Let me preface this by saying I am not asking for reviews at this time, and that this ramble has nothing to do with any reviews I’ve had recently. What inspired this post is a trend I’m noting among indie authors and promoters, and it’s one I can’t say I care for in the slightest. It seems like such a little thing to complain about, but it’s the addendum added to review requests, four irritating words: “if you like it.”
“Please support indie authors by reviewing their work, IF YOU LIKE IT.” Bullshit.
The whole point of a review is to tell other readers what you thought of a book, and you should feel okay giving a bad review if you didn’t like a book. You should not treat book reviews like a gladhanding session. If you can’t say anything nice about a book, then say what you didn’t like about it.
I had an indie author approach me about this and say, “But what point is there to a bad review? It will only hurt the author’s feelings and their sales.” They’re completely missing the point of what a review is meant to do. To these youg’uns, a review is all about stroking their ego and helping build hype for a book. It has nothing to do with informing other readers about the work, or what you as a reader felt while going through the story. Being polite for once, they are totally missing the point.
A bad review can still help sell copies in ways these folks cannot understand. A book with nothing but 5-star reviews begins to take a hit in credibility because we live in an age of bulk-purchased praise and sock-puppet accounts. We live in an age of gaming the systems with praise from friends and relatives. Thirty-five 5-star reviews and no complaints says to the average reader “Something funny is going on here.” Nothing but endless praise sets off warning klaxons and can actually hurt your sales. But if you have a few 2 and 3-star reviews to go along with the glowing praise, now the readers can look over both sides of the review spectrum and feel like they’re making an informed decision. That’s why you ask for honesty from readers, so that other readers can make an informed decision before they purchase your work. No reader should ever feel like they were tricked into buying your stuff, and no would-be reviewer should be made to feel like they can’t complain about not liking your writing.
Y’all know I’ve got a couple reviews that burn my tits every time I think about them. But I would never try to remove those reviews. It doesn’t matter if they send some potential readers running away. The main point of the review isn’t to help me sell books. It is for the reviewer to tell other readers what they thought of the book. I can take a good review and show it to the public as a promotional tool, but that’s a secondary function. The review isn’t for me, it’s for the readers.
It’s hard enough for indie authors to gain any sense of legitimacy to their art when publishers and their pro authors are constantly dissing us as unprofessional. The pros often game the system by buying friendly reviews, or by quote chopping ambiguous reviews to sound like glowing praise. The pros do a lot of unprofessional things to enhance the illusion of their artistic legitimacy, but these are not tactics we indies should need or want to duplicate.
So if you must ask for reviews, ask for honest reviews, good and bad. Do not ask for reviews “if you like it.” By doing this, you’re missing the point of a book review, and you’re looking just as vain and speshul snowflakey as the image the pros are projecting onto you. Reject that notion, and be willing to take some hits to your image with bad reviews. Ask for and encourage honest reviews, and don’t worry about bad reviews until you actually get one.
When you do get a bad review, deal with your pain, but let it stand and don’t try to get it removed as “bullying.” A bad review isn’t bullying. It’s just someone who didn’t like the way you told your story. So let it stand and find a way to cope with it. My way is to bitch on Twitter and drink a lot to ease the sting. So I suppose it’s a good thing that I’ve only had a few bad reviews, or this could lead to alcoholism.