A tip for review requests

Dear Miss Snark,

My quandary: A writer friend, "Vicky" (not her real name) whom I've never met personally but have known online for nearly 2 years and have exchanged critiques with, has self-published her second novel.

Vicky is not your typical self-publisher. She's the real deal, and her first book sold well enough that it's amazing (not to mention discouraging) that no traditional publisher picked up her second.

So what's my problem? I reviewed Vicky's first book on Amazon and gave it 5 stars where it probably deserved 4, just because (a) she's my friend, (b) I admired what she'd done, producing and marketing a high-quality book virtually on her own, and -- okay -- (c) I wanted to sow some good karma.

The first book had some copyediting issues, but I'd seen the same issues in traditionally published books, so I looked the other way and didn't mention them in my review.

Well... book number two suffers from a lack of copyediting so profound that I'm frequently "pulled out of the story" by howlers of word misuse and bad grammar. It's like Vicky got over-confident and/or was too rushed to give this one a thorough proofread, and perhaps didn't recognize the need for a professional copyedit.

Vicky has asked a large group of her writer friends -- me included -- to buy the book, read it, and post reviews on Amazon. In checking the book's page there, I see a handful of us have already complied -- all 5 stars, and no one has mentioned the sloppy editing. But I have this perverse sense of honesty that says I can't lie to prospective book buyers.

For character, story and prose style, I would give Vicky even higher marks for book two than for book one. But there's no excuse for sending a book to press with the type and volume of errors this one suffers from, and I'm both disappointed in and embarrassed for her.

I bought the book, and I read it. That's two out of three. But I'm in a real bind with this request for a review, and my question is: WWMSD?
(A) Write another 5-star review and just don't mention the errors (lie by omission)

(B) Write a truthful, 4-star review, briefly noting the problems (and hope Vicky isn't too offended)

(C) Ignore the request and do nothing (and hope Vicky isn't too offended)

(D) None of the above

One of the Many Faithful

Dear One-dering:

Some years back Grandmother Snark took several business associates to dinner. The service stank. Late, cold, sloppy ... you name it. She was horribly embarrassed but determined not to pull out her derringer and right the wrongs that make the whole world scream. She merely paid the bill, left no gratuity, collected her parasol and poodle from the coat check and departed with her clients to flag a cab.

The waiter chased her onto the street to berate her for the lack of a tip. (Hint: do not berate women of certain age armed with parasols). Grandmother Snark does not use foul language but you can rest assured that poor waiter retired from the fray with little of his genitalia intact. I believe her business associates signed the contract offer on the hood of the taxi, too terrified to negotiate further.

I tell you this to illustrate that a review, like a tip, must be given freely. You are under no obligation to tip a surly waiter, nor to review a book you don't care to.

I choose option C.

If Vicky is offended, tell her Grandmother Snark will be happy to write your review for you.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Great Great Grandmother d'Orléans:

"A lady always uses a hat pin. It holds one's hat in place, and one can stab those who are not gentlemen in the vitals."

Is Grand Mother Snark related to my family?

ryan said...

Instead of not tipping this is why many people tip a penny. Sometimes people forget to tip or are ignorant that it is customary. Tipping a penny is that ultimate f-u to waitstaff.

whitemouse said...

I would do (B). You can be truthful about the great writing, and say that the only reason you're not giving it the full five stars is due to the editing problems. You are doing your friend a favour, so she shouldn't complain about you keeping your integrity intact while you do it.

Anonymous said...

I love the story of Grandmother Snark. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotations:

Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.
Dorothy L. Sayers

Also, I appreciate the advice, in case someday I wear those shoes (either pair, for that matter).

Nut said...

Change 'Friends don't let friends drive drunk' to 'Friends don't force friends to buy their books'.

Okay, so you felt like charity, and rated her first book higher then deserved. Now, the second book is worse, and you label it higher too. Do you wanna make it a life long thing?

illiterate said...

