So. Yesterday I ranted a bit, and I’m going to do it some more now. As with yesterday’s post, I’m not entirely sure where this is going to go. As with yesterday’s post, this is my attempt to get some things straight in my head and to explore this subject, so I may be a bit harsh; I may say things as part of playing Devil’s Advocate; I may go off on little tangents (probably will, because let’s face it, that’s what I tend to do).
First, a couple of things I forgot or didn’t get to say yesterday. First, authors? Don’t review your own books, either on Amazon or Goodreads or anywhere else. Don’t rate them on Goodreads, even if your “review” says something like, “Well, I wrote it so obviously I think it’s good!” Like that’s funny or charming or something (hint: it’s not).
I was going to say that reviewing/rating your own books under your own name just makes you look like a tool, rather than being actually sleazy, but then I realized that your rating shows up as part of the book’s overall rating; I can think of a couple of books (all by the same author, what a shock) who have pretty decent overall ratings on Goodreads, but then when you look at them you realize that’s only because the author and his/her (not giving you clues as to who it is) “agent” and/or editor have all given the book five stars, whereas the two readers who rated/reviewed it gave it two or three. So, sorry, reviewing/rating your books under your own name is sleazy. Having your agent or editor review/rate them is also sleazy, and honestly, I’m not aware of any editors with major houses or the big epubs who do so (there could be some, but I’m not aware of them).
I do have my own books on my Goodreads and LibraryThing “shelves.” I didn’t intend to do so, but both sites said specifically that I should. So I do. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but it does seem to be standard and expected. I rarely visit Goodreads, to be honest (more on that in a bit) and as I’ve said before, I *never* visit/read posts in the “Terrible Fever” Goodreads group or the Downside Shelfari group. Those are reader spaces, for you guys to discuss the books; they’re not for me and I actually think it would be creepy for me to lurk over them watching you all. And might make you feel uncomfortable or inhibited. So I stay away. I believe that’s the right thing to do.
I don’t think I have to say that reviewing your own books under a sockpuppet account makes you scum just like pressuring/begging your friends and family to do so does. Anytime you’re lying to readers, anytime you’re attempting to jerryrig your reviews or rankings, you’re doing something unethical. And, you’ll probably be caught, and that will be bad. Really bad.
Ask yourself this, before you post something anywhere: Would I say this under my real name? If the answer is no, it’s probably not a good idea to say it.
Also? It’s totally scuzzy–I think I mentioned this yesterday–to send your family/friends/readers to rebut or comment on negative reviews.
My family and friends are expressly forbidden, and have been for years, from ever reviewing or commenting on my work in any way, anywhere online. Period.
Oh, and. Okay. Lots of us writers use pseudonyms online. I don’t mean a pseudonym like the name we write under, but like to participate in discussions elsewhere. There are a few places I hang out online where I don’t use my name; I don’t keep my identity a big secret there, but those are places where I just want to be another reader/fan/whatever, so I use a different name and don’t generally tell people who I am (although I do if asked; I’m not a spy or anything, just a writer who wants to be one of the gang). There’s nothing in the world wrong with this.
What *is* wrong, and I don’t care how big a name you are or think you are, is when you use that pseudonym to push your own books. Guys, I’ve actually refrained from recommending my books to people just because I was in my “secret identity,” and wanted to avoid even the faintest appearance of sockpuppetry (full disclosure: I did once mention my book, but it was in response to someone asking for a specific recommendation and I genuinely, objectively thought that based on her criteria she’d like it. And it was one of a half-dozen or so titles I gave her. I still felt weird about it, though, and never did it again). So it drives me nuts when I see someone hiding behind a pseudonym (which at that point really kinda becomes nothing more than a sockpuppet) constantly listing their own books as “must-reads” or whatever. Stop it. You’re not fooling anyone; do you think we don’t notice that you’re always recommending that one particular writer? ALWAYS? Do you think we don’t notice that when you tell us about your career it happens to follow the exact same trajectory as that author you’re always telling us is Teh Most Awesomest? Do you think we’re stupid and you’re just so much cleverer than we are? Because we’re not, and you’re not. Seriously, when you do that so often you don’t even look sleazy, you just look foolish and crazy egotistical.
Now that that’s out of the way…let’s get back to reviews and readers and stuff.
Okay, here’s the thing. When I was reading the long discussion thread at Goodreads over one of the latest dust-ups, I saw a comment from a reader who said that she only ever reviewed books she likes (I’m using this as an example but I’ve seen this exact discussion several times before; it was even mentioned in comments to my previous post).
Another reader replied to say that was scummy and wrong of her, that she was doing people a disservice, and that obviously her reviews weren’t trustworthy.
