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As the author of 5 books, including 1 epic novel (THE EARTH SHIFTER), 2 full-size novels (GOLD TRAIN & STEPFORD USA) and 2 novelettes (Catharsis, Legend of the Lemurians & Green Desert), I’ve received lots of fabulous reviews, as well as my fair share of negative ones. I suppose it’s natural, as it’s impossible for everyone to like our writing. That said, it is so much easier to write pop lit, which goes down easily and is consumed as the mental equivalent of coke or white flower cake. Chances of receiving a low starred review are also much lower if the subject you write about is a “consensus” one, in other words, the society at large agrees that the way you present your story (or topic for non-fiction)  is how it should play out. Another way of saying this is that you are “politically correct” and your point of view is accepted by society as a dominant one.

It is a very different thing to be at the forefront of change, stimulating people’s thought and imagination. Those of us brave enough to write about controversial and important topics that we want to help people understand, unwittingly subject themselves to attacks and criticism of the lowest nature from those who fail to understand or are unwilling to accept.

Many of us, Indie authors and publishers, have had previous, or present, successful careers. Unlike most mainstream authors, who’ve only had a writing career and experience, many of us have accumulated much wisdom and knowledge which we are now ready to share. This knowledge and wisdom is important, and it includes our unique take on things. Most likely you won’t read anything of this kind in the mainstream lit – perhaps, this is precisely why you won’t read this in the mainstream lit.

Most of my books have been blessed with predominantly, or exclusively great reviews. The most controversial of my books is undoubtedly, GOLD TRAIN (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure), which has received a good number of 5 star, but also a few 2 & 3 star reviews after hitting Amazon bestseller lists last year (reaching #59 on kindle bestseller list #60 on amazon books, #2 mystery, #4 thriller).

GOLD GT COVER ebook

GOLD TRAIN on Amazon US

That included a few pretty nasty 2 and 3 star reviews, but if there was any kernel of truth in any of them, I’ve learned from the experience and evolved. Recently, Gold Train was completely re-edited, with new scenes and passages added, taking into account some of the criticism that perhaps was deserved.

Up till this point, I have not had a single 1 star review. But there is a first time for everything.

As I once said to a friend author of mine, “once you receive your first negative review, consider yourself christened as a real author. Wear it as a badge of honor, as it means that your books are reaching mainstream — and welcome to the club!” And so, at this point, I consider myself welcomed to the club of those who have received “the dreaded” 1 star review.

Oh yeah, just to mention for those using or considering KDP Select free promo option: bear in mind that the proportion of negative reviews increases dramatically when you make your book free through this program. KDP Select free promo is used by authors to spread awareness of their books, however, this also increases the number of casual downloads.

As I said, if you write a controversial or unusual book, expect that some would not like it, or disagree with it on some level. Interestingly enough, some people simply won’t admit to themselves where their resistance or prejudice is coming from, so they would sublimate, blaming the book for something else, even if it’s unfair. I have never responded to any negative reviews before, but this recent 1 star review on Amazon UK was so laughable and unfair that I was compelled to respond. Below is the review and my response in its entirety.

Recent Gold Train review on Amazon UK:

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth your time! 7 Jun 2013
By TheDad

“I was expecting some sort of adult fiction, that is something written for any one aged ten or over. This book is lacking in plot, reality, basis for what happens and why and most importantly that the reader just accepts the word on the page as to how things are. For example there is a plot against Russia, but the internal Russian authorities rely on the heroine of the book to solve their problems. The heroine a journalist is not anywhere in the class of any other central character I have ever read.

This author is no Stieg Larsson! Much less so an Enid Blyton. The only plus side was that is was not too long!”

My response:

Hello, “The Dad.” This is the author of Gold Train, Lada Ray. Thank you for posting this review after you downloaded my book for free during my recent promotion. I usually do not respond to customer reviews. However in this case I felt it was necessary, as I believe your review is grossly misleading to potential buyers of the book, not to mention, unfair and lacking in basis. Point by point:

“I was expecting some sort of adult fiction, that is something written for any one aged ten or over.” 

