07 February, 2016

Free or .99c Romances and Their Bad Reviews

Reading is what everyone can do and writing is what some are capable of doing.

But, not all writers are capable of doing it correctly.

Which is where reader's feedback comes in handy.

Honest feedback is essential to our craft and what helps us improve, so it is a necessary evil in our line of work to not only receive reviews but to read them objectively in order to learn from our  mistakes.

I subscribe to BookBub, which alerts me daily to Free and discounted E-books via Amazon, and while I agree with Collette Cameron about the idea of free and cheap being a potential detriment to us authors, I also see it as a way for authors to gain valuable feedback.

For a writer, it pays to understand what comprises bad writing in the same way that it pays to read outstanding works of art.

We gain by learning from both.

The reader, on the other hand, is merely screwed by the purchase and reading of bad writing, but in the long run, so is that author.

What I've discovered about most free or discounted Romance novels is that the author is clearly not aware of the glaring imperfections of their work, or they may think that because their subsequent works sold well that their fan base will overlook an earlier piece that wasn't quite as polished as the rest.

This is when you'll see reviews like: Very Disappointing, Not What I Expected, and Won't Be Reading Anymore of Their Work 

Some, I think, might believe that to discount or give away a novel is a good way to generate a following.

Unfortunately, if that freebie isn't your best work, then you've just shot yourself in the foot.

In my study of Romance novel reviews, I've come across numerous posts that lament their having fallen for the FREE or .99c deal and that they have learned their lesson and will never read another freebie or discounted book again.


Learning what works and what doesn't is a huge part of the growth process, and finding out what a reader likes and doesn't like can't hurt.

For this study, I ignore 5- and 4-Star reviews and read the three or fewer star reviews instead.

If every low-star review says just about the same thing, then I know the reviewer isn't fibbing or behaving deliberate.

(It's not as easy to spot a troll as one might think, but if you stick with me, I mention those at the very end)

Below are the biggest complaints by readers of Romance novels offered for free or at a discount:

First ~

In previous posts, I've shown that the number-one reason why readers disapprove of your work is because of the GPS dilemma some of us suffer with -- meaning lack of knowledge in the basics: Grammar, Punctuation, and/or Spelling.

A majority of readers who encounter GPS issues will make the added remark that they will not be buying or reading anything else from that author.

They are not afraid to point it out, either, by quoting in their review some of your more atrocious spelling, grammar, and punctuation gaffs.

What's worse: they will call out anyone who posted a rave review, asking if that person actually read the book since the issue is so glaringly apparent throughout the novel.

GPS issue reviews also tend to receive the most 'comments' from other readers of reviews -- and most are Thank You's for the heads-up in being made aware of the problem prior to buying said novel (or even downloading it for free).

If there is a single review about GPS issues, I won't download the book; not even if it IS offered for free or next-to-nothing, and I do thank the reviewer.

Very scary, but as the saying goes: Piss off the reader and kiss that potential fan Sayōnara!

Second ~

Getting all of your friends/family/groupies to leave favorable reviews might have worked a few years ago, but readers see through this now and will make a point of remarking thus on your Amazon page -- which, to me, is more of an embarrassment than it would be to receive a lot of unfavorable reviews. (See What's Worse above)

Third ~

High on the list of dislikes (second only to GPS issues) is when the author does not properly end the story, and this doesn't mean the exclusion of a Happily-Ever-After, either.

The tendency for some authors to end a novel in a cliff-hanger (in order to generate more sales of the 'next' story in a series) really pisses off your readers.

They know why you left them hanging, but your reasoning has backfired since most reviewers of such works insist that they will NOT be buying into the series because they're too angry with you to want to support you any further.

And, no, it doesn't matter if you've written a beautifully crafted masterpiece or are on a Best Seller list anywhere in the world.

I agree and think it is mercenary to cliff-hang a reader into getting them to latch onto the next in line in a series. 

If it isn't your intention, be up front about it and warn the reader at the very start that this is NOT a stand-alone and therefore an unending story to be read in consecutive order with everything put to rights in the final novel.

Quoth Elvis: Don't Be Cruel to a Heart that's True

Fourth ~

I've combined this one.

If you write formulaic, hip, or what-everyone-else-is-writing, your reader is going to notice, and NOT in a good way. 

They'll review your work as being stiff, dull, and by-the-book instead of heartfelt, engrossing, and worthwhile.

They're easily bored by your story and don't care for your in-the-now style, which translates to your having lost them as a potential fan.

Because you are mechanical / being led / pat and not honest in your work.

(paraphrasing reviews of this kind and not personal opinion)


The use of cliché words/phrases, slang, and simile ( 'like a' wording), doesn't impress or amuse your readers. 

