Tag Archives: reviews

Amazon is a corporate bully

JusticeThere are a number of reasons why I’m not so prolific in my fiction writing than I was. One of them (a very large ONE) is the problem of getting noticed in a crowded marketplace. We’ve been told, we authors, that getting people to review our books is the way to attract attention – but we can’t pay for reviews, or swap reviews, or get family and close friends to review. And fair enough, you might say. But Amazon is a bully with a big stick.

Please read the experience of my good friend Nya Rawlyns and  do please read about the lucrative scheme netting millions from the Zon.

Seems to me Nya has become collateral damage for a giant flailing around looking for someone to hit.

It stinks.

Are you wondering why you don’t get every book you ask for on NetGalley?

Picture of glasses on a bookI’m a member of the Broad Universe group, a collective of  authors who support each other in this writing business. BU offers a range of ways of helping authors and one of these is a cost-effective way to get onto NetGalley.

NetGalley is the digital era’s improvement on publishers sending out galley proofs of new books to people in the know, in the hope of encouraging people to buy the book, garner some feedback, and rake in some reviews. In other words, marketing. Back in the day it happened when the publisher had just about finished the production process. It’s important to note that NetGalley doesn’t just accept new publications. You can list a book first published years ago if you feel it could use a boost.

Mind you, NetGalley isn’t cheap. And that’s where collectives like Broad Universe come in. Members can get a book on NetGalley for US$30 per month. We’ve now expanded the service so non-members can list a book on NetGalley for $45 per month. You can find more information here.

If you’re a reader you can sign up with NetGalley for free. Every month a new list of books comes out and you can ask to download as many as you like. Your request might be approved automatically, or you may have to wait for your request to be approved. Or declined.

As it happens, I’m one of the people in Broad Universe who vets review requests. We do this because as far as we’re concerned, the aim is not to give a free book to the world and his wife. It’s about advertising, networking, spreading the word. For example, I think I’d refuse a request for a book from me.


Because I’m not on Goodreads. I don’t have a review blog. I’m not a member of a book club. I rarely review on Amazon. I’m not a librarian. I’m not a bookseller. Based on all that, I’d just be giving me a free book. (Mind you, not everyone on NetGalley works like that. Even I may well be given a bunch of free books just for showing up.)

So let’s assume you’d like me to approve a request for a book. What should you do?

Give me something to go on


A profile that reads something like, “I love reading” is a well duh. If you add that you like talking to your cat, that’s sweet but who cares? I also don’t care if your ambition is to find the cure for cancer, or that you’ve written three books yourself. If you’re a librarian tell me where the library is. If you’re a book seller, tell me where. If you run a review blog, say so.


If you have a review blog, give me a link. Same with Goodreads and Amazon. Please bear in mind, I do check. If you claimed two years ago to be setting up to read and review $0.99 titles, and send me to a link where that’s all it says – no reviews – then I remain unconvinced. If you send me to a review site where the last entry was dated a year ago, I’m doubtful. If you send me to Amazon where I find exactly one review, I raise an eyebrow (yes, that happened). If I click a link and I get a 404…

Getting the idea?


When you do receive a book from NetGalley the hope is that you will provide feedback. If you do that the links and the profile will be less important. NetGalley gives a feedback quotient on your profile. It provides the number of titles you’ve downloaded against the number of times you’ve provided feedback. If you’ve downloaded one thousand books and given feedback on six, it doesn’t look too good. I’d suggest you choose your downloads with care. Do you really, really want to clutter up your ereader with every book on offer, many of which you’ll never read? If you download six books and provide feedback on all six, your feedback quotient will be 100%. Mind you, you’re not on a timetable, you can provide feedback at any time, months after you’ve downloaded the book. But bear in mind that’s why NetGalley is there. It’s a two-way process. You play the game and you’ll get approvals – even invitations.

The feedback element is less important for booksellers and librarians who provide a different kind of feedback in the form of book recommendations to clients. Nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations.

