Monday, 17 July 2017

I'm All For Author Collaborations, But This Is Online Bullying

I wasn't sure whether to write this post at first, but then I thought that I should. On my blog, I write about my experiences as an indie author as well as about significant moments from my personal life, and try to be as honest and transparent as possible, so why shouldn't I write about this? It's actually quite an important issue, now that I think about it.

It all started in March 2017, but the real plot twist took place on July 9th, 2017, so that is where I'll begin. Like those Prologues/Prefaces that comprise of a passage from the middle of the book :)

~ July 2017 ~

I noticed that a couple of reviews for my free books on Amazon had been 'downgraded' recently. They'd been posted as 5-star reviews in March 27, 2017.

Below are the screenshots I'd taken of those reviews ~ I take screenshots so I can put them in blog posts and share them on my Facebook Author page (I've written out the text in the reviews in case it's not clear in the photos):

Book: Poison Blood, Book 1: Revelation
Rating: 5-stars 
Review Title: "A Riveting Book" 
Review: "This was a riveting book. I recommend it to all supernatural vampyre book lovers."

Book: Poison Blood, Book 2: Absolution
Rating: 5-stars 
Review Title: "Fascinating, Well Written Vampyre Tale"
Review: "Another thrilling book by Neha Yazmin. The second book was just as good as the first one. Answered questions I wanted to know. I enjoyed this book. Supernatural book fans will find it fascinating. Well written vampyre tale."

But these were changed recently (early July 2017, I think) to 4-star ratings and with slightly less glowing reviews to reflect the new ratings:

Book: Poison Blood, Book 1: Revelation
Rating: 4-stars 
Review Title: "A Vamprye Book" 
Review: "I recommend it to all supernatural vampyre book lovers."

Book: Poison Blood, Book 2: Absolution
Rating: 4-stars 
Review Title: "A Vampyre Tale"
Review: "I enjoyed this book. Supernatural book fans will find it fascinating. Well written vampyre tale."

I've not noticed anything like this happening for my book reviews on iBooks, B&N Nook Store or Goodreads, but it can happen right? Maybe the customer re-read the books and thought they'd been too generous in their reviews 4 months ago? Perhaps they didn't re-read the books, but over time, it's been playing on their mind that they were too hasty in giving 5-stars to those books when it should've been 4-stars and went and updated it? It could be anything and it's the customer's choice what they do. I'm fine with that.


But when that customer is a fellow author who read your books and then approached you to ask you to review theirs, and you hadn't gotten around to doing that yet... Well, you wouldn't be alone in thinking that perhaps this lower rating and edited review by this author was a retaliation to that?

Chapter 1
~ March 2017 ~

I was up bright and early on the morning of March 27, 2017, catching up on my Twitter RTs and checking out #MondayBlogs. That's when I noticed a direct message (DM) on Twitter. It was from a couple of days ago (March 25), and sent to me by an author I followed on Twitter and who followed me back, though this was the first time we'd ever 'spoken'.

The message simply read: "Enjoyed your book. Best wishes". Sure I was taken aback by the lack of 'hi' or 'hello' in the message, seen as this was the first time we'd ever been in contact, but we're all so busy, and the fact that someone took the time to DM me to let me know they enjoyed my book was amazing.

I replied with:

(I had 7 published works at that time, hence the question).

The author replied saying it was Poison Blood, Book 1, Kindle Edition, and that they were "Still working on review. If you can review any of my books, I'd be most grateful..." 

Elated, I answered with:


(I'm not posting screenshots of the whole message string as I don't want to get into trouble with Twitter over privacy issues).

Assuming this was a genuine fan, I pitched Poison Blood, Book 2 to them, but they said they were reviewing that one next and reminded me to review their book and RT their book tweets:

They also wrote, "All mine are Kindle Unlimited or you can say you borrowed it". I'm not a Kindle Unlimited user, so I'm not sure if this means that I can borrow books from friends who have KU books on their Kindle???

Anyway, I assured them that I would RT them, and that was the end of our conversation that day.

The first two books in my Poison Blood Series have been free on Amazon since Q4 2016, but have been free on most other retailers since Q3 2012:

Amazon USAmazon UK|   iBooks US & UK   |   B&N Nook Store   |   Smashwords

Under the impression that this was just a message to let me know someone liked my book, I was rather surprised that I was asked to repay the favour and review their books, too (maybe that was naive of me?). Nonetheless, I said I'd "check out" their book "soon".

