Why an Author Should Never Ask a Fellow-Author (or group member) to Review His/Her Book.
How many times did you see the plea for review of their book by someone who is in your group, and either a fellow-author or a new writer that the publisher (if you have one) has brought ‘in.’ Too many. I see them all the time. Then there are those who ‘connect’ with you on facebook or twitter just for that purpose and once again, ask—sometimes directly, sometimes in a roundabout way—to review their book.
You’d like to help. Sure. I did—once and will never again review a book written by someone who is ‘associated’ with me in any capacity; whether it’s on facebook, in my publisher’s groups or elsewhere. I do not review other fellow-author’s books. Period. You shouldn’t either.
Why…when all you want is to help someone else whose need for review is as great as yours? Well, think about why you are being asked for a review. What is expected of you? If it were only to read the book and say, okay, I’ve done it, then it’s no contest. But you are expected to not only read it, but praise it to heaven high and award it 5-stars.
Can you do it…to any book that you’re asked to review…furthermore to a book most likely written by a newbie writer who is bold enough to sail out there without either spending years polishing his writing craft, or without hiring a ghost-writer? What are you going to say to this writer, anxiously awaiting your praise and 5-stars when you can’t even get past the first couple of pages full of awkward prose, incorrect punctuation and plain horrifically boring run-on sentences?
I’m not talking about “errors” that Amazon is so idiotically boasting to ‘catch’ and flag. Spelling errors are the easiest to forgive. Happens to all of us. I’m talking about what Amazon never can and never will be able to correct—coherent storytelling, vibrant prose, rhythm of the sentences, correct sentence structure, linear progression, timeline-connectivity, credible characters and their motivations and a slew of other things Amazon knows nothing about. You agree to review someone’s first or even third or fourth book and you’re caught. You can squeeze out a two-sentence praise. Anyone’s capable of that. But can you award 5-star rating to such a book, knowing that someone, somewhere might pick it up solely on your 5-star recommendation? I can’t. I cringe when I think about it. Yeah, I could defend my lack of good taste and knowledge if it came to that but even though that reader would not be able to trace me, the writer would want to ‘advertise’ my rating further to promote his/her work. After all, that’s why we want reviews.
All right, let’s say the writing is solid. Then there’s still the pitfall of the story—genre itself. Yeah, you’ll promise you will never review a book outside of your preferred genre…yeah, good thinking. Except you stand a very good chance of discovering that someone else’s definition of what constitutes the genre that YOU love to read, is vastly different from yours. This is personal experience now—I agreed to ‘look’ through a book of fellow author, no other promise given. It was being heavily promoted as a mystery. My favorite genre. Thirty-pages into the novel I have yet to find a kernel of the story or any mystery in it. I ploughed through it and at the end concluded it was something written in angst or…something. That was the only mystery I found in it. It wasn’t even a story, just a loosely put together string of events where the event was tiny and inconsequential and the characters’ angst and soul-searching so huge it floated away with every page. I barely finished it and then sat there, agonizing over what I was going to say to the author…one of my fellow-authors from a very active group. If I gave it less than 4-stars I’d have to explain why—the last thing I wanted to do and believe me, the last thing you’ll want to do. And even if I gave it 4-stars, I’d have to explain what happened to the fifth one. Long story short, I didn’t review it. I found a ton of excuses why I didn’t have time and hated myself for it but it was better to tell a white lie (I am really busy so that’s no lie) than to alienate that writer for good.
Oh, you think there was a chance the writer would have been gracious and thanked me for pointing out his/her mistakes? Not a chance. I’ve been a member of Fiction Writing Workshop (Fiction Writing Workshop FICTION@lists.psu.edu) for more than 15 years now and believe me when I say, NO ONE, but NO ONE likes criticism, including myself, it’s the gospel-truth. No matter how well intentioned, criticism hurts. Seasoned writers (yeah, I’m one of them) have learned to get over that hurt feeling fast enough and well enough to actually take a step back and analyse any critical input. Often it has merit, sometimes it doesn’t. However, very few writers coming into the ‘game’ have developed their writing craft and author-identity to a degree that will allow them to actually accept a 3-star rating and learn from it. I would never award a 2-star rating to any book. NO book deserves that. The sheer effort of producing a book is worth 3-stars, regardless of its quality.
