Book Covers, Indie Publishing & Author Meltdown

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Based on the comments I received from the first covers I posted here, I came up with this one. The ring is not as prominent, but hopefully this will work for the short story I’ll be posting to Smashwords.  Feel free to share your thoughts. I do want the cover to be as good as it can be.  

That thought brings me to branding. I only realized after I did up the cover that it is similar to the two other book covers done by my publisher. Small matter, but did I subconsciously think about brand recognition when I did the cover? Not sure, but it’s possible. Of course, it wouldn’t be a good thing to fall into a pattern of sameness.  

Quite by accident, I came across a thread on an Amazon Kindle board that was started by a reviewer. Apparently, said person reviewed a book by an Indie writer, whose response was somewhat defensive.  The reviewer’s original post was deleted, so I didn’t have the benefit of seeing it. However, when I last checked there were 153 responses, including several from the writer who surfaced during the discussion. It brings to mind another incident between reviewer and indie writer, where the writer had a meltdown, which led to scads of people commenting on the review post and then going over to Amazon to post bad reviews on her novel. 

I haven’t read through the entire board, but an early commenter said something that made the most sense to me. The person cautioned against any type of author response on review sites, even ‘thank yous’. Makes sense to me. I wouldn’t have found out who the writer was if he hadn’t joined the discussion. It then prompted me to look at his work, and there are a few. None had reviews yet, but I’m pretty sure he’ll get some downloads from those whose interest has been piqued. When they post reviews, he’ll be deader than dead. 

Even on writing networks, it’s painful when not-so-tactful reviewers critique our work. My method of coping is to take a day or so to examine the review and find its merits. Most often, critiquers do make some valid points, but some people simply do not know how to be tactful.  Inevitably, after I’ve cooled off, I can see where the person made some good suggestions. The most important and sensible course is not to respond while I’m still feeling as though I’ve been violated.  I’d like to note here that some of us writers are extremely thin-skinned and any criticism of our work sends us into a frenzy.  Not a good attitude for someone in the public domain. 

Whether we care to admit it or not, the stigma attached to self-publishing might have lessened, but it’s still there. It raises its head in cases like these, where a book might not be the best one written or edited or plotted. The problem is compounded when writers lose control and put their emotions before good sense. 

We’re as protective of our novels as we are of our children. But there has to be a major difference in the approach to book publishing. It’s a given that if we expose ourselves and our work to John Public, criticism will come. 

I don’t think many of us know exactly what we let ourselves in for when we become authors. Are we prepared for the backlash that may come from people who don’t enjoy our style of writing? Can we honestly say our published work is the best it can be? Wouldn’t it be more practical to use reviews as a means of improving on what we’ve produced? In these days of e-publishing, it’s not difficult to do.

What say you?


  1. Good post, Joy. I agree that once you put your work out there, you have to bite the bullet, take what comes, and learn from it. By responding publicly to a bad review, the author may actually have given more credibility to the reviewer than the reviewer merited. Not having read the book or the review, I don't really know. But at least some positive reviews might have balanced out one bad review instead of what followed. But, you know, some Natuonal book Award winners have had their work trashed, so I don't think any writer can afford to be so thin skinned over one reviw.

  2. BTW, I like the picture you chose. It's lovely.

  3. I think it's annoying that the author is expected to put up and shut up, no matter how unfair the review. Doesn't seem fair to me, but I guess that's the game.

  4. Mitty,
    I agree with you, we have to be prepared to deal with the unknown.

    When I come across books on Amazon with a number of review. I take a sampling of the good and the bad. Usually, if I'm interesting enough in buying, I won't let a one-star review deter me.

    I also have seen some really bad reviews for books that many people thought were good. I suppose to each his own.

    Deborah, I guess in this situation authors may feel they're fighting a lone crusade with nothing to defend them. Sadly, defending ones word just makes things worse.

    I've never understood why people post a bad review on a book they haven't read. I understand being outraged on someone else's behalf, but not to the point of rushing over to the author's page to lodge a protest on an argument that has nothing to do with me.

    Crucifying an author definitely isn't right or fair. He has no recourse but to make his book better, if that's possible.

  5. This best thing (and this comes from Jay Lake) is to say that once published the story belongs to the reader. Then any response is valid, and you don't need to engage. Smart.

  6. What a wonderful, thoughtful post. You bring up so many good points and issues. Some that I've thought about when I've seen bad reviews and the reactions to them. I tend to operate by the principal "if you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing." And if a legitimate issue needs to be discussed, why can't this be done in a compassionate, respectful, and polite manner?

  7. Hey Joy!!

    Isn't it fun yet frustrating to do your own? If you want me to convert it to a higher DPI for you (if you ever print rather than just do online), let me know.


