The problem, these days, is that the dinner selection most nights is pretty narrow. As my wife says, "A hunk of meat and some vegetables." If my daughter was rating dinners at our house, most nights would get one star from her. In response, I work with her as much as possible to make her school lunches interesting for her. [On the other hand, the boys take the same thing every day and are more than happy with it.] It's a small price to pay and works a lot better than me throwing a tantrum at her every night because she doesn't want to eat what I cooked.
I've known those parents, by the way. The ones that yell at their kids if they don't want to eat dinner. "This is perfectly good food, and you will eat it!" Or something like that. It makes the kids scared to voice their opinion... even when asked.
And that goes for readers.
But let's look at book bloggers, first. If you travel around to the blogs of book bloggers and take a look at the ones who will not review indie books (which is most of them), you will find two reasons repeated across most of the blogs:
1. The books aren't very good.
2. If you say the books aren't very good, you get attacked by the authors for saying it.
Basically, an author approaches a book blogger and says, "Hey, would you be willing to review my book."
The blogger says, "Yes, but it will be an honest review."
The author says, "Oh, yes, of course! That's what I want! An honest review!"
When the blogger gives the book a 1- or 2-star rating, the author explodes, "How could you do that to my book? My book is awesome! You're just stupid and didn't get it!"
Sometimes it's not actually the author but a friend of the author "sticking up" for his/her friend, but it amounts to the same thing.
From experience, I'm going to say that this happens a lot. I'm guessing I've done about 40 reviews of indie books at this point (no, I'm not going back to count), and I've had that response at least half a dozen times, now. That's significant. It's even more significant if you reduce the overall number from books I've reviewed to authors I've reviewed, which is a considerably smaller number.
And, then, maybe it makes sense as to why readers tend to stay away from indie books. When the author of the book attacks you for a negative review, it makes sense to stay away from that author. Unfortunately, it also makes sense to stay away from all of those indie authors (because traditionally published authors don't tend to attack reviews in the comment section on Amazon (maybe that's because the publishers keep a rein on the authors and prevent them from doing that, I don't know)); you can't tell which ones haven't grown up enough to not act like a 3rd grader over a negative review.
Of course, the whole thing can be even worse if you are another indie author, because many of these tantrum throwing authors will retaliate for perceived bad reviews by seeking revenge against you through the giving of fake, 1-star reviews, including getting their friends and/or family to join in "the cause" of giving that guy "a taste of his own medicine."
And, yes, this is a situation I'm going through, right now, as you know if you follow my blog. The author in question, along with his sister, have been fairly free about 1-starring everything I've published and bashing the cover art done by the talented Rusty Webb. What we'll call the drama around this situation prompted Tony Laplume to ask me "why?" Why review books at all if it leads to situations like this one? I think that's a very good question, because the whole thing seems... well, let's just say it's a minefield, and there's no way through it without setting some of them off.
I think there are three main reasons why indie authors need to step up and give honest reviews to their fellow indie authors:
- It helps to legitimize the field of indie publishing. Right now, the general view from the outside is that indie writers are all busy shining each other's crap and saying how good it is. Basically, we all go around giving each other 5-stars on our books no matter how bad they are, so you can't trust indie writers. [This is, by the way, the point of contention between me and the other author. He believes that all indie authors (or, at least, the ones who are his friends) deserve the automatic 5-star rating because, in his words, "selling books is fucking hard."] However, when indie authors will step and give real, actual, honest reviews, it shows readers they can trust the field in general. Honest reviews are good for everyone.
- Following that, it's good for the readers. Your readers deserve to be able to scan through reviews, if they so wish, and use them to reliably choose a book they think they will like. When the reviews are all gushing, fake, 5-star reviews, the reader gets gypped and chooses to not by more indie books. Also, giving the honest review can shine a light on tantrum-throwing authors. Invariably, tantrum-throwing authors attack the reviews in the comments. For readers who use reviews to help choose books, that can serve as a warning of which authors to stay away from. It a lot of ways, it's better for you, as an indie author, to be attacked than an unsuspecting reader.
- Finally, it benefits you, as a fellow author. If you review one of your friend's books with a less than stellar review and s/he turns into a green rage machine and unfriends you and... well, it can be all kinds of things that happen after that, you will find out who your friends actually are and who of them are just using you because they think they can weasel some good reviews out of you. You don't need those people. Honestly, you don't.
And, you know, stand up to the bullies who will use their power to retaliate against you with 1-star reviews. There are things you can do together to make what they're doing meaningless. But that's another post... or you can just email me to find out what you can do to help.