IN THE PREVIOUS POSTING, I COVERED THE GOOD, BAD, AND VICIOUS TYPES OF BOOK REVIEW. HERE WE MOVE TO THE STUPID REVIEW, OR TO BE MORE COMPASSIONATE, THE DUMB OR MISTAKEN REVIEW Phew! It’s good to get out of the province of trolls and witches into the land of idiocy. HOWEVER, this type of review really bothers me. It’s the type of negative review I’ve received most.
Tecolote and I. I thought I'd have him for ten more years.
Before giving you examples of Dumb Reviews, I’m going to reveal a treasure trove of information readers can use to select books, in addition to the reviews of other writers. It’s called the book’s Sale Page. You find it on Amazon or wherever the book is sold. You already know about it: it’s the page you went to to buy the book! All sorts of info is on this page to help you buy a book you’ll like.
Here’s a screen shot of part of the sale page of one of my books, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. This is a heartwarming story of a baby horse born prematurely on our ranch. Baby horses don’t do prematurity well. A foal born two weeks premature dies. Teco was born 10 days early during below freezing weather conditions. This little horse had no chance of living when he was born. But he did, and grew up to be a wonderful riding horse. My personal riding horse.
TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD
What this screenshot shows you, in addition to my sub-basement level of sales, is a bunch of useful information. Right up top, Amazon tells you how big the file is. It’s 36 pages. That’s short. That’s because it’s a kids’ book. Tecolote’s reviews, the handful of them, for which I am very grateful, are very good. Amazon pulled common comments in the reviews and placed them front and center. The top one says the “story is perfect for children.”
Way down at the bottom of the sale page, Amazon lists their rendition of the book’s category. Amazon’s categories are NOT the same as the official “BISAC” versions. Amazon does the reader a disservice, when its categories are different than what the author officially specified when publishing the book. In the case of Tecolote, the official BISAC code was Juvenile Nonfiction. Nothing for adults at all. Amazon also places its category information almost off the page, where almost no one will know to look for it.
Maybe that’s why this poor reader was so confused and gave Tecolote this review:
- Of course, it’s short like a child’s book. It IS a child’s book.
This is what frosts me as an author. Of course, it’s short like a child’s book. That’s what it IS. But three stars isn’t that bad a review and the author was disappointed.
How can an author make sure a reader sees what’s in front of his/her face?
I’m very sensitive about this book because Tecolote ended up being my riding horse. You need to know how tight that bond is. To horse people, asking to borrow another person’s horse is like asking to borrow her husband for the night. Tecolote was MY horse. While his book was coming out and winning awards, Tecolote contracted pneumonia. I’d never had a horse with pneumonia. He didn’t get better.
Turned out, he was in heart failure and the pneumonia tipped the scales of life or death for him. As the book awards rolled in, Tecolote went downhill. My beautiful, sweet, kind horse died. What I’ve got left of him is this book and a hunk of his mane. I ended up in the hospital with chest pains induced by a broken heart.
So when I see stuff like what follows, I want to bite anything within reach.
What? This doesn't make sense. Apparently the reviewer thought the same: I noticed that this isn't the original review that blew my mind so thoroughly. The "Also a great story of survival." on the title has been added. The review after "But also …" is new. The star rating hasn't moved. Wha …?
While not as bad as a 1 star review, two stars is considered a bad review. The above review of Tecolote that makes no sense. The review itself is very good, but it isn’t the review that originally went up–that I remember. The original headline was: Young kids or weird teenagers are qualified. The rest was added later, presumably when the writer’s mother found it or its writer had a fit of conscience. The original review read: Good for little kids or strange teenagers who are weird. The rest is an add-on.
A review can be modified by the writer, as it was here, but the star rating wasn’t changed. Can it be? Or is that momentary click of a button the same as casting a moment’s pique in bronze?
I had so many feelings about this book that I added the following message to the book description. It’s the first thing a prospective buyer sees:
This is the first thing a potential buyer of Tecolote sees. Sorry about the quality of a screen shot. This message gives the book's official category, its page count, and the fact that it was written for children.