They'll post that it is annoying and, most often, why they quit reading midway or less through your novel.

We're warned often about this one, and yet some authors continue to include these in their work.


A reader will tolerate the occasional spoken (dialogue) use of cliché and slang, (some even mention that tolerance level in their review), but when it becomes abusive or so obscure as to be unintelligible, expect a few unfavorable reviews that will be sure to point it out to potential buyers.

It may come as a surprise to some, but readers who don't get or have never heard your local dialect and slang are very upset and feel left out. They won't be offering a favorable review or recommendation if they think you are being exclusive.

Reviewers will leave low-score comments that question the author's age and education. They're quick to suggest that the author graduate high school first before delving into the tough world of publishing novels.

Defending your work with this is how East Side, Lower, West End, or Up-State people talk  isn't going to work. 

The best advice would be to forgo the local dialect for the sake of building a loyal fan base.


Repetitive words/phrases.

An on-going issue that often incites the 'felt like throwing my Kindle across the room in frustration' remark.

Some reviewers actually include repetitive word-counts in their review: 'I read big, green eyes 16 times in one chapter!' 


Also bad is the use of your lead's name throughout a novel instead of inserting pronouns where needed. 

When repetition is encountered in a novel, the reviewer will suggest hiring an editor. Also, that they are relieved at having received a FREE copy and didn't waste money on a purchase.

Name choice is a sticky situation for most authors, and some of us spend a long and laborious amount of time trying to choose just the right one for a single character (who may not even be a lead).

However, if you choose the wrong name and then use it throughout, with very little in the way of pronouns (for blessed relief), your hard-fought efforts are then wasted on the reader.

Similar to above, most reviewers complain about the tedium of having to read the same names over and over again; that it is obnoxious and almost worthy of throwing their e-reader across the room.

On a personal note, I recently finished a well-written Contemporary but will not be reviewing it here or at Amazon because of this issue.

If I ever see (or hear) the name POPPY again, I'll scream!

Finally ~

Not disclosing delicate context aspects of your work will guarantee an unfavorable review.

And while it is less likely to occur than any of the above-mentioned lessons learned, it is the single-most issue that manages to bring out the absolute worst in a reader.

Things like foul language and the extent of sexual content will cause some reviewers to break out the torches, tar, feathers, and pitchforks.

And as an author, I think it is unfair and wrong for any reader to judge based on personal beliefs, moral standards, or upbringing.

It's childish and closed-minded -- which, in turn, manages to bring out the worst in the author.

A no-win situation if there ever was one.

This is more an Amazon issue than it is an author issue, but it bears mention here because it is a BIG pet peeve among readers of Romance novels especially.

Not every reader who reviews understands how the ratings and genre choice system works because the technical aspects of our craft are for our eyes only and not the reader.

And, there are no choices for language and sexual context.

If we're clever, we know exactly which content key words or tags to use to entice the types of readers we know will be interested in our stories.

Content tags include Erotica, BDSM, Christian, MM, and LGBT to cover the sexual content of our work, but these are often too broad or too narrow or don't actually cover our material the right way.

I've heard that Amazon will select content tags without the author's knowledge (or consent) -- but, I think this is an easy fix by back-tracking the upload process and deselecting whatever wrong or misleading tags the Bot chose for your work.

If you're going to include cuss words in your work, you need to be up-front about it by adding a disclaimer at the beginning or at least at the end of your blurb.

I'm not alone in my dislike of what I politely refer to as Gordon Ramsey speak  and often wish I'd known prior to purchase that the story would be filled with F-bombs and coarse language, but I'd never post a bad review because of it.

However, I've read way, too many bad reviews based solely on this one aspect, and what these bad reviews do is bring down your score in an entirely unfair way.

If the reader isn't wise enough to study those tags prior to purchase, it's a shame but the author can't say oh, well! because even the judgmental review affects ratings.

To avoid this, let's make up our own context disclaimer and include it at the end of our blurb: Metaphorical Sexual Content, Tame Sexual Content, Mild -, Infrequent -, Frequent -, Sizzling -, Blazing Sexual Content . . . the Lovers Actually Ignite Sexual Content.

When bloggers review Romance novels, they usually include a ratings system for the sexual content for each novel: 1 out of 5, for example, or something similar to what I listed above, or on a scale of 1 to 10, this book is a . . . 

When I review a Romance novel, I use the 1 to 5 meter for sex and a word choice for language: none, mild, coarse, vulgar.

THANK YOU for taking the time to read this long-winded post. I'm sorry about that, but this is a subject that's been on my mind awhile now and taken much longer to compose in my head than it did to sit down and write.

I do hope that it is helpful!

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