Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Reader's Duty

Well, here's some advice for amateur bloggers: don't promise to start writing regular posts a week before you start a new job. I just started working at a hospital, and though I'd love to tell you guys about what I'm doing I feel like it might cross a professional line. Maybe someday I'll come back and explain more, but for now all I'm saying is I haven't had time to blog. I've barely had time to write, and I like that way better than blogging...

But weeks ago, I said I would discuss my feelings about Goodreads ratings. I'm going to expand that topic a bit to include Amazon reviews as well. But first, let's talk about orange juice.

Wait, what? Orange juice?

Take a moment and think about the orange juice you get in the store. Does it say "not from concentrate?" Good, that's the one I'm talking about. They want you to think it's the same as the stuff you get when you juice a real, fresh orange. Have you ever made orange juice from squeezing oranges? It's sweeter, clear, and surprisingly less "orange" flavored, isn't it? What's going on?

You see, oranges don't grow evenly year-round. But people want orange juice to be in stores all the time. So orange juice producers got an idea: they take the oxygen out of the orange juice then store it for later, sometimes many months later. And that's... fine. It's got the same nutrients, more or less, but it doesn't taste like anything, let alone orange juice. So the producers create "flavor packs," which are these carefully formulated combinations of things like orange peel oil and citric acid. They add these things, all natural things, back into the orange juice which turns it into that bright-yellow, sour, very orange-flavored stuff you buy in the store. Some people like it better than fresh-squeezed, some prefer fresh, and most don't even realize there's a difference.

Why did I just waste all your time with that? Because the modern publishing industry is very much like the de-oxygenated, re-flavored orange juice you find in the supermarket. At best, publishers have editors work and re-work an author's novel until it's "marketable," which means it's carefully tailored to what focus groups and marketing people think the mass market wants. At worst, a publisher will come up with a plot outline and ask a writer to fill in the blanks of a story they know people want to read. And that works for the mass market, but some people prefer their reading to include some "fresh squeezed" writing. That's the inherent beauty of the newly emerging strength of the independent author.

My novels aren't edited by someone who wants to make it "marketable." That means it comes out rough around the edges, with potentially unlikable characters and a plot which sometimes veers in the wrong direction. It's not mass-market, it won't suit everyone's tastes, but some people want a "fresh squeezed" story instead of one which reads exactly like every other bestseller they've ever read.

The problem with the independent author market is that there's a lot of junk out there. I'm not saying my books are more appealing to all, but there is a significant quality difference between many books available on the market. Since independent authors have much smaller reader bases, they tend not to get reviewed as often by major publications. People don't know which independent books are good, and which ones are junk, but more importantly people don't know which ones fit their tastes and which ones they won't like.

That's where reviews come in. On Goodreads, people can rate a book from 1 to 5 stars, with 1 and 2 indicating distaste and 3-5 indicating enjoyment. That hints at whether a book is quality, but it does nothing to let someone know if the book will match their tastes. And then there are people who rate 1-star because their ideologically disagree with a book (and there is a particular ideological group who are inclined to be offended by my book because of who the killer is, which I can attribute at least three 1-stars ratings to judging by their book lists). Goodreads allows people to write text reviews, but those seem incredibly rare. Amazon only displays written reviews, but all too often those are misused or too generic to create a recommendation.

Which is why I'm pleading with you, the readers, who probably don't even stop by this page, to start writing reviews. I don't care if you liked my book or not, I still want you to write a review for mine, and for other books you read. Only about one in a hundred purchases on Amazon lead to a review, and those tend to come from people who prefer mass market books. So, if you like "fresh squeezed" stories, you need to review them. And just saying "I liked it" isn't enough. What did you like, what rubbed you the wrong way, and who do you think would appreciate this book?

People who don't think women in their mid-twenties "drop the f-bomb in casual conversation" won't like my book. That's a GREAT REVIEW!!! I mean, yeah, it's a negative review, but it tells a certain group of people to stay away from my book. I need more like that, though I'd prefer a healthy mix of positive and negative reviews if at all possible.

And considering (as of this post) 20% of my Amazon reviews are from people who "Didn't receive the book so I can't give a rsting (sic)," you might want to just ignore star ratings completely and read the reviews before you buy.


No promises when I'll be back next time, so I'm going to make a little challenge: I will post a new blog post within 24 hours of someone asking for one. How do you ask? Just send an email to with the title "New Blog Post Please." I don't expect anyone will take me up on it, which would just prove that nobody reads these...

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