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L.T. Suzuki

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Blogs by L.T. Suzuki

When Book Reviews are Misleading…
7/24/2011 10:30:31 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

The importance of getting honest book reviews.
If you’ve read my earlier blog post about ‘When Social Media is not so Social’, you’re aware of my experiences with the dark side of social networking. There was no major fallout from that post, but I was stunned to receive more tweets, emails and DMs from so many Twitter followers (and gained about 100 new followers in the process) about this subject than any other post!

The most numerous comments came from fellow writers who made the mistake of swapping their books with other authors in exchange for a book review. In general, there is nothing wrong with this, if the author you’ve swapped with is amenable to constructive criticism (or constructive encouragement if you don’t like the word ‘criticism’). Unfortunately, there are some authors who do not like being told their works can use some polish. They take these criticisms, no matter now constructive, as personal attacks.

This led me to write today’s post: ‘When Book Reviews are Misleading’ and I’m sure there will be some kind of backlash from authors who will now go online to slap down one and two star reviews for my novels because I’ve pointed out that this does happens. But as I said earlier, there is a dark side to social media we should all be aware of.

I’ve always been of the mindset that no matter what you write and no matter how large your fan base, you can’t please everyone. Even the talented J.K. Rowling has her detractors, but we all prefer receiving praise instead of criticism; it’s human nature! However, how can fake reviews; the stellar, five-star reviews coerced or, for the lack of a better word, traded in exchange for a like review be good for the soul or your writing career?

The other week, I had a fellow author email me, asking if I’d go to an ebook selling site featuring one of his novels. He wanted me to give his book a five-star rating to keep it’s ranking up there.

Maybe it’s just me… and even though I believe in supporting my fellow authors, I will not blindly give any kind of rating, good or bad, unless I’ve had an opportunity to read the book first. To me, it feels unethical. I’d never ask another writer, reviewer or book blogger to give me a great review if they didn’t feel my novels deserved it. Maybe I’m just not good at selling myself, lacking in that killer instinct to claw my way to the top, at the expense of other writers’ reputations.



Evidently, the complaints I’ve received ranged from having reviews held hostage unless the author wrote a rave review in exchange, even if the story needed some work. (Several authors have stepped forward complaining about one self-published author in particular. They chose to walk away, while one conceded, writing a rave review so the author would post the review of her book.) This tactic is working for the author as he now racked up 20+ five-star reviews on Amazon!

I initially read the sample chapter on this author’s website when he extended an invite to do so. I only got through the first page and it became obvious he was self-published, but didn’t use a critique group or a professional editor to help with dialogue and to tighten his prose. I chose to decline reading in exchange for a review.

Needless to say, it left me scratching my head when I saw a number of the five-star reviews he received were from authors I respect and I know they have true writing skills and talent. However, now that it was pointed out the methods he uses to rake in those consistently great reviews are, it doesn’t surprise me.

I’ve also had Twitter followers DM me, asking if I’d take a moment to critique their work. Most are gracious when I offer constructive criticism; pointing out where they tend to do more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’, are hampered by the use of a passive voice, and so on. They accept my suggestions, using it to polish their ms before presenting it to the world.

On the other side of the coin, there’s the small handful that asked me to critique their works; firmly believing they are ready to be published. They were not happy when I pointed out some weaknesses in their writing, offering suggestions on how they can improve their ms.

More often than not, they get defensive, stating that other people like their stories; therefore, it must be me. These writers choose to ignore my suggestions and go on to self-publish their works. That is completely up to them. The truth of the matter is, some of these authors are the same ones to adopt the tactic of swapping their works with other authors, and then either demanding a great review in exchange first or they’ll withhold the other author’s review completely, unless they receive that stellar review.

Whether it is writing a misleading review, withholding a review or writing a bad one in retaliation (even if the novel was great on many levels), this is not right!

Once you publish a novel and subject the masses to substandard writing, even if you manipulate other writers into posting rave reviews for you, somewhere along the line you’ll encounter READERS. Yes, those who actually paid good money for your story, and they ARE NOT writers. In other words, they do not live in fear their literary careers will be held hostage if they post honest reviews that steer potential buyers away from the books in question. Once they invest their money and time in a poorly written novel, they will be far from generous in their praise and much more truthful when they start posting reviews.

In truth, I don’t know which is worse: the writer who manipulates other writers to post reviews that do not accurately reflect the quality of the story; or the writers who allow themselves to be manipulated because they fear retaliation or give in to the other author so they can receive that great review in exchange?

I’ve had some writers ask me what to do, as they know these reviews are as important as advertising. They want to be able to post honest reviews they can truly be proud of.

My suggestion is this: Do not ask a fellow writer to post a review. Instead, invite one if you’ve already received favourable comments, as some writers feel uncomfortable about posting a less than stellar review and would rather say nothing than to embarrass the writer.

If you are going to swap books in exchange for a review, do so at your own risk. Be aware of the potential backlash! Perhaps, set guidelines. If the writing can use some work, is the author willing to accept constructive criticism via a private email instead of posting a so-so review for the world to see?

Instead of putting fellow writers who are not a part of your critique group on the spot by asking for a review, approach book bloggers and professional book reviewers that ARE NOT WRITERS themselves. These readers can offer honest, candid reviews as they approach it as a way to recommend the books that truly stand out from the thousands of titles.

A review is meant to share the good (and bad) points of your writing style and the quality of the stories, so those willing to pay for a story can do so with some degree of confidence. (Book buyers: never take the word of authors tooting their own horns, claiming that their stories rivals those by J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. If it’s that good, believe me, others will be singing its praises.)

Those who are delusional and ‘harvesting’ less than honest reviews to convince readers to pay for their books will eventually meet up with angry readers or the professional book reviewer who will willingly post scathing reviews to steer book buyers away.

The author being coerced or manipulated to provide a great review when the book really falls short of being great should consider his or her own reputation and writing careers.

Suppose a publisher who has been following your career sees you also review books? What do you think will happen if they see a stellar review posted by you, and then they buy that book based on your recommendations? Aren’t you worried that after reading this book you’ve endorsed with a rave review, they’ll think, “I really respected this author, but now that I see he/she can’t tell mediocre from great, I’ll have to rethink asking this writer to submit.”

I know I’d question the author’s writing abilities if they gave a stellar review to a book that could have used more polish (or a complete rewrite).

Come on authors! Don’t you think you owe it to the book-buying public to post honest reviews? I know I’d feel ripped off if I spent my hard earned money on a poorly written book, indie or traditionally published. Not only would I steer clear of this author’s work, there’s a good chance I’ll pass up on books written by the author/reviewer because I’d be questioning their judgment as to whether they know how to write well themselves!

Authors, if you want to raise the quality of self-published works and help to remove the stigma that still looms over the self-publishing industry, then please provide the book-buying public with honest reviews! Allow the best, the stories we can truly be proud of, to rise to the surface, finding their readers the honest way.

So there! I said it… I know I’ll raise the ire of the authors who are manipulating their reviews, but I believe every decent writer out there striving to put out great stories will understand, thinking twice when they are confronted with this situation.


Comments (2)

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