So if you’re not getting every book you ask for on NetGalley, maybe it’s time to check your profile, make sure your links work, and that you really are providing the feedback you promised. Do those things and I might even put you on auto-approval.

Had a rotten review? #amwriting

TeddyEverybody gets rotten reviews. It’s part of the territory. Your first one or two star is a coming of age, your movement from beginner to seasoned veteran. I’m not going to lecture you on survival techniques. The world and his wife has done that already. I’m usually a subscriber to the DO NOT READ THEM school. Let’s face it, there’s nothing useful you can do  about it, anyway. For lots of very good reasons.

But there’s one teensy bit of advice I will share. How many of you remember John Locke and his best-selling ‘how-to’ book, How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months? That was in 2011 – or at least, that’s when I bought mine. It turned out that he bought quite a lot of his success by buying reviews and there was a huge scandal. But setting that aside, his advice on bad reviews was well worth reading. As I recall, he said that if the review is not coming from your target audience, shrug and move on. If you have a fan base, and those people like your work, that’s really all that matters.

Take it to heart, writers. Snuggle up in bed with that little teddy of truth hugged close.

In praise of five star reviews

picture of five starsReviews. It’s one of the buzz words in the author world – especially if you’re self published or small press. Many articles have been written about how to handle negative reviews, how to get reviews, how to write reviews and whether reviews actually matter.

One thing that constantly comes up, in comments or in the article itself, is the sparkling, five star review. We all love those, of course, but so often potential readers say they ignore them. Why? Because:

  • they may have been paid for – Amazon’s rotten core (well worth reading, that article)
  • they may have been swaps with another author, therefore not entirely truthful – but Amazon has tried to limit those cases by removing some author reviews from books
  • they may have been written by your mum, dad, husband, cat. No, not the cat. The dog.

Sure, all of these things have happened. We’ve all read glowing reviews which didn’t exactly align with the book for which it was written. I recall one book which boasted half a dozen reviews along the lines of “wonderful book”. And then there was the other review, which pointed out the grammar problems evident in the first few pages, and even in the book’s title. Something like The Smith’s. This might mean the glowing reviews were the result of some of the issues mentioned above. I checked. The grammar issues were certainly there. As was the error in the title.

But then, maybe that’s uncharitable. A lot of people leave five star reviews because (er) they loved the book. I certainly have. Who’s to say the people leaving a review on The Smith’s didn’t love the book? Not everyone is a grammar Nazi. We do a lot of chest-thumping about one star reviews, how everybody is entitled to an opinion and after all, that’s all a review is. The same is true of five star reviews, especially if they’re considered and thoughtful.

So I like my five star reviews. I haven’t paid for them, haven’t touted for them, haven’t swapped for them. I love the fact that people enjoy my writing enough to say so.

What do you think?

A review is just somebody’s opinion

A review is just somebody’s opinion. It’s something of a truism, of course. And sometimes, it’s not even true. Some reviews are deliberate attempts to undermine a book’s (or a movie’s, or a restaurant’s) reputation. Sometimes they’re the reverse – paid-for reviews, or reviews left by well-meaning family and friends. Let’s exclude those from the discussion and only consider what might be termed ‘genuine’ reviews.

I think everyone who’s been in the writing business for more than, say, five minutes has learned that not everyone is going to like their book. My science fiction romance books may contain too much sex and not enough science for some readers. Or, the other way around, too much action-adventure and not enough romance. That’s a matter of reader expectation which can be addressed in a number of ways – cover and blurb being the obvious ones. Even then, though, what can you say to a person who is disappointed to read a $0.99 short story, not a novel, when the description clearly shows the length as forty pages? Or the ‘reviewer’ who complains about the gore in a book clearly marked as extreme horror? Or the reader who can only have ignored the blurb stating the book is dark, transgender homo-erotic when there is no happy-ever-after?