  8. It is very hard to be gracious about something that hurts, but if someone buys your 'product' and isn't happy with it, I believe they do have the right to review it. Of course we hope the review will contain valid points, but even if it doesn't, well... I think it's best to bite your lip and walk away.

  9. Deborah,
    If you look at it that way, then yes, there's no need to engage in what might become a pointless argument with a reader.

    I've seen a few one and two star reviews on Amazon and know that they must have some impact on the writer, no matter how long he/she's been published. It has to be hard not saying anything in response, but in the end that's the wisest course.

    Cynthia, in the heat of the moment, it's easy to say/write something that makes little sense.

    I think we descend to unreasonable behaviour because some of us are like sheep. We can't think for ourselves, so we just follow the crowd.

    The ones I really don't get are the people who go write something negative on an author's website because of an argument that is no concern of theirs.

  10. Tirz,

    Yes, enjoyable & frustrating at the same time. I now understand why graphic artists here charge what they do. Thanks for dropping in. I'll message you.

    Talli, oh yes. Hard not to respond especially since the customer has the right to say what he thinks of the product. In our consumer driven society, the customer also has the means to announce his disappointment to anybody who will listen. Sad, but the writer stands to lose if he says the wrong thing.

  11. For any artist, once you expose your work for the world to see, you have to know not everyone is going to have something nice to say about it. Unfortunately, some people just don't know how to be gracious. You know the ones, those who can dish it out but can't take it themselves!

    Sometimes negative reviews will have valid points that can help you on your next book, but sometimes it's just meanness. So if people know they have difficulty accepting criticism, it's probably a good idea to just not read any of their reviews at all!

  12. I read your post but was totally distracted by the cover for 'Contraband'. He's hawt ;-)

  13. Deborah, what're saying is so true. I never though of it that way but you're right. Once the reader buys the book its no longer yours but there's and they expect to get their money's worth and I suppose they think they haven't. That's a hard one to swallow for the writer I'm sure.

    I also don't let one bad review deter me JL. rather that then ten overly doting reviews - the the sources become suspicious.

    btw: on the cover - my fav. cover is contraband's. I don't have the right words except to say it looks international, sleek. I think you have to decide what you want to be the focal point. the ring or the table?

  14. Laura,
    It’s something we have to learn. Criticism is inevitable. Acceptance of that fact makes it a little easier, I think.

    Sarah, your comment made me laugh out loud. Yes, he’s a looker all right.

    Wendy, it’s always a surprize when I see many 5-star reviews and then 1-star and 2-star reviewers who say those who rated higher must have read another book.
    The graphic artist did a great job with Contraband. As to my cover, those who commented leaned more toward the ring being bolder. Clearly, I didn’t get it bold enough to really stand out. Need to fix that.

  15. Joy, I'm glad you kept the ring, and having it smaller works too although I rather liked it large as well. That's a true Pisces for you! What if the ring weren't so opaque? When it was larger, it didn't blend/get lost with the background image as much as it might tend to do now; it's difficult to tell with a thumbnail though.

    I really love the purple colors, and I'm normally a yellowish kind of girl. What about instead of having purple color bands you have the type in that purple and then have the font be one that looks more like a wedding invitation? You also could have the words "A NOVEL" beneath the title.

    I like how Contraband and Dissolution look similar. For this book I agree branding would be good, if it doesn't become sameness, but only if the themes are similar. Do your first two books have more drama and your new one a slightly different feel? Contraband looks different enough because of the font used for the title. I also like the larger point size, which I know would be difficult to do with your new, longer title.

    I'd better stop, before this posts gets too long. :)

  16. I like this new cover. And with branding, I don't think it's a problem. I like when covers are similar because then they're easily recognizable by fans.

    As for negative comments, I think a writer just has to take it with a grain of salt. In the digital era, things like meltdowns come back to haunt you and you can't really do anything to get rid of the stigma once it's attached to you.

  17. Michelle,
    I'm not a Pisces and I'm having the same issues you are. :) Yeah, I think the ring has kinda gotten lost in there. Giving up the Dream is actually a short story. I added the band because I thought the font might get lost against the photo. Decisions, decisions!

    Contraband = action/adventure/romance
    Dissolution = family drama with a dash of mystery.
    Giving up the Dream = story about a couple who used to be lovers.

    Marlena - The branding thing became clearer when I saw how the cover turned out.

    So true - once that meltdown happens, people will remember, at least for a while.

  18. Love the cover. (The other two as well.)

    I'm sorry to hear another author had a meltdown after a bad review. I really think that's the best test of an author's readiness for publication: can you take criticism and rejection? It's the one thing the query process teaches that we shouldn't necessarily want to give up.

