At least that is how the offeror thought of it. See, there is a Facebook page I, from time to time, visit where writers will share links to their books and give updates on their writing. I do as well. Anyway, I had posted about my new book A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM, and underneath the book, the fair offer was given. It said, in so many words. “Hey, I’ll write a review on your book, if you write a review on my book.”
Of course, what the offeror was forgetting in that comment, but was definitely implied, was “positive review.”
If this was only a one-time occurrence of a back alley review deal, I would brush it off, move on, but the fact is I get about four to five offers like this a week. Sometimes they are through Facebook or Twitter, but many times they are over e-mail. Occasionally, the person offering the arrangement is playful in the asking, and some (like this guy in the comment) have no problem with anyone seeing the plan.
Usually, I try to be very kind when someone places such an offer to me, I bring up how busy I am with my own writing right then (which, honestly, is very true and I have had to say no to friends handing me things to read as well), but it always makes me feel very uncomfortable, because at the heart of such an exchange there seems to be a certain level of trickery.
Maybe trickery is too harsh a word, but you can’t escape the fact that reviews created in such an arrangement are put out there to convince a reader, someone who possibly doesn’t know better, to buy a book that might or might not deserve the rating it was just given. Leaving that future reader with the equivalent of a horse’s head in the bed when they wanted the full horse.
When I first started this online blog, I was asked to take part in a service that did blog tours for authors. For those that don’t know about these events. basically, a group of popular writing sites agree to post an article, a review, and/or an interview with an author. It is an coordinated event to help market a new work.
The offer came from one of my writing friends for a company she started and I accepted. It sounded like a great opportunity to build up the traffic on my site, and who knows what new talent I might discover? Win, win. Also, my friend was very adamant that she only chooses the best books for her sponsored tours so I don’t have to worry about too many duds. Fine, okay, I accepted. Free books. Why not?
The first book…. To call the first book a mess would be to insult messes.
It was bad, horribly written, filled with stereotypical characters (bordering on racism), no plot, generic dialogue, and on and on and on. I don’t want to go too much into why I gave the book a bad review (it hurts to think about it), but suffice to say, I gave the book a VERY bad review.
Being the eternal writing teacher, I couldn’t stop there. I filled the review with advice for the writer to consider before starting that second book. (Honestly though, I hope he never does attempt it.) If anything, I hoped writing a bad review in that fashion would be justified by the advice I give on it for my readers. I didn’t want to waste my own readers’ time venting on a book they should never read, you see.
After that painful hour of writing, I put up my review (before the date it was due) and then contacted my friend.
My friend and I laughed over the book, she agreed with me about everything I said about it, and apologized for giving the attention to such a bad book. That is how the first phone call ended. Nice, eh?
The second phone call, after she read my review, was a lot different.
She first asked me to take down the review, stating in so many words that the writer didn’t pay for a review like that. If you can believe it, she actually said that it “might hurt his feelings.” Did Dorothy Parker ever have someone say something like that to her?
She went on to say, even more to my shock, that it is an understood law that writers don’t give each other advice. It’s considered rude. (Basically, I had broken a lot of understood online writing laws in my review it seems.) And finally, she ended the call with a second plea for our friendship to please take it down.
So I took the review down.
A few days later my friend put up her own review and it was positive. Glowing.
I have not spoken to her since.
Over the last few years… correct that… ever since the birth of amazon we have read and heard stories about fake reviews on it. From publishers creating fake accounts to post things, to writers doing it themselves, to tours, like the one I described; where a writer is pretty much paying for the positive press in the hope that it will trick some readers into buying a book.
There is that word again. It haunts me. It makes me feel uncomfortable. And now with the release of my latest novel (A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM), the offers are coming in even faster than when I was simply blogging and occasionally linking to my older books.
I mean, I knew this was going on out there, but I never knew it was this prevalent. It bothers me. It saddens me, and I think when these transactions take place, it hurts all of us, because it muddies the water of the online marketplace, filling it with promises of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Leaving all of us, wondering what is truth and what is fiction. (The irony that we are talking about fictional books almost makes it a little laughable, when you think about it.)
The online world of writing is loud.
Don’t believe me?
I have over 20,000 Twitter followers right now, many are fellow writers, and when I visit my home page I scroll through pages and pages of writers (like me) dreaming of convincing a reader with only 140 characters to please buy their book. Then there is GoodReads where I have over 1000 friends. Many recommend their books to me or e-mail me directly about them (many with offers like the one I listed above). And on and on… so how does a writer with a new book get heard over all of this screaming?
It is a good question and one I struggle with as well around my new book. Because I want people to find my book, read my book, and if they feel strongly to review my book. But collecting reviews through negotiations and handshakes… it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Do I want pages and pages of reviews? Certainly, of course I do. So, for example, if a reader has gone to the trouble to track me down via Twitter, Facebook or on my blog to tell me about my book, I will ask them to consider writing a review. If they feel that strongly to reach out to me, well, that review my book earned.
I want when people go to my page to hear how real readers feel about the work. That means there may be a bad review there someday. Frankly, that is fine. I am not naive enough to think that everyone will like whatever book I write. That’s life, but I at least want some truth there.
So what do I say to my fellow writers, those wanting reviews and may have even written one or two or more that they knew were less than… say… true? Step away. Walk away from the practice… Or better yet, I’ll share my favorite line from The Godfather:
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!