"Vicky" might actualy benifit, from honest criticism. Of course, she might, also, never want to speak with you again.

Carrie said...

Any reason you are not pointing out the obvious? Get the red pen out and demonstrate that there is indeed a problem. You might even suggest that said friend have someone edit the manuscript for her. There is a time for kindness, but leaving her to face criticism once the book is out there...not so nice.

I agree with whitemouse.

Nut said...

By the banana leafs, ryan, tipping a penny thing sounds great! I'll do it!

Cynthia Bronco said...

Somewhere a woman in a baboushka is saying, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." (Please forgive my phonetic spelling, which is probably wrong.)

mark said...

Nut: what I do is tip like about five percent, and also leave a stern note explaining exactly why.

I reserve the no-tip-at-all method for those occasions (only once in my livelong life, so far) when it becomes necessary to talk to the manager.

As for the problem at hand, it seems like the best approach, since the poster is on e-mailing terms with Vicky, is to point out the copy-editing issues in private. If you're self-publishing, depending on how you do it you often have direct control over what your manuscript looks like (you upload it, and they print one whenver there's an order). So editing, even at this stage, may be possible. At the very least, it'll get her in shape for her third book.

rick said...

I, being in a very similar predicament recently, wrote the 4 star review, which could easily have been a 3 star review, and sent it to my friend.

"If you want me to post it, I will," I added to the end of my email.

The friend thanked me for the honest review and asked me not to post it.

I didn't.

I may not have the same strong Internet relationship from this point on, but I bet her next book will be more closely edited.

Gee...I hope we aren't writing about the same person.

Deborah Hern said...

I've both been there and done that. Not, I trust, for the same author, however.

I "knew" someone online who wrote a book and self-published. The story was original, the world-building was great, characterization very good, etc, etc. The editing? I don't believe there was any. At all.

She sent me the book, for free, for me to review. (That's what I do.) After I'd read the book, I emailed her and explained that, while I loved the story and the characters, the grammar and punctuation were so poor that I had to mention it in the review. I felt it was only fair to readers to know what they'd be buying. I gave her the option of my not putting up my review. She chose to have me post it. (It would be the equivalent of a 3-star on Amazon.) In it, I pointed out the good and the bad.

She later asked me to point out some mistakes. I found 32 in the first 16 pages. Howlers, all of them... not minor stuff. She was shocked and embarrassed, but I think, in the end, she was glad to know about it.

That's probably the best you can hope for, really. If you don't post a review, you run the risk of her asking you why you didn't, and you'll have to have this conversation, anyway.

Anonymous said...

File this one under the "I just needed to hear it from someone in authority" heading. Thanks, MS!

Nut, I agree. I still feel vaguely slimy about my exaggerated praise for book one. I feel better when I'm on the straight and narrow.

And I hope, should I ever be so fortunate as to have a book out, that I remember not to force my friends to buy it.

Vicky's friend
(for now, anyway)

Eileen said...

When I've been asked for any kind of public review by a friend, I write up what I would say and let them read it. If they don't want it out there then I don't post it. It is their choice. It is my opinion. I'll respect their choice not to post it, provided they respect my honest opinion if they want it out there.

Also for the record, I trust a four start review more than five. I hate how everything is AMAZING! and the THE BEST EVER! All books are not a five star.

Julian Franklin said...

I would definately give 4 stars and mention the reason why. When I read reviews on Amazon and they are all 5-star ratings, I am hesitant to buy the book because I suspect that the reviews were all written by friends and family of the author.

Once I read at least one negative comment, then that review carries more weight than the others. If it is a minor complaint, then I can honestly say "If this is the worse thing about the book, then I can go ahead and get it".

You may be helping her out in even more ways than you thought when you post an honest review.

--Julian Franklin

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I feel compelled to disagree with the Miss Snark.

