Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's Time For You To Grow Up (part 2)

Truth is the greatest enemy of the small minded. --me

Back in January, I wrote this post about... Well, you should probably just go read it, but the short of it is about being more offensive, in both connotations of the word:
1. tackling subjects that tend to upset people (hence my current series on racism)
2. not backing down from a fight or, in other words, going on the attack
I think this post will do both of those things.

I get that authors reviewing other authors is loaded topic. Honestly, I'm tired of talking about it. I believe what I believe about it, views which you can find scattered through numerous posts on here, and it's not likely that you're going to change my mind about it. I'm going to add one further thought, though, that I don't think I've stated before:
Authors reviewing authors is a longstanding practice. What do you think it is when a publisher solicits blurbs from authors for book covers? Those are encapsulated reviews meant to support, usually, a newer author and help sell books. And, sure, they pick the good ones, because they want people to buy the book. It doesn't change the fact that "negative" reviews are just as valid.

Go back and read part one of this (if you weren't here last week) if you want my full take on the subject.

All of that said (including the stuff in the older posts), and no matter what your opinion is on reviewing, here is a thing that is never okay: It is never okay to threaten someone with a negative rating/review in order to elicit a positive one in return.

So here's what happened:

I recently reviewed Lyon's Legacy by Sandra Almazan. Now, Sandra is someone I "worked with" on the mostly abandoned Indie Writers Monthly project. [I say "worked with" in that I never actually worked with her other than that we both contributed to the same blog. It's only "working with" in the very loosest of ways since we all contributed individually and never really worked on any joint projects other than the magazine, which Briane coordinated, so I only worked with Briane on that.] However, what I think of a book I read has nothing to do with whether I know the person or not. I'm reading a book then reviewing the book I read, and none of that part of the process has anything to do with whether I know you. [The only part where knowing you comes into the equation is that I am much more likely to read your indie book if I do know you. Once I've picked the book up, though, none of that continues to matter. It's all about the book at that point. (As it should be.)] I happened to not like this particular book (but you can go back and read the review).

As it happened, Pat Dilloway (also part of the IWM group) had posted a review of "Tiberius" (one of mine) about a week before I posted my review of Lyon's, or, at least, that's when I noticed it. It was a review he just slid in there without ever mentioning it to me. It was a short, respectable review with a 4-star rating.

However, as soon as my review for Lyon's posted, Pat attacked it and changed the rating he'd given "Tiberius" to 1 star. To be honest, that pissed me off. Especially when he told me that he would change it back if I would either pull down my review of Lyon's or change it to be favorable. In short, he tried to extort a positive review from me by preying on what he assumed would be my fear of having a negative review on one of my books. That pissed me off some more. That's playground bully behavior.

Needless to say, I didn't change the review.

Now, I understand that some of you feel that negative reviews are... inappropriate, but, again, I'm going to say to go back and read part one of this to get my full thoughts on that.

At this point, the thing that actually makes me mad is the hypocrisy of Pat Dilloway and his supposed belief that indie writers should only give other indie writers positive reviews because "selling books is fucking hard." And, you know, he's right; it is hard. But lying in book reviews/ratings for what can, at best, only be a short term gain (and usually isn't even that) hurts everyone in the long term. There's no better way to convince readers to stay away from indie books than for indie writers to lie in their reviews/ratings just to get the same favor back. Which is Pat's goal, as he fully admits:
"I do it because I'd want them to help me should I ask for it."
Just to say it, I don't help people for the goal of getting them to help me in return. That's not called "helping;" that's called "quid pro quo." If I'm going to help someone, I'm doing it either because it's the right thing to do or because I just want to help the person, not because I'm trying generate future favors. But I digress...

We're supposed to be talking about hypocrisy.
Dilloway's stance about only giving positive reviews to other indie authors goes back years. At least as far back as when I first declared my policy about honest reviews. Since then, however, he has been in at least one feud with an indie author he said he considered a friend and to whom he gave a 1-star review. I suppose it must be one of those things where it's okay for him to do it but it's not okay for anyone else.

I've seen him give 1-star ratings to indie authors where he admitted to not reading the books. I think those were all "revenge ratings," though, so I suppose that makes it okay. Which would apply to what he did to me.

He gave a 1-star rating to a recent ABNA winner, an indie author, but I suppose the fact that the guy won a contest and got a pocket full of money from it then got an Amazon publishing deal made that one okay. Here's what he had to say about:
Just last week I gave 1-star to a book being published by Amazon.  And you know what, it won't fucking matter!  That book has hundreds of reviews already; mine is just crying out in the wilderness.  There's no harm to it.

Oh, and he also gave Alex Cavanaugh a 1-star rating on his book Cassastar for the sole purpose of not liking Alex.