Did this work? Maybe. No more reviews like that on Tecolote. I did get a two-star review on the older version of my Stepping off the Edge saying it didn’t give instructions on how to do different spiritual practices and wasn’t particularly spiritual. The first review of the book, located right under the book’s title says, “Not a How-to Book.” All the other reviewers raved about it’s spiritual impacts. Its awards were for spirituality, among other things. What’s a writer to do? I put this in the book description:
This sits top, front, and center on Stepping's sale page. "It isn't a 'how to' book …"
Stepping off the Edge originally was published as a modern spiritual companion in 2006. Know what? Nuthin's changed since 2006.
I’m announcing this right here: the text of the new edition of Stepping off the Edge: A Roadmap for the Soul is virtually identical to the old version. If you read the old version, you may want to skip the new one. Or not. Why? Because the condition I write about, the human condition, hasn’t improved since the first book. On-line addiction, infatuation with celebrities, effects of drug and alcohol abuse, general abuse, evil so bad that the devil itself could have done it: all the big nasties we have to deal with are the same. So are my remedies. So’s the book. A refresher is often good. I’m pulling the old version of Stepping Off the Edge off the market today.
THE PAINFULLY DUMB REVIEW. I’m sure it’s clear to everyone by now that authors read the reviews readers write. I try to ignore mine as much as possible because 1) I’m always working on something new and I don’t have time, 2) a one or two star review can not only ruin my day, it can throw off my current writing. Bad reviews can have such extreme effects on me (if I deem them warranted), that I’ve removed one book from sale A book that cost me nine years of my life to write. Even if the review is based on missed or erroneous information and I don’t agree with it, it will gall me, as I’ve shown here.
Either way, bad review = bad day.
Life is rough, but you could have contacted me first …
HOW TO KEEP AUTHORS YOUR FRIENDS [Special Your Shelf Life Extra!] Say you’re “friends” with an author, as much as anyone can be friends with someone they’ve met only through electronic impulses. You didn’t like the author/friend’s last book and want to let them know it. So you write a review saying that. Freedom speech and all that. This is not a wise course of action if you want to keep things copacetic with your on-line buddy.
Remedies exist for the problems I outline above, problems of “missed information.” These are remedies that reviewers can apply before dropping their bombs. One is thoroughly checking the info on the book’s sale page before initiating Star Wars. Asking questions. Amazon now lets potential buyers ask questions of past ones. They probably do it for books. You can contact other reviewers, if they put contact info on their pages.
More than that––Did you know that you can contact me and other authors and communicate about your considerations about their books? This may be harder with the big name authors, but you can get through if you’re persistent. Try Googling this name: Sandy Nathan. Bingo! One click and you can see my new author picture, get my website and every social media I’m on and all my contacts. I have a contact page on my website that sends messages right here. To my desk. You could email me in seconds if you wanted to. If you’re clever enough, you could probably march up my driveway in an hour and a half.
Contacting me is not hard. If you have a beef about something I’ve written or are planning a bad review, talk to me. Yes, I know, it’s harder than slamming around low stars. It does require some courage and integrity. But you never know what might happen. I’ve heard of authors giving back the cost of a book a reader doesn’t like. I’m not saying that I’d do that, but I might. You might also learn things that might be pretty embarrassing to you if you had delved deeper. Like the author is in the middle of writing exactly what you wanted or has just had a heart attack.
Say you don’t realize this and just want to drop your load. We live in the age of diffused blame and hostility looking for a target. Shoot first, aim later.
Leroy Watches Jr. & the Badass Bull - An Award-winning Contemporary Western. This is the original cover.
For instance, my new book Leroy Watches Jr. & the Badass Bull has won one national award (in Western) and had all five star reviews until recently. It is a novella, a short novel. Rules exist in the industry defining the lengths of various forms of fiction.