However, none of their books were free to download, unless you were on Kindle Unlimited and I'm not. So, I thought I'd wait until the author ran a free campaign on KU and download it then. I didn't think that was stingy of me (but feel free to disagree ;p).

Then things got weird.

A couple of days later (March 29, 2017), I got two DMs from this author's Twitter account. The first message looked like it was from the author, though I'm not sure what they meant by "Amazon is corrupt. Play the game softly and quietly"?! Then, on the same day, I got a message written by someone who claimed to be a sibling of the author with some sad news, which I responded to immediately with my condolences:

My initial thought was, "I thought this author was too young to suffer a [medical condition mentioned by sibling]! Their profile picture suggests they're not that much older than me!" But I quickly realised that any kind of illness can strike us at any age, depending on various factors, and I hoped this author would recover soon. Contemplating my own mortality, reading and reviewing their book was the last thing on my mind at that moment (and I'm sure it was the same for them). 

With time, I forgot to continually check their Amazon page to see if any of their books were free. Besides, the author was probably taking a break after the hospital stay and wouldn't be running a free campaign for a while....

Chapter 2
~ June & July 2017 ~

The next DM I got from this author was on June 26, 2017, which informed me that one of their books was free during a promotion on Amazon that day, and I promptly downloaded it. I didn't reply and let the author know that I'd done this, which I should have, but I was busy and my plan was to DM them when I got around to reading their book.

However, I had/have a lot of books on my to-read pile that I wanted to read first, books I've purchased, books from the library, and books I've had on iBooks and Kindle for years. As you will see in my July #BookHaul post, I'm trying to catch up on my e-books. And I wasn't under the impression that there was a deadline on my reading and reviewing this author's book.

When,a couple of weeks later, I saw that this author's reviews for my books were 'downgraded' (as mentioned in the Prologue), I realised that it was most likely a reaction to me not having read/reviewed their books yet. Which seemed a little petty, to be honest.

Maybe I should have just ignored this and went about my business, but this sort of thing does bother me, because it started feeling like this author only reviewed my books so that I would review theirs, and when I didn't, they retaliated.

So, I DM'd them on July 9. I mentioned that I'd downloaded their book but hadn't gotten around to reading it yet, and queried the change in their reviews for my books (I started off by saying that I hoped they were feeling better, though).

They came back with two DMs in quick succession, the second one with an edge of frustration on their part and pushiness:

And they quickly changed the ratings from 4-stars back to 5-stars for both my books (they didn't change the text back, probably because they couldn't remember what they'd initially written):

I really should've said that I'd try to read and review their book as soon as I was able to and left it there, but it had become a little too fishy for me ~ changing Amazon ratings and reviews and then reverting back to the original ratings when I'd called them out on it, and lying about it; one thing I can't stand is outright lies that are easy to prove.

Plus, I didn't like the fact that this author seemed to be insisting that I read/review their books as a priority, as though we'd entered some sort of legal agreement. We hadn't. I'd promised to RT their Tweets and have done so whenever I've seen them, and I did say I'd "check out" their book "soon", and I did tell them that I downloaded their book but hadn't gotten around to reading it yet. I did not like the almost-bullying aspect to these messages from them, like, 'how dare you not read and review my book yet?'

Isn't it up to the reader's fancy what they read and when? If I'm not in the mood for a book like theirs and read it for the sake of it, wouldn't my feedback be less positive than if I'd been more excited about it? Then again, perhaps they didn't care what I really thought of their book (perhaps they didn't really want me to read it) and expected me to write a 5-star review anyway, because that's what they'd done for me?

If I'd ended up giving their book 3-stars after reading it, I wonder if they would have said something like, "I gave your book 5-stars so I think you should change your rating for mine"... Or more likely, they'd have reduced their rating for my books to 3- or 2-stars in retaliation; they'd already shown that they like to fiddle about with Amazon ratings.

