Saturday, January 24, 2015

DON'T Believe the Hype. . .

Hello Glorious Readers!

You know I'm a huge advocate of writing good solid reviews of books you've read.  It's one thing to give a 1 to 5 star rating, but when you don't say anything about the book, those stars mean absolutely nothing to me. A star doesn't tell me how the book impacted your thoughts and feelings.  

I decided for this year, I'm going to try and do better by making sure all my reviews go on Amazon, as well as other popular reading sites.  Reviews, whether they are for a book or any other type of purchase, helps other consumers and/or readers to make selections based on what others feel.  Of course, you don't have to go by what others say--it's just a process to help aid you in making a decision. By all means, you should always think for yourself regardless as to what someone else says.

So, imagine my surprise when I went to add some of my reviews to Amazon, only to receive a response from them stating my review didn't follow their guidelines.  Ok, I thought, let me take a look at what I wrote and see what I did wrong.  It was at that time I realized I had a couple 'hells' and 'damns' in my review.  Those words certainly weren't directed toward the author, but more so toward the story line itself and the characters.  I figured no problem, I'll just remove those words and the review should stand as is.

Hmmph, I hit the submit button and went on about my business.  I checked my emails later that day, only to discover Amazon still wouldn't permit my review to stand as it was.  Again, it said I didn't follow their guidelines.  This time I was baffled because for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what did I say that was bad?  I re-read my review for the third time, and discovered there weren't any bad words to speak of in the review. And, I must add, the review itself wasn't bad and there weren't any spoilers mentioned, so I was confused as to why my review wasn't being submitted?

Ok, so I try again and change some of my sentence structure and I even went as far as changing the headline of my review thinking perhaps it appeared too honest for Amazon. Once again, I hit the submit button and waited.  Welp, wouldn't you know it, Amazon wasted no time in responding to me again stating my review could not stand as it was.  I was being told I wasn't following their precious "guidelines!"  Now I was good and pissed by this point.

I re-read my review again and determined there was nothing in my review that was bad, rude, threatening or insensitive about what I said.  Not one damn cuss word, no spoilers, didn't threaten or attack the author, so what the heck was Amazon's problem?  I went onto my author page to see what books I had listed on there for my fans to see who I enjoy reading.  And I noticed that the review I was trying to submit showed up on my author page, however, when I clicked on it to see if it went live, I discovered it was blank.  I'm like what the hell is going on here?

I went to the author's page of where I was trying to write my review and I made a startling discovery.  This particular author had tons, and I do mean, tons of five star ratings.  My rating of this particular book was three stars.  I gave my honest reasons for why I gave it three stars so there was no doubt how I felt about this story.  I began to wonder if Amazon didn't like the fact that I gave this author a three-star rating seeing as how most of the reviewers gave this book five stars.  Amazon is always encouraging its customers to give reviews of their products.  Sometimes they drive me nuts asking me to review things, so I couldn't understand why when I decided to be better about reviewing everything I purchase through Amazon, which is usually Kindle books, why my review was being cast to the side?

That's when I decided to take this a step further.  I began reading the reviews left on this author's book page, and when I really began reading what allegedly these readers said, I wasn't so sure I believed those reviews were on the total up and up.  In fact, most of the reviews just said, "the best book ever," "well written good book," and "couldn't put it down." But if you think about those statements, what do they really tell you?  Why was this book the best ever?  Why was this book considered well written?  Why couldn't the reader put it down?  Do you see where I'm going with this?

Every review I read said the same exact three to four word statements, with five stars given, but none of them explained why they felt this book was all that as they seemed to suggest. After I read this book, I told truthfully what was wrong with the characters and how the cast pissed me off and how shallow I felt these characters were.  I explained everything that, to me, was wrong with the story line.  That's when I got the idea to check what the ones with lower ratings said. Hmm, wouldn't you know it, I couldn't find many.  In fact, I found maybe two and they were at the very bottom of this author's book page.  There wasn't anything to compare to.  Immediately, I knew something wasn't right here.  

My anger was fueling my investigation even further.  I began reading more about this author, and I discovered that Amazon had ranked this author pretty high as having all these supposed five-star ratings.  Of course, when I came along and actually told what I really thought about this story, it would hurt this author's rating status on Amazon. For those of you who don't know, those star ratings mean a great deal on Amazon because it places the author in a certain rank and quite naturally when a reader gives too many less than four-star ratings, it lowers the author's rank and therefore, the author may lose out on how many people will actually read their book.  Ok, I'm an author, I certainly get it, but what I don't get and what pissed me off is, that's NOT right and it's totally unfair to the public as well as the author, whether that author wants to admit it or not!

So what was there left for me to do?  Yep, you guessed it, I wrote Amazon with my concerns and anger.  I took each review for that particular book and pasted it in an email, showing them the various ways I changed it.  Next, I cited their "guidelines" and agreed with them that the hells and damns would be considered profanity, and I took them out, although I've seen plenty of reviews on Amazon that had worse words than that, but we're not going to go there.  Anyhoo, I asked Amazon how they could do this to people and why the hell do they ask for our opinions if you only want the ones that are good?