Once, eons ago, I was a waitperson (then called waitress or worse). Tips and gratuities are a customary practice. Always tip the server. They need it. If the service was poor, I give an especially big tip. Makes them wonder. And guilt is a good thing.

I also think friendship, even if established on-line, calls for customary practices, too. Encouragement. And honesty.

I would suggest the following: Write a draft review for Amazon, saying the positive things you can say truthfully. If you must, add a small note about the detractions. Send it to your friend and say this is what you'd probably post. (You could explain more fully to her what problems you found in the book.) Ask her whether she would prefer it posted (or not). Advise her, though, that you will not allow her to edit your comments, it's strictly a take it or leave it proposition.

In this way, you fulfill your duties as friend. Willing to help, but also willing to be honest (more valuable in most cases than fawning compliments).

It's easier to do nothing, but that is not friendship, imho.

Me said...

I'm a proofreader by day and mild-mannered author wannabe by night. I think the single most horrific thing about any sort of self-publishing is the lack of proofreading. Relying on your own eyes and a gawdawful spellchecker is a one-way ticket to looking like an amateur.

A good proofreader is the unsung hero of the publishing world. Don't send your little darlings out there all alone like that. It's not nice.

Don't get me started.

Oops, too late.

PicAxe said...

Tell dear Vicky the truth. Whatshegonnado? Maybe never send you a book to review again . . .

HiltonRC said...

Ah man, this happened to me. A friend and I wrote our novels at the same time, reading each other's work, etc. I kept telling her, constructively, about editing she needed to do. And she did the same for me. Finally, she "finished" the novel and had me read it. The story and characters were fabulous but the woman can't spell or use punctuation to save her life.

She said she'd pay me $100 to edit it. I would have done it for free but since I knew she could afford the money, and I couldn't afford not to take it, I took it and went to work. The next day she asked if I was done yet. I told her it might take a long time. She got bent, said I must think her book was crap, etc. She took the ms back. I should have returned the money but she didn't ask for it and I couldn't afford to give it back any more than I could afford not to take it in the first place.

This began the Big Split between us. I showed her how to write a query letter and I believe, don't know, she sent out ONE query, to an editor. The editor sent her back a glowing rejection. You know: "I just love this story and I hope you get it published, but unfortunately it doesn't fit our list at this time."

My friend was devastated. I told her I'd kill to have a rejection letter like that. She didn't believe me. Her next step: POD. Fortunately, she did not dedicate the book to me or indicate I had anything at all to do with it. She had a few copies printed, gave me one and took another proudly to the library. Apparently the librarians were aghast but let her leave the book. I found it on a shelf once. Never again, though.

It's a shame. If she had just had someone (preferably a professional, not me) edit her book, then sent out more queries . . . she might have had a very successful book. Won't know now. As far as I know, she quit writing once she had the book printed.

And that was the Big Split. The friendship was souring for other reasons, as well, but that damn book killed it. I quit writing for awhile myself, disgusted with the process. Now I'm back at it . . . and I haven't talked with her in several years.

Talia Mana said...

you're not doing "vicky" any favours by lying in the book review, and you're doing a huge disservice to the amazon readers who rely on those book reviews when making purchases. getting friends to write book reviews with 5 stars is a common scam. i've seen it time and again. i think you should give the book the review it deserves, whether that be 1 star or 5 and definitely mention the editing problems.

Julia said...

I agree with Carrie. Surely it'd be better to have a quiet word with her in private, than to highlight the errors publicly?

Then maybe you could hold off giving the review until she produces a revised edition and she'll understand why.

I am amazed that someone would publish a book without having it proofed. I find it almost impossible to spot typos in my own work and I've worked as copy-editor.

mistri said...

Her book may actually get increased sales with an honest review. I don't trust self-pub'd books on Amazons that only have glowing reviews.

Rik said...

