Thursday, August 30, 2012

Getting naughty...

…with reviews.

I bet you thought I was about to post something about sexy-timez, didn’t you? Alas, such is not the case. Maybe another time, all right?

Today I want to talk about two separate things with a common denominator: reviews. First on the plate is paying for reviews. Next on the plate is responding to reviews.

So, I'm sure if you've spent any time recently online, you'll have seen this NYT article getting tossed about. It's something the publishing world has long been aware of, but that everyone has secretly hoped wasn't really happening. Or at least not occurring on a large scale.

Uh, yeah. Unfortunately, it seems it was occurring far more frequently than many suspected. Simply looking at the statistics of how much money Mr. Rutherford made per month and how long he was in operation, it's staggering to realize how many "fake" reviews are floating around. Not to mention mind-blowing to discover how many people are happy to shell out some serious bucks for a bundle of "ohmygawd, this novel was teh amazeballs" reviews.

Suffice to say, this is not cool. One, consumers are being lied to. When reviews and word-of-mouth are such an integral part to finding new books to enjoy, this ruins the entire system. It breeds mistrust. Can you honestly say you can go onto Amazon now and wholeheartedly trust all of the 5-star reviews you find on there? I know I can't. In fact, I'm not even sure I can rely on reviews at all anymore. I've been relying on word-of-mouth from twitter friends for a long while to recommend books I might enjoy.

Two, authors are undermining not only their own work, but others' as well. If you're a writer, then you know how much work goes into completing a finished, polished-off manuscript. You spend months hunched over your laptop, staring at a white screen and feverishly tapping little keys. Then you spend even more time doing the exact same thing, except this time it's for revisions. Writing a novel isn't easy and it isn't pretty. I'm pretty sure most of us have had that day where we said screw you to taking a bath, kept our pajamas on, didn't bother to brush our hair or teeth, and just kept our butts planted in front of the computer, writing the whole day away. When other authors decide to pay for 5-star reviews, and word gets out about the debacle, in the end it hurts not only their book but every innocent writer's book out there as well. Most of us have integrity and a code of honor. But when this kind of crap hits the fan, it makes all of us look bad.

Now that I've ranted a bit about the evils of paying for reviews, let's move on to replying to negative reviews.
As you can guess by the web comic, my stance on replying to negative reviews is--you guessed it--don't do it. Seriously. Save yourself the trouble. Again, while I'm not going to link to any of the related drama, it's pretty easy to just google up a myriad of examples of authors responding to a negative review, and things spiraling out of control from there. It's a bee hive best left undisturbed.

Frankly, reviews aren't for authors. They're for readers. Yes, it can hurt if someone hates your book or completely misunderstood the overall theme of your book. It's out of your hands though. As writers, we had 50,000+ words to convey what we wanted. If a reader misinterprets something in our book, it isn't their fault, it's ours.

As odd as it may sound, writing is art. Everyone interprets art differently. There will be people who love your book and people who loathe every single aspect about it. It’s all about interpretation. Everyone’s viewpoint is colored with their own life experiences. As an artist, we aren’t supposed to explain our work. We create and then let others interpret it. Be it for better or worse.

So, what do you think about paying for reviews and responding to negative reviews? Tell me! I love discussing these types of things.


  1. The only reviews I read are from other readers/writers I trust. And I totally agree with you about not responding to negative reviews.

  2. I don't agree with paying for reviews, under any circumstances. No matter how unbiased a reviewer claims to be, if they're receiving payment, they're not all that likely to post something negative! While I would love to see more reviews of my books, I would never pay for one.

    As for responding to reviews, the most response I ever give is "Thanks for reading the book." And much of the time, I don't even do that. Reviews are not for authors, they're for readers. You might disagree with the reviewer; they might even have facts about your story incorrect in the review. But as an author, I don't think you should ever, ever respond in any way. Even a polite, "Excuse me, but you said Sarah's dress was blue and it was really black" could be construed as arguing and could get you branded as an author behaving badly.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Jo!

    Exactly. It's such a touchy subject as far as responding to reviews goes. Another point to take into consideration is that many people don't expect the author to read their review. So when the author pops in to comment on a review, it can be intimidating and a put-off.

  4. I stopped believing in the reviews on Amazon when I noticed writers in my local RWA chapter were asking on the yahoo loop for likes and positive reviews for their new book that the members hadn't read yet. Even if the member had read the book and didn't like it, they were giving books 5 star reviews. This sickened me. I stopped trusting the 5 star reviews.

    I know self published authors who use reviews (from their non friends) as a form of beta reading. They take the feedback, edit the book, then republish with new cover and title. That's cheating. Sorry, but we aren't your beta readers.

    The smart author doesn't read the reviews. Reading them doesn't help you when you're traditionally published. You can't go and edit the book. And they should never comment on the reviews. Rachel is right. It's off putting.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Stina!

    I'm sad to hear that was happening in your RWA chapter. It definitely makes it hard to trust anything you read online.