But back to real reviews. Like so much in life, people’s take on a story depends so very much on their own life experience. An author friend recently received a review on a book that dealt with deep, dark subjects. The reviewer couldn’t believe that the main character would make the same mistake more than once. Surely he wouldn’t go back for more! Really? Tell that to the battered wife who believes him when he says it’s the drink talking, he loves her, he won’t do it again. Or the heroin addict who knows the next dose may kill her, but shoots up, anyway.

Some people find swearing a complete turn-off. I’ve expressed my opinion on the ‘F-bomb’ (an expression I despise) elsewhere. But I do have to wonder if those readers have ever been anywhere where a group of teens gathers, and listen to the conversation. Other people wonder why the character would venture down into the basement by herself when she hears that strange rustling? But people do. Because we’re curious. This is not the ‘too dumb to live’ scenario, where the fourth person in the group goes down the dark path under the trees, after her three companions have already disappeared one at a time, in the same direction. People are a mixed bunch. Some women do still have a tendency to see their ex as something of a child, who has fallen into something beyond his control. Some people think it’s wise to marry somebody imprisoned for murder while they’re still inside. Some people tend to try to see the best in everyone.

The easy answer to this apparent disconnect between the words on the page and the reader is that the author hasn’t written the book well enough to convince. That may be so, but what about the reviewers who did ‘get’ it, who were convinced? If they’re in the minority, that’s a problem the author may care to consider. If they’re not, all s/he can do is shrug and move on.

To paraphrase the immortal Obi-wan Kenobi, “what I told you is true – from a certain point of view.” (Return of the Jedi)

Do you review?

‘Reviewing’ is such a subjective business. You might recall I wrote a glowing review of Linnea Sinclair’s Hope’s Folly recently. Out of interest I went back and read all the other reviews on the book’s Amazon page. Most are 4 or 5 stars, but a few – aren’t. One person thought the book was far too long. Another objected to all the time spent on ‘feelings’. Somebody else thought the pace was slow, another thought the romance moved too fast. Some were disappointed that previous characters didn’t appear. And, of course, none of those opinions are right or wrong. Obi-wan Kenobi’s comment to Luke on Dagobah comes to mind. “So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”

All of this had me mulling on my own reviewing style. I always rate books at 4 or 5. Now, some people will think that’s – oh I’m not sure what. Something negative. Something suspicious. But it isn’t. You see, I don’t often finish a book. I think life’s too short (especially at my age) to waste time on reading something that doesn’t grab me. In that case, I don’t write a review. It wasn’t to my taste. Neither is liver, or tripe. So if I finish a book properly (as opposed to skim reading from where I lost interest to see if my judgement was correct – Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code for instance) that’s an automatic 3 out of 5. If I was critiquing a story, I would list the points where I thought improvements might be made. If I know the author, I might do that anyway, via email. But I won’t write a review.

If I enjoyed the story with only a few reservations, the book will score a 4 and I will offer my opinion. If I loved it, the book scores 5.

Mind you, I’ve sometimes changed my perception. Jack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning comes to mind. I tried to read it a few times and gave up quickly. But then – and don’t ask me why – I persevered, and the novel has become a favourite. Here’s my review. Another example is Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods. I LOVE Pratchett. But this book didn’t press my buttons the first time through (although I did finish it). When I read it again at another time, it was a better read than I remembered.

I guess I should add that by now I’ve acquired the necessary thick skin about my own writing. Somebody doesn’t like my work, that’s okay. No one can please everybody. Other people have a different philosophy about ‘reviewing’, and simply see it as a way of recording their reaction to however much they read. Loved it, great, okay, ordinary, diabolical. And that’s perfectly valid. If I followed that approach, I’d be writing a pile of reviews that said ‘failed to capture my interest, never got past chapter 3’. The sad thing is, I’d have to give it a score out of 5 – and that doesn’t work for me. Pity they don’t have DNF (did not finish) as a category. I wonder how many of those negative review on Fifty Shades of Grey were really DNFs?

What do you do about reviewing? I’d really like to know.