    Also, a lot of those one-star amazon reviews are written by trolls--some of them professionals who are hired to bring down a "rival's" stats. Many of them have identical wording, like "those others must not have read the same book." The trolls have never read any of the books. Check and you'll see they only mention stuff from the blurb.

    I was talking with a few writers about starting a site for bad reviews, to show how illiterate and laughable they are, but we were talked out of it. Things could take a nasty turn, and we didn't want that to happen.

    But if you can't laugh at bad reviews, you're not ready for prime time, in my opinion.

  19. I agree that it's better not to respond. An author retains their respect and dignity that way...getting defensive online does nothing for them. Great post!

  20. I read a few of those meltdown posts and they are nasty. It's hard when people attack our children (our books) but we need to understand that every review is subjected and not everyone will like our books.

  21. I say it's important to always present yourself in a professional manner. If you can't, you need to withdraw. All writers will receive at least one negative review at some point - most of us way more than one. We have to learn to let them go.

  22. Ann,

    I like that you compare public criticism with the querying process. They’re similar when you think about it.

    I wasn’t aware – call me an innocent – that people are hired to take down people’s ratings, but I suppose writing is no different from other forms of business where there is competition. Good think I read a sampling of ratings both good and bad before I buy.

    Bad reviews will always carry a sting, but I agree that part of moving into the professional league is being able to withstand criticism.

    Rula, thanks for dropping in. I agree that being defensive only destroys credibility.

    Clarissa, that’s something we do need to get – not everybody will like our work. I admire writers who enter competitions where the general public gets to judge. If you can survive that process then you can deal with publication in general.

    Carol, I agree that professionalism is key. Letting go of bad reviews is also very important to peace of mind.

  23. Bad reviews are part of life. We take the best from it, forget about the worst, and move on. Any other attitude, and we're looking for trouble. Great post.

  24. I'm not even there yet, but I promised I'd never read reviews if my stuff ever gets out there. I'll have my trusted friends let me in on the gist of it. Writing is art. With arts comes critics. If you can connect to just one person, it's worth it.

  25. I would look at reviews but would never respond to them. I remember when this whole thing blew up months ago...first it was on twitter and went viral from there.

    Plus the Amazon Kindle boards are full of some pretty ruthless people.

  26. Damyanti, I doubt those who fell into the trap thought they were looking for trouble, but yes, that's exactly what they found.

    David, well said. Even one person reached is wonderful, but you know how we humans are, the one that got away leaves us confused and itching to do something, which is this case is nothing but courting disaster.

    Michael, I wonder if that's why I don't hang around the boards much. *Scratches head* I hear it's very easy to be accused of spamming. Anne (above) talked about that ruthlessness in different words.

  27. I agree, it's best not to respond to bad reviews. Everything is subjective and, depending on how thick a writer's skin is, it might be best not to read any of the reviews.

  28. Your book cover looks great.

    I'm so glad you wrote this post. Great advice for us to keep in mind, that we shouldn't respond. I'll remember this. Thanks.

  29. Like all authors, I hope when I am finally published there will be no bad reviews. But if there are, I think it's best not to respond!

  30. Good point, JL. I think it's best not to comment at all. I was witness to that indie author who lashed out at the reviewer and it was just embarrassing on all counts. The reviewer was not even harsh, and ever praised the story. By self-pubbing we're putting our work out there and it's open for reviews just as it would be if it were traditionally pubbed. That's the game, and if writers aren't professional enough to play it right, they need to take a step back and set a game plan.
    I like your cover. I'd prolly resize the ring, but that's cuz I'm a perfectionist. ;)

  31. Lynda,
    In my case, I’d read the bad reviews, if only to see if there is any information I can use to improve on what was published.

    Lyn, thanks. Yep, not responding is a good way to avoid a major headache.

    Ellie, that’s definitely the thing to do.

    Like you, I think coming up with some kind of game plan to deal with the emotional fallout is our best option. It’s just reality that not everyone will like what we write. On the cover, thanks. I’ll probably go mad fiddling with the darn thing.

  32. I know the writer you're talking about who had a meltdown and then all these people went over to read and comment on the review... I think I can be pretty defensive about my work, so here's how I think I should handle it (assuming a publish books one day and get reviews I don't like!): I'll sit down and write EXACTLY what I want to tell that reviewer - and then not send it. That way I'll have released my anger without ever having to comment on the review. (This also works with people you're really mad at and want to give a piece of your mind to, but you know you'd regret it if you actually clicked Send!)

  33. Rachel,

    I definitely understand that. It's kind of like telling someone off in your mind when you have a disagreement and didn't get to say all the things you wanted to say. :) happy Your method would definitely get rid of some of the pent-up anger.


Don't be shy, I'd love to hear what you think.