All of that to say that Dilloway actually has no standards about whom and how he reviews and rates; he throws them out based upon his mood. You just better hope to never end up on the wrong side of him, because he may just go toss a bunch of 1-star ratings at you for not liking you. Kind of like this guy:
The best part, though, was that Dilloway presented what he did like this: "...I changed an overly generous 5-star review of his book to 1-star to let him have a taste of his own medicine." I love the phrase "his own medicine." If he paid attention at all to anything that I do or say, he would understand that my medicine is to read a book and offer a rating and review based upon my experience of the product. My medicine is never to go over and give someone a bad review because I'm mad at him. A more accurate way of putting that would be for Dilloway to just admit that he was giving me his medicine. Or, more accurately, his brand of poison.

On the other side of all of this is a post that Briane Pagel posted. I strongly recommend that you go read his post. Yes, it's long, but it has a very interesting take on the two sides of this controversy. Not the controversy between me and Dilloway but the controversy about reviews in general and whether we should just give out positive reviews to fellow indie authors. In that post, he excerpts from several reviews I've given his stuff. Um... He excerpts negative things I've said about his various books (and I like Briane's stuff!). More interestingly, he talks about how me pointing out the negatives in his writing helped him to grow as a writer. You should just go read the post.

I suppose the question, the real question, is "How do you deal with people like this?" The first way is what I'm doing here: You shine a light on the bad behavior. Of course, he has a belief that I behaved badly by giving Lyon's a negative review, and it's his right to say that he doesn't believe indie authors should be truthful in their reviews of other indie authors as long as it's "supporting" the author in question, but that's a far different thing than going around downgrading ratings of authors' works because you don't like them or because you're mad at them. Basically, you should let people know of whom they should be aware, so I'm letting you know.

The second way is to not let these kinds of people bully you. You don't adjust what you're doing to accommodate them, because, once you start doing that, you can never stop. It's like negotiating with terrorists. There's a reason we don't do that.

The third way is to show support for each other when someone is faced with dealing with a down-rating bully. So, you know, if you want to help out, go pick up one of my things (specifically "Tiberius" in this case), read it, and leave an honest review/rating. Seriously, I'd much rather have an honest 1-star rating than someone just giving me a 4 or 5 to be "nice" or to, hopefully, garner my favor for the future.

[Next week, I will actually have a review of one of Dilloway's works, something I read way back and never reviewed because I didn't, at the time, want to get into it with him, knowing how he is. But, then, I suppose that was a bit like trying to slide by the notice of the playground bully, and no one can do that indefinitely, because you can't ever tell what will set one of them off.]


  1. I wondered if you'd mention that one star review. CassaFire also had one, but he did go back and change that to a three star after reading it.
    I agree with Briane about learning from reviews. I know I'm not a perfect writer and insights from an honest review help me to improve.
    Giving great reviews just to get them is wrong. That's giving and expecting something in return, which is the wrong attitude. (My guest post last week at Stephanie Faris' site covered that.)
    I'll probably always be guilty of not leaving a really bad review though. If I think a book is that bad, I don't finish it, and if I don't finish, I don't review. Life is too short and I am too slow of a reader...

    1. Alex C: In general, I agree with you about not reviewing something you didn't finish but, as Briane says, sometimes it's worth pointing out that something was so bad you couldn't finish it.

  2. Oy. It's a deeply ingrained practice, isn't it, all the quid pro quo? And indy authors, particularly, have to be careful about pissing off people and getting bad revenge reviews. I've seen gangs of writers go after other authors, bombarding them with one star reviews after a flame war has erupted on some forum. Really, really unfortunate.

    1. L.G.: On the one hand, I agree with you about not pissing people off; I used to try to walk that line of being pleasant and not doing anything to ruffle feathers. But, then, when you do that, you lose some, sometimes a lot, of who you are. That's why I changed my approach to things this year. If the person I am pisses you off, well, then, so be it. I'm going to be on one side of the fence or the other and not try to play nice with both sides. If other people respond with bad behavior, that's on them. Not that I am saying you should -try- to piss people off, but enough is enough.

  3. Not being an author, I have done a couple of beta reads but not posted ratings because I don't really consider I know enough about it. I have just stuck to pointing out typos and things I consider errors to the author and mentioned to them any problems I had with reading their work. What you are talking about is childish and spiteful. Dilloway sounds a right ..... oops, can't write that here. PS just got the Jim Butcher book from the library, thanks.

    1. Jo: Oh, no, go right ahead and write it here. I'm all for speaking your mind.
      I wouldn't rate/review something based on a beta read. Theoretically, the author still has time to fix issues at that point. However, once the work has been published, it's open to public scrutiny -- in fact, the author has invited that public scrutiny -- so I think reviews should be reflective of that.

      (Was that Changes you picked up? Or Side Jobs?)

    2. Side Jobs. Will check out Changes, really not sure if I read it or not.

    3. Jo: If you missed the Red Court stuff, you missed Changes.

    4. The last book I read he (Dresden) was living on an island at the beginning. I wasn't sure how he got there. I think I missed more than one book in the series, not sure how. My favourite story was how he magicked a dinosaur and rode it.

