Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Double standards in reviews of self-publishing: a rant

The picture at left should have been your first warning. If you chose to ignore it, here's another: I am now going to sink into crazy lady mode. I'm usually calm, but there are some things that tick me off.  Last chance to walk away from the blog now. OK, let the insanity begin.

This morning's rant is about the portion of readers who decry positive reviews of self-published books from other self-published authors. Not people who don't like self-publishing in general. Been there, don't that. Are we clear on who’s bugging me? If you happen to be one of them, I'd love it if you would de-mystify something for me. How is it acceptable for traditional or mainstream authors to give each other blurbs and reviews, but if self-published authors do the same for each other, those comments are automatically suspected as being tainted or padded?

I've found this viewpoint commonly expressed on Goodreads, Amazon discussion boards, etc. enough times to know it truly exists. I've tried to analyze it in different ways. Perhaps self-published authors are their own worst enemy. Those who write incoherent, unedited babble and scribble cover artwork that looks like a Crayola nightmare make it hard for everyone, even those who pay editors and cover artists, and can string coherent sentences together. Except, there are self-published authors who rise beyond the folly of their less savvy fellows every day. Don't believe me? Take a look at USA Today's recent bestseller list and count how many times Amanda Hocking's titles appear.

Maybe it’s because self-published authors are unknown entities and somehow lack the sophistication to judge the work of others. Is it all a matter of credibility? That argument presumes that self-published authors have no background to discern excellent writing for themselves. Thing is, I've smelled shit before and I don't need anyone to tell me when it stinks. Why do I need any other opinion but my own to judge other writers?

Perhaps the problem doesn't lie with just self-published authors, but with authors who may be friends, inclined to inflate each other's reviews. Strangely, that hasn't made blurbs any less popular in traditional publishing. So, why doesn't it work just as well for self-published authors?  

I've heard enough of the assumptions about self-publishing to last me a couple life times. It's the thing you do when no one else will take on your work. It's the last act of desperation before a writer gives up and succumbs to their bitter fate as a hapless nobody. It will kill your future as a mainstream writer. Blah blah blah. For a reality check, head over to JA Konrath's blog for interviews with self-published authors who are blowing these myths out of the water each day.

Perhaps the last hurdle for such writers will be the segment of the reading public that automatically dismisses self-publishing, paints its authors with a collective tainted brush and assumes their work will always be trash. For these people, I say the following: you're entitled to hold your opinion and judge the work of such authors in any way you please. But I have to ask two favors from you: don't dare tell me that your view is the only valid one in the world. Don't presume that your opinion applies to every self-published book. Otherwise, I’ll have to tell you to take your high-minded opinion and shove it so far up your ignorant ass, that you can't ever sit or walk again.

Rant over. Now back to the regularly sane blog posts.


Margaret said...

I agree with every word. We have to work twice as hard at what we do to be seen as half as good as trad pubbed authors. Whatever we do is suspect and open to question. Still, I'd rather be independent and in control of my own work.

Michele Brenton aka banana_the_poet said...

Yay! Sense at last. The only insane thing is to think there is anything insane in that blog post.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks for the comments so far. This is just one of the double staandards about SP that truly irritates me. Each day, I see incredible writing efforts that I hope will go a long way to breaking down some of these stupid barriers.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Some other things worth mentioning:
1) In my experience, less than 1% of readers leave a review (at least on Amazon).
2) Many review blogs will not review self-published fiction. Even fewer print periodicals are willing to do so.
3) The majority of self-published writers do not have publicists who will solicit reviews for them from blogs or periodicals/newspapers, or blurbs from established writers.

I don't think writers (be they self- or traditionally published) should be excluded from being able to recommend a good book when they find one anymore than Joe Average Reader should. Ultimately though, such recommendations and reviews should serve as a guide only - an indication of what does or does not work for a specific reader. Everyone's tastes differ.

Dawna Randalf said...

Wow. This is such an interesting post, with so many interesting points, I’m not sure where to start 

I’ve watched the discussions on self-publishing discussion on this blog and others for quite some time now, and I’d like to offer a slightly different take. Some of these are points I’ve raised before, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Yes, self-published authors have a credibility problem. If I read a blurb or review by a self-published author, I do pretty much disregard it. The mistake that I think is being made is that somehow self-published authors believe they’re somehow being “targeted” or “picked on.”

You’re not.

Why don’t we take some other real world examples and compare? If a job applicant came to you, and the applicant for the position had a personal recommendation from the CEO of Google, would you consider that applicant more seriously than someone who came with a personal recommendation from a company you’ve never heard of? If you were involved in a legal issue, would you prefer to be represented by an attorney who had years of relevant experience, or one that had just graduated from law school? (Especially if, inconceivably, the less experienced attorney actually billed MORE than the experienced one.) Would you be more likely to buy a computer that had been reviewed favorably by Consumer Reports and all the major tech magazines, or one that had been favorably reviewed only by a few small websites and blogs (none of which you’d heard of)? (Oh, and by the way, that computer costs MORE than the better-known product.)

Maybe some people would make those lesser-known, flat-out RISKIER choices. But the majority of people would tend, I think, to choose the ones that had the more credible backing. This is true in almost ANY market, especially when there is no cost difference, or when (unbelievably) the lesser-known product is MORE expensive. And that’s most often true in self publishing, isn’t it?