Who did "Vicky" self-publish with? Lulu.com allows the author to go in and change the manuscript (there may be a cost involved), in which case it would be simplest to email her, point out the errors in the book and hint that she does herself a disservice by allowing such errors to advertise her carelessness. If, however, there's been a print run or the self-publisher doesn't allow changes to the manuscript after publication then you owe it to yourself, to "Vicky" and to potential buyers to mention that the book would have benefitted from proofreading before publication. Sure, you may lose an online friend, but real friends tell you when you need to dab on a bit of extra deodorant, yes?

Anonymous said...

Grandmother Snark has a poodle too? Is it from the same litter as KY? Does it share similar traits? How come you've never mentioned it?


Anonymous said...

Oh, I see now that you said the incident with Grandmother Snark happened some years back. Does that mean her poodle is no longer with us? Does she have any kind of pet. A boa constrictor perhaps?

I'd love to hear more about Grandmother Snark. She sounds very...individual. Next time you need a break would you consider letting Grandmother Snark host the blog?


Edyta said...

It is a "perverse sense of honesty" indeed that allowed One of the Faithful to give an extra, undeserved, star to the first book. In fact, had they been honest the first time around, perhaps Vicky might not have made the errors she did in Book #2.
If One is serious about wanting to "sow some really good Karma" then they need to give a truly honest review of book #2. This includes making mention of the fact that book #1 suffered from similar, but less blatant, copyediting flaws. If Vicky is really a friend, virtual or otherwise, she'll appreciate it.

lizzie26 said...

Did I miss something? Wasn't the question about a cyberspace "friend"? Hard to consider anyone on the Internet a friend, when you really don't know them. If that were the case, then I guess, Miss Snark, you're my friend too!

We Are Siamese if You Please said...

Poor Mark who tips a penny or less. You probably eat a lot of spit.

WitLiz Today said...

Listen my friend, I have to be honest with you here, you're screwed. You could have stopped the letter after Dear Miss Snark.

In fact, once that brazen friend of yours pathetically asked you to buy the book and review it, and you did, that was your ticket to see the movie "Ben".

I would have stopped her dead in her tracks with that one and said,

"Vicki, I'm so sorry! I just spent my last dime on gas, but I'll be happy to read a copy that you have lying around."

Your only hope now is if Vicki has so many friends that she won't notice you did nothing. (Let me gong you now: that will never happen)

So, please allow me to point you to the Clue Store, buddy, so you don't do this again.

666 Friendship Ave
Friends for Life, PA 17402

Jim C. Hines said...

I've done this a few times. Much as I want to give folks I know all five-star reviews, sometimes I honestly don't feel that way about the books. (Important distinction: we're reviewing the books, not the authors.)

In both of the cases where the book didn't earn five stars from me, I wrote out my reasons in the review, and tried to be as fair and honest as possible. In both cases, the authors wrote to thank me. One made the point (which has been brought up here) that an honest review that discusses the strengths and shortcomings of a book can do more to sell the book than a string of gushing, over-the-top five-star reviews.

Finally, as a writer, your readers are going to trust you. If you recommend something, they're going to assume it's good. If you give five stars and gushing praise to a book that has serious flaws, it's going to be awfully hard to get those readers to trust you again in the future.

Anonymous said...

Be honest with your friend . . . on the phone. Just give her a call and explain it to her like you explained it to Miss Snark. If she is a true friend, she will thank you and be a better writer for it. If she gets her panties in a wad over it, who cares, she didn't really want you opinion anyway and was just using you. -JTC

jen said...

"Vicki" might actually find a little honesty to be refreshing. I'm sure all of you know from experience how tiring it can be to have every friend and relative tell you how great your writing is (especially when you know there's definite room for improvement!). A little brutal honesty every once in a while is appreciated.

desert snarkling said...

I agree the writer needs to know what didn't work for you, but if she really is a friend, why does she need to know in the form of an Amazon review? I vote for (E) -- email her privately, letting her know your concerns about the book and why you're not reviewing it.

Janny said...

