Friday, December 5, 2014
And another dangerous word
It does not pay to be honest. It is not safe to be honest. Honesty is a very dangerous commodity.
In the past, with my blogs and reviews and other writing, I have tried to be as honest as I can. I believed very sincerely that that was what was needed.
Honesty may have been needed, but it was not wanted. I learned that over a year ago when Goodreads instituted the infamous September 2013 Purge. I learned it again last month when Goodreads permanently banned me.
It doesn't make any difference. I don't know how to be dishonest about these things. I can lie about other things -- I assure you, I'm no saint -- but what point is there to lying in a book review? Or in a discussion related to books and writing and reading? What's the freaking point?
Authors need to get a clue. I am amazed, yes truly amazed, that there is so much ignorance out there still, after all this time. Maybe it's more willful ignorance than the innocent kind. And yes, this is the kind of not-nice-but-honest comment that gets me into trouble. No doubt I will get into trouble again before this post is finished.
Reviews are not commercials. Reviewers are not there -- wherever there is -- to write ad copy for authors. How difficult is this to understand? Leaving out the semi-pro reviewers -- by which I mean those who have formal book blogs and regularly obtain advance copies for the explicit purpose of reviewing -- most reviewers are just readers. They're consumers. They bought the damn book, or obtained it free when the author was giving it away, or checked it out of the library, or whatever, and then they read it. Where in that commercial transaction is it decreed that the reader owes the writer anything at all? Where is the requirement that the reader help the author sell her book to other readers? Or help the author become a better writer? Or fix the mistakes in the present book?
That's right. It's not there. Readers do not have any obligation to review at all. They don't have any obligation to rate a book on Goodreads, or shelve it on Leafmarks, or proofread it or anything else. None. At. All.
And readers are most certainly not obligated to lie for you, the author of a terrible book.
You know who you are. I don't have to put your name out here for everyone to see. You know who you are.
I've read your books. Or at least I've tried to. And they're terrible. And you just can't stand to have that truth held up in front of you. You just can't stand it.
Truth is a very powerful thing. It can be painful, very painful, but if it has the power to hurt, then it must indeed be very powerful.
You will hate me, if you don't already, but you cannot stop me from being honest. You can, like someone else about whom I dared to tell the truth, take revenge against me. I already know, however, because I am capable of at least a certain amount of honesty with myself, that I cannot be anything but honest with others, especially if they are being dishonest in a way that would hurt the innocent. I know, because I do try to be as honest with myself as I am with others, that this makes me Not a Nice Person. I know that people will dislike me because of it. I know that I have almost no defense against them or that revenge, because my only defense is the same damn honesty that got me into the mess in the first place.
Your book is terrible. Whether you're so ignorant that you can't see it for yourself, or you're in total emotional denial, or you know it but you've decided to just lie about it anyway, the fact remains: Your book is terrible. But you want me to lie about it so someone else will buy it? Is that the name of your game? You want me to try to get someone to believe that they will be sufficiently entertained by this piece of tripe you have written and published so that they will fork over $2.99 or $3.99 or whatever the asking price is? The only way anyone will think this piece of garbage is readable is if people lie about it. People like me. Well, no, not exactly. People like me won't do it. We won't lie.
What will you do then? You can, if you so choose, pay people to lie about it. You will pay them to post online that they loved your book, that it's the greatest thing ever written, that it should be made into a movie starring George Clooney, Orlando Bloom, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian. Some people will believe those lies. Most, however, won't.
Your writing stinks. But you don't want anyone to point that out. Rather than be honest and want honest "reviews" of your book, you want to silence the honest voices. You throw up a litany of reasons why low ratings and negative reviews are by definition invalid. You think no one should read books they aren't enjoying, that they should not rate or review books they have not completely read, that they should think of the author's feelings and only review books they can give five stars to. You declare only other authors are qualified to write negative reviews because they are the only ones who know how much blood, sweat, and agony goes into the writing of a book, any book. And then you accuse any author who posts a negative review of being jealous and cruel and unsupportive of her "fellow authors."
By that standard, authors are only allowed to post positive reviews . . . or none at all. And readers, who by that definition are disqualified from leaving negative reviews, can only post positive ones.
You want readers to lie by omission. You want them to shut up and say nothing about your awful book, as though that will make your writing any better. It won't.
Your book is indeed awful. You can't write. Your story is banal, your characters are wooden, your plot is implausible. Your cover looks like something knocked together by a couple of 12-year-olds, and your formatting is an embarrassment to MSWord. This product has no redeeming features whatsoever.
Yet if I say that, and if I provide evidence to substantiate my claims, you will call me a troll and a bully and a meanie. You've done it in the past. You will accuse me of jealousy, and I will laugh hysterically because there is no reason for someone who is reasonably competent with the English language to be jealous of you and this file of putrescent gibberish that you call a book.
You will tell me that I should think of your tender feelings, but I should not care at all about the potential readers to whom my silence is a lie of tacit approval. Those readers are nothing to you, or at least nothing more than their credit card numbers on their one-click accounts. To you they have no feelings worthy of respect, worthy of honesty.
