Kirkus, Desperation, and Amazon’s Dino Porn

My thirty-year journey toward literary greatness has been fraught with enough obstacles to wear down the hardiest of adventurers. I’ve struggled with apathetic friends, a disapproving family, a host of ban-hammering moderators, gangs of internet trolls, and my own demons of doubt and despair, all while clambering over mountains of indie writers competing for attention. I quit social media last week, because I could no longer stand the fact that every single person in the #writingcommunity is only there to hawk their own books. It’s an absurd situation, considering how they expect to sell anything when nobody is buying. I can’t say I am guiltless in this regard. I don’t use Twitter to buy books either, but I occasionally peruse indie titles that pique my interest, only to be disparaged by the scarcity of writing experience. I have full-length novels collecting dust in my drawer, that I would never show to anyone, much less attempt to sell, because I’ve learned over the years that storytelling is a skill that takes a lifetime to master. Too many indie creators simply lack the work-ethic to attain, what I like to call, shelf status, and if there’s an unread classic I could be reading, why wouldn’t I be reading that instead? If I expect anyone to give The Princess of Aenya a chance, it’s only because I’ve taken decades to learn to write it, with the goal of adding something worthwhile to the industry.

So, after overcoming so many obstacles, it was wonderful to be finally getting validation from two reputable critics. Though readers have been raving about my latest book on Amazon, one troll accused me of faking my reviews. But with stamps of approval from Kirkus and IndieReader, nobody could accuse me of fakery, could they?

In 2003, I released The Dark Age of Enya through a company called Xlibris. What I didn’t know then was the stigma surrounding self-publishing, or “vanity” publishing, as it was more notoriously known at the time. I was basically told that I was taking the easy way out, was accused of being disingenuous and not a real writer, and that my efforts reeked of desperation. Taking the hint, I decided to concentrate on querying agents instead. But just a few years later, vanity publishing turned into indie publishing, and many a struggling writer, including Christopher Paolini of Eragon fame, achieved literary stardom. The most successful of them jumped ship, using the indie route as a stepping stone to the big time. One of these people, who I will just call Mr. X, I’ve known for years, a skilled storyteller whose career I have done my best to emulate. So when my editorial reviews were released, I was eager to show him, hoping to finally be given the time of day. But his response . . . shocked me. “Paying for reviews reeks of desperation,” he told me. I was taking the easy way out. I was being disingenuous, acting as if those reviews were legitimate.

Never mind that Kirkus has been around since the 1930’s, or that you cannot pay them for a good review, Mr. X doesn’t think they count. “I’ve never seen them give a bad review for an indie book,” he claimed, which means nothing to anyone willing to search the site. But if he has never seen a bad indie review from Kirkus, I explained to him, it’s probably because authors can opt to have their reviews hidden. Paying Kirkus to read The Princess of Aenya wasn’t an act of desperation, but a wager. I was so confident they were going to love it, I was willing to bet money on it, and I won that bet. Mr. X argued I should have done things the traditional way, by asking Amazon’s top reviewers to read my book. But here’s the problem: the indie landscape has changed in the past fifteen years since he started, and I don’t think Mr. X is aware of it. First and foremost, Amazon no longer posts reviewers’ contact info, so it’s impossible to reach them. Secondly, critics are getting bombarded by requests. Even if you manage to find a voracious bookworm willing to spend a week with your story for no pay, there are a hundred other authors competing for that same critic’s time. When I thought about Mr. X’s insistence that I do things the traditional way, it was not desperation I smelled, but hypocrisy. Knowing that the same exact things were once said of him and indie authors, and knowing that he had the gumption to take the non-traditional route in changing times, I find it remarkable that he fails to understand why, in this ever-changing landscape, I chose to do what worked best for me. But perhaps Mr. X’s view has nothing to do with the validity of paid critics, and everything to do with the less-than-favorable review Kirkus gave his book.

The behemoth called AMAZON is the latest obstacle in my journey. It is common knowledge that to garner the attention of agents and publishers, a writer must cater to this one bookseller, which is a shame, for a monopoly on books is a monopoly on ideas, and a danger to free thought and creativity. For this reason, I shop at Barnes & Noble when I can, and sell my books through my website, despite hindering my sales rank with Amazon. What we must remember, if we wish to safeguard the greatest of human inventions, is that Amazon does not own writing. I mention this because again, people like Mr. X are convinced Amazon is more reputable than Kirkus, solely because Bezos can make or break an author, even though many of my fans are not Amazon customers and cannot post to the site, and sometimes my reviews are deleted because my readers share the same IP address or know one another in some way. The day Ages of Aenya was released, a troll gave it a 1-Star review, but even with one-day shipping, the book could not have reached him in time. I e-mailed Amazon many times, with all my fans down-voting the troll and commenting against him, but Amazon did nothing about it, and the fake review remains after two years, a dishonest stain on a fairly stellar consensus. But the most egregious flaw in the Amazon system is the proliferation of paid reviews, a growing industry in China, which, unlike Kirkus, cannot be verified. Some indie offerings, with covers so badly designed you can barely read their titles, and grammar that could not pass for middle school English, somehow manage hundreds of five-star reviews, while books like A Girl Called Wolf by Stephen Swartz, a masterfully written, soul stirring novel, sits at only six reviews total, with Taken by the T-Rex, a book about a girl who has sex with, well, a T-Rex, currently stands at 125 reviews, with one reader remarking:

5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it!! Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2019 Verified Purchase It was awesome!!! Make it more romantic and add pictures pls😍😍😍🌟🌟🌟🌟 keep making books!!! I believe that you can do it!!

Taken by the T-Rex (Dinosaur Erotica) by [Christie Sims, Alara Branwen]
A masterpiece?

We cannot trust Amazon to tell us what constitutes great fiction. Literary tradition, if it has any worth, should exist to maintain literary standards, and for that, we need real, professional reviewers, like Kirkus. But what do I know? Maybe Taken by the T-Rex is the next Moby Dick.

It’s easy for successful people to look back and say, “I did it on my own,” while setting fire to the bridges behind them. But no matter how much effort we put in to making our dreams a reality, we all owe some measure of success to other people, whether to the parents who encouraged us, or the teachers that inspired us, or the fans who motivate us to keep going when we most want to quit. I hope that, when I hit it big, I will not forgot what it felt like to be where I am now, and that I will do my best to pave the way for the future of storytelling.

One thought on “Kirkus, Desperation, and Amazon’s Dino Porn

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  1. I just saw this today on the Goodreads website, in my attempt to do as Mr. X suggested and reach out to readers on review platforms like Goodreads and Amazon:

    Note to authors: We don’t recommend contacting users to promote your book or request reviews. Nearly all of our members consider unsolicited messages from authors or their representatives to be spam, and sending such messages may result in your account being flagged.

    So, not only is it highly unlikely I would able to find many readers willing to review my book based solely on my asking them, but IT IS AGAINST POLICY TO DO THIS!!!

    Again, I am betting this is a new policy based on the sheer glut of authors desperate for reviews, and a policy Mr. X is unaware of, now that he is sitting pretty in his ivory tower of literary success. I’d like to ask Mr. X what he thinks of this, but I am trying to steer clear of confrontations.

    Bottom Line: It appears that paid reviews may be one of the *only* ways to actually get them.

    Like

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