On reviews: Inflation

Everyone seems to be talking about reviews lately. And they are saying good things:

I love reviewers/readers. Without them, I’d be out of a job. I respect that it takes a reviewer time to read and review my work, just as it does with a reader (though readers are out of time and money). I am not so arrogant or deluded to believe that a reviewer owes me a review, let alone a positive one, or that I have to right to pitch a fit if it’s negative.

[ . . . ]

In the end, reviews are for products people buy, not critical assessments of writing skill or talent. Reviews cover plot, theme, characterization, editing, formatting, cover art, and price of book. They’re about products, nothing more, and that bit of emotional distance can do an author a world of good when someone says that their book sucks.

S.L. Armstrong

And:

When you put your book out, either through self-publishing venues or through a publisher, there has to be a certain sense of letting go. You might have been trying to send out a particular message or woven a subtle theme into the fabric of your story, but once it’s out there and available to the masses, you have to leave your expectations at the door. Some people will love your book, some will hate it, some will shrug their shoulders and say they think your idea could have been executed better, and some will read into aspects of the story in ways that you had never even imagined while writing it. There are ups and downs, and it’s really just part of the beast.

K. Piet

I think both of these posts are valid and should be read and internalized. But they fail to hit on the thing that I want to talk about today, which is sending your book to your friends in order to get favorable reviews.

There was a recent kerfluffle about an author who made a lot of sockpuppet accounts on Goodreads and gave all their books many five-star reviews; the whole community recoiled at this idea, this inflation of the score and this idea that the author would dare to do such a thing.

I think that the community’s reaction to this was right on the money. The author’s behavior is the type of thing that ought not be accepted since it is sneaky and dishonest to other authors who are not doing that sort of thing and also readers who are looking for an accurate opinion of a book before they read it.

You can probably see where I am going with this.

Sending a book to a bunch of friends* is only marginally better than sockpuppets; it’s still underhanded in this writer’s opinion. The action has the same outcome, and the exact same intent: inflation of the opinion of your book. It’s dishonest and I think that it’s actually pretty bad for business.

Why?

Think on it this way: what happens when the new reader–who bought your book on a whim, perhaps, after seeing that it had good reviews–reads the book and finds it to be not at all what the reviews portrayed it as? Not only have you earned another bad review (or bad reviews, if more than one person bought the book and was disappointed) but you’ve also repelled a reader; the chances of them buying any more books written by you are low.

It also makes for dismal chances that they will believe that future reviews written by certain people are accurate opinions of your book. You will gain a reputation for dishonesty, too. I know that doesn’t bother a lot of people, because integrity seems like a lost cause these days, but it bothers me, which is why I am writing about it.

Even with all of these things, I think the thing that an author loses the most from ignoring bad reviews and inflating their book with friends’ reviews is the chance to improve their craft. These reviewers are trying to tell you something; listen.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

* Sending it to one or two friends is kind of industry standard so I can’t frown on it too much. Besides, one or two reviews aren’t going to inflate anything; I mean when you send to five, ten, or more people.

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