So i found out a really awful thing. My first book, Polo Shawcross: The Birthday Dragon (Book 1 of the Dragon Quartet), has been out since 2011. Since then it’s sat happily on the top of the Top Rated Sci Fi and Fantasy lists in its categories. By end of January it was TOP of entire site. Yep, non-fiction/fiction, any length. Highest rated Free book.
One of the others got a 4 star review, which was disappointing, but i just got on with life.
But something happened to Book 1. Someone gave it a 4 star review in February. Oh well, i thought, has to happen sometimes. And some people don’t ever give 5 star reviews. I’m never going to please everyone. I was a bit upset, but managed to tell myself a few platitudes like those above and get over it.
I kept promoting my books on Twitter, and did notice my only sales and most of my downloads were when i did so. No Smashwords traffic to speak of.
That’s when i noticed something. Something horrible. Book 1 had disappeared from the Top Rated listings. Just gone. I looked and looked, and was about to contact Smashwords to ask what had happened, when i found it. On Page 22 of the Top Rated listings, where literally nobody would ever see it.
I also realised there were others like me. 14 or more 5 star reviews, but one 4 star – and suddenly we were rated lower than anyone with only ONE 1-star review. I contacted Smashwords, politely. Yes, they said, they were aware of the issue, but they had no plans to do anything about it, other than ‘We’re working on a way to make it more fair. However, unfortunately there’s no date on when it will be implemented.‘
Meanwhile, as i said to Smashwords, my entire marketing plan – based on my books being high rated and 1’s across the site, just got harpooned. Fortunately, the two most recently released were charting on the Bestseller lists but only on the front page if you narrowed the field (by selecting a length or division of the genre like Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Fantasy » General). Most people don’t get that far.
The first two (free so not on the “best seller” lists) were coming up the Most Downloads charts, but thanks to not showing on the Highest Rated charts, they were not getting the same exposure and dropped off the first two pages of those (again, unless you narrow the field to over 100k, Free).
I was miffed over the 4 star reviews, but then i thought about it. There are people there with many more 5 star reviews than me, and thanks to one 4-star review they’re also suddenly invisible. So i wrote again to Smashwords, and the CEO got back to me – yep, Mark Coker at Smashwords. He knows it’s a problem, along with the gaming of reviews (aka ‘fake reviews’).
Basically, it’s unfair that books with more than one 5-star review are behind books with only one. Sure, if i have fourteen 5 stars, you do too, we’re equal, until i get rated lower, that one 4-star? I get to be behind you in the listings, fair enough. But not if i have 20 5-star ones. Especially not if you only have one 5-star review and i have 20.
It’s also too easy to mess up a rival author’s ratings. During my investigations of some of the authors who should be on the front page (with 20+ 5-star reviews and 1 4-star one) it was one reviewer who’d knocked them off the front page. As reviewers are anonymous, it’s a system made to be corrupted. Especially when the one reviewer is possibly not a reviewer, but an author out to make themselves number 1.
There are signs of this on several of the books that are only being held off the top spots by one bad review. Or two of their books knocked down by the same ‘reviewer’.
I’ve written before about fake reviews on Smashwords, and how Smashwords (when alerted, and after their own investigations, which admittedly can take OVER a year) removed sometimes a hundred of them from authors who proved to be faking their glowing 5 star reviews.
I won’t be number 1 if they change this, by the way – there are several books ahead of mine (currently showing on page 33 of highest rated Sci fi) which will take over the 1 spot. Which i’ll be fine with, because it’s FAIR.
Anyway, currently waiting for action from Smashwords – which won’t be in 2018 but is on their list of Things We Want To Change. So if you think it should be changed, and SOON – vote in the poll, leave a comment, and i’ll make sure Mark Coker gets to hear about it. Smashwords, like all good companies, has excellent communication between the people on the front lines and the boss.
See what i did there? Yep, deliberately being nice, after a bunch of critique. Why? Because deep down, i love Smashwords, i love what they’re trying to do, i love that i get to play publisher without massive personal investment.
I don’t think the review system works – but the rest of the site is getting better all the time.
Polo Shawcross: The Birthday Dragon is 34 on the Most Downloaded Free Epic General Sci Fi (not bad seeing it’s only been free for less than 6 months and there’s books that have been free for 8 or more years in the listings). #38 on the matching Fantasy list.
