Posts tagged: Amazon rankings

Judgment Day: Reviews Reviewers Critics Criticism Rankings and Rants with a History of Modern Culture Since 1950

YIPES! IT’S JUDGMENT  DAY!

Yes, in the modern age, every day is judgment day. We are surrounded by reviews, ratings, rankings, and evaluations––most of which were created anonymous people judging their fellow human beings.  We’re asked to review everything imaginable. We have Amazon reviews, Goodreads reviews, reviews on blogs and everywhere else. We’re asked to “Friend” me, “Like me.” Give a thumbs up or thumbs down to everything.

This trend is accelerating. Social media multiply faster than the ground squirrels in my pasture. Numbers are everything. We brag on-line: “I have 59,000,000 friends.” “People downloaded 100,000 copies of my book last week.” Who has the power? Who has the status? The one with the biggest numbers. Quality is secondary, if considered at all.

In the old days, only God got to judge.

We swim in a sea of judgment, much of it performed by people with no qualifications and suspect motives.

The new world is characterized by anonymity and false identity. When I was getting my MA in counseling, we strove for transparency––not hiding behind roles. We strove for real personal connection, knowing what our feelings and motivations were and stating them honestly.

Now, we’ve got anonymity. The person we’ve just given the lousy rating doesn’t know us, never will, and can’t do anything about what we said anyway. This allows nastiness that no one would perpetrate on someone face to face. Screen names insure the impossibility of finding out who we are.

Want to know about the psychology of our age? Check out Dr. Kimberley S. Young’s work.  Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction–and a Winning Strategy for Recovery is a great book to start with. She talks about “flaming”–on-line flareups of rage–and the vicious pack behavior you see in some blogs.   Here’s Dr. Young’s test to determine if you have an on-line addiction.

ONE OF MY PROFESSORS NAILED IT WHEN HE SAID:

The only legitimate reviewer is a producing artist whose work is better than the work being critiqued. The critique should be communicated to the artist who produced the work––only.
Philip B. Welch, AIA

The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy

This post was motivated by a couple of reviews. I levitated with joy over a terrific review  Glenda A. Bixler of Book Reader’s Heaven gave my book The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy. Life was wonderful. Writing was a great profession.

Two days later, I was checking a fact about one of my other books on Amazon, I discovered that it had a new review, too. Except that this one was an extremely negative review written in a particularly nasty way.

Whoa. Those words smarted. Worse than that, they’re posted in public where there they will continue to influence others forever. My mood shifted: Writing became the worst profession in the world, offering no rewards, but endless opportunities for pain.

Dante's Inferno. I wonder why Dante didn't think of an endless stream of bad reviews as a punishment appropriate to the lowest levels of hell?

Everything I have read about dealing with bad reviews says: Don’t respond. If you blow up on line, what you say can go viral and destroy your career. Suck it up. Shut up.  Take it. That’s similar to: relax and enjoy being raped.

That approach doesn’t sit well with me. Taking my professional future in my hands, I’m going to respond, but not to the bad review or the reviewer who bestowed it. I’m going to talk about our society and its current mania for evaluation. I’m going to start out with a survey of changes in our culture that I’ve observed during my lifetime.

This post is so long that even I was embarrassed by its length. I’ve cut it into sections and will present them a few days apart. Keep reading. It’s entertaining, and you might find it funny. And valuable.

1. Changes in Our Culture and Social Values During my Lifetime: Or How Our Collective Psyche Lurched Forward––and Backward.

I’m old. One of the nice things about being old is that I’ve lived a long time. I was alive during the 1950s and 60s and remember them clearly. In my world, until the Beatles erupted in 1964, life was exactly as portrayed in MadMen, except way more uptight and without all the sex.

I’m amazed at how much society has changed. Take the quote about reviews and reviewers above. Who’s this Welch dude? Philip B. Welch was the chair of the Department of Creative Arts at Santa Clara University during the mid-1960s. He was an architect of consummate taste and aesthetic development who had studied at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. I was his student. Mr. Welch had a huge impact on my life. He said the words above in class.

I interpret his words as, “If you can’t do a better piece of art than the one you’re reviewing, shut the **** up. If you can do better and have some feedback about the piece that would be useful, have a personal conversation with the artist involved aimed at helping him or her make better art.”