The Last Analog Summer – and the vexed question of genre

picture of book coverWhat genre does the book fit under? It’s one of the catch-cries of publishing. Where do we put the book on the shelf? Which other books are its peers? That decision isn’t always easy, and Fred Limberg’s The Last Analog Summer is a case study, if you will.

Here’s the blurb

Welcome to Dodge, Iowa. Population: Frustrated. Why? Because it’s a digital dead-zone…a lonely analog island in an ocean of corn.

Old cars, record players, and some radios work okay—but there are no iPods, no internet, no video games or laptop computers, no cell phones, and some days…not much hope, it seems, for kids who’ve visited the big city.

The government insists an ancient magnetic meteorite is buried beneath the town. That’s what fries everything electronic. Uh-huh…right.

And, hey…pay no attention to the razor-fenced tower complex way out there in the corn, guarded by gun-toting camo-dudes. What secret compound? What power surges?

What a bunch of Bullthit!

Kevin, Tandy, and Deke, just graduated, are desperate to get out of Dodge. Trouble is, they’re flat broke and stuck in a bad ‘60’s movie. A mountain of debt looms, as well as a mountain of doubt.

Then Deke stumbles across ‘The Stratocaster’ at a farm auction. It’s old…way old…a pristine sunburst ’57 Strat. And it’s valuable…way valuable. They know immediately it’s their ticket out, a head-start on a real life…of having a chance.

The Last Analog Summer is a coming-of-age thriller—quirky, funny, tender at times, and full of worrisome twists. Kev, Tandy, and Deke desperately try to hang onto the old guitar. If it isn’t the town punk tricking them at the auction, it’s his misguided mom giving it to the radio preacher at WWJD, because, well… that’s what Jesus would do. And just when they have Reverend Diz on board— Ivy and Remy’s antics, which are antagonizing the camo-dudes to no end as they try to finally get some answers about the tower surges, go horribly wrong.

Will it take an Act-of-God, intervention by the mysterious and enigmatic Elston Gunn, or maybe…an all-out invasion by the U.S. Army to get the Stratocaster in their hands, once and for all?


On the face of it, this is out-and-out YA. After all, a YA book normally has protagonists in their late teens, and the main plot arc is ‘coming of age’. This book shouts all those things.

But wait…

If you said the names Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper , or Ritchie Valens to your average sixteen-year-old, he/she would give you one of those looks. What? Who? But if you’re my age (I’m in my sixties), the songs would play in your head. You might even start to sing the words. If you knew… Peggy Sue… I’ll stop there.

This book commences with a prologue, on that fatal winter’s day when Holly and his mates died in a plane crash. Old farts like me will know the names, know the songs, know about that accident. It’s a brilliant prologue because when it’s finished, the reader knows something the main characters do not, and this fact adds so much to the story of the Stratocaster, which is the star of the show. I found myself thinking, ‘if you only knew’ – rather a lot. Take heed, all those who favour prologues. They’re fine, if they have a real purpose. This one has.

But as they say, that’s not all. The other aspect of this story which takes it over into adulthood, is the town itself. Dodge, Iowa, with its old cars, vinyl records, an all-purpose bar-come-eatery and church on Sundays. The corn is beginning to grow, the water flows around a great, big rock in the creek, where the kids gather to talk and do a bit of skinny-dipping. Kevin angles for a kiss, and hopes for more. School’s finished, so they need jobs. Any kind of job.

Do you remember all that stuff? I do. Maybe not in small-town, middle America, but it wasn’t so very different down in Western Australia when I was growing up. The offset of that, is I appreciate all the modern technology, so I can indulge in a bit of nostalgia, while still understanding how the kids would feel, effectively cut off from their own generation.

So I was well and truly sucked in. The story is told from eighteen-year-old Kevin’s point of view as he wrestles with all those issues of growing up; honesty, trust, sex and doing what’s right. Limberg has drawn all his characters with loving care. You very quickly get a grasp on the teenagers, and their different personalities. The secondary characters are just as real. I could see this story roll out like a movie script. The only people who are a tad two-dimensional are the bad guys, the camo-dudes protecting the Secret of the Tower – but that’s actually okay, because of the way the book is written. That’s what Kevin thinks, who are you, a mere reader, to argue?