Now, given that this is a reader-reader issue maybe I shouldn’t even be commenting on it. But at the same time I believe every reader has the right to say whatever they want and review however they like. And I’m sorry, but since when is it anyone’s place to tell the reviewer who only wants to review books she liked that it’s wrong of her to do so? She’s entitled to review however she wants. She’s entitled to decide that books she disliked aren’t worth reviewing.
I could see the point about the reliability of her reviews had she said she gives everything a good review even if she hated it or didn’t read it or didn’t finish it. That’s lying and it’s dishonorable (*cough*HarrietKlausner*Cough*), and it means that no, your reviews are not really reliable. (More on this below.) But who are any of us to tell Reader A that she MUST review books she didn’t like if she doesn’t want to be seen as somehow worthy of mistrust? No, sorry. If you don’t want to read a site which only talks about books it likes and ignores those it didn’t, that’s fine, but it’s in no way wrong for anyone to decide they’d rather spend their time reviewing and talking about books they liked. Who are you to force her to write anything, much less reviews for books she disliked? Who are you to tell her what she is and is not allowed to discuss on her own damn blog, or in her own damn Goodreads account? Who are you to give her shit for the way she relates to books?
Personally, I only rate books I liked on Goodreads, and I’ll only mention a book here if I like it. Not out of fear or hypocrisy, but because I like to recommend things to my readers. Tastes are subjective; I think it’s a lot easier for me to say “This book is kind of like mine, so if you like mine you might very well like it,” rather than “This is nothing like mine so you won’t,” because how the hell do I know what else my readers might like? I like my Goodreads account to be a list of books I enjoy and/or find useful (in the case of nonfiction), so if I’m asked for a recommendation I can go there and see a list of books worthy of that (I don’t keep many books on my list there, but that’s because of time restrictions). That’s my choice and my right, just as it is the right of Laura Reader to decide that she only wants to spend her valuable time writing about books which gave her pleasure rather than books she found boring, stupid, infuriating, or insipid.
There are reviewers who say things like “Overall I didn’t like this, but it had these good points,” or whatever else because they want to find the positive in everything, and that’s fine too. People are entitled to write reviews with an eye toward being positive if they want, too; there are many people out there who think there’s too much negativity, or that it’s not their place to be too negative, and they’re entitled to that; you may not like it and you may decide not to pay attention to their reviews, but again, it’s not fair to attack or berate them for doing so.
Personally, while I’ll happily read and trust a site that only reviews books it likes, I won’t read and trust a site that only ever gives positive reviews despite what they thought of the book. Again, if that’s the kind of site you want to run that’s your choice and no one can or should tell you it’s wrong, but I definitely think that if that’s your editorial decision you should make that clear; don’t pretend to readers that you’re objective and honest when you’re deliberately misleading them about the quality of certain books. If you’re playing the “Let’s pass this around to every reviewer until we can find one who doesn’t puke” game, you’re not being honest with your readership. (I think you should warn them, but then I also think they’re smart enough to figure it out on their own pretty damn fast.)
And speaking as an author on this point, it means your review is “worthless” when it comes to blurbs or whatever; sorry, but if your site loves every shitty book it comes across, I’m not going to be that thrilled that it loved mine and I’m not going to quote you on my website because any fool can see it’s a “Send us anything and we’ll give it a good review” type of site. And, when I see quotes from you on the websites of other writers, I’m probably going to assume those writers haven’t been around for long, haven’t gotten many reviews at all, or–more damningly–haven’t gotten any positive ones. (And for those writers getting upset now and wondering how you’re supposed to get reviews from sites people respect, or saying your publisher Love’s Beautiful Dream sent your book to Good Reviews R Us and nowhere else so what are you supposed to do? Publishing with a house people respect is generally the first step. Stop handing your work to every fly-by-night amateur with no experience and some publishing software and you’ll find legit sites will be more likely to review you. Sorry to be harsh, but it’s true.)
This also goes if your review site is littered with typos or all of your reviews sound like those fake 5-star Amazon reviews written by the author’s best friend: “You won’t be able to put it down!….You’ll be so caught up in the beautiful story, the author did such a good job of making you feel like you’re right in the story with the characters……I can’t wait for more buy this author. I really recommend this story, it kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat with its excellent plot and great characters and story…..definitaly by this story you won’t regret it!!!” (I don’t know what the connection is between sockpuppets and pseudo-ellipsis abuse, but it’s there.)
Yes, I’m aware that as a writer my opinion of review sites doesn’t matter (beyond whether or not I’d quote you on my site). Reviews are not for me and your site is not for me. I could say, “But I’m a reader, too,” but let’s face it. We all know that’s bullshit, isn’t it? Not that I read–I read as much as I can, I love to read and always have–but that I can in any way present myself to others as one of you, just a reader reading books here, ho de do, don’t mind us readers. I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I’m no longer able to fully and completely put myself in the “not a writer but a reader” mindset, and because you won’t accept me as “not a writer but a reader” anyway.
And that’s what I’ll discuss tomorrow.