane thing to do). You are welcome to request it! My favorite author occasionally makes a post along the lines of how powerful fans are — that they are necessary to get the hype going. But she never says anything along the lines of “hype up my book or you aren’t a true fan and you’re no longer welcome.”

Because that alienates people and drives away potential fans. You have to be your biggest self promotion for …maybe your entire book career, fortunately or unfortunately. Again, maybe this is why I self sabotage and haven’t finish a novel! Or maybe some authors really buy into the whole “all press is good press.”

As for the author who is closely watching his book’s Goodreads page, you are scaring away reviewers. I’ll admit, I debated grabbing the galley of this book to read and review after noticing this. Unfortunately the book is only available in PDF? (or at least, there isn’t a Kindle option, even though the book is available on Kindle unlimited?) I am not going to sit at my computer to read an entire book just for the sake of morbid curiosity.

One reviewer recently (as in within the last week) posted that she’s actually was nervous to write her review because the author is so active. So again, who are reviewers for? As this book is technically published, the reviews are for the readers and not the author. I respect authors who go through and like some reviews (again, especially pre-release) as a nod of “thanks for reviewing and enjoying!” But to argue with reviewers that they don’t “understand the message of the book” is baffling.

It does lead me to wonder if the author was active in the book community prior to self releasing a book. I do think it is a community that an author should swim in a bit before releasing (and definitely keep an ear to post release, especially if you want to write more than one book) because of debates like who are reviews helping. But even more so, to understand that reviewers do follow the book community closely. And we reviewers hear the drama of what has happened when an author didn’t like a book review.

Reviewers have been stalked (and instead of charges pressed, the author is releasing a book about her “her side”, but that’s a separate rant for another day), authors have sent “fans” to attack “villainous” reviewers who didn’t like their work, authors have tweeted actively calling reviewers terrible things. No wonder one reviewer said she was afraid to talk about how she really felt about this book — we’ve all seen what craziness can happen if an author hasn’t severed themselves from the book!

On the flip side, if I am just as firm of a believer that authors should let their reviews be and exist solely for the reader, I am just as firm of a believer that you shouldn’t review a book you haven’t read. Controversial: I KNOW. This argument came to my attention when Lani Sarem released Handbook for Mortals. If you don’t know, I have read that book twice now, both for a netgalley review and for a podcast where we talked about the book and things Lani did. HfM is one of fourteen one star reviews I have. That’s it. As of writing this, I have read 945 books according to Goodreads, and less than 2% of those I have rated one star. On the flip side, I have rated 24% 5 stars. I don’t hate a lot of books!

But all of those 1 star reviews are books that I have actually, actively, read. They aren’t books that are getting panned on social media, so thus I must join in! And I do actively decide to not finish books (I have more DNF books than I do one star reviews) when I am not feeling it. All of this is to say that I cannot get on board with the negative reviews from people who don’t actively read the book. I get the reason: You want people to know that the author has committed some terrible crime of some sort! Which is why I usually cave and read the book out of morbid curiosity (if there is a way to read it that doesn’t monetarily help the author until I’ve decided how I feel.)

Look, Goodreads gives you the option to add new shelves options to the preset “Read/Want to Read/Currently Reading.” This is how I have a DNF shelf so that I don’t have to angst about where to put those books. It will get the point across just as much to have a shelf of “never ever going to read” (something I’ve truly debated adding) without adding the fake reviews.

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You don’t have to be my level of neurotic, but adding more shelves does help.

Because if there are fake negative reviews, I cannot get mad at the fake positive reviews. And bless, I do look to see if positive reviews are fake. How can I tell? Well I usually only look if there is something else off about it. But here are some things I look for….

  • The account was created in the last 60 days, and the only book reviewed is the book in question
  • The account was created in the last 60 days, there’s an attempt to make it look real, but after this book was reviewed, the reviewer disappeared
  • An account hasn’t been used in over 2 years, but the reviewer came back just to gush about this book
  • The review is incredibly vague and could be about any one of a dozen books

(The book above where the author is a little too involved in his reviews has these signs.) And I am not the only one who looks for these. It has led me to change my review of books, dropping one 2-star review down to a 1-star, because the author forced fake 5 star reviews after the Netgalley reviewers didn’t care for the book as much.

At the end of the day, hype and reviews are almost as important as sales. (Sales being the most important thing and don’t go torrenting books.) If you enjoy a book, do what you can to promote the author. They shouldn’t demand it, but they’ll definitely appreciate it. Don’t add fake reviews to a book – it should stand on its own merit. And to be frank, as long as book stores are pushing forward 13 Reasons Why and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, I really need to rely on reviews for honesty. Because the true issues — both of the authors have been accused of assault and harassment — aren’t being discussed.

As for this blog, I will continue to write my reviews as kindly as I can. I have no interest in author bashing, and I won’t be tagging an author to let them know my thoughts on their book either way. But you, dear reader, are welcome to enjoy my thoughts.

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