Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Do Give Quarter - To Most People, That Is

I know. An author shouldn't give much thought to negative reviews, but sometimes people say things so stupid I can't resist. Take, for example, my latest three star review of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) on Amazon. It's not very in-depth or anything, but I can't help shaking my head at this line:

"Durham picks up like the names and events might be as familiar as if the reader finished reading the first book the day before, and he gives no quarter to the fact that his readers might need a refresher on the story and characters."

Really? I give "no quarter" that a reader might "need a refresher"?

Ah... How about the fact that the book begins with a five page synopsis of the major characters and plot points of the first book? It's titled They Story So Far, with the subtitle As related in Acacia, the first book of the trilogy... I wrote it exactly because I thought readers might appreciate a refresher, exactly because I wanted them to be able to enter the story with things fresh in their minds. I've had lots of readers mention to me how much they appreciated it when they began the book. That's been gratifying.

Anyway... that's the fact of the matter. This particular reviewer skipped it, ignored it, lied about it, or just didn't really read the book. He was mistaken, or stupid, or malicious. That's often the case, but it never stops me from being surprised by it...

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Blogger Jamey Stegmaier said...

In looking for that three-star review to report it, I found another that's even better:

"Thoroughly enjoyed the story, but the replacement of every "you're" with "Your" was a real distraction. I am presuming that it was a global spell check correction since it continued throughout the book."

Now, I don't have the book in hand, but I would wager good money that the grammar is correct throughout the book. So that means that this person doesn't understand simple grammar...and he chooses grammar as the one topic for his post? Interesting choice.

There's another one that gives you two stars because your book isn't priced at the standard $9.99 Kindle price point. I tend to agree, BUT giving the content of the book a low rating doesn't make sense.

I actually don't see that three-star review you referred to. A friend of mine and I debated that five-page section at the beginning of the book after it came out. I loved it--I wish more books did that, especially those with tons of characters and new worlds--but my friend wasn't a fan (he liked the rest of the book, though).

11:24 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Jamey,

I'm not sure what's up with that "you're" for "your" thing. It may be a Kindle glitch. I haven't heard that before, but I guess it's possible. Without a doubt, though, the grammar on the print edition was thoroughly checked.

That Kindle one is frustrating from my end, primarily because people think that the stars refer to the quality of the book, not a price or shipping or other complaint. I'd prefer that he star the book according to how much he liked or didn't like it, and then include a complaint about the price in the review.

I don't, by the way, share the opinion that Amazon should have the exclusive power to price ebooks as they want. That's not about getting the best deal for their customers. It's about controlling the future of ebooks and about pulling in customers who will pay full price for the ever growing amount of non-merchandise that Amazon sells. Also, the prices are only temporarily higher - while the print version of the book is in hardcover. The price will drop as soon as a paperback version comes out. And it will drop below $9.99. Check the price for the kindle of Acacia. It's $6.39...

The three starred review I mentioned is the most recent one, top along the sidebar. It starts, ironically, with "No one will read my review, but they should..." The author has written a few reviews that begin exactly the same way.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Jamey Stegmaier said...

Hey David, thanks for your response. I hadn't noticed the sidebar, but I found the review. I agree with you--the stars are perceived (and should be used) to rate the quality of the book itself, not the Kindle price or whether or not the reviewer likes the color of the author's shirt, etc. I'm surprised reviewers don't understand that.

I agree with you that publishers should be in control of the price of books. Definitely. (I can see how my comment, which referred to the "standard" ebook price, may have been misleading.) I'd be curious what the tipping point is for various price points. Like, if Amazon ran an experiment where they sold your book for a week, pricing it at three different price levels ($16, $13, and $10), how much better would the $10 level sell than the $13 or $16? Is the higher price point worth it for fewer copies sold, or does it not make much of a difference? Would you rather sell 25,000 copies of The Other Lands at $10/ebook or 15,000 at $16? (hypothetically)

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...

You shake your head and you're right. And I think it deserves nothing more.

From what you say, this guy seems to be happy being on the "Dark Side", playing criticism like it was what he thinks, just to be someone. He's just on the "Wrong Side". Nothing stands in what he says, as you have explained quite well.

He'll have bad holidays ("The sun is not that warm, the water is not that clean, the weather is not that nice, etc."), and we all wish good ones.

But maybe you should think about making yourself a goold old armour against such inept and hopeless people.

French or Russian ? And what about both ?

8:14 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hmmm... The mathematics of that question escapes me right now. I suppose my gut reaction is that I'd like more readers for a lower price. I'd like to think that more readers would translate to... well, more readers in the future, whatever the price point.

I'm not sure that a weekly change in price would show clear differences. Maybe it would. I know readers plan ahead - like waiting for the paperback, etc - but I'm not sure that everyone thinks cheaper is better. Perhaps I over estimate them, though...

I know that readers want books cheaply, and that Amazon has made that seem like their right - even more so than B&N and Borders did - but honestly, from the inside the book business is in troubling shape. It's not like it's oil or health insurance; publishing has never been a high profit margin business, and each book requires a lot more work and care than folks probably think.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Jamey Stegmaier said...

You have a great point about thin margins. And now that I think about it, the price of The Other Lands may not matter all that much (as long as it's a few dollars below the hardcover price). I'm thinking that Acacia fans are going to buy it no matter the price (as I did with the hardcover the day it came out), and new readers are going to start with Acacia anyway, which is already set at a easy-entry price point of $6.39. Your publisher is wise, very wise...

9:49 AM  
Blogger Dave de Burgh said...

