Let’s talk honestly about the review process and who’s doing what. We all know the average reader doesn’t bother giving a review. They speak with their wallets and buy again if they like you. Some will even tell a friend. I love those people. I also love the people who write a short, sweet four or five star review on Amazon and then post the link on their Facebook page. “I read the book, wrote the review, buy the book!” They make any day better!
The truth is that good reviews help sell books. Knowing that, most authors are out there trying to find someone besides their mom to write a review for them. Most of us are doing it the old-fashioned way and begging reviewers and book bloggers to look at us. I can’t help but feel sorry for them in some ways – there’s a lot of craziness and desperation out there and sometimes it lands on your doorstep. Paige from Page by Paige cut loose not long ago and nailed the rudest of the bunch – the spamming authors. She was much nicer than I would have been. There wasn’t a single expletive in there.
But spamming is only one of the ugly problems with that small group of desperate crazies seeking reviews. Some authors and publishers definitely overstep the bounds of what I might consider ethical. There is a dark side to the review cycle.
There are some publishers that require their authors (as part of their contract) to review other authors from their stable. Reviews, blogs, twitter posts, etc. are part of the social media blitz directed by the publisher via their authors. As a result, everyone is saying really nice things about everyone else because they are not only supposed to, but they need everyone else to say nice things about them in return. This is based on the simple premise of your ten fans will love me and my ten fans will love you. Are these reviews and comments all BS – of course not. Most of these folks actually like each other’s stuff. But that doesn’t mean you love everyone the publisher represents or that you think their book is worth five stars – unless you’re contractually obligated to and then all bets are off. I’m not knocking this (your 10 fans can be my 10 fans) marketing method, but I can’t and won’t lie. I simply won’t tell you the sow’s ear is a silk purse or that your terrible author is a great writer. I can keep my mouth shut and say nothing. Most of the time…
Now you know part of the reason why I’m an Indie. Apparently, my ethics would get in the way of some people’s business ventures.
But it’s not just the publishers who are doing this. Realistically, some self-publishers or Indies often do the same type of thing. In their case it’s by choice. They agree to review each other’s books and post positive reviews on the various sites and blogs. The problem here is the word positive instead of the word honest. It’s a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” operation. Where’s the honesty when you’re just blowing happy smoke so someone else does it for you?
I’m all in favor of soliciting reviews from other authors, bloggers, and websites that specialize in those things. I recently did it when I requested a review from Kindle Book Reviews. “Here’s a free copy of Stuck in Korea Time in exchange for a fair and honest review.” There is no expectation of reciprocation from another author and no pressure on that person to provide anything other than an honest review.
There are no ethical worries involved in requesting a review without reciprocation. That’s how I’ll be playing the game. As you might have guessed, I flunked Happy Butt Kissing 101 in the military and I’m still flunking it.
But not every author is happy with being ethical. Some of them have no ethical or moral codes and are trying to cheat the system.
The first way is by purchasing a positive review. We aren’t talking about a paid professional review by a respected company with integrity such as Kirkus Reviews. With Kirkus there are no guarantees of a positive review. You pay your money, you get an honest and fair review by a professional reviewer. You have the option to publish the review if it’s good, or to not publish the review if it’s bad. Honest work for honest pay. The ones that I’m talking about here are the sites (and there are more than a few) who will purchase your book and provide a positive review for a fee – even if your novel is a steaming pile of cow manure. Pay your cash and they’ll create X number of reviews and post them everywhere and anywhere you want.
The second way is by far the most disgusting thing that I’ve seen happen. It’s called “sock puppeting.” This is self-reviewing under another name/account. This is how the truly pathetic and unethical authors do it. All you need to open an account on Amazon is an email address and a credit card. One credit card can be tied to multiple accounts. Purchase one book for $0.99 or more and you can review an unlimited number of books.
What kind of a f***ing Asshat fakes positive reviews?
I use a name other than my own on Amazon when I read and review. This way I can be completely honest without any fear of retaliation. (There really is a thing called vendetta reviewing out there – how sad is that?) The point is, that if I think the book deserved a one or two star then “Sue from Des Moines” (not the name I use so don’t bother looking) will be the one to tell you that the book blew cookies. Is that fair? Yes. I as a reader have an opinion that I’m entitled to share. I bought the book, I read the book, and Sue from Des Moines can say whatever she wants. I rarely do so, but there are books that the public needs to be warned about.
What you will NEVER see is “Sue from Des Moines” reviewing a Lynne Scott or L. Scott book. It’s just not f***ing ethical, and I’m disgusted by those who do it!
I know it’s hard to believe that someone actually does this, but it’s happened. I personally know one author and his/her best friend who wrote five out of his/her 25+ five star reviews. Amazingly, the author saw nothing wrong with this practice. I read the book and it was good enough to have gathered the 20+ positive ratings without the unethical behavior, but the author just couldn’t wait. Frankly, I don’t care if his/her next book wins a Pulitzer, I’ll never spend another nickel on that author again. The only things I felt I could do was advise Amazon (big shock, they don’t care – someone spent their $0.99, so they get to say their piece just like I do), and I severed all ties with that person both personally and professionally. They still don’t understand what my problem is. I’m just not interested in being associated with someone who doesn’t get it.
So there’s the good and the bad. We want reviews and we need reviews. I believe that how I go about getting those reviews matters. I’ll take my books off sale and quit publishing before I compromise my integrity for a damn review.
Here endeth my current rant.