This is a terrific story for people of all ages. It would be one real, Goddam shame if the book is tucked away on some shelf labeled ‘YA’. It’s the last place old farts would go and look. Isn’t it? Personally, I’d rather see books put in the adult section. When I was a kid (as in early teens and up), I rarely looked at the kids’ books, I was past them in reading ability, and subject matter. I’m inclined to think that The Last Analog Summer is more likely to appeal to adults, than to teenagers.

Which shelf? I dunno. Is it a mystery? Not really, although there are a few mysterious goings-on. Is it a thriller? No. It’s a lovely little story that brings the past into the present – and in the end, you have to wonder how much has really changed. So… literary fiction, then? Shudder?

I’d love to know what you think.

Do reviews really matter?

The honesty or dishonesty of reviews has been the hot topic of the month, with many people expressing opinions on sock puppets and purchasing reviews, as well as the practice of writing scathing negative reviews on books with the express purpose of driving down a book’s ranking. The fact is that practices such as these won’t go away. Where there is a potential for profit, you will find corruption.

I can’t see much point in being outraged. I don’t know about you, but I stopped taking much notice of book reviews a loooong time ago. A review is somebody’s opinion, no more, no less – even if it’s honest. That’s just as true of prestigious literary awards like the Archibald or the Booker. Frankly, I can just about guarantee that if a book’s won one of those, I probably won’t like it. And that’s just a matter of taste.

So how do I choose books? I do what I did in the days before Amazon. Come on, some of you can remember that far back, when you actually went to bricks and mortar book shops. You went to the shelves which held your favourite genre and if you didn’t grab the latest by your favourite author, or a book your mate recommended, you’d look at the covers. Then you’d take out the book and read the blurb. Still interested? Peruse a few pages. If it looked interesting, you headed for the desk.

You can still do that on Amazon. Find your genre, then an interesting cover. Read the blurb, download a sample. If it’s crap – don’t buy it. Sure, if somebody I know, and whose opinion I respect, has left a review, I might take note. But most blockbuster books attract a wide range of reviews. The infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” has literally thousands of both 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews. It all depends on your taste, doesn’t it?

In the last few days, JK Rowling’s new book for adults, “The Casual Vacancy”, has hit the book shelves and so has Terry Pratchett’s latest YA, “Dodger”. Leaving aside Hatchette’s formatting debacle with Rowling’s book, the reception to her novel hasn’t been great. Response to Sir Terry’s non-Discworld story has also been mixed. To some extent, I imagine that’s because people’s expectations have not been met. The authors have strayed away from their usual patch to explore new territory, and I have to say that may well be a warning for writers. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write outside your usual genre, just that if you do, don’t expect the people who read (say) Harry Potter to love your new work.

I’ll still buy “Dodger” and I dare say I’ll enjoy the read. I wouldn’t have bought either “The Casual Vacancy” or “Fifty Shades”, regardless of their Amazon ranking.

Just one more point; most people don’t write reviews, or even anonymously rate books on Goodreads. They buy a book to delve into another world for a little while and then they tell their friends what they thought. And let’s face it, word of mouth is still far and away the best review you’ll ever get.

I’m starting to think Amazon might be better scrapping its flawed review system altogether. Too often it does more harm than good. What do you think?

I know I said I’d never do it again but…

picture of a paper boatI’ve loaded a book to Authonomy. Yes, I can see you pointing your finger at your temple and drawing tight circles in the air. Why, you ask?

I’ve written this book – or should I say I haven’t quite finished it. The genre isn’t my usual SF Romance or a hist fic. And I’ve kind of ground to a halt. I know it needs a few more chapters to round off the conflicts but I’m beginning to wonder if it works at all. Have I expanded something that should never have been expanded?

