My Thoughts on M/M Indie Book Reviews: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

10minutespastcoffee.wordpress.comSo I’m on my computer perusing Amazon.com, adding M/M books to my wishlist, reading author bio pages (and, yes, they get read so please make sure you dust them off occasionally) and I wanted to leave a review for a book I had just finished. I ended up in the reviews of one of my all-time favorite M/M books, a book written by an established author of the genre with a hefty backlist and lots of kudo awards, and stopped dead in my tracks after reading a two-star review that went something like this:

Adult book,…  this book is NOT a christian book… this was not for me at all…

Seriously? An “adult” book? (This woman obviously has no idea what “adult” is!) I thought maybe there was a mistake in the description or in the category selections, so I read the book’s entire product page and guess what? Nope, no mistakes to be had. The categories for this book were as they should be–gay romance, gay fiction, etc.– and the description described the two main characters as attracted to each other and it talks about the “other gay man” in town as well. I just couldn’t help myself, I left a comment on that one letting this woman know exactly what the description explained about the two men and that with an easy scroll of the mouse she could have looked at the categories and known what the heck she was buying. How can someone have the where-with-all to set up an Amazon account and not know how to read a book’s product page and figure out that a book– with two shirtless men on the cover!–is NOT a christian book? Holy crap!

Okay, taking deep breaths…

This got me to thinking that maybe this was just the proverbial bad apple; so I continued on to another review, a lovely one-star went something along these lines:

I felt uncomfortable reading it… I didn’t notice the two men on the cover.

Just so we’re clear, the image of the two men on the cover, is on the upper 60% of the cover–no way in hell anyone can look at the cover and not see them!  I’m still willing, at this point, to give these readers (who apparently can’t read very well) the benefit of the doubt and I pulled out a random three-star review and…well, let’s just say it didn’t disappoint:

…it was very interesting but very graphic, almost porno.

So once again, this reviewer has no idea what “graphic, almost porno” really is. Let’s hope she, and the others like her, don’t stumble upon Fifty Shades of Grey, thinking it’s a DIY home decor book, and find out that, much to their chagrin, the Red Room isn’t about the color choice of early 19th century brocade wallpaper.

Here’s the thing: As an avid, and educated, M/M reader I can spot lame and uninformative reviews a mile away. In the reviews of the aforementioned book there was one–I repeat ONE–three-star review that was informative, concise and told me something constructive about the book and that’s what I’m looking for–relevant information pertaining to my buying/reading decision. The rest is crap and I know it. Furthermore, I search in the correct categories, read the description and then, if I feel I need further information on the story I will read the Amazon reviews first (I rarely read reviews outside of the product page on Amazon simply because I’m busy, I just don’t have that kind of time.) Or, if I’m on the website of an online M/M, gay romance publisher, I will do the same thing but if they don’t have any reviews for the book on their site I will, on occasion, trek over to Amazon and check out the reviews–but for the most part, your description of the book is paramount.

Even with all of that said, it is not lost on me that reviews are very important to the indie author, these writer’s put just as much work, love and dedication into their books as the big mainstream author’s, the difference being the mainstream authors have a much bigger review count, sometimes as much as ten to fifteen-times bigger.  Where an indie M/M author is thrilled to accumulate 150 or more reviews in a book’s lifetime, an author such as James Patterson or Nora Roberts enjoys reviews in the 1,500 to 2,000 range (and this can be in less than a year).

This is where the law of averages comes into play; believe it or not the one-star reviews average about the same, or better, in favor of the M/M indie author than it does the mainstream writer.  Here’s some very unscientific numbers (because, seriously, unless it’s M/M science fiction, I’m not a science person):

  • James and Nora’s one-star reviews (on randomly selected books with over 1,000 reviews) average about 2.5% of their total reviews.
  • A cross-section of M/M authors (on randomly selected books with over 75 reviews) average about 1.4% or less (I found several in my search with zero one-stars.)

What does this tell me exactly? Number one, just because the big-name, big-pub-house authors have a thousand or more reviews doesn’t mean they have better books–law of averages tells us that according to the reader’s reviews they actually have a higher percentage of one-star reviews; they have people who buy their books just because of their name or big marketing push, and when the books don’t live up to the huge expectations, these not-necessarily-loyal readers let everyone know how much they have been duped. Second, the M/M indie author has, albeit smaller, but a much more focused readership; their fans/readers are niche specific, searching them out and, except for the obvious few mentioned above, they are educated about their decision to select an M/M author’s work.

