Thursday, 26 July 2012

Wanted: AUTHOR – thick skin required

Yesterday, I discovered a one star review of my book Rough Cut which had been posted on Amazon, it went as follows:

“A plot with more holes in it than Swiss cheese. One dimensional characters I could care less about. Every so-called twist is signposted in capital letters. Poorly edited, with the presumption that five words fills more page space when one would have sufficed. Worth reading only if the only other book available is Janet and John: Book One.”

Needless to say this was from someone I don’t know, otherwise he would now be nursing a broken nose, quite appropriately given his Amazon username is Rhythmdoctor! His only other review on Amazon is for an iPhone case so he/she is clearly not a regular reviewer of books.

Now, I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to criticise a book if they really dislike it but there’s no need to be cruel. As a fellow film maker said when I asked him for feedback on my last film, 'I'll tell you truth but I won't be cruel.' So far, there have been three one star reviews in this vein posted on Amazon, the first one being:

“I'm afraid this book is almost unreadable as it is so badly written. It is full of school boy cliches. The English character lives in Darrington Hall, characters are killed for unconvincing reason - just not believable. I couldn't read beyond a few pages.”

Well, if Matthew (that’s who posted it - and his only other review is for a cook's knife!) couldn’t read beyond the first few pages, he really has no business passing comment on the book. If you’re going to have a go at someone’s creative baby, at least do them the courtesy of actually reading it!

Which brings me to another thing which I found quite depressing which was when I submitted the book to a couple of brand new publishers for consideration. One, based in the USA, read the whole book and simply said:

“While Rough Cut is certainly an interesting read, it unfortunately does not fit within the criteria that we are seeking at this time.”

Absolutely no problem with that, completely understand that it might not be what they were looking for. But compare that polite and considerate response with this one from a new UK e-book publisher:

“ We have given this long deliberation but on this occasion are declining to accept the work for publication with us. This is for two reasons. The repetitive use of nouns in close proximity, the lack of scene breaks when swapping from one viewpoint to another, and the misuse of punctuation within dialogue all point to this being the work of someone who is new to the craft of novel writing and thus we feel is not of the standard we require in a novel. As it stands at present, we were not inspired to continue reading past the first chapter.”

They didn’t read past the first chapter but felt constrained to criticise the book on technical grounds which, although they might be justified, neither I nor the professional editor I employed before publication, agree with. Come on guys, if you don’t like it, just say you don’t like it, you don’t have to find excuses, especially ones which are not justified. And what was all that about “long deliberation”?

On the plus side, along with lots of nice reviews from people I know, I have had some really lovely and encouraging reviews from people with whom I have absolutely no connection at all, such as these two:

With his book, Owen Carey Jones has found the perfect recipe: Rough Cut is cleverly written, will grip you from the very beginning and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. The characters are well thought through and likeable and they all have a real dimension about them.” (Margotlily on

“I love reading and can easily read a book in a day and Rough cut is a prime example of this. Once I started reading I could not put it down! The characters draw you in, the twists keep you on the edge of your seat and you feel the emotions of the characters, I cried and laughed with them. Definately worth getting lost in their world!” (Mrs E J Hughes on Amazon)

So, if you want to be an author (or film maker for that matter!), make sure you've got a thick skin because, along with people who love your work and feel inclined to say so publicly, there will be people who get some sort of weird pleasure from being cruel and hurting you and who are happy to do it publicly.

One thing is for sure, there will be people who love your book and people who hate it – it’s that age-old Marmite syndrome. Authors should revel in the positive things that are said about their work and ignore the negative things, unless of course the criticism is constructive and from someone who knows what they are talking about and who doesn't feel the need to be cruel.

Right, so that’s got that off my chest! Better get back to writing another "unreadable book with more plot holes than Swiss cheese." Or maybe one that "will keep you on the edge of your seat and can easily be read in a day."!! J


  1. Oh gosh, I know we authors should have thick skins - but we don't - our skin is just as thin and fragile as everyone elses!

    I have 'Rough Cut' on my Kindle and it's next to read. When I downloaded it, I was attracted to the James Bond-esq and diamond thriller story premise and can't wait to read it.

    I just took a look at your reviews for this book on Amazon uk, Owen - of which there are lots and 99% of them are positive. My only advice would be to focus on these as you can never please everyone all of the time.

  2. Thanks Janice. I've been through this experience before with one of my films so I've learned to cope with it a little bit but it still hurts like crazy when you see something like that written about something you have worked on for years and nurtured into existence! And you're right, of course, about the nice reviews, they do make it more bearable. :-)

  3. Trouble not Owen, 1 star slamming reviews are a commmon phenomenon after going KDP Free. Many authors have stopped doing free days for this very reason. It is not clear what happens, but many of us think that there are 2 possible reasons. First, that there are folk who just scoop anything that is free regardless of whether they read that genre, or indeed read at all - so they have no interest in the book so are more or less bound not to enjoy it but if they got it for free why waste any more time putting pen to paper to slam it? The second reason, and the one I am inclined towards, being a lover of the old conspiracy theory, is that there are loads of dummy accounts out there, set up and run on behalf of the 'big six' publishers. They watch to see who is going on free and make sure that any indie author that gets their head above the parapet gets pushed back down by having a clutch of 1 star reviews immdediately afterwards. Originally when KDP free started, indie books on free were ousting the big published books and seeing phenomenal sales as a result of high chart positions due to 1000's of free downloads. Since your chart rating position is calculated using Amazon's secret formula based on numbers of sales, average star rating, the position of the moon on Friday etc. a free day could push you up the chart for about 3 weeks. There must have been many complaints as Amazon changed their algorithm and now, in the USA particularly, the momnent of glory only lasts a couple of days before you slip back down to oblivion. In addition, these weird reviews start appearing - I have got a nice little group of 3 - all of them say the book is so bad they cannot possibly read it. They all make generalisations and some even get facts wrong. One of mine says it was so awful she had to delete it from her Kindle after a couple of pages - yet they all take the painstaking time to write a review. Then you check and see they have not reviewed other books - indeed have only been around afor a few weeks. I am suspicious of them - they have without fail arrived within 48 hours of my free days ending and of course all have downloaded the book for free. There are whole forums dedicated to this on World Literary Café where many authors are seeing this trend. You can of course vote that the review was not helpful (and get all your mates to do so too!) - that gives the review less weighting with Amazon. I will go across and vote your bad ones down right now and suggest anyone else reading this post does the same! Do not worry - these 1 stars are scams, I am sure of it.

  4. Very interesting, that, Emma - thanks for taking the time to post it. Everything you say makes complete sense. Two of the three one star reviews were posted a couple of days after each of my free offer periods ended! Whatever the case, I have now proved to myself that I can make a small net profit from self publishing a book which is what finally prompted me to get on with writing another one - well, that and pure enjoyment of writing of course!

  5. I feel ya. I don't have a problem with any of the one star reviews that were given for my book on Rowan (not that I recall anyway). But I've come across the same issue with reviews on goodreads. With people thinking they are professional editors and who have probably never written anything in their lives. Not to mention, almost all, if not all, of the bad reviews on goodreads were scathing and, in my opinion, nasty and came from people who said they didn't read past the first couple of pages.

    And on another note. Would you really have wanted to be published by a publisher who can't count? That second publisher said he had two reasons and gave you three. That in and of itself is laughable and if they ever offered to publish a book of mine I would probably turn them down for a mistake like that. Just sayin'.

    And Emma. I agree I think Amazon changed something. Back in February I had a 3 day promotion that launched me into a top spot for a couple of weeks. Mad a lot of money then. But I just did one in the beginning of July and it resulted in a good number of downloads but no sales. Stupid what people complain about. I've noticed the thing with the reviews too.

  6. Hi Owen - what an introduction to the world of book reviews which I have yet to enter on the author side. As for the conspiracy theory, I can see there could be something in it - this is getting scarier all the time!
    As a reviewer I simply don't mention anything I dislike and wouldn't post any review of less than 3 stars. Having said that I'm also suspicious of any book that got only 5 star reviews on the basis that they may all be from the authors friends and family (which is fine, but a few 3 and 4 star reviews persuades me there are unbiased reviewers in there too!) Don't know if any of this helps, but hope the bruises are wearing off. I shall look ot the thickness of my own skin between now and the autumn when I will be published. By the way I've only read a few pages of Rough Cut but I liked it a lot - looking forward to the rest.