You want to hear what's so funny?  After I wrote my letter to Amazon, they never responded. But they put my review on the author's page as it stood, and again, my review wasn't bad, it just was honest and truthful about things I found incomplete and wrong in the story line and how it made me feel.  Of course, when I checked to see where my review ended up, it was near the very bottom of that author's page.  It ranks on that author's page, but if you don't look for it, you'll never know I put it there.  

I learned some things from that experience with Amazon and it got me to thinking.  Just how many of those reviews are "true" reviews?  I don't care what you write, there are going to be people who love your work and those that don't!  ALWAYS!  There's no ands, ifs, or buts about that!  And that goes with anything.  I realize Amazon has its favorite authors and although I don't have proof that there was any shade going down, from what I just wrote to you, I'll let you draw your own conclusion.  

Just remember, when you're selecting books to read, check out the reviews and I mean really "review" what is being said.  I guarantee you, you'll almost always be able to tell the "real" reviews from those who are friends of the authors, or hired help to assist the author in getting better ranks on Amazon.  Oh I tell ya, the literary world is shady at times, and very cut throat, which is why I'm in no rush to get back in the game again.  It's rough out there!

Until next time, Happy Reading, and be cautious of the reviews you see--they may not be what YOU think they are!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet/Reviewer

Don't Believe Everything You Read!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Do YOU Really Want to Know?

Hello Glorious Readers, 

I bet you thought I forgot this weekend's blog post? Welp, I hadn't forgotten, just a day behind that's all. How many of you watched the movie premiere of Whitney on Lifetime last night?  It was pretty interesting stuff.  I still feel the casting director got some of the characters wrong, but outside of that, I felt it was a pretty good depiction of what I've read and heard about the iconic star.  I do miss her presence in the R&B scene and with a voice quite like hers, I'm pretty thankful I got to be here to experience it.  She's one of those artists that only come around once in a lifetime.  There will never be another Whitney, much like there will never be another Luther Vandross.

And while I'm on the subject of legacies, recently I've heard there's a fire chief who was fired from his job because of a book he wrote.  Forgive me if I don't know exactly all the facts, but from what I've listened to, this guy was first suspended for his actions and then it was decided he should be fired, as some speculate, due to the author's view of homosexuals. From the way I understand it, the rules and guidelines on this man's job prohibited an employee from doing the very type of thing in which he did, and although he was supposed to follow protocol and check with his employer before writing the book, he went ahead and did it anyway, and the fire department decided to end his employment.

When I first caught a glimpse into this story, immediately I was angry.  Not because of what this man wrote, but because he was being ridiculed for having done so.  He has a certain type of belief and feelings about a subject and he spoke out about it.  I feel his job did the right thing in the beginning by suspending him for not following proper procedures, but it gets a little sticky with me when I learned they fired this man.  What was the point of having done that?  The suspension should have sent a clear enough message to him, so what is the deal with the firing?  This would cause one to think that perhaps his firing wasn't so much to do with his lack of following procedure, but more so on what he wrote about in his book--his views of homosexuality.

I'm sure if you don't know by now my views on freedom of speech.  For some reason, it always seems to rear its ugly head from one time or another.  I agree that this chief should have been suspended for his actions in not following the rules, but being fired after the fact causes me some concern.  As much as I hear and see so many things that I feel should never be spoken, written or movies made about, those who wish to do so should be able to do it without having to worry about the repercussions--hence, Freedom of Speech, Expression, Creativity, etc.  

Which brings me to another point I've made many times on this blog.  When you're the creative type, you have so much responsibility in the art you project to the world.  No matter how much you are the artist and have a right to your personal views, once you release your creativity out there, it's there for the world to see.  You open yourself to judgment and opinionated people, haters, and the like.  You have to have a thick skin to be creative.  You may receive lots of heat for what you say and how it's perceived.  You may, unfortunately, lose a job because of your creativity.  

There's a fine line when it comes to freedom of speech.  Many of us hover right in between and we use it to our advantage and other times we want to run over the line and be done with it.  So you see, that's where the problem lies.  You can't have it both ways.  This is why I say regardless as to how I feel about anyone's creativity, how ignorant, vulgar, stupid, irresponsible an author's words may be or appear to you, I will always side with the author--ALWAYS!   If what I've heard about this fire chief is true, I agree with his job that he should have been suspended for not following procedure, but if he was fired simply because of words they didn't agree with or his views, that fire chief should fight them with as much fire as he can muster.  And I'd say he has a damn good case.  It certainly does look rather suspicious that he was first suspended, and then the department turns around and fires him. Hmm, that doesn't look so hot, now does it?

Being true to yourself comes with a heavy price sometimes.  Not everyone is going to share your way of thinking.  There are some pretty powerful people who run the world, and when they speak, the Powers that Be will listen.  When your creativity hurts a conglomerates bottom line, you better trust and believe you'll get gone when they want you to.  Don't believe me, ask Mona Scott-Young and VH1 about the cancellation of Sorority Sisters.  Think social media isn't powerful?  Think the Greek organizations aren't powerful?  A popular Reality show was cancelled due to some people's views of another's creativity and despite the show's disclaimer that it wasn't affiliated with any particular sorority or Greek organization. Do you see the line I'm talking about?

It's a mad, mad world we live in!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet/Reviewer

If YOU aren't ready to wear the creative 
'Suit of Armor'. . .Then Don't Get Dressed!