Anyway, I replied, reminding them that they had read my book first, contacted me first, and when they asked me to read/review their book, I'd agreed to do it soon. I'd even downloaded their book as soon as they told me it was free for a limited time! I just hadn't gotten around to doing it yet. But these facts had fallen on deaf ears, and they turned nasty:

Their accusation of how I wasn't "honorable" and suggesting I don't have "many reviews" because I'm not "honorable"... I wasn't the one that read/reviewed someone's books and insisted that the same was done for me; I didn't play around with Amazon ratings and lie and say, "I did not change anything" when it was clearly the case. I wasn't being impatient and not respecting a fellow author's schedule. I don't like to talk about a project before it's near the editing process, and especially not to someone I hardly knew, so I didn't mention that I was working on a couple of WIPs and had lots going on in my private life, too.

How much honour is there in trying to bully someone into reviewing your books, in attacking someone because they haven't gotten around to reading your books yet, in trying to force someone to change their schedule because you can't respect their circumstances and don't want to wait for them to read your book when they're ready?

The way this author was treating me is not the way I want to be treated by fellow authors.

And I refused to let them cyber-bully me.

As for the lack of reviews for my books... that's true for Amazon, but I have plenty of reviews and ratings on other retailers and Goodreads.

A few more DMs were exchanged. I maintained that I had downloaded their book on June 26 but hadn't read it yet; I never said that I will not read or review it. This wasn't enough; the author's stance was that I'd agreed to review their book "months ago" and hadn't done it yet, whereas they'd "already read two of" my books. It felt like they wanted me to crack from their pushiness and say, "Fine I'll read/review your book now/tomorrow/next week."

They seemed to have forgotten that they'd downloaded my books of their own accord, and if we're to believe their initial messages in March, they'd already read my books before contacting me for the first time. So, if I'd refused check out their book from the beginning, they would have already finished my books, anyway.

Chapter 3

Neither of us backed down: I didn't want to succumb to what felt like bullying to me. I was bullied in primary and secondary school and it was torture; I didn't want to be a victim again in my 30s. Besides, I'd already lined up the ACOTAR series to read in July, not to mention that I'd been suffering from a reading slump in May, I hadn't read anything in June due to Ramadan, and wasn't sure whether I was fully out of the slump yet. I wasn't in any position to assure anyone that I'd read their book in the following few weeks and it was clear that this author wouldn't settle for anything less than a promise like that.

As a result, they blocked me on Twitter, so I can't inform them that I have written an article based on this experience (I would've said, "Just to let you know, I will be posting a blog article on this experience, but I will be keeping your identity secret").

Also, they removed their reviews for my books on Amazon, as you can see by clicking on the links below. I guess they didn't want to wait any longer for me to read their book.... Or they had the decency to realise that I wouldn't read their book after the mean things they'd said to me.



I'm not going to miss the reviews this author took down from Amazon; its just one review for each book, which isn't going to make much difference to me. (Just one review. And the fuss this author made over one review...) Across iBooks, B&N Nook, Smashwords and Goodreads, I have plenty of ratings and reviews for the Poison Blood Series, none of which were from authors that demanded I review their books because they'd reviewed mine.

I know I'm not completely blameless in this ~ I should've DM'd the author when I downloaded their book in June and assured them that I would try to read their book but that I couldn't promise them it would be in the next few weeks; that way, perhaps they wouldn't have changed their reviews for my books yet and I wouldn't have had to message them about it. But still, this sort of thing shouldn't be happening.

If you're an author and you download, read, and review a book but react so poorly if that author doesn't repay the favour immediately or a few months later, and you don't respect the fact that they aren't ready to read your book just yet, then you're not being very professional. Or honourable, for that matter.

It is better if you ask them beforehand if they will read/review your book if you read/review theirs and be patient with them if they say that they will do it but haven't gotten around to it yet. That's not to say authors should review books only because they want the authors of those books to do the same for them.

I had every intention of giving their book a go, when it became free for me and when I was ready, and never once said that I wouldn't read it. And part of me thinks that this author started out with good intentions, too; they just lost patience with me when I didn't review their book in what they thought was a timely manner. Fair enough? You decide.

But the way this author handled the situation, the pushiness and the mean digs about honour and why I don't have "many reviews" (on Amazon, I should reiterate) left a lot to be desired.