You want me to be what I am not. I am not a liar. And I will not lie for you.
A few people stood up with me when I took on Goodreads (which is well on its way to becoming nothing more than the advertising arm of Amazon if it isn't already) but most did not. A few have spoken out since my banning, but most of gone back to their previous silence. It is one thing to "take one for the team" by reading and then reviewing a terrible book, because of course that is done voluntarily and there are a lot of laughs to go around in the process. And one really doesn't take any kind of risk when doing that.
I took one for the team over and over and over. Under my real name. The blog posts are still on Booklikes. And here. And there are screenshots of many of the now-erased posts on Goodreads.
I put my Goodreads account on the line in the name of honesty. I am not one to blow my own horn when it comes to my books, but I will blow my horn 'til the cows come home over what I did on Goodreads: I documented the dishonesty. And that's what I was banned for.
The excuse that will probably be given, if there ever is one, is that I wasn't nice enough. And that much is true. I wasn't nice. I was honest, but I wasn't nice.
When authors came onto Goodreads threads and asked whether or not they should buy reviews, I was honest: I told them they shouldn't. I told them those reviews might be removed. I told them those reviews could be identified and then their books would be labeled as "This one is so bad the author has to pay people to pretend they read it."
Could I have been nicer? Could I have written, "Oh, dear, I don't think that would be a very good idea. What if people found out you bought those reviews? What would they think of your book? What would they think of you?" Yes, I suppose I could have written it that way. Would it have got the point across? Maybe, or maybe not. Would it have been me?
No, it would not.
I understand the allure of reviews. I recognize that they are repeatedly touted as the key to making sales. One has only to read the posts of the frankly desperate authors who beg for reviews because reviews are, they believe, needed to generate sales. They believe this as surely as they believe night follows day. Except that night really does follow day; unfortunately, reviews do not generate sales.
Amazon, however, has a vested interest in fostering that belief.
Amazon wants people to keep uploading books. The cost to Amazon is negligible, since they do none of the actual work of publishing. They do not edit, provide artwork, or market those author-published works. They do, however, get a cut of each one that's purchased.
Though these are rough numbers and there are exceptions on all, these are the basic figures. On a 99-cent Kindle book, the author's royalty rate is 35%. Amazon keeps 65 cents off the top, the author gets 34 cents. The same percentages hold up to $2.98. At $2.99 and up, the author can elect a 70% royalty, which means Amazon's cut is 90 cents plus they charge a few cents to cover the cost of digital storage and delivery.
Amazon is much better positioned to cover the minuscule costs of those thousands of free downloads than the authors are, even the perma-free titles. Will that benefit someday disappear? I expect it probably will, but that's another discussion.
So who benefits from the Kindle Direct Publishing platform the most? Amazon. And it doesn't matter how good or how bad the product is, Amazon still gets a cut.
Crappy books do not sell. Not even hundreds of glowing 5-star reviews can push crappy books into best-seller status -- and profits for the authors. Some of you who are reading this are very well aware of what you've done to rack up those reviews and ratings.
Have you given the books away free and then asked readers to leave a review? Have you used social media to make friends with your readers, in Facebook groups or on Twitter, on Goodreads and Amazon and Booklikes, and then solicited just a short review from them, telling them how much it would help you? Did you make them feel obligated to do so? Of course you weren't really pressuring them. You just sort of left the suggestion in their minds, and they of course being flattered were more than eager to do so.
Why is it then that the next book, the one you didn't give away free and didn't pressure readers to buy and read, didn't get hundreds of 5-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads? Why do you suppose that is? Maybe because people didn't like it? Maybe they lied in their reviews on the first book because they'd been flattered by your attention, but in reality they knew the book was garbage?
Amazon doesn't care why your second book didn't sell. Or your third, fourth, or any of the subsequent titles. Did it ever occur to you that maybe Amazon is using you as their loss leaders to put the competition out of business? Probably not. Probably not any more than it ever occurred to you to read the 1- and 2-star reviews that were left for your crappy books on Amazon and Goodreads, on Leafmarks and Booklikes.
Nor does Amazon care if you buy reviews. Many of you do, of course. Many of you have been caught red-handed on fiverr.com. Many of those reviews have been removed from Goodreads and the reviewers' accounts have been terminated, but very few of you have lost your author status there, unless like Michael Beas and Cheryl Persons you were also selling reviews on Goodreads. But do you remember how this paragraph started? "Nor does Amazon care if you buy reviews."
Amazon doesn't care because they've got that wonderful "Verified Purchase" button. It's supposed to imply that the accompanying review is a legitimate consumer opinion, the kind that's required under Federal Trade Commission guidelines. There are probably a lot of genuine consumers who trust that label. But you've figured out a way around that, which is exactly what Amazon wanted you to do. So now when you buy your "reviews" from fiverr and the other shill outfits, you buy another "gig" so the reviewer can buy your book and get that "Verified Purchase" stamp. And Amazon gets their cut and they're happy to turn a blind eye to the transaction.
