We need to talk about a site called “Brutally Honest Review.” To be brutally honest, they’re brutal, but not that honest. I also want to talk about trash-reviews in general. It’s a misconception that every piece of negative criticism is accurate, and they’re trying to cash in on the fact that people love drama and negativity. I love my reviewers and my editors, and I treasure their constructive criticism even when I don’t want to hear it, but this website’s MO is ridiculous.
This website gets its jollies from tearing down other authors. Unfortunately, anyone can start a website and attempt to establish authority by reviewing books. Their criticism is mostly unconstructive, and they copy-and-paste sections of reviews. It’s like they only know three things to complain about, but they keep reiterating them like the apocryphal loudly rattling empty can. My book got off lightly compared to other people’s, and perhaps I should be glad of that. Generally, I don’t dignify shitty reviews with a response because I’m too lazy to care, but when I saw the reviews they had given to two of the best authors I know, I decided this was worth talking about. I’m a Gryffindor at heart, and it gets me into all sorts of trouble. Hold onto your knickers, because I give as good as I get.
This website is a scam. First off, their whole schtick is someone’s idea of a clever affiliate marketing business concept. There are so many websites out there which make bread-and-butter from mindlessly giving five star reviews to every book that comes their way, so why not go in the opposite direction? One star virtually everything! That’ll get readers. I would imagine most of their site’s hits come from the authors whose books they reviewed. I’m not linking to them here because I don’t want to improve their Google Page Rank (how high they come in search results; determined by how many people link to their site from other sites).
Something I never talk about on my author site is the fact I also run a successful beauty blog that uses Amazon Associates, a special Amazon scheme that lets you make a commission from pointing readers in the direction of products that you recommend. Beauty blogging is sorta like authoring only with a lot of fake-nice and more cutthroat bitchyness. It’s also highly competitive and oversaturated. To stand out in beauty blogging you have to work hard. It took me 2 years to get my blog to where it’s currently at, and most people quit beauty blogging after the first month, very few last more than 6 months. It’s not easy and making money off it is nearly impossible.
“I hate beauty products” is a concept that newbie, inexperienced beauty bloggers occasionally come up with. “I hate beauty so much, but everyone always tells me how beautiful I am, so I’m going to deign to tell you all about beauty. It’s such a chore. Sponsor me on Patreon or send me free products to review!!!” Funnily enough, they fail to understand that their biggest audience base are other beauty bloggers, and that by pissing them off, and by dismissing the most important thing in most beauty bloggers’ lives, they’re dooming their business to fail.
This is exactly what Brutally Honest Book Review is doing. There are lots of websites like it out there. They also offer a manuscript appraisal service and, perhaps I’m cynical, but I would suspect that any glowing reviews on their website are written for authors who paid to use their services. It’s interesting that someone can put themselves in a position where they think they can establish authority by alienating any and all of their potential customer base. It’s a shame, because I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing and I work damn hard to make each book better than the last, but this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about when it came to other people’s books I’ve read.
A lot of their criticism seems to center around things that erotic romance readers don’t actually want. High plot tension is a no-no in sweet/light erotic romance Over-complicated plot is also a faux pas. They fail to understand the difference between light and dark ER, and how the tension and emotional journey of the reader are different in both cases. If they don’t understand that, how can they accurately appraise a manuscript?
From an educator’s point of view, it’s also bad teaching practice to critique something in such a destructive manner, without providing anything constructive, particularly when phrases of their reviews are simply copied and pasted. In particular, I don’t think publicly shaming people is the way to encourage customers to get their manuscripts appraised. I suspect that they trash-review books as padding for their otherwise dull website, because they don’t have enough people paying them for a manuscript appraisal, so they don’t have enough books to say nice things about. Also, when you’ve registered the name “brutally honest review . com” I would imagine that compels you to not see the positive in anything.
Tony Robbins has an interesting object lesson in this. He tells clients, “Look out of your window and pay attention to every single brown thing you can see. Really focus on all of the brown.” Then, a minute or two later, he asks people to name all the red things they saw. When you only look for brown, that’s what you see, to the exclusion of all else.
After reading their reviews of other people’s books (books I have read and enjoyed) I certainly won’t be sending them my work. Not that I need to, when I have a fantastic group of people around me who tell it like it is, and who don’t go out of their way to bring me down. I have three books currently in the bestseller charts, and one of my books has been in the top 5 on UK Amazon for 3 months. I wrote a number 1 bestseller in May. I’m not trying to be arrogant, I’m trying to explain why I don’t trust this reviewer’s opinion. They’re out of touch with what readers want and they don’t understand the erotic romance audience. And that doesn’t make me trust them to accurately appraise my manuscript with commercial acumen.
One particular thing they seem confused about is that they apply very over-simplified literary criticism (the sort reserved for undergrad essays on works such as The Great Gatsby, Ulysses, and Kafka) to genre fiction. It is incredibly rare for literary criticism to be a useful tool when reviewing erotic romance. I reviewed The Wild yesterday (the book that got banned from Amazon and Smashwords), and I remarked on how extremely unusual it is that literary criticism works for erotic romance. Of all the books I’ve ever reviewed, The Wild is the only one I’ve applied any heavy literary criticism to. Literary criticism is for the next Great American Novel. You know what doesn’t sell? The next Great American Novel. You know why? Most people don’t like it.
