The importance of reviews and feedback … even in a climate of fear

As if it wasn’t already hard enough for indie authors to get reviews, things appear to getting scary out there. Amazon is allegedly coming down hard on authors and friends and apparent friends who review each other’s books.

The thing is, authors often, as part of normal, professional networking, befriend people who review us or write in our genres or share our challenges. Or we may discover that some of the people we already count as friends turn out to be great readers and reviewers.

And I know that I have gone back to some of those readers who most seem to “get” what I’m doing for beta reading.

But now that means the people who wrote our favorite reviews the first time around and then give us initial reads on new books can’t safely leave a review when the new book is published. Amazon says they helped with the book, so they’re disqualified. These people can be quoted in a blurb —  a blurb that means absolutely nothing if the reader is not an author or some other public figure. A blurb that is also, by definition, hardly going to be a full, meaty review.

Frankly, these rules are really tough on indies. We often gain our first readers solely by virtue of knowing them. It’s not as if people are going to find our books in a bookstore or the New York Times Book Review, nor do we generally get the advertising support or the favored positioning that some traditional books do (and all of Amazon’s own imprints do).

I do believe it’s more ethical to mention how I know a person when I review a book, at least when a person is being him or herself. The only time I’ve held back is when it feels tantamount to ‘outing’ them — generally, when they seem to be trying to fly under the radar with a nom de plume. Which Amazon would seem to be encouraging, actually, with this crackdown, unless they also have some secret algorithm for figuring out who’s pulling that off. Which is possible.

And of course there are plenty of reviews I don’t leave because that would be kinder than giving my honest opinion, or because I’m not sure my honest opinion would be welcome — God knows I’ve occasionally discovered that it isn’t — though the great bulk of the reviews I haven’t left can be blamed on me not having read the book yet.

But now… do I dare review anyone ever again, even with a disclosure? Anywhere but on Amazon, apparently. Which is the only place where reviews really matter, or have, up to now.

It’s all another argument for not depending too much on one monolithic retailer.

And please remember … even if you are a friend, or colleague, even if you fear crossing into dangerous territory by reviewing, most authors desperately want to hear from you. Did you read it? Did you finish it? Did you like it? So please … at least send an email, or put up a Facebook post, or tweet, or send a letter via snail mail, or resort to Goodreads, or try to post on Amazon’s competitors, or say something in the grocery store.

This brings me to the great compliment an old fanfic pal of mine paid me, recently, by sending me thoughtful answers to ALL the questions I’d put in the discussion guide for The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.

I loved this so much I’ve put it on my web site. If you’re interested in it — and it does contain major spoilers, so keep that in mind — you can find it here. I’m sure she and I would both be fascinated to hear further discussion of any of these points.


Update: Brenda Perlin has an interesting post on this issue in Indies Unlimited this week, and includes a link to a petition to Amazon, should you be so inclined.


9 thoughts on “The importance of reviews and feedback … even in a climate of fear

  1. In August/September of last year I’d officially declared myself to be a Book Reviewer and since then I’ve got 138 reviews posted on Amazon with a 96% approval rating and a current Amazon Reviewer Ranking of 8,291.

    One thing I make sure I do is to comply with the FTC Regulation concerning acknowledging I’ve received a FREE COPY of the book, whether it’s signed, format and the source of the book, ie Giveaway on _______________

    • I wonder if that was the issue? Apparently we’ll never know. I have sometimes found Amazon very personable and responsive, and at other times it has turned into a remorseless purveyor of boilerplate-scripted doom, so I can relate to how Fischer is feeling.

  2. Curious, Robin: How do you “officially declare yourself” a book reviewer? Isn’t that what Cristoph Fischer was before his 1700 reviews were deleted? He, too, enjoyed “top reviewer status” prior to being censored. If there’s a safe way for an author to be a bonafide reviewer, please share that with us. Thanks!

  3. I just blogged on that same issue as a consequence of what happened to poor Christoph. He is a genuinely nice guy who left me a very constructive view after purchasing my book. I’ve just spent the afternoon transferring many of my reviews to B & N as there is no guarantees even with GR. I have decided to buy at Smashwords and review there, to avoid conflict with my own author account through Amazon. Many of us will be making the same move so Amazon are effectively shooting themselves in the foot. Will they care?

    Absolutely not.
    My blog is here if you’re interested but I’m not trying to spam your feed. Please feel free to delete if not appropriate. It backs up everything you’ve said. Good luck!


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