What is unusual about this point of view?

You’d never hear it after 1979.

In 1964, The Beatles blasted us out of the booze-soaked, up-tight fifties, setting off an explosion of consciousness with a simple song called “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” That revolution was probably fueled with liberal doses of LSD and marijuana, but people changed. They wanted to create a society in which personal worth, kindness, altruistic feelings, and love ruled.

The 60s were an amazing, exciting time that I will never forget. We really believed we could change the world. Life had a freshness and palpable expectation that good would triumph that are gone now.

Typical 1960s Transportation in San Francisco. I can't even describe what the Haight was like. (SF is my home town.)

The revolution of consciousness kept on rolling during the 1970s, when the big personal growth/human potential movement/train-yourself-into-enlightenment wave hit. We had (and did) est, Rebirthing, Lifespring and many other seminars and trainings aimed at cleaning up the nasty bits in our souls and letting the true Self shine through. The big meditation programs arrived from India in the 70s: TM, Siddha Yoga, and others. They really stressed love and lack of judgment. [Post a comment below if you participated in any of these. I did est and Rebirthing in the 1970s. Found both very valuable. I was involved with Siddha Yoga for almost thirty years.]

You have to have lived through those times to realize how different the world is today. You have to have walked down those streets and listened to what people talked about and cared about and did. Folks flocked into the Peace Corps, heading into the developing world in an attempt to make things better. We had the Model Cities Program, Head Start, and the myriad social programs that––guess what, critics––were shown to have measurably improved the lives of participants. And many of us protested the war in Vietnam, putting our lives on the line to create the world we wanted. Conversely, many of us served in the armed forces in Vietnam, putting our lives on the line to create a world we believed in.

Communion

Communion. What we still crave, even though the 60s are long gone. (Artist: Lily Nathan)

All that went south in the 1980s.

The 80s ushered in the era of greed, me, gimme, and gimme more. When I think of the 80s, I think of massive shoulder pads, dresses with glitter all over them, granite kitchen counter tops, miles of crown molding, and monster houses with absolutely NO architectural merit. We tricked ourselves out with no guilt. At all. None.

It’s kept on going, right through the Enron collapse in 2001 and the financial meltdown of 2008 and surrounding years. Untrammeled greed piled on more greed.  I lived in one of the exclusive towns in Silicon Valley. I didn’t have to watch Inside Job, the Academy Award winning documentary about what happened to our financial institutions in 2008, to know about this. I could go to breakfast at the local cafe, a hangout for the high tech elite. The conversations I overheard  substantiated everything I’m talking about.

People who did not live through contemporary society’s evolution from the 1960s until now DO NOT KNOW how much the collective psyche has changed. Large hunks of the population seem to have lost any sense of fellowship, righteousness, and fair play. Kindness. The desire to help others. Love of humanity.

“He who dies with the most toys, wins.” A bumper sticker defining the modern age. I Googled that phrase and learned a lot. The slogan hails from the 1980s, of course. My search showed that I am not the only person to have a negative reaction to it. I also discovered that there’s a web site advising people about dangerous-to-display bumper stickers.  It was created in recent years, the Great Recession years, when everyone was losing jobs and was financially stressed. If you make a conspicuous display of materialism on the freeway such as the stickers on that site, someone might take a shot at you. “Most toys” is on the most dangerous list. Here’s a counter opinion:

There’s a dose of reality. Here’s more: Not everyone is a greedy, judgmental SOB today.  Some people want to live in a peaceful world where people are kind. Members of clergy, psychotherapists, mystics, and those on a spiritual path all try to live without judging their fellow human beings. They try to see the other person’s point of view and temper their words so they can be heard without causing pain.  Lots of just regular folks are like that, too. My friends and family and lots of others are good people.

I try to live without harming others. I’ve worked hard to create a me that I can live with. For instance, aside from doing the 70s as hard as I could, I have an MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling, also from Santa Clara University. I went into that program because of the values the program it embodied. My soul drew me there. I wanted to imbibe the attitudes and skills of the people in that program. And I did.

But for  mass society, the days when all that stuff mattered are gone.

The clearest demonstration I see of the Real New Age shows up in contemporary politics. People in Congress can’t agree about anything. And that applies to people in the same party.  If those on the same side can’t say nice things about each other or get along, how will they run the country? Do you ever watch the news and see the nasty, judgmental faces on our leaders?

