It’s been all the buzz in the publishing industry. Amazon has been pulling reader book reviews on it’s website, seriously upsetting authors world-wide. It would seem that, in this case, one bad apple – or even half a barrel, do spoil the whole bunch.
This appears evident in the “sock puppet” case, whereby prize-winning English crime writer, R.J. Ellory, admitted to having written negative reviews of other writers’ books under a pseudonym, while at the same giving his own works glowing reviews on the same sites. In an article on Forbes.com, Suw Charman-Anderson tackles this subject, effectively explaining and expounding on the issues. After reading it, I had to admit I agreed with her position. Is Amazon throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Hmm, maybe so.
Staff writer for the L.A. Times, Carolyn Kellogg, states that, when one author questioned Amazon in a letter, he received this reply in return, “We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.” According to both articles, this seems to be the standard reply. Not very heartening.
Okay, I understand you don’t want reviewers who gain financially from a review, and it can and does happen, but what about the thousands of writers who write legitimate reviews on books we’ve personally read? I’d have to say the number of authors who write honest reviews would far outweigh those who try to manipulate the system. As both Carol and Suw state, all authors are not evil rivals. I feel this way about the sales industry too – sure we’re all out there working our butts off, but we can also be our own greatest source of support, if we choose.Being new to the industry and naïve, initially I was shocked to learn that this was happening. I’d also never dreamed there were paid reviews, which could quite easily be skewed in favour of the paying author or publication house. Then I thought about it. It isn’t so shocking really. This type of underhanded behaviour happens in virtually any money-making business. Competitors are often vying for the same market, and everyone wanting a bigger piece of the pie. But that doesn’t make it right.
I’m an author, but I’m also a reader. It’s no surprise or stretch to imagine that writers also read – a lot. We often become writers because we read. As I put one foot in front of the other in this business, I look to other writers who’ve gone before me, as well as the ones who are walking the same road beside me. Some day, I’d love to be one of the writers who will reach back to those coming along behind me. To me, that’s the way life should be. We all help each other, not out of avarice or desire to get something back, but because we want to; because it’s a hard road and helping one another makes it a little easier, and a lot more fun.
As a writer, I also review other author’s books. I understand what goes into making a good book, how hard it is to find the right words, the struggle to get the story from a writer’s mind and into the hands of readers, and the learning curve to understand the requirements and demands of the complex publishing business. It’s tough.
After writing for countless hours, we then shake out our confidence and don it like a voluminous overcoat to protect us from the onslaught of rejections we receive from agents and publishers who tell us “no thanks”. More and more authors are tired of running the gauntlet and facing the gatekeepers inherent with the traditional publishing mode. They’re stretching themselves even further and becoming “indie” authors—writers who publish their books independently, using publishing venues like, oh, Amazon.
Amazon has long been the friend of authors, without whom they would not have climbed so far up the publishing and distribution ladder. It’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship, but as with so many things in business, rules and regulations take over from common sense. People misuse and abuse the trust placed in something as simple as a book review. Amazon has always used these reviews in their algorhithms and ranking of titles and authors, but also posted them for other readers, so they can get an idea of whether a particular book strikes their fancy. Simple.
When I think of all these shenanigans, I wonder why people have to muddy the waters. I mean really, to me, a review is kind of like a thank you, or at the very least, constructive criticism. It’s also intended to help other readers choose a book or author they might enjoy. But then I’ve always believed in thanking others for a job well done, or offering honest praise/feedback.
Even when standing in a line-up, if I really love the earrings, shoes, whatever, of the woman ahead of me, I’ll tell her so. We’ve become so insular that, on hearing the praise, the woman is always surprised. Then she smiles—a genuine smile, and says “thank you”. She goes away smiling. No matter what else is going on in her day, someone said something nice to her, or noticed the extra effort she took while getting dressed that morning. So simple.
I also work for a rewards and incentive marketing company, and one of the things we try to remind CEOs and company HR personnel, is that rewarding and recognizing employees, referral sources, and those who help make your business a success throughout the year, can pay huge dividends. People respond more favourably, and are more inclined to give back to the company, when they feel appreciated. Simple, yet effective.
So, I can’t do anything about how others conduct themselves in this world, but I can do something about how I deal with others. I can approach the business of sales, writing and publishing with integrity, and when I review a book, article, or comment on a blog, I can do it with honesty. If others want to misconstrue my good intentions, I can’t change that. I am only in charge of me. Simple.