    5. Jo: The dinosaur one is directly tied into book 13.

  4. What a jerk. I can't believe he'd threaten you in such a childish manner because you didn't like a book. Selling books is just going to be harder with assholes who sell reviews out there. And I think Briane's response is incredibly mature and intelligent. Dilloway could use some of that.

    1. Jeanne: Well, you know, it wasn't actually a threat. He did do it. He just offered to fix it if I would capitulate.
      And I think Briane might be nicer than me.

  5. Wow.... I'm sort of floored by the fallout of all of this. I'm 100% behind you. It should never be quid pro quo, or even "helping by giving positive reviews" because that is also disingenuous. His comment attacking you for wanting to hold onto your integrity is still the "nugget" from the last post that rings in my ear.

    I wouldn't worry about his review on Tiberius. Usually those kinds of reviews can be spotted pretty easily.

    1. Alex H: Oh, yeah, in his full-on flame post about me, he attacks me for my, as he says, "integrity" and "ethics" as if those are bad words. It's a lot of fun.

      And I'm not worried about the review. Like I said, the thing that made me mad, really mad, was the whole, "I'll change it back if you take down that review."

  6. I don't think I'm nicer than you. I wasn't personally attacked, remember (so far as I know? I ought to check his reviews of my stuff.)

    I guess this answers the question I emailed you, Spidey. I think you're right about the response: shine a light on it. You ought to leave replies on the reviews he put on your books, too -- maybe just a note that he is downgrading you because of the feud or something, and a link to these posts?

    Sorry he did this to you; but if anyone can take PT's attacks, it's the Great and Mighty Andrew Leon. (Do I sound lapdog-y enough?) MOON KNIGHT OUT.

    1. Well, I don't want to actually start a flame war on Amazon. It was bad enough that I responded to him in my review of Lyon's.

      And, um, hey, can I ride in your Moon Ship? Cause that thing is cool.

      (That doesn't sound bad, does it?)

  7. Wait, someone doesn't like Alex? I'm glad you stuck to your guns. I took for it granted that it was obvious you gave honest reviews. I don't believe in giving a good rating just to do it. Or a bad one for the same reason. It's a pity some do.

    1. Shannon: Well, it is obvious, especially since I've stated it so clearly. Some people just don't like honesty. He flew off the handle about it way back when I first stated my policy about giving honest reviews (years ago) and not just "being nice."

  8. Yeah, that'll show that meddlesome Alex Cavanaugh! That guy's such a dick! How does anyone tolerate him?

    (But really, how does anyone have beef with Alex?)

    I think you forgot to say "I don't negotiate with assholes." Or is that actually a terrorist in this case? A review terrorist.

    We're big fans of shining a light on a problem, and good for you for turning this into a post. You already know how we feel about honest reviews, so I'll spare the spiel, but the bigger issue here is standing up to a bully. And holding reviews 'hostage' is nothing more than bullying. It does nothing to help out Indie authors, it does nothing to further self-publication, and it makes Indie authors just look like a pack of rejects that all have to give each other fake reviews because no one else will like their work otherwise.

    And I, for one, do NOT want to be seen like that simply because the two of us CHOSE to self publish.

    1. ABftS: The beef with Alex is envy over his success. It's the same as him giving that ABNA winner a 1-star, merely a "you suck for being successful when I'm not." Some people can't handle it when others do well.

      And, yes, terrorist=asshole in this case. I figured since I had already gone the asshole route (man, that sounds so BAD) that I would go the terrorist route, this time. That and I was listening to something on NPR the other day about the increasing problems in countries which will pay ransoms to terrorists.

  9. Well, I don't like Alex either--never have and never will. Really now, how can anyone not like the nicest guy in blogging. Somebody would just be trying to get attention to say something like that.

    Revenge reviews is a downright nutty concept. That would negate any credibility any other reviews that sort of reviewer would have. That's not the point of reviews. I don't think I've given any books 1 star reviews. I've also never downgraded a review. There have been a couple were I might have upgraded them after I had thought about the work longer and realized that it was better than I initially assessed.

    A proper review should only take the work reviewed into account and nothing about the author, publisher, or anything else. That type of reviewing reminds me of a movie review I once read in the L.A.Times where the reviewer gave the movie a bad review because it somehow reminded him of George Bush and the movie had nothing to do with Bush. The reviewer went on to rant about Bush's policies until in the end it was not a review at all.

    When I read a book review all I care about is whether the book is worth reading or not based on the merit of the book itself. Otherwise I don't care how the reviewer feels about anything else as far as the context of that one review.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    A Faraway View

    1. Lee: I certainly agree about the art being evaluated apart from the artist. You might choose not to support an artist because you don't like him, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the work. For instance, Orson Scott Card is not an author I can quite bring myself to support because of the views he holds, but I cannot deny that Ender's Game is a good, well-written book.