Shiva Nataraj

Where is The Great Soul? Was it squashed with the tragedy of 9/11/2001? No. People pulled together then. Did it die in the financial crash of 2000 through 2008 and beyond? Maybe. Was it the technological revolution of the iPod, iPad, iPhone, and iEverything else that did it in?  Or is the social climate the result of the recreational drug of choice changing from marijuana to meth and coke?

2.  What Does This Have to Do with Book Reviews and Reviewing?

Reviews and reviewing are symptoms of the ills of our society. Everything I say above applies to book reviews. As a matter of fact, I wrote all this because of a book review.

3. What to do? Well, you could hope for the 60s to come back or join an order of monks, but those are pretty extreme.

Knowledge is power. In the next article of this series, I’m going to talk about the psychological transactions and states involved in judgment. And I’m going to talk about skilled communication. About being skilled people.

Until then,

Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan and Tecolote

Sandy’s Amazon Author Page.

HERE ARE LINKS TO AND DESCRIPTIONS OF SANDY’S SIX BOOKS!
They range from wild sci-fi to adorable children’s nonfiction. You’ll find something you’ll like in the list below:

  • NUMENON,  a novel about the richest man in the world meeting a great Native American shaman
  • STEPPING OFF THE EDGE, a modern day spiritual companion
  • TECOLOTE, the adorable kids’ book about a baby horse.
  • EARTH’S END TRILOGY––the new, three book sci-fi/fantasy/visionary series that takes you to the end of the earth, and beyond.
    The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy––An angelic girl shows up on the sidewalks of New York City in 2197. Or is she a girl? Jeremy Edgarton, teenage genius and revolutionary decodes the transmissions. They say the world will blow up tomorrow morning.
    Lady Grace––The radiation has cleared. A few survivors make it back to Piermont Manor to start a new life. What they face is a battle more deadly than any they’ve fought. Evolution can work for evil as well as good.
    Sam & Emily––Can love live in an echoing cement bomb shelter three hundred feet below the earth’s surface? Find out in Sam and Emily as headman Sam Baahuhd falls in love with a beautiful assassin.

 

How to Buy a Good, High Quality Self-published or Indie-published Book or eBook

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy. This is the cover of a self-published book. It's won 4 national awards, mostly in visionary fiction and has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

Talk to readers  about self-published books and eBooks  and you’ll often hear the same thing: Their quality sucks. (I’m including books/eBooks produced by independent presses in the same category.) From the story to the writing, editing, proofreading, interior and cover design, someone (and often many someones) will find them lacking. Me, for instance. I’ve bought some real turkeys.

Here are a few evaluations of self-pubbed books from the Net:

We’ve all bought them: abominable self-published books. We can complain about them forever. But how can we guard against them?

I have two ideas that may separate the cream from the dreck: contest wins and star ratings on major review sites.

Contest wins. Here I’m talking about contests for independent presses, not the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Award, the Nobel Prize, the Nebula Award and all the other big “official” contests. You can read books that have won the prime-time awards and be pretty assured of getting a good read. Or not. The most boring book I’ve ever read was a Pulitzer Prize winner. Exquisite words. No action. I developed a rule for judging my reading material: A book should show some movement by the 50% point. Some small sign of life. Anything.

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. This book won five national awards and has a 5-star average review on Amazon. It is published by an independent press.

OK. We’re talking about self-published and independently published books, so we’ll look at their contests. Here’s an article (by me) about how to win a book contest. I’ve won 21 awards in national book contests at this point in my career. (They’re listed here somewhere, except for the last four, which haven’t been posted yet. I am an author (self-published) and owner of an independent press, just to stay honest.)

When you read the article about what it takes to win an indie book contest, I think you’ll realize that books that win contests have been screened for quality. I doubt the major publishers do anything like what I describe in producing their books.

I have been involved in the judging of one contest and I will say that YOU CANNOT BELIEVE HOW GOOD THE BOOKS PRODUCED AT THE TOP END OF THE INDIE PUBLISHING WORLD ARE. They are amazing. Indie publishers will go far beyond what the majors do if they’re really committed to a book.

And the low end, even in contests, the books are awful. But those books don’t win.

