Tuesday, September 18, 2012

So What About Those One-Star Reviews?

Guest Post by Kristin Comstock

1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DONT READ THIS BOOKJanuary 30, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Fahrenheit 451 (Paperback)
Ray Bradbury tries to write a bestseller in this boring novel. He keeps the audience in the book for about three pages, then everyone falls asleep. If he could do it again, I think he should have never written books in the first place.
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The dreaded one star review. What does it mean really for writers and readers? I am not an author, and only a sometimes writer, but I am an avid reader and sometimes reviewer, and strong supporter of indie writers. Personally, I will probably never write a one- or two- star review. Why? I think I need to have actually read a book to review it fairly, and frankly, life is short and my reading list is long. I would never make it through a 1 or 2 star book. But that's just my personal philosophy. And I certainly don't subscribe to the  "I think this book is just a 3- star book, but there are a ton of 5 stars,so I'll give it a 1- star so it all balances, and everything will be right with the universe" phiIosophy. (Yes, I have seen this stated more than once. I'm not an author, but this one kind of steams me!) Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are plenty of one-star reviews just begging to be written. Obviously, there are plenty of readers with a different perspective than mine,leaving one- and two-star reviews. I started thinking about this the other day while catching up on all the hot news surrounding reviews. What is the value of legitimate one-star reviews and why do reviewers leave them? So I spent a little time browsing reviews on Amazon. What I found was just what you would expect; the reasons for leaving one-star reviews are as diverse as the tastes of readers reading the books. Here's a look at some of the most common ones that I found.
Many one-star reviews were given because a reader "couldn't get into it". As in " I just can't get into ________ (wizards, vampires, bondage, etc), so I'm giving this book a one star review." These reviewers seem to be using the star system to rank books according to their personal preferences,or as a way of relating how much appeal the book had for them.
Sometimes one-star reviews are given for typos, or poor editing. I have seen poor reviews based on one error that was troubling to the reviewer. ( By the way, lest we begin to believe this happens only with indie published books, I can point to at least 2 traditionally published ebooks I have read recently which would need to get this rating because of several minor proofreading errors.)
Particularly fascinating to me are the one-star reviews that  also talk about strong points of a book or things that the reviewer liked. For example, Agatha Christie's classic bestseller, And Then There Was None: "It was well written. It was a page turner. But it had a very anti- climatic ending. So not worth my time or money"  or this for a more recent bestseller, Water For Elephants, " This writing is exceptional and managed to keep me interested during the course of the book. Still these marvelous little glimpses of author Sara Gruen's potential do not permit me to recommend this book to anybody." (Huh?) So why a one star and not a 2 star? Or 3 star, if you find a book "fast paced and super compelling" but you didn't love the way the characters developed, as one  Hunger Games reader wrote?
Sometimes reviewers wish  the author had done something different , gone in another direction, as again in The Hunger Games: "I hoped that the plot device would give an opportunity to explore human nature...but it fails." And sometimes a reviewer just is not comfortable with the subject matter. How about those one-star reviews for the popular parenting book, Everyone Poops?

9 of 61 people found the following review helpful

1.0 out of 5 stars EwwwFebruary 14, 2004

By A Customer

Honestly, if you're reading this book, you're in need of serious psychiatric help. This book should only be read by the most hard-core of poop fetishists, as it contains words that no self-respecting sailor would use. This is terrible. "POOP" STINKS

So with so many reasons for giving out 1-star reviews, how should we, as readers and writers, be looking at this dreaded rating? The master science fiction writer,Ray Bradbury, may have just shrugged off the review above. He expressed this perspective in his 1996 interview with Playboy magazine, "When I started writing seriously, I made the major discovery of my life - that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don't listen to anyone else, and always go your own way." There may be something to this attitude-after all, a writer has to be true to him or herself.  But, as a writer, you may not be quite as confident or successful as Bradbury yet, so , perhaps, a more useful attitude may be to take what you can learn from the review and move forward- just as Ray Bradbury surely did. 
Maybe writers should even consider one-star reviews as a badge of honor. After all, most bestsellers have a healthy blend of 1 to 5 star reviews. Hang around long enough and it's hard for a book to escape them. Sure, I know those 1 star reviews are about as welcome as a bad case of poison ivy, but consider this: A few thoughtful, yet less than stellar, reviews, may lend a bit of authenticity to the book's reviews as a whole for the potential reader. People tend to be suspicious of a book with nothing but glowing reviews. Wool (the Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey, one of my favorite reads of 2012 has 1562 five-star and 12 one- star. A few of the negative reviewers express doubt over the validity of all those 5 star reviews. They can't believe they're in the minority and dislike a book that so many people are raving about. But the reality is, readers hand out stars for all kinds of reasons and many times the basis for the rating is purely subjective and the low (or high) rating may or may not be an accurate reflection of the quality of the work. Readers and writers both need to take the stars as a tool but certainly not as gospel. Different strokes for different folks, y'all.. and on that cliched note, I'll leave you with this profound quote from Kurt Vonnegut:
"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."

