Manipulating book reviews is hurting readers and writers alike.
First, I must disclose I get paid to write book reviews.
I’m contracted by a company that gets paid $200 by the author, publicist, marketing agency, publisher, someone, anyone, to have a book reviewed. They send me a list, I choose the book I want to read and then write an honest review. They pay me 20% or $40.00USD. I’m not told what to write only that it has to be thorough, well-written and between 400 and 450 words.
What’s a bit disconcerting is I don’t own the review, the client who paid for it does. My review goes back to the client and they decide whether or not it gets posted. Not surprising, anything less than four stars gets killed.
But as a writer for hire that’s the deal. Hey, as a journalist I’ve had news stories killed because they offended the publisher’s golfing buddy.
The difficulty I’m having is when it comes to reviews of my own fiction.
I won’t pay for reviews. I know it doesn’t make sense does. I get paid to write reviews of other people’s books, but I won’t pay to have people write reviews of mine. Anyhow, I can’t afford to pay $200 for a bad review, and, yes, at least half of the reviews I get paid to write you wouldn’t be posting on the back cover of your book or highlighting on your author’s website.
As I’m sure you have, I’ve tried many ways to attract reviews, mostly with free books. I ask the recipients to write and post an honest review though less than one percent do and some aren’t favourable.
But let’s talk about those unfavourable reviews.
I’ve learned a lot from well-considered bad reviews and unfortunately, there have been quite a few. I’ve been told my characters are stereotypes, had plot holes pointed out and been condemned for not tying up the loose ends in the denouement. What I’m saying is you can learn from bad reviews, but not if you don’t allow any to be posted.
This brings me to the point, (finally, you say),
of authors collaborating in review exchanges.
When I've entered into these collaborations, I’ve frequently been asked to agree not to post our reviews until each of us has had an opportunity to review the review. I’ve agreed on their behalf but suggest they post the review of my work regardless. However, if my review of their book is less than four stars or even has a hint of criticism it’s invariably declined.
The other disconcerting thing is getting a five-star review when it’s apparent the reviewer never read my book. The review is a couple of paragraphs scant on details and big on generalizations like “unique voice”, “great find”, “memorable characters”, “thrilling plotline”.
So, my question is, who is benefitting?
- - Certainly not the reader if he or she is buying a book on the strength of the review rating.
- - Not the author who refuses to accept legitimate criticism thus never improves as a writer.
- - Not authors who let legitimate criticism stand if they’re compared against bogus good ones.
- - Not the writing community since the pool of reviews has been poisoned by bogus ones and no longer has any credibility
I understand how important it is to have our work reviewed, but I’m urging you to not only let the opinion of the reviewer be posted regardless of the rating, insist upon it. That will motivate you to improve your craft and also begin to return credibility to the review pool. A fringe benefit may also be keeping your integrity intact, though today that’s becoming more a liability than an asset.
To paraphrase, you can fool some of the readers some of the time. In other words, it’s highly unlikely you’ll achieve a level of real success on the strength of bogus reviews. If you’re going to become truly successful you must first become a good writer. Participating in anything less than ethical reviews won’t help you succeed and you’re making it more difficult for everyone else.
BOYCOTT BOGUS REVIEWS
As a reader and as a writer, I will no longer purchase books I believe have achieved their rating through less than ethical means. If you’re serious about writing I encourage you to consider adopting this policy as I believe it will benefit us all in the long run and face it, it is a long run.
Here are some tips that may indicate
reviews have been less than ethically achieved:
- A new self-published book has a lot of 4-5 star reviews in a short period – 3 months.
- There are more ratings than reviews and all of them are 4-5 stars.
- Do a web search of the reviewer. If it’s a company like Kirkus, then their policy is likely not to publish reviews of less than 4-5 stars.
- There are no bad or even mediocre reviews or ratings.
- Reviews use generic language and don’t address the story. Examples would be “original voice”, “thrilling plotline”, “memorable characters” “great find”.
- Read the preview. Do the reviews reflect the level the author is writing at?
Do we have the courage to do this?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU