In April of 2021, I clicked the “publish” button. IMAGE: An Illustrated Novel went live on Amazon. What drove me to that decision was largely a positive editorial review that I had paid for the year before (thank you government stimulus check). Kirkus Reviews, a famously harsh and widely respected judge of literary merit, had liked my book. It was, in their opinion (see kirkusreviews.com), “An old-school horror tale that delightfully embraces its inspirations and genre conventions.” So how could I go wrong?
I bought two more evaluations to bolster the first. Online Book Club issued their approval (see onlinebookclub.org): “There was nothing I disliked about this book. The story was intriguing, and the spookiness was used to good effect. It was also exceptionally well edited, so I rate it 4 out of 4 stars.” That write-up was actually the last to reach me. By the time that I read their praise, I needed some cheering up.
In between the first and third verdicts, my ego took a hit. Reedsy, a company that sells writing aid to authors (none of which I had utilized), has a program called Discovery meant to showcase new books on their website. Their reviewer tore IMAGE apart (see reedsy.com): “Poor writing leads to the reader wanting to rush through half the book, and the rest seems to be rather aimless at any rate“. The critic, who listed her genres of interest as young adult and fantasy, posted her one-star rating on Goodreads so it follows IMAGE around there, too.
What’s strange is how bothered I am. Two out of three ain’t bad, after all. The worst result was also the cheapest: at $50, a fraction of the others. Kirkus and Online Book Club both verified that their readers had actually finished the job. Reedsy had me submit my own synopsis (I lifted it straight from the Amazon product description) so I can’t be sure that anybody had done more than skim my work. The Reedsy woman even wrote that she was “tempted to rush through what amounts to at least half of the novel.” Maybe she did.
It isn’t okay to pay for customer reviews, only the editorial variety (the most you’re supposed to do is offer a free copy in exchange for an honest opinion; I’ve come across companies that will circumvent the system for a price). I learned that Amazon doesn’t even want your friends and family commenting on your book. Given the stringent guidelines, I have to wonder: is it fair to hide the fact that not everybody loved my novel? In the interest of ethics, I have included the Reedsy critique on the product page. Authentic or not, it’s still some of the only feedback that I have to show.
Update: Including the worst line of the worst review seemed unnecessarily self-defeating so I opted for Reedsy’s only positive comment, instead: “The illustrations are good . . .”