What are your thoughts on one star ratings as a reader or writer? Do you give out negative reviews? What is your criteria for a one star rating? 

Kristin Comstock is a transplanted Michigander just like her friend,Jeff Currie. She is an educator, social media consultant and manager, avid reader, sometimes reviewer, and strong supporter of indie writers. She resides in Texas with her 3 very busy children, and 2 ornery cats. Track her down on Twitter @krismos.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind: Author Interview: J.D. Currie (Me!) Re-posted

Here is my interview by Paul Dorset from Sat., Sept. 8. Go to Paul's blog, Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind, to catch up on his series of interviews with some truly amazing authors! 

Author Interview: J.D. Currie

Today I am pleased to present to you all the fourteenth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the sick and twisted J.D. Currie and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
J.D.:  Not really - I don't have a favorite shirt I wear or anything. The only thing that's important when I'm writing is to find a spot where I can concentrate and focus on the story. Oddly enough, it doesn't have to necessarily be somewhere quiet. Sometimes a place like Panera Bread is good.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
J.D.:  I generally like the same sort of books I try to write - mainly thrillers or mysteries. I love reading Ken Follet, Jack Higgins, and I've read everything Alistair Maclean ever wrote. Once in a while I get out of my comfort zone and delve into literary fiction. I love Hemingway's short stories, but I'm not much of a fan of his books.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
J.D.:  Probably smog, cheese, or maybe a landfill filled with empty M&M bags! I always have lots of story ideas. I tend to act out scenes of a story in my head, sometimes for an extended period, before I write anything down.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why?
J.D.:  Imme Amoud, who is a re-occurring character in my Eb Maclean series of books. Imme's on the side of the angels (barely!), but she is violent, sexy, and dangerous and she plays by her own rules. Imme's survived being near the Twin Towers on 9-11, and she has a mysterious past (that will slowly be revealed as the series goes on). Eb notices almost right away that her plummy English accent (supposedly acquired from her days at an upper class English boarding school) comes and goes depending on the type of persona she wants to convey at any given time. 

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
J.D.:  I haven't been at it that long, so my big mistakes are probably still to come! I think my biggest mistake so far was writing my first two books without any consideration of e-publishing. That caused my editor/marketing partner a lot of trouble when the time came to put my book on Amazon - I hadn't done any formatting at all. I also wrote the book and put the e-version on Amazon before ever considering what kind of marketing plan to follow. I would recommend that authors begin building their author platform on social media (Twitter, Facebook) before publishing their book when possible.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
J.D.:  This is one of the toughest things for me. I don't make enough time for writing. When I'm working on a story there is always a magic moment where the story grabs me...and then I know I'll stick with the project until it's finished. The problem is getting to that point! I'm trying to rectify this over the summer, and I plan on setting aside a certain number of hours every week to write. It's definitely a work in progress.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
J.D.:  I guess I hope you don't talk about my sick, twisted little mind. It's a very odd thing being a fiction writer...I spend way too much time thinking about dark things...the less-than-savory aspects of human nature. It's an occupational hazard of any writer of thrillers. A good writer has to be willing to look at the dark side of human nature and have an active curiosity about why people do what they do in moments of stress.

Paul:  If you are self-published, what led to you going your own way?
J.D.:  I fell into indie publishing by accident. I wroteJudgment Tramp with the idea I would shop it around to agents, but a very good friend of mine passed away right when I finished the book. I made the decision to print and sell the book myself to raise money for a benefit we held for my friend, and that kind of made the decision for me. I don't regret self-publishing at all. I think it will become an even bigger part of the industry in years to come.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
J.D.:  I plot the basics of the story out in advance, but I'm not afraid to follow an idea if it comes up during the writing process. I think over-plotting a story is a mistake, and I think beginners get caught in this trap a lot, usually after 100 pages or so. Writers have to be flexible - the characters are often going to take over a bit, and sometimes that's the difference between a good story and a great story. Allowing the characters to act out a bit is also a good cure for writer's block.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
J.D.:  I try not to edit at all. Usually I have to do some editing, but I try very hard to keep from being heavy-handed about it. I wonder how many writers chop the heart out of a great story because they've read somewhere that writers must edit their work, or because they've read that the first draft of a story is always bad. When I first started writing I over-described everything, but now I try to do in one sentence or a paragraph what I used to describe in a page and a half of narrative. 