Yes, I’m sure traditionally published authors do provide reviews and blurbs for their friends. A large chunk of cover blurbs are provided without the author actually knowing about it. But when a traditionally published author on Amazon has 437 reviews, or 127 reviews, or 86 reviews (and maybe one-quarter of these are negative), I know right away that 1) people are buying their books, 2) there are people who don’t like them and 3) these reviews are “real” and not just from their friends. 

That’s a far cry from a book that has only 12 reviews, and all of them are glowingly positive, and everyone (or nearly everyone) who has read it gives it a perfect rank, don’t you think?

And just so nobody thinks I’m some anti-self-publishing meanie, I’ve been among that group who reviews friends’ self-published works, and yes – I’ve been kinder in the reviews than the works actually merited.

Dawna Randalf said...

(Second part of the comment)

But the bottom line, from somebody who has spent her life in the corporate world, is that no matter what industry you’re in, successfully launching a product is all about PERCEIVED VALUE to the customer. If your product, if its reviews, aren’t considered VALUABLE by the customer (here, the larger base of a general readership), then whose shoulders does that rest on?

It rests on yours. So –if a self-published author’s reviews are mostly on sites that favor other self-published authors and a limited readership, where can you send your book for a review that might hold more credence? Or, if you’re on a mainstream site and have 8 reviews and they’re all PERFECT, but you know you’ve sold more than just 8 copies, well, why aren’t the other readers who bought your work leaving such positive reviews for you.. why aren’t they leaving any review at all?

I say “you”, and I mean any self-published author, of course. I confess I’m among the people that doesn’t knowingly read self-published works, after a few unknowing attempts that were sheer torture. Are there some well-written, high-quality self-published books? I’m sure there are. Are they few and VERY far between? I’m sure of that, too.

But the bottom line is that self-published authors need to work on the issue of PERCEIVED VALUE and CREDIBILITY. Ever other industry has to work on them, so why wouldn’t you?

And maybe I’ll self publish someday – who knows? 

Lisa Yarde said...

Dawna, I love what you said about perceived value because to me, it is at the heart of all the misconceptions that some readers have about self-published authors. Unfortunately I can't go into detail cause I'm boarding a flight but I do want to continue this discussion. Thanks for posting and following.

Jeanne Kalogridis said...

I absolutely agree, Lisa. YOU'RE the future--not print media--and what will happen w/self-published web authors is the same thing that happened when print publishing became popular: The cream rises to the top. So will it be w/on-line publishing.
I've never liked the fact that being published by a major print house supposed confers godlike qualities on a person.
In the meantime, you all have the hard work of creating professional standards for what you do until this medium gets the respect it deserves. You go, Lisa!

Lisa Yarde said...

Gemi and Jeanne, thanks for visiting the blog. It's an uphill climb for any author, I'll admit, especially in fiction where supply more than outweighs demand. The burdens and stigma placed on SP authors as compared to their traditional authors is truly unfair in my opinion but I believe both camps understand and can sympathize with each other's various dilemmas. Jeanne, I especially appreciate your perspective.

Ms Kitty said...

I'm going to re-post something that I posted to Authonomy - concerning the "use" of site to launch books.

"Well, human nature is that people stick with people they like. It is called support - which carries the connotation of "carry."

I was in ABNA when I came here - I saw a book that I felt in LOVE with - 'Catch a Falling Star.' I joined Authonomy to back that book, and left it on my shelf until it hit the ED. HC panned the book. It was painful to watch. When the book hit the Kindle Store, people went nuts over it. (As soon as I have time to read it again, I'll buy it.)

Isn't that what this site is about? You read something, you love it, you support it here with a shelving and a comment. Then when it hits the Market place, you support it, buy it and review it?

I've had many people here (first time around) say they would buy my book, if they could. I'm back to launch a second book - here, then in the market place.

It is the logical progression of this site - we come in, edit our books with the support of other writers and either hit the ED, get picked up by an agent, get signed with a publisher or self-publish it as pulp fiction.

What that poor young man doesn't understand is the purpose of this site - TO LAUNCH BOOKS. Once HC gets an idea of what the market REALLY wants (books that succeed in the market) then they shift their direction to signing books that SELL.

Isn't that what we are really here for? To find the cream of the crop and help it rise as high as it can???

Why the f@#k come here if not for that?

The only thing this poor young has discovered is that this site WORKS.

Silly boy, wake up and smell the coffee."

Thanks, Lisa for letting me rant. I think I'll got rant some more.

Dan Holloway said...

Lisa, as a self-published author this is something I really struggle with, because credibility is at such a premium. I know there are people who support each other with great Amazon reviews simply *because* they are self-published, and I've always thought that was a high risk strategy because if a reader picks up a book recommended in that way and doesn't think it's up to scratch, then perceieves there's a clique, the negative word of mouth about anyone reviewed by those reviewers will spread like wildfire.

On the other hand, the very most successful self-published authors I know on Kindle have got where they are as a result of a series of great reviews, often by other writers.

So I think I would say you need to be careful whose work you associate with as a reviewer to avoid negative word of mouth, but as with all things in self-publishing if you do it right it *is* possible to stand out from the crowd.

On the other point you raise - about the absurd media coverage and reviewing of regular published authors - couldn't agree more. There are some people who could write their shopping list on a piece of paper and get coverage in half the world's cultural media, the same media that refuses to look at self-published books, that presents lists of "ground-breaking", "original", "underground"titles" to the public that happen to be from their college buddies, without ever once looking through the reviews on even a mainstream indie site like 3:am let alone the actula underground where the really exciting stuff is happening

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