How's that working for you? Two fiverr gigs are going to cost you $10. On your $2.99 book you'll net roughly $2.00. You'll get that back when the reviewer buys your book, and then you have to hope they don't return it and pocket the extra $2.99. Even if they honor the agreement and don't ask for a refund, that review has to generate four more sales just for you to break even.
Amazon got 90-some cents for doing pretty much nothing. That's why they don't care if you buy reviews that say your paranormal YA chicklit book is better than Tolkien and Herbert and Martin and Gabaldon and Rowling all wrapped up together even if anyone with more than twelve functioning brain cells can see it's absolute dreck. Amazon has a vested interest in not caring about, well, about honesty or integrity or ethics or quality or any of that bullshit. Honesty and integrity and ethics aren't profitable. And Amazon, like all corporations, is all about profit.
None of the Amazon accounts identified as belonging to fiverr "reviewers" have been removed from Amazon by Amazon. None of their reviews have been removed by Amazon. Some of those individuals attempted to establish new Goodreads accounts but were quickly identified and quickly removed. However, Amazon doesn't remove them. Even though Amazon's review guidelines explicitly state that paid reviews are a violation, no amount of reporting "abuse" will get them removed. I know this because I've reported them. Repeatedly. They're still there.
During the months that I routinely monitored Goodreads and Amazon reviews to connect them with fiverr "reviewers," I came to be very familiar with the names under which they posted their reviews. They're still posting. That means you're still buying.
And yes, in case you're wondering, I'm still monitoring. I'm still taking screen shots, though not as many as I did before. And of course I'm not reporting to Goodreads. Why should I?
I already took one for the team, a big one. I did my part. Now it's someone else's turn, if they care enough that it. My guess is that they don't.
Does that mean you're in the clear? Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. Maybe I'll get angry enough with you again and start posting more screenshots to Booklikes. Because remember, I'm not a nice person. I have no reason to be nice any more. My being nice or not nice really has nothing to do with it, does it? No, the real issue is that I'm honest, and you just can't stand that. You just can't stand it at all, can you.
Maybe you're one of those authors who self-righteously brags that you never bought a review and you didn't stoop so low as to give your books away to anyone. You put time and effort into your books and you don't think you should let someone benefit from your effort without, by God, paying you for the right to read it.
But when I look at your book on Amazon, I see more familiar names. No, not fiverr shills but the names of other authors, other self-publishing authors, other self-publishing authors who have been desperately looking for people to buy and read and review their books and they'll do the same in return. It's different, you insist, when you agree to swap honest reviews with each other.
You and I both know those reviews aren't honest in the least. You and the other author are going to stroke each other's egos because you're afraid that if you don't tell him his steaming pile of manure is the next Hunger Games, he'll retaliate and let the world know your book isn't the next Interview with a Vampire. Both of you believe that 5-star reviews will generate sales, and that's what it's all about. You're no different from Amazon in that respect (pun intended). You don't care one fig about honesty. You only care about sales. You will lie, and you will ask someone else to lie, in the name of selling your terrible, terrible book.
The CJRR continues -- that nefarious group of self-publishing authors who rate each other's absolutely suckworthy spewings with unalloyed 5-star ratings and attack anyone who dares do otherwise. The sockpuppet ratings continue unabated. The fiverr shills haven't missed a beat. It gets worse instead of better on Goodreads and Amazon, because that's the way Amazon wants it.
Readers may ask, "But why? Why does Amazon want to promote crap?"
Because it sells. If it doesn't sell itself, it at least sells advertising. Every time a reader clicks on a free book, other items pop up. Try it sometime. Recommended. Readers who bought this also bought. And so on. And Goodreads is just an advertising platform for Amazon. So Goodreads doesn't really care either.
They cared a little bit for a little while. They cared long enough to remove a few of the shadier accounts. Michael Beas with more than 350 purchased reviews. "Meghan" from Manila with almost 800. The publicist and her sock puppet army who had over 2500 5-star reviews posted on Goodreads. Did someone from Amazon come along and tell the Goodreads staff that they had to axe Linda Hilton's account because Linda Hilton wasn't being nice?
Did Amazon not like it that I was posting screen shots that linked Amazon "Top Reviewers" to fiverr accounts?
Were publicists like Kelsey McBride buying enough ads for their clients on Goodreads and Amazon that those websites took the cash over ethics to let those publicists, their employees, their sockpuppets, continue to post reviews in violation of FTC regulations and didn't want Linda Hilton to publicize (pun intended) that information?
Yes, I'm angry at you uploaders -- you're not really authors at all -- because you've fouled the nest we all need to live in. I despise you, and I know the risk I'm taking even in posting this screed. Amazon is big enough and powerful enough, and I am insignificant enough, that they could refuse to publish my books. Believe me, the loss of my sales wouldn't hurt them financially. (Actually, it probably wouldn't hurt me financially very much either.) If they do that, you'll know and I'll know that what I've written here is important enough for them to want to silence me.
They don't go out of their way to silence the insignificant. Honesty is never insignificant. It's too dangerous to be insignificant.