Episode 176 – IndiePicks, YA Hate, and Hallmark Publishing

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Question of the Week: Is it fair for readers to leave customer reviews en masse if they haven’t yet read the book? How can publishers and retailers avoid situations like this in the future?

Director of Content Abigail Dunard visited the show this week to talk tips and news with Jim. After thanking their patrons, We Own the Sky, Kick Author Overwhelm to the Curb, and The Newbie’s Guide to Sell More Books with Less Marketing, Jim and Abigail discussed tips on major marketing campaigns, six-figure steps, and reader on-boarding. News stories included Amazon’s new shipping policy, Hallmark Publishing, David Gaughran’s brush with Amazon iron fist, IndiePicks, and a contentious campaign fighting a popular YA book. This week’s Question of the Week: Is it fair for readers to leave customer reviews en masse if they haven’t yet read the book? How can publishers and retailers avoid situations like this in the future?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How authors can take their marketing to the next level with a major campaign
  • How writers can build their careers with tips from six-figure authors
  • How authors can decrease their newsletter spam reports and unsubscribes
  • What Amazon policy changes will affect third party sellers and buyers
  • What new developments at the Hallmark Channel could mean for indies
  • Why one author says Amazon only cares when the exclusivity rule is broken
  • What new resource is hoping to connect indie authors with librarians
  • Why some readers are protesting a controversial YA book via Twitter

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  • Benjamin Douglas

    Hey guys! I’m getting an Error 404: not found message when I try to load the direct MP3 Download on this week’s episode (how I usually listen). No worries, I’ll listen on the .fm player 😉 but thought you should know. Tried a couple of different browsers/devices, same problem.

  • Lavie Margolin

    Great job, Abigail. I think as the show evolves in the march to 200, a three person podcast team would keep things interesting. In general, I think it is wrong to review a book that you have not read. It has happened to me a few times in my own books and is very troubling. The only exception I can think of is when a book is created by someone with evil intentions, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, it is important to suppress that message and dampen sales.

  • George Sirois

    Question of the Week: No, I don’t believe it’s fair. It goes hand-in-hand with other non-book products everywhere on the web. If you haven’t experienced the product being sold – positive or negative – then you have no business posting a fair & impartial review. Unfortunately, I have no idea what to do about this that won’t turn around on the content creator because any attempt to censor reviews is met with hostility and more negativity toward the creator. (Oh, and guys, I appreciate the mention on today’s show, but my last name is pronounced “Sir-Roy” and my first name’s George. 🙂 Thanks for everything!)

  • I recently read a book that had a number of reviews citing its troubling portrayal of people of color characters. I didn’t agree with these reviews at all, and made that clear in my own review. People coming from the same marginalized group won’t always agree on what’s offensive since there’s no monolithic experience. So it’s important for everyone to read and judge for themselves, listen to the opinions of others with compassion, and then make their own decisions.

    As for avoiding these situations, I’m not sure it’s possible. We’re in a cultural moment where tensions and sensitivities are running high. The institutional racism in the publishing industry is slowly beginning to erode, but there will be growing pains for a long time. The alternative is for authors to create bland work they hope won’t push buttons, but really, what’s the point of that? Authors should take care to write with empathy, engage with people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, research what they don’t know, and do their best, and if controversy comes, take your lumps and keep moving forward.

    • Thank you for sharing this.

      Books and other stories where the protagonist overcomes his fear or hatred of another race, creed, or religion is one of the most powerful ways to change someone’s mind.

      In a way, I’m glad my books aren’t very deep. A lot of authors live in fear of writing the wrong people poorly. Now they also have to be sure they don’t write about a flawed moral compass unless it’s the bad guy. I’m waiting for the day when the bad guy is ‘not bad enough’ or his end or punishment is not significant enough. Or worse, he’s forgiven. Yikes.

      • Crissy Moss

        I recently listened to the leader of a kkk group and how one African American pastor got him to reform. The pastor just kept smiling, and loving him, and praying for him no matter what the guy said. The kkk member even burned down the church and the pastor just said “lord forgive him, he doesn’t understand.” and was just as sweet and kind to him as ever. The kkk member didnt understand because all he knew was hate and fear, but one loving pastor helped him realize just how wrong he was.

        Not everyone can do that. Not everyone can smile in the face of stubborn ignorance, or hatred. But loving the unlovable has often worked where silencing and hatred haven’t.

  • Leave a well informed review? Maybe. Call for your followers to review en masse? No.

    I’ve been tempted to review some nutrition focused diet books that I know know are full of bad science, but as an author I’m careful about posting book reviews, period. Since I AM a nutrition and health writer, I’m ever more careful reviewing that category.

  • Jim asked about the YA readers being so vocal, and I think it’s because of their age. YA and New Adult readers (when you pull the adults out) are still young enough to have little restraint, are learning a ton from school, friends, and the internet, and they’re are undergoing dramatic hormonal shifts. Little things are the end of the world, which means other things effect them even more powerfully.

    This same age range is at colleges yelling down professors out in the quad. It’s even easier to yell on twitter, where a lack of a response is an admission of guilt or ‘highly suspicious.’

    It happens with adults, too, but we’ve already been though some of it, and either learned or become accustomed to those feelings.