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
J.D.:  I try to do the minimum amount of research necessary to make my story fly. I'm not interested in writing Tom Clancy style techno thrillers, but I do want my stories to be realistic. I write about locales I understand - I'll never write a story set in Prague or Berlin unless I visit those places and become familiar with the area and people. I grew up in Michigan, and I love South Haven, Michigan, the area where Judgment Trampis set. Using this area as the setting for my book was my way of writing what I know.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it
J.D.:  My most recent book is Judgment Tramp. It's a thriller, but it has a bit of a psychological twist to it. The protagonist, Eb Maclean, is an ex-army helicopter pilot who is having trouble re-entering civilian life after being wounded in Iraq. He gets involved in a mystery when his half-sister's car is blown up outside of the restaurant she owns. As he stumbles toward solving the crime, Eb finds out that his own family is involved in the mystery, and he also has to confront some uncomfortable truths about himself. I wanted Eb to interact with strong female characters in the book (and the series), and that's something about my book that is different than many thrillers.

Paul:  Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories? 
J.D.:  I've recently become interested in writing short stories - something I thought would never happen five years ago! I intend to do more short stories in the coming months with the goal of publishing a compilation. I'm a working musician and piano teacher, so I'm in the beginning stages of writing a how-to book about playing the piano (The piano technique I use).

Paul:  Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
J.D.:  I have stillborn stories and "drawer novels," just as I'm sure every writer does. Never say never though. Something in one of those clunkers may inspire me someday to write the Great American Novel. Anything else I write I write for people to see...I don't keep a journal or anything like that.

Paul:  Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
J.D.:  I've entered the Writer's Digest short story competition the last two years. If I win I will definitely recommend it to others!

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
J.D.:  I have to confess when I published Judgment Trampon Amazon back in December 2011 I took a blind plunge into the murky online publishing world. I had virtually no platform, no experience with social media ( my Facebook didn't know my face, and Twitter was just some activity that celebrities did), or online marketing. In other words, I didn't know much about promoting my "brand." I quickly realized there would be a little more to this indie publishing thing than sitting back and watching the sales roll in!

Okay, I never really thought that - but to answer your question, I've found that it’s a matter of expanding my platform and exposure one bite at a time. I'm active on Twitter, and Goodreads. I also have a blog, and I continue to explore ways to get my name and writing out in front of people. I've found that being active within the community of indie writers is a must. I truly live by the belief that when we help each other to be successful we, in turn, help ourselves. Innovative marketing and building a brand is a key for any indie writer.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
J.D.:  I like old cars - I own a 1962 Corvair that I hope to get on the road someday. I also like model trains. Lately I've become interested in streetcars and interurban railways as they were a type of railroading that closely interacted with people's daily lives. Music is my other profession. When I'm not writing or playing around with my model trains, you'll find me playing keyboard with several bands around the St. Louis area.

Paul: Well, that was wonderful, J. D. I wish you all the best for a successful future.

About J.D. Currie: I grew up in Michigan, and still feel a strong connection to the state. Currently I live in St. Louis, MO. I'm a writer and musician sharing stories in music and print. I was always meant to be a musician - everybody told me that - but it took half my life for me to fulfill that prophecy. The music is making me a better writer, and the writing is helping me tell better stories with my music. I'm the author of Fortress of Lies and Judgment Tramp, the first two books in the Eb Mclean thriller series.

J.D.'s Blog: J.D. Currie
J.D. on Twitter: @JDCurriewriter
J.D. on Facebook: J.D. Currie
J.D.'s latest book: Judgment Tramp (Amazon)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