As an M/M reader and respecter of its genre’s indie authors, I want to make sure my reviews are informative and that they assist others who are looking to purchase the book in their decision to enjoy the story. I will admit I am way behind in my Amazon reviews, with over 330 books in my Kindle library (only about 20 of those are non-fiction and other genres), the task of catching up is daunting but I’m working on it, because I know how important it is to tell others about these books and their creators–they need us, the M/M reader to be diligent, thoughtful and proactive. Why? because the more books they sell, the more books they write!

Here’s the “ugly”: I know there are probably some unethical authors–not just of the gay/MM genre–who buy or procure five-star reviews via unscrupulous methods. Let’s face it, this sort of crap is everywhere–the corporate world, politics, mainstreet, etc. Not that this makes it okay, but that I have been a personal witness to how unbelievably fraudulent a business person can be, and that they do get their just desserts in the end–almost literally!  I am here to tell you: Karma has no expiration date. The people in the industry who participate in these sorts of tactics will always find themselves having to do more and more to keep their readers, because their fan base isn’t real, it’s built on a false pretense that will be found out and then their readership will suffer.

In light of that, I implore you–the amazing and above-all-that-shit M/M author–to take a more Peter Griffin (from Family Guy for those with a life) approach to this squabble–don’t give away that incredible creative energy on this negative, time-sucking garbage when we, your loyal readers, just really want the next installment to our favorite series, or maybe to have that great stand-alone book made into a series (oh yeah, I have a few of those on my list), we just really want more books, those peter-griffin-who-the-hell-caresstories in your head that take us to some other time and place–with lots of men. And, here’s the most important thing to take away from my rant…I mean, post… We got your back! We really do. We will tell our friends, our blog buddies, family members–at least the ones who won’t think we’re total perverts…oh who the hell cares, we’ll tell them too and we will leave real and insightful reviews that others can use to find out about you and your fellow author friends.

You just go right ahead and write books about cowboys, FBI agents, policemen who fall in love with pretty, cross-dressing men with dark hair… what? Just sayin’! And we’ll do the rest.

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8 comments

  1. I think I love you. No really, I think I do. We need more people like you out there telling authors to just forget the crap about bad reviews and concentrate on the writing (and the good reviews of course from people who know what they are buying and choose to read it). And to see someone like you cut through the issue that is a reader not knowing what they were buying then reviewing the book with a low rating, makes my little heart go pitter-patter and feel that maybe someone out there does see what the problem is. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the diligent, thoughtful and proactive M/M Readers 🙂

  2. I agree with this post. I read M/M exclusively everyday. I read a lot and I agree I can tell when someone is just trying to rate a book low and when someone is actually letting you know why they liked it or didn’t. Also I read so much I actually can recognize the same people who rate low. Even before it I can guess they will rate it low. I guess if you’re a reader that doesn’t visit a site all the time you might miss it but I can tell. What I want to tell authors is there are readers like us who know, and we’re not fooled by the low ratings. I don’t care how someone rates a book good or bad I will choose if I want to read it or not. The worst thing a reader can do is tell me to read or not to read a certain book. I’ve loved books that people rated low and didn’t like some books that people raved about, that’s why I don’t listen to what people have to say. I make my own decisions.

    1. Me too, Leaundra! I have purchased books with only one to three star reviews, because I liked the description, and have enjoyed them just fine. I can’t count how many times I have read a one or two star review and the very next one is five stars. I find that usually the ones and twos are about the readers personal preference not being met, which usually has nothing to do with the book or author.

  3. Nothing infuriates me more than reading a one-star review because the reader did not read ahead of time what they were buying. That is SO unfair to the author!

  4. I love this post! I’ve seen those reviews too, and it always makes me want to scream. I haven’t written M/M romance. Yet. But I do get similar reviews on my erotic romance books, I’m sure I’ll get them on my M/M books as well. The next time I see one, I’ll take your very good advice. 🙂

    1. Okay, Kristine, I took a gander at your site and you definitely need to make one of your Six-Alarm Sexy Series books M/M–they look smokin’ hot! And, yes, unfortunately the lame low-star reviews are not genre specific, they do not discriminate.

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