Here’s why: When you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping, are you more likely to buy orange juice and cheese or caviar and lobster? Even if those things were cheaper, would you want to eat them all the time? I wouldn’t. Give me the orange juice! And I’m okay with the fact that I usually write orange juice. I love it, in fact. It’s what I want to do. I want to write the best damn orange juice in town. I’d much rather write orange juice than caviar, because orange juice brings joy and happiness to so many more people, and nourishes their heart in a way those books with “layered, too-broken” type characters (who don’t have sex because it interferes with all the existential ennui) never will. These sort of reviews are as silly as someone complaining that orange juice doesn’t taste like caviar. If they want caviar, they’re in the wrong aisle of the supermarket. Orange juice sells more because it’s what people want. Even people who do enjoy caviar probably drink more orange juice than they eat caviar.
You know who I trust to know whether I’ve written something good? My publisher. It’s in their best interests to publish work that sells, and I know they’ll always tell me if I’ve written something that’s below par, and they’ll offer me constructive suggestions on how to improve it. My fantastic editors Jamie Miles and James Johnson at Stormy Night Publications have worked with me to develop and improve my books into the bestsellers that they are. My second book? They turned it down. It hurt like hell at the time because I really believed in that story. But that tells me they have high standards that are specific to erotic romance, and I trust their opinion.
Interestingly, “Brutally Honest Book Review” also provide Amazon affiliate links for every book they pour hate upon. They get a commission on anything you buy within 24 hours of clicking an Amazon link on their site. I’ve worked with Amazon Associates for long enough to know what those affiliate links look like. When I dislike a beauty product, and feel compelled to write a bad review (which I do when it’s true), I don’t provide a buy link, unless I feel people need to see the thing I’m talking about (placenta face masks, for example… that fell into the ‘OMG look at this gross thing’ category), at which point, if I hated a product or never tried it, I provide a non-affiliate Amazon link. This is because I want buyers to know that I only want to make a commission by helping them find something they will like, which I believe in, and which is worth selling.
Steve Jobs said “don’t sell crap” and that’s my entire philosophy both with authoring and beauty blogging, and when I worked for Avon that was my philosophy too. People trust me, buy from me, and work with me because I don’t abuse that trust. If you 1-star hate a book, why would you then try to sell it to people? The entire site is a money-making scam, and if I wanted a manuscript appraisal outside of my bubble, I’d rather get in touch with any of the amazing editors I’ve met on Facebook, because I’ve seen the books they’ve edited, and I know that they know what they’re talking about, than this vitriolic person who fundamentally doesn’t understand or seem to enjoy erotic romance.
The thing that gets me the most about intentionally bad reviews is that they negatively impact on good authors, and I’ve seen this before when I used to work in entertainment (yeah, all the bitchy games in the author world are NOTHING compared to working in the commercial entertainment industry). When reviewers, ticket holders, directors or stage managers treat performers like a mindless object with no feelings (and no need for sleep), it can leave performers at the point where they can’t actually perform any more. It breaks my heart to watch this happening to people and I hate that some people feel the need to hurt people like this. I suspect some people simply revel in doing this to other human beings. I would argue that those of us writing BDSM erotic romance get it more than other people, as I have a hunch that a lot of people make the assumption that we’re fair game because we write submissive women. Of course, fundamentally not understanding BDSM or spanking is not becoming in a reviewer of BDSM erotic spanking romance. Yes, that was a bastardization of a Gor quote. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Authors, like performers, are necessarily more sensitive than other people, because to produce an authentic experience, we plunge into the entire spectrum of human emotions. If we don’t know how our characters will react to a situation, how can we write that? With the exception of people who have learned about human behavioural patterns such as psychologists, we have to empathize and emote with our characters. That makes us a little more sensitive to criticism, especially when we put our heart and soul into a book.
Some of my books get 1 star reviews and I don’t even care. It’s a fair cop. I learn to write as I go along, because I learn from doing. Other books get 3 star reviews and I’m ready to stab someone. Sometimes, I care too much about my work. I have to, to write better books. I take valid criticism on board, especially when it comes from my readers and from readers of other erotic spanking romance books, but I don’t see a problem with venting about ridiculous reviews because otherwise they fester. Not everyone who reads a book is qualified to write about it, even people who also write books or appraise manuscripts. Anyone can set up that as a business without needing qualifications or professional accreditation. Full disclosure: I haven’t taken an English class since I was sixteen.
My verdict on Brutally Honest Review? One star. Would not recommend. It’s a worse business model than the authors with fake Amazon accounts who dump shitty reviews on good books (waves at the haters at the back). If they want to do better, they should take a good hard look at their intended audience and adjust their business practice accordingly, potentially registering a grammatically correct domain name whilst they’re at it. Pissing off your client base isn’t the way to build a business.
That’s the end of my ranty clapback. I said it all because it needed saying and honestly I wouldn’t have cared if Brutally Honest Review hadn’t shat upon good authors I know. Imma stop bitching now and go back to adoring puppies and unicorns and stuff.
Now for a palate cleanser courtesy of Britney and Taylor Swift:
Once again, huge shoutout to all the people who provide useful criticism of my work, like my ARC readers and Jamie Miles and James Johnson at Stormy Night Publications!*
Lots of love,
*Disclaimer: All thoughts in this opinion piece are my own and have no endorsement from my publishers.