You flatter me! Considering a number of other reviewers noted a couple of what I call “tasteful adult scenes” in the book, and some even went as far as to say that it was meant for adult audience… I feel you are more in the ballpark here than some others, as in my opinion, Gold Train is appropriate for general audience.

“This book is lacking in plot, reality, basis for what happens” 

1. Plot: Even the book’s critics admitted the plot was good and clear, and that the book was well-researched. The plot is also clearly described in the product description section. Moreover, you contradict yourself throughout your review. You say: “There is a plot against Russia, but the internal Russian authorities rely on the heroine of the book to solve their problems.” In this sentence you’ve just described Gold Train’s plot. Suggest looking up the meaning of the word “plot” in a dictionary. More about that below.

2. Reality and basis: I was born and grew up in Russia and I know more about that country than most people, especially in the West. When I talk about Russia, you can trust that I talk from a position of knowledge, authority, as well as from the heart. The situations described in the book are very life-like and true to Russia, as pointed out by many reviewers, down to details like seeing a Gypsy – a fixture in Russian cities, food, apartments, homes of the rich, landmarks, noble names and royal heritage, etc.

You may check out my bio on the book’s Amazon.com page, as well as my popular blog LadaRay.wordpress.com for all the information, as well as many interesting posts about Russia. The basis of the story is a historical fact of the disappearance of the Gold Reserve of the Russian Empire in 1918. This historical fact you can also verify. As to the reality and basis of the present day events: I write extensively about Russian oligarchs and the Chechen groups; I studied their connection with the CIA, MI6 and other agencies. These hidden connections are no secret in Russia and many other countries. If you exclusively consume the British mainstream media, in that case of course, you would know nothing of this, as everything in the UK media would be anti-Russian and politically biased. Suggest looking outside of mainstream for real news.

Practices and people described in the book are based on real events and persons, dead or alive. The character of the Russian oligarch is partly based on the oligarchs I knew personally, and partly, on the infamous Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive from the Russian authorities in London, who was granted asylum status in the UK and who recently hung himself in his London estate. I’m sure you can find lots about him even in the UK mainstream media.

Again, you can read more about that on my blog. You can also read about my geopolitical analysis and predictions on my other blog: futuristrendcast.wordpress.com.

You clearly don’t know, nor understand, the facts presented in the book. Historians who have reviewed the book have acknowledged the historical veracity of the premise.

Also, let’s remember that this is still a fictional story, which bridges the gap between history, spy thriller and romantic mystery. Reading it as such is helpful. If you want to read a history book, I suggest looking in a different section. And good luck with that!

“There is a plot against Russia, but the internal Russian authorities rely on the heroine of the book to solve their problems.” First of all, I would appreciate your not revealing important plot points in your review. This introduces spoilers and is not helpful for anyone!

Secondly, it is clearly explained in the book WHY Russian authorities have to seek out Jade’s help: it is because she is well-positioned on the inside, and they are running out of time. There is more to the story, but I suggest you actually read the book to find out why her presence is required, as it appears you didn’t read it very carefully at all.

Oh, yeah, to clarify: the Russian authorities DO NOT RELY on Jade “to solve their problems,” they rely on her to spy and bring intel to them. But she, being her usual adventurous self (and because she is secretly in possession of the key to solving the mystery of the gold), takes it upon herself to go an extra mile.

As to the main character, it is very subjective: some love her to death and can’t wait to read her next adventure, some don’t, and then there all kinds of opinions in between. This is true of every character in every book you’ll read. However, you choose to get personal, and that is not acceptable!

“This author is no Stieg Larsson! Much less so an Enid Blyton.” First, who is Enid Blyton? Am I supposed to know this person?