Sure, I could ask the usual crowd and to some extent, I have. A few new folk have seen the opening chapter and given approval. But everybody’s busy, so I figured I might get a different audience on the Big A. Besides, a few other people I know have tested the water since the latest reorganisation. What the hell. If it’s awful I’ll just run away.

So. Book is up, low-key profile created. Yes, things have certainly changed. I was not set upon by a squillion people fighting to be first to back a book they could not possibly have read. I was not inundated with spam (a couple – but I can live with that). I set about reading and commenting on other people’s books, I admit books I knew were there. When the first comment appeared on mine, it was a long and thoughtful consideration of the blurb and the first chapter. The writer did not back the book and assured me a return read was not required. How very different to the last time I splashed about in this puddle. I was surprised to see how many folks from the Old Authonomy (said with the same respect as the Old Republic in Star Wars) were still on the site.

I shall not be wasting my time on the forums. I never did like the endless sniping and rudeness. To be sure, there’s still plenty of gaming going on and the same spectrum of quality from excellent to unreadable. I received a message from one person whose book is highly ranked, urging me to read and back and reinforcing the message with an extract. I cringed. To me, this person would fail writing 101. The misuse of grammar, mixed metaphors and overwriting meant I wouldn’t be reading that book in a hurry. But obviously, others don’t agree. Me, I still can’t be bothered with the desk nonsense. That’s not why I’m here. Just want to see what people think of my work.

Hey ho. I’ve floated my little MS boat on the Authonomy ocean. Let us see where the venture takes me.

ADDENDUM 12 Oct 2012.

The experiment turned out to be something of a failure. Comments on the first few chapters only, comments from people who don’t read the genre so wouldn’t really be aware of the expectations. BUT I met a few more fellow writers and made some more connections off the site. I soon stopped going back to Authonomy and deleted my account after a few months. I won’t be going back.

Publishing is a risky business

picture of suit of armourIt’s a very brave thing we do, getting our work published. Yes, it’s exciting and everything, getting a book or a painting or a piece of music or a photo out there in public. But as soon as you do that, the work is immediately open to criticism. The more widely known your work is, the more open to criticism by total strangers it becomes and some of them don’t take prisoners.

I got a bad review for one of my books the other day. Somebody really didn’t like it. At all. I mentioned the fact on Twitter and commenced a fascinating discussion with a couple of fellow-writers about ‘reviews’ and our responses.

Was I ‘hurt’, one asked. No. A long time ago I might have been but now I saw it almost as a rite of passage that an anonymous reader felt strongly enough about my work to comment. Who am I to cast stones? I love Terry Pratchett and JRR Tolkien; lots hate their work. I’m less than luke warm about ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Do you think Dan Brown cares? I love Harry Potter, haven’t (wouldn’t/couldn’t) read ‘Twilight’. I despise James Joyce’s work. Why should I be immune?

By the end of a long discourse conducted in 140 character bites my fellow writers and I agreed that readers were entitled to an opinion, wondered why people bothered writing vitriol about a free book, found that negative reviews didn’t necessarily mean a drop in readers. Criticism is acceptable provided it does not transfer to the author. ‘I Hate your story’ should not come across as ‘you’re an idiot’. Sometimes, though, it will, because the internet is anonymous and it’s so very easy to cast a verbal rock through a window and hide. Those we simply have to rise above and learn to ignore. These people don’t know us (the person) – only our work.

The world turns, as it does every day, and the day after the bad review I discovered a wonderful, glowing review for a different book. I don’t deny I prefer those and it certainly balanced any bad feelings I might have had. Yin and Yang. Black and White. It’s all a matter of opinion.

For those interested, the bad review was for the short story ‘Supertech’ and you’ll find it on Goodreads. You’ll find good reviews on all my books and no, they are not all from family (my family doesn’t read my work) and friends.

So please share with me, fellow writers; how do you take ‘negative’ reviews?