5 Reasons Why Indie Writers May Or May Not Be Sticking With KDP Select.

It has been 9 months since I attempted my first free days with KDP Select. My first promo was shortly after I published Judgment Tramp, and truthfully, it wasn't exactly a success. (Read about it here) After that I decided to do a lot of detective work to discover what other writers were doing to make KDP Select work for them.  I read so many blog posts on the subject, I decided it would be beneficial to collect them all in one place and provide a list for others who were seeking information. Since then, I periodically search for new posts and continue to list people's experiences in a loose chronological order. (You can find that list here.
Over the course of the last 8 months or so, the majority of experiences have been positive with more and more writers jumping on board and giving it a try. I,personally, have run 5 more promos since the initial flop with various degrees of success. However, the KDP trend seems to be shifting somewhat, and, recently, I've come across more posts  from writers who have decided to cut loose from KDP Select. In light of this, I thought it would be useful to summarize why indie writers who have been participating in KDP Select may or may not have chosen to stick with it. Personally I've decided to stick with it as long as the benefits of participating in KDP Select seem to outweigh the negatives. I reevaluate every 90 days, but so far I don't see anything that will give my marketing efforts the same boost. However, the reasons that others are deciding differently are valid and worth considering. If you have been participating or are considering participating in KDP Select, maybe the following will help you decide which way to go. So here are the top reasons writers may or may not be sticking with KDP Select as gleaned from recent posts:

Writers ARE sticking With KDP Select because:

1. ...they are still enjoying the boost in sales after a free promotion , and the potential exposure to thousands of readers they might not have reached without the visibility free day promotions gives them. They may be one of the writers who credits the success of your books to KDP Select and the opportunities the program has given them. The impact of KDP Select may not be what it once was-writers are noticing a definite difference since around April/May when Amazon changed the algorithms-but many are still finding it a beneficial tool for marketing their books.  This may be especially true if the writer is a new author because using the program gives writers who may not yet have a following the opportunity for immediate exposure.
2. ...they are using ALL of KDP Select, including the free days. and aren't counting on royalties from borrows to take them to the bank.  Borrows are only part of the picture and, frankly, if your price is higher than $2.99, you will get less in royalties for that borrow than if the book had been purchased
3. ...they are willing to max out your free event by using websites, blogs, Facebook pages and other social media to advertise their free promo. This has become even more important for maximizing  chances at a bump in sales afterwards. The effect of a multitude of free downloads on sales rank has diminished since the program was first introduced, but the more visibility you achieve, whether through the promo itself or the lingering effect of  having made extra effort to advertise your book, the more likely it is that sales will pick up after your free promo. The number of free titles has increased as well, so books may need more of a marketing boost to push the number of free downloads up.
4. ...they like the great advertising  their book gets  when it appears on the free bestseller lists right alongside the paid bestseller lists; not for vanity's sake ( well, not much!), but because being next to the likes of Stephen King, Michael Connelly, or  Brad Thor makes for pretty darn good advertising. 
5. ...they are using the power of KDP Select to cross-sell their books. This may be especially true if an author has a series of books. Putting one book in the free promotion often helps build a readership for other books in a series and increases sales across all of an author's books. Despite all the changes, KDP Select still remains a powerful tool for aiding readers to sift through all of the books now available at Amazon.

Writers are NOT sticking with KDP Select because:

1. ...they believe that writers putting their books up for free is devaluing. They are afraid the use of the free promotion is overdone and creating a harmful "Walmart-like" expectation among readers who are becoming less and less willing to pay for what they have worked so hard to create and market.
 2. ... they believe that giving Amazon exclusivity is not a good idea, either for their books, and/or for the greater good. Perhaps they are a writer who has developed a readership among Nook or Kobo owners and doesn't want to exclude them, or they've tried the KDP Select program and it was good, but it's time to expand to other platforms. They may feel Amazon is dangerously close to becoming a monopoly.
 3. ...they don't like that their books' rankings take a rapid plunge, sometimes below where they started, after coming off free days, and, sometimes, take a while to recover. Since the algorithms have changed, free downloads don't seem to count as much toward sales rank as they used to and a book being free means no sales are recorded during those free days, of course, which most likely causes this initial plummet directly after a promo ends. My book has always plummeted initially and then risen back up. This is the bounce that we used to get all the time. My book hasn't bounced as well as some, but it has always bounced. What I notice, however, is a much slower rise in the rank.)(See Jeff Faris's insightful post about why you may not be achievIng the bounce quite as easily anymore.)
 4. ...they've noticed an increase in 1- and 2-star reviews, often coming from people who haven't reviewed any other books, or, obviously read the book, which makes them question the review's validity and/or intention of the reviewer. They see a tendency for some people who have downloaded books for free to leave harsher reviews. They may have seen an effect on their book's prior stellar ratings.
 5. ... they simply feel that KDP Select has run out of steam, and it's time to move on. It has lost enough of its effectiveness for them and it no longer seems worth it for many of the reasons listed above.

Which way are you going with KDP Select?