I don’t spend a lot of time dithering. I’ve got a pretty analytical mind. Everything has a logical conclusion. If I don’t know what to do next, I just sit down and think about all the possible permutations, and likely consequences, and the way forward usually becomes obvious.
But I have spent a lot of time dithering over reviews in the months since I published The Secret Dead.
Reviews are lifeblood for authors. Good reviews are invaluable. I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has taken the time to write a couple of paragraphs and give The Secret Dead a rating. It makes a real difference, and is hugely appreciated.
Most people in the reading/writing community are aware that there are some serious problems going on with reviews at the moment. The biggest and most obvious are paid-for-positive-reviews. An author can pay as little as £10 or so, and get a bunch of 5 star verified purchase reviews on Amazon. I see these a lot. They’re quite easy to spot. There’ll be a bunch of 5 star reviews, most of which won’t mention the author name, book, or characters in the text, and then a bunch of 1 and 2 stars which will mostly be variations of readers going wtf?
Then there are review swaps where authors agree to review each other’s work. In theory, this could work fine as long as everyone is honest, but not everyone is. I’ve seen plenty of review swap offers on Goodreads where the author promises they’ll only give good reviews. At the very least it opens up a giant can of worms if one author doesn’t like the other’s book.
Readers are getting more and more suspicious of 4 and 5 star reviews, especially those given by authors, and with good reason. The whole review system is becoming compromised. This isn’t limited to indie authors of course, although it is a particular problem for us.
I’ve actually gained some fans (I know! I feel like a proper celebrity!) who have tweeted, shared and otherwise been really enthusiastic about The Secret Dead. When those people are also talented authors with great books, I feel bad about sitting on the sidelines and not being as enthusiastic as I want to be. I want to give good reviews to the great books and authors I know, but I am also aware of the huge ethical issues around authors reviewing each other.
Then there’s the problem that I’ve also met authors whose books I haven’t enjoyed at all, and wouldn’t be able to give a positive review to. This adds yet another layer of social awkwardness, because most of the time the author has been lovely and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Us writers are usually sensitive sorts.
So I’ve thought about it, and I’m still dithering, but for now this is going to be my review policy:
~I am not going to put up any Amazon reviews. Why? Amazon doesn’t like it, and readers get suspicious. I’m going to avoid it like the giant can of worms it is. Maybe I’m being overcautious, but I always have been a nervous type.
~I may review/rate/recommend on Goodreads if I don’t know the author.
~I will tweet/write up on my website or FB page about the books I’ve enjoyed, and will promote authors I think my readers might enjoy, whether I know them or not.
Full disclosure: Just to be absolutely clear, at the time of writing this post, no one who has reviewed or offered to review my book has requested or hinted in any way that they expect a positive return review. Much of this post is just me adding a giant dose of social anxiety into something that other people probably wouldn’t worry about.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, this really isn’t a clear cut issue for me. I’d love to hear what other authors (and readers) think. Do you think it’s fine for authors to review each other, as long as they do so honestly? Or should we leave it just to the readers?