Standard Numbers of Words by Type of Fiction
Searching through my files yielded the most recent Word version Leroy, which allows me to see the number of words. Leroy Watches Jr. has just under 37,000 words, placing it on the high side of the novella word range. Amazon clearly states its length on its sale page: 132 pages. That indicates a short book. When I uploaded the book, I added a note to the sale page about it being a Novella. This is the first text the reviewer sees, just below the book description. It’s also cheaper than any of my other books, which should be a clue.
Leroy's novella length is reflected in the number of pages reported on its Amazon sale page. Leroy is actually a ittle long for a novella; they range around one hundred pages.
I was so excited about the novella concept and the fact that writing a 130 page book is easier than writing a 454 page book, that I wrote this little note, shown at the very top of the text in the Amazon sale page.
I think the concept that Leroy Watches Jr. is a novella, which is shorter than a regular book, should be clear. Novellas are all the rage now, by the way. See this great blog article from Anne R. Allen, “Why Novellas Are Hot and How to Write One.”
All this defining material is not enough to prevent a review like this:
With all the information that should have told the buyer what s/he was buying, this happened.
I’ve beaten this to death, but I want to let my readers know that they can contact me, though any of the easily available ways. I would love it if they did before posting something like this. (Not that it’s a one-star review. Three stars is considered OK, neither good nor bad. And its tone is polite.)
If this reader had contacted me, s/he could have been among the first to know that I’m writing another book about Leroy Watches Jr., In Love by Christmas. It is full length–it’s 60,000 words right now and I haven’t even gotten to the bits about polo and fox-hunting.
Reviewers should realize a few things: writing a book is hard. Everything about the process is hard, taxing, and will make the author and all concerned want to scream and throw things, often at each other.
It takes much longer to write a long book than a short one. I wrote Leroy Watches Jr. because I wanted to give my readers a little tasty morsel to gobble down after reading the “big book,” Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem while they were waiting for the next biggie. I can’t turn out 492 page whoppers three times a year–they take time.
My writing plans for the rest of the year are ambitious. I plan on getting In Love by Christmas out in time for Christmas buying. AND I’m planning on getting another book, the sequel to Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem, at about the same time.
The brilliant and captivating cover of In Love by Christmas. Thank you, Clarissa Yeo!
In Love by Christmas is the “most badass Christmas story ever written.” Leroy Watches Jr. takes the most dangerous ride of his life as he rescues his soul mate, Cass Duane. Cass is the daughter of Will Duane, the richest man in the world and the hero (after a fashion) of Mogollon.
Phenomenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Miracles, Mogollon’s sequel, takes the crew at Mogollon’s retreat through the week; Mogollon ends on Wednesday night. The retreat is over on Saturday. That’s plenty of time for everything that didn’t happen in Mogollon to happen. And it does.
If I succeed in finishing these to books and getting the two new books published before Christmas, I may be dead, but I’m giving it my best shot.
In other words, I’m going to be working my buns off through the summer and fall for you. For me, too, but for you, my readers.
You may say, “Well, Sandy, you’re taking this review thing pretty hard.”
You bet I am. Writers and artists are among the most sensitive creatures on the planet. That’s why we can write. I would like the people who review my work to exhibit the courtesy and commitment to excellence I try to show them in my writing.
For instance, after receiving the above review, I instructed my cover artist to change Leroy’s cover so that The Bloodsong Novellas appears on the front and rear cover of Leroy so that no one else is disappointed. This is a good idea. Wish I’d thought of it earlier. We’ll do that for the up-coming novellas, too.
See: There it is, right on the cover: A Bloodsong Novella.
So there we have it: the most benign of the bad reviews, the Oops-missed-something review. Most people drop them and never look back. Is there a cure? Instant “check your info and get things right”? No. But talking about it feels marvelous.
Sandy’s Other Website, the Interactive One
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Sandy’s Vimeo Page–even more fun. Check out the Chessadors!
Sandy on Twitter-I strongly dislike Twitter. I don’t answer messages or tweets or nuthin’. Try Facebook.