My advice is this. Don’t review any work of any person who is connected to you in any possible way. Yeah, you can review work of strangers. I do. Still I try to pick works that at least have ‘accomplished’ prose and storytelling, even if I don’t like the overall presentation or the characters. The easiest is to review work of established best-selling writers. They could care less what rating you give them or even if you do. That’s what makes it so satisfying for you to actually be able to say what you thought of the story and its presentation. You’re not affecting anyone, least of all yourself, in the process.
Reviews have become crucial to every writer. However, I maintain that unless you can truthfully say why the book deserves 4 or 5-star rating, and actually mean every word you put down, don’t review that friend’s book. If you are still brave enough and feel that once having read the book and thus accepted the review-commitment, you can’t award it more than 3 stars, clear it with the author first. Yep, it’ll be horrifically difficult. You’ll stand a good chance or never hearing from that writer again. You might even get back a nasty response…but at least you can clear that stale breath from your lungs and breathe again freely. And lastly, never ever rate any book 2-stars or lower. Those kind of ratings are reserved for malicious trolls who have nothing better to do than see if they can get around whatever blocks Amazon is attempting to implement, and still make their hoof-mark.
And lastly, a tongue-in-cheek reflection. If you have managed to open up 10 individual profiles/accounts on Amazon, each under a different alias, with the sole purpose of using a few of them to boost your colleagues’ or friends’ books through reviews, more power to you. Unfortunately I have only one account, under my own name, so if that’s the case for you, I’d advise to take care of your name—as a writer and as a reviewer.
Here are a couple of places where you can ‘obtain’ reviews. https://choosybookworm.com/book-reviews/ Choosy’s Read-and-Review Program is not cheap. They only have two entries in the program.
$125 (Standard) and $299 (Premium) – and no, you are not paying for reviews and believe it or not, Amazon allows this kind of ‘service.’ For $125 you are ‘promised’ to be put in touch with 30-35 (30 is minimum and 35 is bonus-max) interested readers via their email addresses. Your book takes about 1.5 months to ‘schedule’ on Choosy Bookworm’s site as ‘available for reviews.’ So it’s not much different from those facebook read and review groups. It takes forever before “Choosy” sends you a notice that an interested reader (name is given) wants to read and review your book. Email is provided. You are expected to send a free/gift e-book to that reader who then may–or more likely may not–give you a review at some point down the road. Choosy claims to follow up with the interested reader after a month or so, but hey, if you don’t get a review, that’s all part of the deal that YOU accept and pay for $125 to $299. Pricey. Amazon will allow a review if the reader states that they received a gift from author as part of Choosy’s “Read-and-Review” Program. Go figure.
What can you expect realistically? Nothing, really. You may get 1 or more reviews–average is about 3 and I don’t know of any author who received more than 5 from about 35 gift-ebooks she sent out. I don’t know anyone who did $299 premium feature.
Then there is “Reading Deals” – http://readingdeals.com/reviews They have two options, $39 (US) and $79 (US) for 10-15 reviews of your book, same principle as Choosy’s – yor ebook is picked up by the interested reader and they read it and provide a review. 10 interested readers is all you can expect from these guys once they put the word out that your book is up for reviews. A little better delivery stats here because out of those 10 interested readers almost each and everyone will give you a review. What’s the catch? There always is, you know. It can take upward of ONE year or more for the Reading Deals to actually ‘give out’ your book to 10 interested readers. Here you provide the book as epub to Reading Deals and they post it and then the interested reader picks it up. Reading Deals sends you periodic emails (once very couple of weeks) advising you of how many interested readers your book ‘caught.’ A year from the day you buy this service, it’s very normal to have 5 or less interested readers. Positive side is that those 5 readers would have done the review.
More will come on this difficult topic.