It would be top of the Highest Rated (aside from the others above me with more 5-star reviews) except for that one 4-star review. It makes it to 18 if i narrow the field to just free epic general sci fi – just a reminder, before that one 4 star review, it was top rated free book on the whole site, all genres.
Mind you, there’s a writer there with 34 reviews, 32 of them 5 star ones, then someone decided to harpoon them, and the last two reviews were 4 star, knocking them even lower down the listings than me. (The more 4 star reviews you get, no matter how many 5 star ones you have, the worse your score gets – yep, that’s REALLY unfair.)
The others are suffering from similar problems – without the good reviews giving them front page exposure, they’re simply invisible. So i have to keep pushing my books here and on Twitter.
Seriously, this is not how i thought being a writer would be.
So – *drumroll*
For your reading delectation – rollicking sexy adventures, laugh-out-loud funny right to the end, and more schemers than you’ve seen since the last ep of Game of Thrones…
Book 1 – Polo Shawcross: The Birthday Dragon (free since December 2017)
Introducing Polo Shawcross, the wannabe Dragon and stoner, the man to whom omnisexual isn’t just a label. And what did he get up to in the vegetable garden with that diplomat’s wife? Polo just wants a quiet life, one with wild women, some men, good weed and food. Something interesting to read. His family however have other ideas, and keep trying to kill him. Genetic engineering was always going to be flawed when you started with humans.
Book 2 – Polo Shawcross: Dragon Soldier (free: released in December 2017)
After a drunken binge across a kingdom or two, Polo is in trouble. With a capital A that stands for Army. Weed will keep him sane, but staying alive is trickier. He can save himself, he just has to remember, he’s Dragon, deep down. Dragon were made for fighting. He’ll be fine. Won’t he?
Book 3 – Polo Shawcross: Dragon Skin ($2.99 released Dec 2017)
Still alive! Free! Polo gets his perfect life back. Although there’s that king with the crush and the queen who’s off limits. Polo’s trying out diplomacy as a career path, failing to keep secrets or his trousers on, and his family are still trying to kill him. Finally finding the way to change shape is the key to survival.
Book 4 – Polo Shawcross: Dragon Outlaw ($2.99 released Dec 2017)
Polo can escape, but he’ll lose his perfect life as one of the privileged few close to the King. Choices, choices. And despite finally figuring out the shape-changing, he can’t get the people part of life right. People are Dragon and human, and Dragon were made from humans, and that was always going to be a bad idea. Kill or be killed, the law of the jungle comes out of the warzone and to Court. Polo surrenders. Last book in this series, but gives the kick-off for the new Polo Shawcross books to come.
Oh – and the best joke of all? I’ve issued DCMA takedown notices to about 15 people in the last 2 months – yep, people pirating my work and selling it – or giving it away for ‘site dollars’ on various ‘let’s pretend we’re not pirating but we are’ sites. (I found them via Blasty – every writer should belong – and if you’ve made some money, you can invest in their premium version to do the DCMA Takedown notices for you.)
The joke is (and it’s on me), if the people too cheap to spend $2.99 on a book – or those too lazy to realise that the guy getting site dollars for providing my books ‘free’ was simply downloading already free books – had all gone to Smashwords (or Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc – everywhere except Amazon), i’d be top of all the sales and download charts. Some of my books are free, but they ARE NOT Creative Commons – nobody except Smashwords and affiliates are allowed to distribute them.
The pirates boasted of 100’s of downloads. Hundreds. I haven’t sold that many in 5 months. I did get that many downloads over the period, but the lost revenue and lost downloads in the first few months of publication can never be recovered. The guy getting site dollars literally put my books up for free download from his site within a week of publication.
However, it’s part of the internet. And even big authors with loads of DRM protection on their books are getting pirated. I know because i saw their books on the same sites that were pirating mine.
So of course, being a good net citizen and a fellow-writer, i made sure i contacted at least one or two major authors (or their publishers) whose work was being illegally sold/given away. I figured even if the pirates didn’t give a shit about me, someone like Simon & Schuster would make them sit up and pay attention. It worked. Those who didn’t immediately remove my books did so once i put the big guys on them.
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