Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The dark evil flipside of freebies: BAD reviews.


There are lots of reasons you might want to offer your books for free.  But there are some reasons you DON’T want to as well.


Here’s the thing about human nature:  most of us have this built-in complaint reflex.  As long as things are going okay… then okay!  We coast along, enjoying our lives.

But when something comes along that we don’t love – that’s when it kicks in.

What that means, practically speaking, is that you could buy and read 100 books and not write a single review.  But then, along comes one that rubs you the wrong way and – “Oh, boy, get out of my way… I need to review this thing NOW before anyone else buys this book!”

If I give away 100 or 200 or 1000 copies of my books for free through KDP, that’s good news for me.  Even better, some big chunk of those downloads may actually get read.  I sure hope so.  And some big chunk of those that get read, I hope, will be enjoyed.  At least a little.

But will they be reviewed?  Probably not. 

That’s just part of the reality we’re dealing with as writers.  Unless our book is the BEST book the reader has come across in a while, they won’t bother reviewing it.  Oh, yeah – unless they don’t like it.  In which case, you’re almost guaranteed a review… a BAD review.

Bad reviews are okay.  They’re part of life.  You will get them, especially if you offer Kindle freebies.

Whatever you do, don’t argue back.  That’s my Prime Directive when it comes to bad reviews.

Here are some bad reviews my books have gotten, ranging from 1 to 3 stars.  Yes, on Goodreads, 3 stars is an okay review.  But on Amazon, it’s pretty lousy… like a sign of a seriously flawed book:

On Penguin Rosh Hashanah,  “I thought this book was going to be about different ways to celebrate Rosh Hashana. However, there is no plot in the story and each page is very disconnected from the previous one.” (★ 1 star)

More about this review here, but essentially, she’s right.  This is not an “introduction” to Rosh Hashanah book.  It’s for kids and families who already celebrate the Jewish holidays and would rather that the holiday was the background to something more interesting and aren’t looking for a “how to.”

On The Maple Leaf Forever:  “Nice short potted history of Canada. This Maple Leaf song, however, supported only the Protestant and English view of the nation, denigrating the French efforts, and completely ignoring the First Nations.” (★ 1 star) 

I actually did include those things in this book, which was one of my first, but I guess I didn’t throw in enough to satisfy this reviewer, who at least expressed herself articulately, so I don’t mind.  But I was very offended that she said I couldn’t be a proud or loyal Canadian if I happen to live somewhere else.

On Elijah and the Priests of Baal:  “Meh.  Just sort of weird illustrations that didn't do much for me.” (★★ 2 star)

Fair enough.  I wasn’t sure I loved this artist’s style, but I came around quickly when I saw how he brought my story to life.

On Laugh Out Loud:  Hanukkah for Kids:  “This kind of humor isn't exactly up my alley.” (★★★ 3 star) 

I don’t love this kind of review, because in my opinion, that’s what the “Look Inside” feature is for.  If the book isn’t up your alley, you don’t have to download it.  I don’t personally love cheesy joke books either (even though I wrote one and am working on another)… but my 7-year-old son does, and that’s who I wrote this for. 

(I can’t tell you how many times in December he’d walk up to me and start to tell me a joke – from the joke book I wrote!!!)

On The Seven Day Manuscript Machine:  “I can't tell the book was extremely helpful. Since I got it for free, it was okay and I'd tell it was worth spending my time on it. Yet I'd be disappointed if I've spend money on it. I couldn't use the tips from this book. They somehow didn't work on my own book. Just my opinion though!” (★★★ 3 star) 

Umm… if this person is writing kids’ books in English, she really, REALLY needs a professional editor.

Before you ask:  yes, I think all of these reviews arrived after a free book promotion.

It’s tough not to feel like the reviewer is criticizing you personally.  Yet if you handed the same person your book at a party, chances are he or she would smile pleasantly, flip through it, and tell you it looked great. 

It’s only when you’re an anonymous quantity that they have the chutzpah (gall, nerve; translate into any language you like!) to tell you your book stinks. 

The hard truth is:  we all need feedback.  We should welcome it, right?  At least, as long as the critic is articulate and makes a good point.  As I mentioned above, some of the points are legitimate.  You can’t argue with a person’s taste in art, and you can’t argue that your book includes everything about a particular topic if indeed, it doesn’t. 

But again, even if you could argue… don’t.

People may well be disappointed by your book… but that doesn’t mean they don’t like YOU as a person.  (I always take it personally when I see Kindle returns listed in my account, but then, I guess that’s another way of checking out a book, beyond what you can do with Look Inside.)

Read the reviews, share the good ones, learn from the bad ones, and move on.  Above all else, don’t let them stop you from writing.  Even if there are flaws in your work, you’ll get better with practice.  We all do.


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