So, as a consumer, you should feel somewhat confident in buying prize winners. Just as you should in buying Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winners.  There’s the rub: It’s a matter of taste. If you buy the wrong book in the wrong genre, it’s a bad book for you, no matter what it’s won. I can’t read Cormac McCarthy’s bloody tomes, though they’re critically acclaimed.

These links list few contests for independent publishers that I like:

SPR Self Publishing Review

Publishing Basics: A Book Award Adds Value to Your Book

Reader Views: Literary Awards

Benjamin Franklin Awards

You might want to check out the winners of the contests listed there. My recommendation is not a guarantee that you’ll like the books.  A contest win is a screening device.

Numenon Cover

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. This book won 6 national awards, has a 4.5 star Amazon review rating. It was #1 rated in three types of mysticism for almost a year. This is an indie book.

Star Ratings on Amazon and the Other Review Sites

“Oh, Amazon reviews don’t mean anything. They’re rigged. The authors get their friends and family to review their books,” says almost everyone who’s never tried to get a review.

Hah! Maybe I’ve got the wrong friends and family, but that just ain’t true. It’s hard to get reviews. We sent out 100 copies of my children’s picture book, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. It’s got a five star average with ten reviews on Amazon, very few of them from folks who got review copies. I’ve been in a book group for fifteen (15!) years. I used my book The Angel & the Brown Eyed Boy for my selection of the month when it came out. I made two personal appeals for reviews and three emailed ones. Nada.

I didn’t get a single review from my best buddies. Even more: I handed out a bunch of copies of both books at my church group, asking my friends to read and review them. They all raved about the books after reading them and said they would write reviews right away. Six months later, not a single review has shown up from that group.

Know John Locke? He’s the self published author who broke history by selling more than one million books earlier this year. He published his marketing plan as an aid to other authors and  independent presses. Do you know what he said was one of the most difficult things to accomplish? Getting five 5-star reviews to start out with. Took him two months of work, and he’s a marketing master.

So, if you know someone with lots of friends who are rigging their Amazon reviews, send them to me. I wouldn’t mind a little help. My books’ mostly 5 star average reviews were earned.

Other sites, Goodreads for instance, and Barnes & Nobel.com, provide reviews. I don’t have much experience with them, though I can say that the ratings on Goodreads tend to be lower than on Amazon and often have a cavalier quality. Readers can just punch a button to give a book a star rating. They don’t have to say anything about why they gave the rating or even if they read the book. But that star rating is permanent and can lower a book’s standing.

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. This 5-star rated book won six national awards. It was a Finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Awards in Spirituality. This was the first book of an indie press.

Reviews go two ways, too. I like the way John Locke looks at his reviews in terms of his market segment. When analyzing his reviews, John regards the people giving his books 4 and 5 stars as people in is market segment. Those are the people for whom he writes the books. He tosses out all the 3-star reviews, as being neither good nor bad. The people who give his books 1 or 2-star reviews are those who have mistakenly bought a book that’s not for them. His books are self-screening; those that like them buy more, those that don’t, don’t buy more. His review averages are rising over time.

There is another side of reviewing: Authors can get slammed with bad reviews that really indicate the purchaser bought a book in the wrong genre. I guess we publishers should make sure the book covers, flaps, and marketing materials convey the book’s content. Authors can also be attacked by rivals in organized campaigns of negative reviews and have their books saleability destroyed. It’s true.

Life is risky and so are on-line reviews.

Here’s an interesting idea: Here are a couple of sites where all the books listed must have a minimum rating of four stars on at least 10 reviews by different reviewers.

Four Stars and Up: Kindle Books Loved by Readers  Lots of good reading there. You can download the books onto your Kindle, or use the recommended books to buy print or eBooks for other formats.

Facebook Group: 4 Stars & Up  This is an Open Group on Facebook that requires authors to meet the 10 book/4 star minimum review to participate. This is a great place for readers to interact with independent press owners and self publishers. You may find they and their books are way higher quality than you thought.

Remember the genre issue: If you buy a book and hate it, it doesn’t mean it’s a terrible book. It may mean that you don’t like horror, chick-lit, or cozy-mysteries and that’s what you’ve bought.

OK. I hope you’re armed and ready to take on the self publishing universe.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan
I hope my little slide show has convinced you that self published books can be very good.
Winner of twenty-one  national awards

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

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