These days the word ‘integrity’ may have lost a lot of its meaning for most people. After all we are lied to constantly from every direction until we come to accept that nothing is really as it seems. We suspect everyone and everything, even expecting that our institutions are not always honest with us. But one of the many good lessons I learned from my father years ago was to be honest and truthful. My dad taught me to have integrity because, as he said, you have to be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.
I bring this subject up because over the course of the past couple of weeks I’ve learned a lot about the modern state of affairs in the publishing business and a lot of what I have learned disgusts me. Maybe what is going on hasn’t infected all levels. I hope that is the case. Certainly no one associated with my publisher condones the activity. And as far as I know all the authors with whom I associate do not participate in any unethical activities regarding the promotion of their books. None of them would risk losing their credibility with their readers and fans. Still I’m appalled that what I have heard is going on and is perhaps a lot more widespread than I might think.
For some of it I suppose Amazon is partially to blame. It wasn’t intentional as I can’t see why any business would support such a thing. But here it is, bold faced and out in the open. A short time ago I was asked in a quid pro quo sort of way to post a review for a book that I had not read in exchange for someone doing the same for me and my latest book. Of course, I declined the offer for reasons of personal integrity. If I review a book I have read it. And I expect the same of others who review my books.
It makes me wonder, though. How many of the reviews others have posted on Amazon are real? I’d like to think the vast majority are and those that aren’t the author knew nothing about. But now I have some doubts because some authors are writing their own reviews and providing the verbiage to others to post just to pad-out their totals with five-star reviews.
I don’t agree with all of Amazon’s policies or practices but, as the 800-pound gorilla that they are in the publishing world, everyone has to deal with the reality that they account for upwards of 80% of all books sold. They have acceptance criteria for reviews that sometimes allow for mistakes and people taking advantage of the system. Every author is exposed to the possibility of people posting nasty and untrue things about their books and it’s a long, difficult process to get Amazon to remove a review once it has been posted. So, for the most part, you live with the unfair criticisms as well as the honest ones.
However, I’m appalled that not only are some authors writing reviews for others to post on their behalf but also some reviewers charge fees for the service they offer, whether or not they actually read a book. This smacks in the face of credibility for both the author and the reviewer. I’m sure if Amazon had proof of such things going on they would remove the reviews and perhaps ban the reviewer as well as the author. But how do you prove such a thing is happening?
I’m only aware of the practice because I was approached and ensured that it is done often. It was explained to me that there is additional promotional support offered to books having many favorable reviews. Gained attention for a new book may push it into the ranks of a best seller in a genre or category, which will help push the book even higher on recommended lists. Apparently 50 reviews is a magical number that opens a lot of doors for authors in getting recognition. As I’m not there yet I can’t say directly if this is the case but what was explained to me makes some sense of how the process works.
I’m reporting this to make others aware that some reviews may not be true and honest appraisals of a book. Be especially suspicious of reviews that gloss over details or seem especially slick as if they are promotional pitches. Also, I want to assure everyone that every review posted for my books has been the legitimate result of someone reading the work. With Fried Windows I sent out a number of advance copies to fellow authors and reviewers. At no time did I pay any fee to anyone or make any arrangement other than the customary ‘I’ll read your book if you’ll read mine’. That is totally legitimate and highly ethical. The reviewer receives a free copy of the book in exchange for the review and there is no guidance or expectation of the review rating.
When I post a review for something I had read it is an honest appraisal. The reason my reviews are mainly in the four and five star range is a reflection of two things. First, I do not post any reviews for any work that I feel does not merit at least 4 or 5 stars. It’s a personal thing. I know how hard it is to write a book a publish it. If a book needs serious attention in editing or structural revision I will inform the author separately and decline to post a review. I offer to review the book again once the problems have been fixed. Second, no one pays me for my reviews. I don’t consider myself a professional book critic. I tend to find the good in every story and give far more weight to the quality of storytelling than the mechanics of language. I ignore a lot of wrong words and mistakes, though I will note them and mention them to the author so they can be fixed.
I don’t post reviews for books I don’t want to read. Generally I will read a variety of genres, but there are some types of books that I do not prefer and generally I don’t read those. If I am not familiar with a genre I will mention it in my review and judge the book on its merits as a story not how well it fits into a specific genre. As my own work tends to span several genres I hate the necessity of categorizing books especially since Amazon and others require a book to be assigned one or a very few genres. Labels serve as an aid in searching for books of similar subject matter. I get that. A reader wants to know what he or she is getting in advance of purchasing it. I’m just saying that all fantasy or sci-fi books are not the same and the fact that mine are considered in those genres may not reflect the actual content of the book. My stories contain romance, mystery and many other things as well.
I’m not sure how Amazon can effectively police the review process. That’s up to them. I don’t want to see them go to an extreme where they require verified purchases for the posting of reviews because that will prevent legitimate reviews based on author/publisher supplied advance readers copies (ARC’s). That would be unfair to the author who is operating within accepted industry standards for receiving critical attention for a new book prior to its official launch.
The matter rests with each individual author and his or her artistic integrity. Rest assured that to the best of my knowledge every review posted for any of my books is a real review from someone who has read the book.
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