I've heard of the practice of tipping one penny, although I don't believe I've ever used it. I did tip in ALL pennies once, though, when a waitperson really hacked me off.

The waitperson does live on those tips, and that's important to remember. But that need is not more important than good service to the customer. The only time I leave no tip at all is only if everything is bad--the food, the service, and the attitude.

If a waitperson apologizes when I point something out, if they or their managers attempt to make it good, if any effort is made whatsoever...I don't forego the tip. And I probably tip more than I should most of the time, only because I do empathize with those people who make their living in service. I don't think I could do it with the class most of them show, that's for sure.

I love Grandmother Snark's approach, though. It is the ultimate in classlessness to run after a customer and berate her, and that guy deserved whatever he got. :-)

As for "Vicky..."

I agree with the posters who say to write something and send it to her first. That way she has the option, and it also opens up the possibility for a fairly civilized conversation. Trying to avoid the issue by simply not reviewing the book at all will only prolong the inevitable.


Nut said...

Vicky's friend: good luck.

Mark: I'm guilty of tipping the rude cabby, whose cars reaked of smoke, who kept on driving like he was on crack, or something, who was extreamely rude... MY LAST DOLLAR! Yep, I'm nuts. No more. Its 1 penny tips, for all the imbessils.

"If the service was poor, I give an especially big tip. Makes them wonder." Yeah, it makes them wonder, allright! Makes them wonder if the patron's insane, or just loaded. And yeah, I waited tables in my teens. And that spitting in my food shit, well... I'm very soft natured, but let me catch you, and you want have lips to spit with. Sorry for the rudeness.

spongey437 said...

I have a book that I sent out to a few people to review adn I personally always tell them to be brutally honest - especially about grammar because nobody is ever perfect there. But even in the storyline as well - if something doesnt fit it is better to find it before it is published, even self-published.

While she may be a bit upset if you honestly critique her book, it should turn a light on for her at least that there is some work left to be done. Self published books tend to be rushed and not go through the proper edit/proofreads before publishing. I was the same way. When I finished my book, the first thing I wanted to do was upload it to Lulu and hit publish. But I have held off (though I did print one copy for myself since it was my first book) and now have it being proofread by two separate people and reviewed by two others for content to see if it may be worthy of sending out some query letters later this month.

I say, dont publish the bad review on Amazon but email her privately with the issues you have. Let her make changes and re-publish (if it was Lulu she can do this for about $75) and then do the review.

Ryan Field said...

This "Vicky" has it all wrong. Never ask a friend to review your work. You'll never be sure if they're telling the truth, in one way or the other.

Elektra said...

Sometimes people don't deserve a tip. My mom and I went a while ago to IHOP for lunch. First offense: waitress didn't speak enough English to take our orders. We finally just had to point at the menu and pray. Second offense: Despite the language barrier, she elected not to carry a pen and pad and actually write down our orders, which of course brings us to our third offense: she brought the wrong food. And then left. We waited ten minutes for her to come back--in fact, we were staring at her, she was sitting on a stool chatting with someone in the kitchen--but she never did. Not once. The whole rest of the time we were there, she didn't so much as pass by the table, not even to give us our bill. We finally just had to go up to the woman at the register and tell her what we'd had so she could ring us up. When we outlined the appalling service, complete with wrong orders, she simply shrugged and said, "Yeah, that happens a lot with her." No tip.

Anonymous said...

A writer who uses guilt or intimidation to coerce you to buy her book is not your friend. Same goes for reviews. I've seen this happen again and again with critique groups and writers' clubs.

Personally, if a 'friend' asked me to do this, I'd slowly (or maybe not so slowly) disengage myself from the relationship. Who needs another vampire in his life?

For heaven's sake, people, show some self-respect! Stop mooching off your friends.

Sue said...

I come down on the side of:

Writing an honest review and letting "Vicki" read it before posting, allowing her the opportunity to ask you not to post.

Stiffing waitstaff when they are rude and blatantly poor at their job.