Do I now wish that I'd reviewed their book on July 9th without reading it, just to keep the author happy and hold on to their review of my books? No. That's not the author I want to be, one that will write glowing reviews for books in exchange for glowing reviews for their own books. Esp. if I haven't read those books yet.

I don't even ask my friends and family to review my books! Only two of my friends have actually read my books, and those were just the first three novels I published in 2012. My social circle, unfortunately, doesn't include any bookworms ~ that's why I watch so much BookTube; if I can't discuss books with others, I can at least watch others discuss books on YouTube!

I didn't force the non-readers amongst my friends and family to try my books. Nor did I ask them to write fake reviews to help me out. I thought I was being quite honourable there, actually :)

I'm all for author collaborations, though I haven't participated in any collabs yet, but I know a lot of authors join forces to help promote each other's books via guest blog posts and so on. I don't want to discourage anyone from collabs based on this experience of mine, but I do have a few tips for collabs and writing book reviews for your blog:

1. Only agree to author collabs for books you genuinely have an interest in reading, e.g. books in the genres (and age range) you typically read.

2. Tell the other author(s) beforehand that you will be 100% honest in your reviews and will not rate their books 4- or 5-stars if you don't think they deserve it, and offer them the chance to withdraw from the process if that doesn't work for them.

3. Don't write a glowing review for a book that you actually thought was mediocre just because you're doing an author collab. Readers will question your integrity if they start a book based on your 5-star review and find that it's 3-stars at best or so on. I'm always honest with my ratings on Goodreads and in my reviews on my blog ~ I will never write a glowing review for an author simply because they did that for me, or because I hope they'll do that for me as repayment.

4. If you think there will be a long wait before you read and review a book, let the other author(s) know beforehand so that they're aware of the delay, and offer them the chance to back-out of the collab if the timing doesn't work for them. This is important for new releases and book launches when authors want to launch a new book with X amounts of reviews already.

I hope this post didn't offend anyone, though I'm sure that there might be one or two authors murmuring that I shouldn't have posted this article, because "indie authors should stick together and have each other's backs", and we shouldn't expose some of the tactics (dirty though they may be) that some authors utilise to garner reviews. To that, I say: Dirty practices should be eradicated from all sectors and by exposing them can we actually achieve that.

Also, I ask you to consider what a book blogger would've done in my position: If an author approaches a book blogger to review their book and the blogger agrees to pencil them in, is it right for the author to demand the blogger to review their book if they haven't gotten around to it a couple of months later because the blogger had agreed to do it? No.

Following-up politely with a reviewer after a few months to remind them about your book, or to see if they're still interested in reading their book, is one thing, but if the blogger hasn't gotten around to reading the book yet, do you think it's okay for the author to try and bully them into reviewing their book immediately? I don't think so.

Plus, the book blogger would have every right to post an article on that experience. I've read a few articles myself over the years posted by book bloggers regarding negative experiences with authors, so it happens.

Thank you for reading this post. Please do comment below if you've experienced anything similar, how you'd handle the situation if it happened to you, or if you have any other thoughts on this matter.

If you're interested in my debut novel, click the image below to learn more about it:

Like all my other books, it's also available on:
iBooks   |   B&N Nook   |   Kobo |   Smashwords 

Book Details

Length: 110,000 words
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Clean Romance / Diverse Romance / Interracial Romance / Romantic Drama / Women’s Fiction

Mood: Inspirational / Feel Good / Coming of Age / Dark
Content: Sexy but No explicit sex scenes / No erotica
Audience: New Adult & College / Adult / Female Readers

Recommended for: Readers that enjoy romance novels with serious issues and characters with depth. This is a story about life, love, friendship, family, music, art, destiny and soul mates.

And the first two books in my teen urban fantasy/YA paranormal romance series, the Poison Blood series, can be downloaded for free via:

Amazon USAmazon UK|   iBooks US & UK   |   B&N Nook Store   |   Smashwords

PB1 Book Details

Length: 29,000 words
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance / Teen Vampire Romance / Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy / Teen & YA Urban Fantasy / Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy / Supernatural Romance / Fantasy Romance
Mood: Dark / Humorous / Coming of age
Content: No violence / No explicit sex scenes / No erotica
Audience: Teen / Young Adult / New Adult / Adult
Recommended for: Readers that love all things vampires, slayers and witches!

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