As to Stieg Larsson, he is a fine writer, although not my favorite. Whoever mentioned any resemblance of Gold Train to Stieg Larsson’s writing? Where did you read that? In the book description? Reviews? Any other place? My guess – nowhere. So why did you assume it should resemble his writing?

In fact, on Amazon.com you will find a section entitled “From the Author,” in which I clearly state: “If I had to make a comparison with another book, I’d say that Gold Train protagonists, Jade and Alexei, share traits and spirit with Claire and Jamie, protagonists of The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. The spirit of the book will also appeal to the fans of The Da Vinci Code and Jason Bourne. Having said that, I want to stress again and again that this is a totally original book/series, complete with a new and original heroine. No clones here!”

These kinds of inaccuracies and misrepresentations make this review entirely unhelpful and misleading! My suggestion to readers: don’t rely on such reviews to judge anyone’s book! Read Gold Train’s Amazon sample, description, author bio, check out my 2 blogs, and then decide for yourself if you are interested in reading my books!

Lada Ray

Link to Gold Train on Amazon UK

****

In conclusion, I also want to mention a recent post by a friend author of mine, Paulette Mahurin, whose brave book, THE PERSECUTION OF MILDRED DUNLAP, written about prejudice against gays/lesbians in the rural USA, has also invited some controversy, but also generated a loyal fan base. Paulette is a very sweet and kind person with a soft spot for animals and burning desire to right the social wrongs, and I am privileged to call her my friend.

Paulette has been blessed with lots of great reviews for her book. However, she recently posted about her own 1 star review experience. Unfortunately, I don’t have the link to her original post (if Paulette reads this, I’d greatly appreciate her adding the link in a comment section). However, here’s the link to her blog, including all about her book: http://thepersecutionofmildreddunlap.wordpress.com/

I just thought I’d include my response to the above-mentioned Paulette’s post, to help illustrate my point.

“Hi Paulette,
This post has really struck a cord with me. As you know, I loved Mildred and my 5* review can attest to that.
I know exactly what you mean. It’s so incredibly difficult to write a good book into which we put our heart and soul, and then have enough courage to release our baby out into the big world, exposing our most sacred, naked, vulnerable feelings and thoughts for all to see.

And after all this work, getting these crude and cruel, off-handed rejections by someone who didn’t even take the time to read the book, nor to hear the message… And in my case, it was doubly hard as I’m a foreigner, with certain differences in my self-expression, language, etc. Being given 2 & 3 stars because someone didn’t like the difference in language was especially terrible.
Being a positive person, and normally far and away from such negative people and attitudes, I was in shock. I thought, how could anyone possibly not see the intent of the book, how could anyone possibly not see how kind, evolved and heroic Jade Snow (the main character of Gold Train) is? How could one possibly not understand that in other countries people use English language somewhat differently? I am a very quick study, so after some of these Gold Train reviews, I quickly transitioned to writing in English in a more American way.
Those several reviews sometimes felt like lynching. All this was awfully hard and I can totally relate to how you feel.

Like with The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, my mystery/thriller Gold Train (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure) received a fair share of attention last year, making it to the Amazon best-seller lists. And 2 & 3 star reviews followed, together with all the meanness that goes along with them. Like you, I was more hurt for the main character and the message of the book than for myself. It hurt awfully, but I learned to develop immunity to all that. Of course, it helped to receive all those fabulous 5 star reviews. 😉

What I want to say is that it’s hard because our books are our babies, but really, those who don’t understand us are not our readers anyway.”

So, these are two different responses of mine to the same problem, one detached and analytical, and another rather revealing and emotional. I’m sure every artist and every creative person out there can relate.

What moves people to write negative, silly, nasty reviews? Is it fear, narrow-mindedness, ignorance, or…? Is it worth paying attention to unfair negative reviews? Should we just ignore them? Can we learn from them?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your reaction! The discussion continues in the comment section. Join us!

Here is the link to Paulette Mahurin’s post about her negative review experience: http://thepersecutionofmildreddunlap.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/the-big-picture-a-negative-review/

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