  7. Hi Owen, I have never come across you before but Emma Calin mentioned your post to me. This reviewing on Amazon can be a wretched business. A good mate and author recently had a slamming review from a guy describing himself as "A top reviewer". He then set out to criticise the book on a premise that the book was not the last word on traumatic stress. The book is a deliberate "feel good" read that has no such pretensions. The "top reviewer" then obtained 67 "useful" clicks on his review. I checked out this buffoon and saw that among other things he had reviewed a bulk pack of mint sweets. In the old days a book was reviewed in the Press by a selection of friends and enemies of the writer. Nowadays it is a free for all for shills and trolls. My policy with reviews is that if I cannot read a book, I have no right to review it. All this rubbish such as " So bad I could only do a few pages..." and "Use of three adverbs on page two made this book impossible" are fronts to cover the fact that they have not read the book. If I like a book well enough to give part of my life to reading it, I will give a decent review. I am certainly not going to bother about adjective ratio if it is a thumping good tale that pulls me along. I used to think publishing was a jungle but now I think it is a swamp. Luckily, as a poet, I don't sell any books! Chin up old boy. I do know how disheartening it all is and most of us are on your side.

  8. Thanks Lauren, Ali and Oscar for your comments - thanks to all the comments posted, I now feel much more up to speed on this subject.
    Lauren, I had a similar experience to you with my second free Kindle offer, nothing like the success of the first with regard to follow on sales - weird! But I'll try again in due course and also have a go next year with the new book, assuming I've finished it in time!
    Ali, at least from what people have posted here by way of comments, you will know not to take the nasty ones too seriously.
    Oscar, I agree and the swamp is full of alligators who have plenty of food but just like biting anything that's not an alligator!

  9. The old adage 'you can't please everyone all of the time' goes way back ... and it would be an eye opener to see what reviews William Shakespeare received in his 'time'. I'm sure there were those who trashed his work as well as though who loved it. It does hurt to get a review that is more of an attack, especially when other reviews sing your praise! The trick I suppose is to learn not to dwell on it. I remember an actress (a very famous one) said she never EVER reads reviews about her movies because she learnt very early on that when you are riding high there is always someone out there who wants to pull you down. I thought that was a very sad observation, but also veery true unfortunately. Onwards and upwards Owen, you have reviewers who love you - what an achievement!

  10. Thanks for your comments Linn. Although it still does hurt when someone says something really unkind (and probably always will), following what happened with my last film, I think I'm reasonably relaxed about bad reviews!
    When The Spell was booked for all showings for a week by mainstream multiplex cinemas across the whole of the UK, including Showcase, Vue and Empire (Odeon pulled back from showing it in 96 cinemas when they realised how small my marketing budget was!) and ranging from London to Glasgow and from Sunderland to Cardiff, I decided to do a press screening - whatta BIGGA mistaka to maka! They all panned it, making comments like "reminds me of an X-Factor auditionee" - that one was used and copied by a few of them!
    An industry insider told me later that the problem I had with the mainstream press critics, such as Cosmo Landesman of The Times, was that I had made a film for very little money with no one they had ever heard of involved, behind or in front of the camera, and they basically didn't think it should be in cinemas, especially when some of their friends' films couldn't get a cinema release!
    So they rubbished it, and although it was far from perfect (I had a lot of quite big problems to deal with during the shooting of the film) it could not possibly have been as bad as they said or it wouldn't have been booked by all those the cinemas. Nor would it have picked UK and US distributors after its UK cinema release! Ah well..... :-)

  11. Just picked this up Owen, Linn is right, you can't please everyone. And there is a lot of spite out there, although thankfully as yet I've not been on the end of it. I personally enjoyed your book very much and being a fellow writer, know the hard work you put into writing it and getting it published. I'm behind Linn 100% when she says you need to concentrate on the positive. This is a faceless nobody - one bad voice among the great reviews your book has received so far. Remember the old addage 'Noli illigitemi carborundum decendus' - don't let the bastards grind you down.