Indie-Author Stigma Part III: Are 5-Star Reviews Meaningless?

Like many indie authors, I only sport small sales and a scant number of reviews. And like many indie authors, I’m fairly sure that’s not a reflection on the quality of my writing, but rather the state of the current market. Here’s the harsh reality: it’s difficult to sell a 12-20 page short story for 99 cents when others are selling full novels for that price, or even offering them up for free.

I used to chalk my low sales up to just that fact. Flooding the market with so many inexpensive books has muddied the waters, if you will.  But after a recent experience on Twitter, I’m seeing that there’s much more to it than numbers.  The water’s not just muddy, it’s outright toxic.

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Scanning Twitter one evening, I noticed quite a few author Tweets plugging their latest works and their 5-star reviews. Naturally, I clicked on their provided link, took a look at their glowing reviews and then used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature (I think most quality indie-authors already know where I’m heading).

My first horror went something like this…

The prologue heading read “Many Millennium’s Ago.”

How can you call yourself an author when you don’t know the difference between a plural and a possessive? Of course, removing the apostrophe doesn’t correct the matter either, because the plural of “Millennium” is “Millennia.”

Then I read the first paragraph. The author used the tags, “I readily agreed,” and “I say,” within the first three lines. They’re not the standard “I said,” which is fine, but they’re also in two different tenses.

But this book had three 5-star reviews. Cough…gag!

And for my next horror…

I saw another author’s promo Tweet for a short story collection. I jumped at the chance to see this one and clicked over. This collection had about 110 pages and six mixed reviews.

There were five P.O.V. shifts in the first ten lines, including internal thoughts from different characters. I know that such a technique is possible, but it should only be done by the hand of a master. Like Dune, by Frank Herbert. If you’re not Frank Herbert and you don’t have a manuscript to match Dune, then don’t even try it.  This particular author was clearly not practiced in the art of P.O.V. shifts, as it was clunky and impossible to follow whose head I was in.

Yet the collection had one 5-star and nothing below 3-stars. Cough…gag!

If I’d purchased either of these, I would’ve shut off my Kindle and sent out a 1-star review. Does it make anyone else ill that shoddy works are being advertised with 5 stars? I have a very hard time believing that those reviews weren’t paid for, or solicited from friends and family.

I do not cajole, pester, arm-twist, guilt-trip, beg, plead, finagle, nag, or purchase reviews from anyone; what you see on my books is honest feedback from real readers. Between the poor workmanship and the misleading reviews running rampant on Amazon, is it any wonder that indie authors are stigmatized? Doesn’t that get under your skin?

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The Reality

While writing this post, I surfed the internet in an attempt to find others who feel the same way. After all, sometimes I second-guess myself and think I’m being a meanie. Sure enough, I did find a myriad of posts that confirm my sentiments.

This one from Catherine Hoover sums things up:

“When a self-published author doesn’t take pride in their work and just slaps a book up for sale that isn’t even close to being ready for publication…it reinforces the notion that self-published books are of a lower standard.”

I completely agree; poor quality is what has muddied the waters of indie publishing. Now that the “shoddy-ne’er-do-well-wannabee-hacks” are recruiting people to leave misleading glowing reviews, they have turned the water toxic.

In today’s market, being good just isn’t good enough, and if that is not a sad enough reality then consider the following:

Being meticulous, talented, artistic, and making a painstaking effort in order to turn out the finest quality product simply isn’t good enough either. Because through no fault of your own, you had a tainted reputation before you began.

For Readers and Authors

How do you deal with the stigma? Can anything be done? How do you think the community of quality indie authors can fight back?

***See all the titles from Ernesto San Giacomo on Amazon***

Indie Author Stigma (Part I)

It is a true force that indie authors have to deal with every day . One look at some free previews on Amazon will clearly demonstrate this fact. I saw one where the blurb had typos, and then the author was on the forums lamenting about his lack of sales. On another, the first sentence had a quotation mark instead of an apostrophe (…don”t tell me…). I did not have to search for hours to find these. They are readily available, and within minutes you can find some as well.

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Photo by Joel Montes de Oca (used under creative commons license)

Remember the old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Like many indie authors, I don’t have the money to pay a professional editor. However, I take the time to make at least three editing passes, before daring to present it to my critique group. After listening to their suggestions, I’ll polish up another draft and send it off to beta readers. Another polishing pass (remember, each pass can create more typos) and then I read it out loud, slowly and carefully, to ensure the work that will bear my name is as good as it can be.

Even with all of that, I have still managed to put out a short story that dropped a word out of a sentence. I still don’t know how that happened, because the missing word was present in the original document. I’ve fixed it, so no harm no foul, but it has made me more diligent.

Remember, we’re not just authors. We are independent businesses; our books, poetry and stories are products. Yes, they are marketable and sell-able products like any other. All the promotions we may do, or slick art work on the cover can’t hide sub-standard writing. Conversely, a cover that looks like a lunch-hour project will not compel anyone to discover your writing either.

Be careful and think of all aspects before uploading anything. There’s a great blog series by Diane Tibert to help you through the entire process, if you would like more detailed advice.

Seen any poor examples out there? What do you do to protect your writing reputation?

Free Previews: A Double-Edged Sword?

If you’ve browsed for a novel or a short story at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, then you’re probably familiar with the free preview feature. On Amazon you can view the first 10% of an e-book, and on Smashwords it varies by author preference.

Now many think that this is a positive feature for your work. After all, you’ve been through several revisions of the piece and you want prospective readers to see that you’re not contributing to the dreaded Indie Author Stigma. You want to show that your writing is clear and properly edited, with no amateur errors.

I suppose that’s a good thing, but here’s the problem. I’ve heard that most audiences today judge whether or not they like a film within the first five minutes, and I suspect that readers are no different. So what happens when the best parts of your work are in the middle or at the end?

I’m selling short stories right now, as a way to build up some readership before my novel is ready for the public. My own quirky story-telling manner never jumps at you in the first page or two. Instead, my style does quite the opposite. I like to lull a reader into a sense of security before everything begins to run amok. Therefore, the first page or two may not hook a potential reader and reel them in. But my beta readers tell me that the lulling makes for a real punch at the end, so I’m reluctant to change this style.

Now, we all know about the need for a first chapter to be powerful. However, I’m talking about a short story, which can be chapter length or less. So the online retailers only show the first few pages, which I generally use to establish characters and setting. Therefore that percentage-based preview often cuts off before the story really gets going.  And I really wonder if that is affecting my readership.

So I have two questions for the blogosphere:

Readers:  

Authors: