Criticism Is Inevitable (Small Press Publishing)

The reviews on books can be frustrating at times. You put so much money, effort, and energy into creating a great reading experience and then anyone can come along and say “this sucked.” In the world of Amazon and book blogs and the Internet in general, every single person has an opinion and they’re ready to share it. As is their right. You shared your perspective by writing the book and now it is their turn to share theirs.

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Let’s take Love In Touch as an example.

  • I went over the manuscript and suggested changes, Lucy worked on those changes and sent it back.
  • I hired an editor to go over the manuscript, Lucy worked on those changes and sent it back.
  • I hired a proofreader to go over the manuscript and those changes were made.
  • I went over it again.

At this point I’m pretty confident that we’re in great shape and the typos and grammar mistakes have been caught and corrected.

Then after getting a bunch of glowing reviews, one reviewer on Amazon blasts us, saying that the book is “riddled with errors” and is “unreadable” and “the publisher should be ashamed.”

And it being an Amazon review, there’s not really any opportunity to respond to this criticism.

I am unable to find the errors she is talking about and no other reviewers say this. I leave a comment on the review to ask for examples but she doesn’t respond.

So what can you do about criticism?

Nothing.

A bad review might sometimes clue you in to something you could be doing better with your books, but I’ve found that that’s rare. Usually it is one person’s opinion and it says more about them that it does about you or your book (or your author’s book).

And every person is allowed to feel however they want to about your book. It’s out there in the world making its own friends and enemies. It’s not in your control anymore. If you don’t want anyone to say bad things about it, don’t publish it.

Because tastes vary and there’s definitely going to be people who don’t like your book. There’s nothing you can do about that. Focus on the people who did like it!

The most frustrating part is that that bad review, that opinion, is now connected to your book and other potential readers are seeing it. It’s dragging down your overall rating.

But still there’s not much you can do about it.

It always, always, always looks bad if you respond to a review. No matter how politely you try to approach it, you’ll always look like the big bad guy trying to silence the underdog reviewer (and more than just look it, that will pretty much be exactly what you are). You’re likely to come across as insecure and desperate which is also not a good look.

The best thing to do is to completely ignore it.

Assuming the review is just hateful and an attack on you rather than the book, treat it like your annoying little brother who will get bored and wander away if he can’t bait you. Not to mention if you don’t grace the person with a response, then they’re left looking shrill and alone.

If the review is focused on the book, then it’s not a bad review. It is doing what it’s supposed to do. No matter how much you might disagree with it, negative reviews have an important purpose and it has nothing to do with you.

Trust the readers.

Trust them to read the review and know whether or not it applies to their enjoyment of the book. If it’s just a personal attack, new potential readers will just roll their eyes and buy the book anyway.

If it brings up things in the book that the reviewer didn’t like, then maybe the potential new reader knows they dislike the same things and then they don’t buy it which saves you from a second bad review!

When I’m trying to decide if I’ll buy a book, I start by reading the lowest reviews. I’ll see if the things that bothered those reviewers are things that would bother me. Often they are not and then I feel confident in trusting the higher rating reviews.

I admit that the accusation of typos is a particularly difficult one to deal with. Numerous typos in books is something that I find difficult to deal with so if I see a review claiming a book has them, I might avoid that book (although I usually read the sample chapter, the “look inside” to see for myself).

That’s why for the Love In Touch situation, I attempted to get in touch with the reviewer. What she is claiming is simply not true.

If you’re a reader and a book buyer (which if you’re here, I would assume you are!) please don’t take reviews at face value. Every review is written by a person with his or her own biases and assumptions. There are cases where reviewers will claim there are typos in a book in order to sell the author on their own editing services! Always check out the sample yourself before you believe a reviewer who claims there are typos.

If you’re an author, I highly suggest never reading your reviews. Tough perhaps, but you’ll be saner for it and better able to focus on creating your next masterpiece.

What should you do instead?

I suggest having an email address for your writing that you share on social media. The emails from readers will give you a much clearer picture of your work.

When someone privately emails you that means…

  1. They are highly motivated and not someone who is just going to dash off the first things that come to their mind. They had to put some effort in to find your contact info.
  2. Because it is private, you know that they want to help you and commune with you, not show off their literary criticism skills to the world

There’s nothing more special than getting an email or a letter from a fan telling you how much they loved your work. And when someone reaches out to criticize through email, it is much more often stated in constructive ways.

Respect and value the book bloggers even when they don’t like your book. They are serving readers and not you. Just step away and let that process do what it’s meant to do. And go write another book. Strive to make it better than your  last. But know that you’ll never write the perfect book that every person on the planet will adore.

Check out the reviews for classic books. It’ll make you feel in good company.

Starting a Small Press Publisher: What Is It You Do?

It can be hard for people outside the book industry to understand what publishers are there for.

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When I told my family that I was starting a publishing company, they thought what I meant was that I’d be charging writers to format their books for them and put them up for sale. That’s what’s called an Author Services Company (or Vanity Press) and the vast majority are super scamy.

If you’ve been a writer for any amount of time I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that publishers don’t charge authors, they pay authors. You as an author should never be asked to pay fees or to pay for publisher’s services. That’s because authors are not a publisher’s clients.

The authors are not my clients.

The authors are, to make an analogy, my manufacturers. They create the product that I then sell. (By the way, going back for a moment to the legal side of things, my accountant has told me that the authors are 1099 contractors for me and as such I need to have them fill out a  W-9 form providing either their social security number or the EIN of their own business identity in order to report on taxes how much I’ve paid them. Check with your own accountant about this).

So who is my client? Readers. Anyone who buys books.

What’s the problem with Author Services Companies?

As with most things, you have to look at what the incentives are. If I’m making money from charging an author to edit her book or format his book, then what motivation do I have to hussle and sell that book? I’m already making money! Why would I care if it sold? I would be incentivized by the wrong thing.

The way publishing companies are set up is that we get paid when the book sells. We are incentized and motivated to sell that book as much as possible because the more money it brings in, the more money we all make.

I could have created a company around charging a small fee to format someone’s book or upload it to Kindle for them, and there’s be nothing wrong with that (as long as I was upfront with the authors about what service I’m providing), but that’s not being a publisher. That’s not the business I’m interested in being in.

So what do I do?

Get the book ready to sell and then sell it! Basically all the things on this list I either do or coordinate the hiring of someone to do and then I do all the publicity and talking to bookstore reps too. I hope that this series is illuminating the many things that a publisher does do for their authors’ books…there’s plenty of work left between finished manuscript and finished book!