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.