Hey David, I won't even comment on that review, it's just bloody embarrassing. :-( But I've never liked (or used) Amazon reviews; there's just too much space for those kinds of dumb comments, and the fact that Amazon reviews have become so important is something I just don't like - sure, customers maybe do buy according to ranking and 'helpful reviews' but I just don't like it. :-( I can't afford to buy from Amazon so I can't post my reviews there, and yet even though I run a review-blog my reviews (or any blogger's) aren't given the same kind of consideration from a buyer. I s'pose it's the same thing, isn't it? Just a different platform. :-( I still don't like Amazon's reviews - it's a different thing for me to completely slag a book, but on Amazon it looks like you can just change your user name or something, so there's no real relationship built with the prospective reader.

Anyway, climbing off my soap-box now.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anubis said...

Right now, there's an ongoing discussion on a German review blog about how tons of fantasy/sf reviews are posted on the internet everyday, but most of them hardly provoke any reaction. That came to my mind immediately when I read your post, Dave.

I tend to see Amazon customer reviews as "customers rating a transaction" rather than "readers rating a book". I sometimes check the customer reviews, not because I might find a recommendation, but because they give interesting insights about how people deal with books. I keep finding lots of customer reviews complaining that prices are too high, that Amazon shipped too late or that they have been deceived ("I bought this as an sf book, but it turned out to be fantasy"). Once I wrote a negative review on Amazon myself (based on the content of the book), and another client commented me that actually I should have constrained myself to rating the packaging, the shipping schedule, or if the book had dog-ears etc.

Amazon customer reviews, the way I see it, is about people struggling with books and book advertisement, rather than thoroughly reading and reviewing books. There are many exceptions of course, but even those often sound like blurbs to me and not like real book reviews.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Dave de Burgh said...

But that's what get's my goat up, Anubis - there should then be some kind of moderation going on with the reviews, because if it's not about the book and if the person clearly hasn't even read the book then why are they allowed to post it there? :-( As far as I know, the more negative reviews are posted (whether they are actual reviews or just comments on Amazon and its services) the lower the ranking of that book, the less it sells, and the more of a negative reputation the author gets. I mean, I could clear 'penis enlargement' comments on my blog when someone comments on a review just because the words 'fantasy novel' or 'science fiction novel' are included in the comments and then I would not only lose credibility as a reviewer but my blog would be spammed up the wazoo... Not moderating the reviews is a big no-no, in my opinion. But then again, I can't answer this for you: "Who would do the moderating?" :-( Man I just don't dig Amazon reviews at all - too much power that's wayyy too localized.

3:51 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I don't know if I'd go as far as wise, but...


That's an interesting take. From my end, I've spent the last ten years thinking of Amazon reader reviews as dealing with book content. I do think the majority of them do. As an author, I likely read them (both the ones about my own and others' books) more compulsively than readers do. I'll likely always look to them first as content-related.

But, that said, it does feel like Amazon reviews are increasingly about transactions and financial issues. I think that reflects Amazon's increasing monetizing of books. Book-lovers think of books as special things; Amazon thinks of them as products. Products that, for that matter, don't really make them much money...

7:41 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Even though I pay constant attention to Amazon reviews, I don't think they're as important in actual terms as they feel like they are to the authors - or to dedicated bloggers. I quite like reading negative reviews from books that I like. It doesn't change my opinion of those books or those authors; it just reminds me how weird people can be, and how often the failure of a book is the reader's fault for not making better use of what the writer offered. I won't try to claim that I'm that relaxed about my own books. That's personal and trickier, but if I ever get down about a couple of bad reviews back to back all I have to do is switch over to some awesome book by Dan Simmons or Neil Gaiman or Octavia Butler. Sure enough, they'll be some negative silliness written by someone there...

From my stand point, when I only got wonderful reviews from people that engaged with my subject matter, style and content (as with Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness)... Well, that was nice, but it meant I wasn't being read by enough people.

As I got more readers (from Pride of Carthage on) it meant that more often the books got into the hands of readers that didn't love them. So, more readers = more negativity. It also means more love. A lot of the most rewarding interaction I have with readers comes to me personally, via emails, etc. It's not always public, but it doesn't always have to be.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Don't obsess over Amazon reviews. Head on over to Goodreads for the real ones.

As a Kindle reader, I'll be waiting for the (corrected?) more reasonably priced Kindle version.
Just so you know, the reason that we don't like to pay too much for an ebook is no reflection of our verdice on some mythical value of an artist's work.

1. The book cannot be loaned, resold, given away or shared with family.
2. It has DRM and cannot be read on any other device/software not from Amazon
3. Support for the format could expire (see previously failed ereaders/books)

I probably could live with higher prices in any of the cases except #2. I don't mind DRM per se, but tie it to me, not a device or software.

4:40 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


All great points. I don't, personally, have any idea what the price of an ebook should be. By all means I want them to be reasonably priced because I want people to buy and read them!

The only opinion I really have in this is that the price point is something that should be worked out between the publishers and the readers. That's the case for most things. Both sides push and pull until you come to some sort of grudging agreement on what's acceptable.

It seems to me that Amazon tried to take over that process and price things as they saw fit, twisting publishers arms because they thought they had the power to do so. I don't actually object to ebooks costing $9.99, but I do object to one entity choosing that price for their own reasons. And do consider... if they can do that for ways that are seen to benefit readers now they may well use the same power against you later on.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I read all my novels on my Kindle DX, now.

I really hate books that contain serious grammar issues like the wrong version of the word "Your". I just finished reading The Other Lands and I can tell you with certainty that there are no mistakes when it comes to the word Your. I do think that reviewer is confused about the meaning of "Your" and "You're".

I have one burning question for David about the book, but I won't post it here since it'll be a spoiler for people who haven't finished the book.

I will say that when I read books I hope to feel a tingling up my spine at some point during the reading. It doesn't happen very often, but I had one moment in reading The Other Lands when I felt that. For me, the entire book is worth it if I can feel that even once.

2:28 PM  

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