As some of you know, I spend a fair amount of time at the Amazon KDP (Kindle Digital Platform) author's forums, a task I was requested to do by KDP personnel when our company apotheosed to the Amazon Professional Converter's List. Even though that was a few years back, I still visit the forum and provide helpful hints to DIY publishers, and a recurring thread has led me to this post.
Two of the most common posts at the KDP, in the General Questions forum, are variants of these:
"Can you please take a look at my book listing here (insert link), and tell me what you think?" or, "OMG, I received a bad review! I've read and re-read my book, and this is obviously a malicious review, this person is out to get me, and I want everyone here to agree that this is clearly evil."
Now, this inevitably leads to an unhappy author, as people will unfortunately tell him/her exactly what they think. In the case of the former, often, the author has never asked a stranger what they thought of her novel--this is the first time that someone who isn't near and dear to them has viewed it. Almost inevitably, when I view the "Look Inside" for someone in this category (of unaudited books) I wince. It's usually pretty awful.
In the case of the latter (malicious review complaint), another unhappy series of occurrences happens in rapid sequence, which usually inflames the situation.
When an author on the KDP posts that s/he has received a bad review, you can rely upon the instantaneous angry reaction from his fellow authors. A mob mentality arrives faster than an ambulance to an accident scene, and the poor upset author is urged to report the malfeasant for "malicious reviewing." Unfortunately, they almost always follow this advice and try to a) get the review removed, and b) "report" the reviewer for malicious reviewing. It's enough to put me right off reviewing books, I can tell you that for nothing.
Now, I recently wondered why this happens. I mean, I get it; a person's feelings are hurt, they're angry, and they want revenge/payback/gratification that they're right, and proof of their theory that the reviewer is secretly their 8th-Grade frenemy Charlotte who's come back to haunt them. But--why does this happen? I don't remember, even a mere 10 years ago, this type of crushed reaction to a simple "bad review."
The Rejection RumbaThen it dawned on me--we're now talking about an entire generation of authors who've never known a rejection letter. I mean, think about this seriously: authors who've never thrown a manuscript over the transom; who've never received a rejection letter. Who've never been ignored, or turned down by, an Agent. They've determined to write and publish a book, and they do so. Isn't the phrase itself, "author who's never received a rejection letter" oxymoronic? Isn't it practically a fantastical creature? When this struck me, I wrote a post on the KDP, with words to this effect (the KDP "upgrade" seems to have nuked older entries, so I can't find what I originally wrote):
There was a time when a rejection letter was a rite of passage for any writer. Everybody had them; everyone you know who wrote anything had them. Some took them hard; some took them apparently lightly; but a rejection letter was always a cause for an authorial get-together, usually over a bottle of booze with ever-declining levels, during which everyone commiserated with you and diligently searched the rejection letter word-by-word, poring* over it, seeking any tiny pearl, any wording or phrasing that led you to believe that the Acquistions Editor didn't think that you were a completely hopeless loser. Usually (in private), there might be tears. Maybe the now-empty bottle would meet a hapless wall. And always, a hangover ensued**. But then life would go on; you'd curse the tasteless acquisitions editor, who after all, turned out to be a cretin (obviously); and you'd start writing again. Maybe you'd rewrite bits of what you'd submitted; maybe you would start on something new while you submitted and resubmitted the rejected manuscript...but you'd keep writing. And the cycle would repeat.
And if it didn't...if you couldn't take the rejection letters...you'd leave the game.
And that, I believe, is the difference. The difference in why so many new authors, self-published through the KDP (or any other platform) never develop the traditional Rhino Hide (Of the genus Nauagahyde) formerly required for a writer to truly make it in the world. They've never undergone the Rite of the Rejection Letter, or the abusive snark of an overworked Agent. Nor have they, it seems, in ever-increasing numbers, used critique groups, editors, proofreaders, manuscript assessment services (caveat emptor), writing partners, or even beta readers that aren't their family or their best friends. Like far too many politicians, they've only developed synchophantic "readers" of their work. No one ever tells them what they don't want to hear.
The Planet is My Critique GroupThus, when they unwittingly decide to use the entire English-speaking portion of the planet as their critique group (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), they're devastated to learn what they should have learned in a Creative Writing 101 class, a good writing course, or simply by using a rotten human as a sounding board. When I've mentioned this to those who've inquired, they reply that "critique groups are mean," and thus they won't use them. Is it truly better, I must wonder, to use the public as a critique group? How is that less painful? How can they possibly be prepared for the reality of reviews, when they've never even had a critique? Is there greater anonymity in being blasted with scathing reviews than suffering the slings and arrows of a writing partner or class or group?
I'm not sure when this happened. I don't know when the tide turned, and people who'd always wanted to write a book simply sat down and wrote one, without what used to be "de rigueur" for a published work. But turned it has. If you spend a week of time glancing at the books promoted/asked about on the KDP, that much is clear.
But now, in addition to the "kindness of strangers" known as the Amazon review, we also have Amazon itself playing the game, sending ever-more-frequent takedown letters to authors who have even the slightest of typos--never mind unreadably bad writing--in their books. How will this affect these selfsame authors, if at all?
I'm left to wonder. I wonder if reviewing, given the recent scandals and what I see daily on the KDP as near-hysteria over bad ones, will be eliminated from Amazon. I wonder if the Customer Service burden of investigating every reported "malicious review" will cost Amazon so much money, and so much brain-damage, that they'll decide it's not worth it--either self-publishing or reviews. I wonder if the flagrant disregard of any type of pre-publication critique means that these lower-quality books will create a permanent underclass of books that tars Indies with the same brush.
I hope not.
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* (Yes, I mean poring, not pouring.)
** Now I eat Haagen-Dazs, no demon rum for this girl, with far too many Irish ancestors. ;-)