Did Vicki self-publish or vanity-publish? If truly the first, she needs to understand that publishing is a business, like a dress shop. The construction of the dress is as important as the art. She should learn to have a trusted friend proofread before turning the work over to the printer as the final product is a reflection of her, in all aspects.

As to leaving no tip for bad service. Bravo! I say this as a waitress who cared for my customers the way I would care if I were a customer. If a wait person cannot work to some minimum standard, then perhaps that is not the profession for them. If your doctor forgot your appointment or didn't follow up on tests ordered, you'd be mighty miffed, you might even sue him/her. If there is a job to be done, guess what, it is worth doing well.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, this predicament only confirms that I'm right to read only the three star reviews on Amazon because the 5-4 star ones are by fans and friens and the 1-2 star ones by ex husbands and general curmudgeons.

A 3 star review that states what worked and what didn't is the most helpful because I can decide if the crit points are the ones that would peeve me, too, or something I don't care about. So far, I've never picked a book with well written 3 star reviews I didn't like.

tlh said...

I can't believe anyone actually reads Amazon reviews. Every single time I've looked, some breathlessly exuberant moron has written a review so full of spoilers that I no longer need to read the book.

"LOL! It was awesome! I never would have guessed the killer was her long-lost twin! This book is going on my favorites list! LOL!"

Anonymous said...

The question, it occurs to me is - what kind of friend is "Vicky" to you?

People might not like to hear it, but there is more than one kind. There's the best friend, the casual friend, the collegue friend...

There are friends who are good weather friends. You can have fun with them and that's it.
There are best friends whom you are closer to than family members and whom you'd tell everything and for whom you'd do everything.
And there's a whole spectrum in between.

Is your friendship one that can take the blunt truth? If it does not and it breaks your friendship - can you live with that.

A friend that can take the truth might be one that is not very close and to whom a bad review might not matter much.
Or one that is so close that everything less than the truth would be an insult.

Can you find such a friend online. Of course. Is Vicky such a friend?
Your call.

Eleanor said...

There's something about the Internet that makes it easier - and more cowardly - to speak your mind in public than to speak to the person who needs to hear. Were you thinking of posting that Amazon review anonymously, by any chance? Talk to Vicky first. Maybe she can correct the errors before too many more books are sold.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again to all who have added their 2 cents to Miss Snark's. I really appreciate it.

Vicky's friend
(headed to the clue store)

Anonymous said...

Too good to be true.

That's what I think of multiple five star ratings for unknown writers. I see this all the time on Amazon, and I NEVER buy the books. Yes, the author has lots of friend. No, I'm not willing to bother with something recommended solely on friendship. In fact, I automatically see the book as being low quality.

Be honest with your friend. Do it in private if you must, but don't mislead the Amazon readers. You aren't doing your friend any real favors.


oldNcrabby said...

Although I am sorry that employers screw waitstaff by making the customers pay them directly, that is NOT my choice. My choice is to tip someone for good service and to refrain from tipping them for poor service. And since poor service means I do NOT return to the restaurant under any circumstances -- I expect I don't any more than average spit. After all, I don't wear a "I don't tip" t-shirt.

I also try to make sure more reviews serve the purpose a review is MEANT to serve -- it enlightens the reader as to whether they want to read the book. Thus, I don't write plot spoilers and I don't praise bad books.

I also don't get sent many self-published works.

Anonymous said...

Self-publishing: ugh. God forbid every single person in America isn't able to be on television or publish their very own piece of crap novel. God forbid our delicate egos be thrown out of balance by a (gasp) rejection letter.

mata said...

My instinct would be to write to Vicky privately and tell her the truth: I really enjoyed the book, thought it was better than the first in some ways, but that the sloppy copy editing was so bad as to distract the reader.

Anonymous said...

With a POD book, don't you have a chance to correct and change it if you want to?? Pointing out errors would be a big favor if she didn't already have a stack of bound copies in her basement.