  • I’m thinking Amazon’s fixes for verified reviews has somewhat responded to this issue. Going deeper, I’m not a fan of reviews that attempt to determine a writer’s motive. Especially one based in a fantasy world. Perhaps the author meant this as an allegory to show the dangers of that ideology. It’s as if they’re Annie Wilkes standing over the author with sledgehammer.

  • Did Jim say “Iced Cube?”

    Reviews from people who haven’t read the book are definitely unhelpful and borderline unethical. I like the idea of weighting verified reviews more heavily. The person still might not have read the book, but at least they bought it.

  • Scarlett Jamison

    Using an alt-account because I have a confession.

 Years ago, I was part of a brigade to downvote a YA book I had not read. The author was apparently someone who had once spouted virulent misogyny in the blogosphere.  However, their book was a paranormal mystery which (to my knowledge) didn’t outright state those views.

I was swept up by the outrage on the internet and posted poor reviews of their book wherever I could. At the time, I felt like a Big Hero.

    Now older, and (hopefully) wiser, I’m ashamed. I hadn’t even checked out the author’s blog to verify the claims—I only took the word of a stranger on the internet that they were misogynist, and that the author should be punished, professionally.

    It’s easy to get swept up in mob mentality. It’s tempting to look at the many injustices in an unfair world and tell yourself “If I make my stand here, I’m helping”.

    That’s the reason I did it. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

    • Bryan

      Appreciate you sharing this, SJ. We’ve all done things in our past we’re not proud of, and all we can do is realize the error of our ways and push forward. Thanks!

  • The #1 story is reason one billion and one why I hate political correctness. As artists we’re supposed to reflect the challenges of the day in our stories, just as The Crucible dealt with McCarthyism. Today, could John Grisham write about racism in A Time to Kill? Probably not. Is that a good thing? Absolutely not.

    It has never been easier to write a book and get it published. Authors should continue writing whatever they want. For those who don’t like it, they’re free to write their own book. That’s the point of art. Freedom of expression. Freedom of interpretation. Individual voices sharing their views of the world.

    As for the reviews – can’t stop the mob mentality. Everyone is guilty of it, sharing stories with click-bait headlines of articles we haven’t read all the way through. In this case, it also happens to include star-review options. The only way that would change is if Amazon required a verified purchase to leave a review.

  • Sam Burns

    No, it’s not fair or right to call for people to one-star a book they know very little about.

    On the other hand, the article mentioned in the news story is quite one-sided, and gave the full name of the reviewer out publicly – something she does not do in her reviews.

    The subject of racism can be handled in a way that doesn’t make people this angry; Harry Potter, for example, gives us Harry as an outsider trying to understand the prejudices of the wizarding world. What this book gives us is an analogy of the granddaughter of a powerful Nazi, who spends the majority of the book agreeing with and furthering those Nazi views. The book focuses on the horrible behavior of the racists, and while those views are obviously not approved of by the author, they’re also hurtful. I think if a large subsection of a marginalized population says “this content hurts me,” we need to avoid the knee-jerk “but,” and ask ourselves hard questions about our position.

  • I wanted to comment on the move of Hallmark and the like to streaming services. Some of them I get, like HBO. I can get that without cable now. Disney might be great if you have kids. Some of them are kidding themselves, though. CBS? I’m not paying for that just to watch Star Trek unless it’s amazing or it’s like $3 a month. This crap ads up and pretty soon you’re paying cable prices all over again.

    I predict a lot of these streaming services with offer first runs exclusively, and later sell rights to netflix and hulu on a time delay (like we see now).

  • C.E. Martin

    Question of the week:
    Nothing’s “fair” about ebook publishing. Retailers and the like could screen this, but it would cost money to do so. They’re not in the business of establishing a fair and level playing field: they’re in this to make money. So no one hold their breath for this problem to be solved.

  • Laura Martone

    I know that readers are an extremely diverse lot – with incredibly diverse trigger issues – so, I can understand the passion, outrage, revenge, and other deep emotions that some books can engender in certain individuals and groups. That said, I don’t think it’s ever fair, mature, brave, or constructive to negatively review something – whether book, movie, TV show, song, music video, painting, play, or other art form – without experiencing it oneself. And it’s certainly no way to spark an intelligent debate. I’ve seen too many good, well-meaning writers – even in the travel industry, for Pete’s sake – endure a crushing wave of one-star reviews just because one or two people encouraged a slew of unverified reviewers to rip the book apart… often without ever having read the book in question.

  • Anmarie

    Freedom of speech to say and write about what you want, as long as you don’t specifically slander a person or act on something. Unless we are talking about books for youth which should be monitored for promoting negative behaviors that are harmful to others. Otherwise if you don’t like the book’s content then don’t buy it. And don’t review it if you haven’t read it and formed and unbiased opinion.

  • Naomi B.

    This podcast was just brought to my attention. As the publisher of IndiePicks Magazine, all information given regarding our processes and mission were erroneous, right down to our affiliation with Library Journal magazine. I would encourage you to review here: http://bit.ly/2zpyq8W. Thank you, Naomi E. Blackburn

    • Bryan

      Hey Naomi. Thanks for dropping by! Our apologies for getting the story wrong. The Bit.ly you gave me just redirects to this page. Would be happy to find out the real story. Thanks!