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Home » op-eds, self publishing, Two Midlist Indies

On Amazon’s new review policy…

Submitted by on November 6, 2012 – 10:23 am 2 Comments
English: Third generation Amazon Kindle

English: Third generation Amazon Kindle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Character, they say, is what you do when nobody sees you, for people who can do you no good. It’s also all you have left when you’ve lost everything else. At least, that’s what I was taught. You didn’t lie, you didn’t cheat, and you didn’t pad your resume. And isn’t that what you do when you give yourself a good review? Especially when you use sock puppets to give yourself lots of them? Isn’t that cheating? After all, if you did it in business, it would be grounds for firing.

Sock Puppet Star

Sock Puppet Star (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of people say it’s a non-issue. That it doesn’t really do any harm. Except to your reputation. And, to a certain extent, to that of all writers, because it renders ALL our reviews suspect. How, after all, is the reader who uses reviews as part of their decision-making process to know whether the review he or she  is reading is real. For the same reason, it affects Amazon, since it must answer to its customers. Once Amazon became aware that some reviews might not be completely honest, they were bound to respond. As they had to respond a few years ago to false reviews on products by  manufacturers or their factotums. It was a deceptive practice – deceptive to the buyer, their customer. Or at least they had to give the appearance of doing so. After all, how long does a company stay in business when they actively deceive their primary customer? No harm? How long do people trust Independent writers when readers know they falsify reviews?

 

What about compensated reviews? Amazon’s original policy allowed them. From a company like Kirkus, that openly advertises that its a paid entity but also states quite clearly that it doesn’t promise a positive review, it’s fine. (They do give writers the option of not having it posted in Amazon, but the review itself is retained on Kirkus’s website.) HOWEVER. As several on-line reviewers have complained of late, writers don’t always take those negative reviews well, and some get downright belligerent. Some reviewers have stopped reviewing, some are afraid to offer anything other than three star reviews and above. Given that, how much more so will writers protest a paid negative review?

What about writer to writer reviews? After all, who knows us better than ourselves? I’ll be honest and say that I think most writers give good reviews to other writers – but there is a point to be made that we might be a little too forgiving, or too critical. And at least one of those writers falsifying their own reviews was also posting negative reviews on other writer’s work. And, as some of you may or may not know, I’ve been threatened with negative reviews by writers frustrated that I don’t allow promotion on one of my sites. I have reason to believe on or two of them have followed through – when the individual reviewing only has one book review up, or it’s just a generic snark, you have to wonder.

 

Amazon’s decision to not allow writers to comment on other writers is to protect us from our less than…um… honorable… brethren. You know, the ones who write negative reviews of other writers.

Did Amazon’s action harm writers? Certainly having fairly written reviews removed did.

Does it help? Possibly, if it keeps writers from giving each other unearned reviews, both positive and negative. How can a positive review be unearned? Well, did you read it? Did you perhaps fail to notice that there were basic spelling and grammar errors, but the story was mostly good, and you’ll give a little extra leeway to another indie writer? Because you know how tough it is, and after all they make mistakes in traditional novels, too. Or did you give a harsher one than necessary? One reviewer of mine said they deducted points from one of my books because of “a few” typos. Few to me is three or four. Mistakes do happen, and in a large novel,  three or four typos isn’t bad. (One wasn’t a typo, btw, if was ‘voice’.)

And some of you may give unearned negative reviews inadvertently, if you review another writer based on your own particular standard of writing – you wouldn’t have written it that way, it wasn’t your style, vampires aren’t sparkly, no sex except in romance novels, etc.

Really, though, if it’s not your cup of tea, you shouldn’t review it at all, that’s not fair to the writer. Unless, of course, you’re a reviewer by trade, then you should be honest and say it wasn’t your cup of tea, but give points if the characters were good, or the plot was intriguing. Or say that the characters or plot just didn’t appeal to you, but they might to others. That’s both fair and honest.

In the end, though, it still comes back to the primary question about character. And writing – do you trust your book enough for it to stand on its own, without the need to puff it up?

Of course, these days character isn’t considered important. It’s an old-fashioned notion. After all, we accept that it’s going to and does happen in politics, in business, etc., so why not in writing?

That in the end is a decision each writer has to make – does it matter, or doesn’t it? But given the opportunity Amazon gives writers, blaming Amazon for protecting its customers and suppliers (writers) isn’t necessarily the right, or best, thing to do. Or they might begin to find that Indie writers are a bit more nuisance than they’re worth. After all, they did quite well without us before…

For more information on Amazon’s official customer review policy – http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines

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2 Comments »

  • OG Tomes says:

    I have been aware of the less than honest and know some personally but out in the swirl of Indie publishing, I have chosen to keep my moral standard and give honest reviews: anything less than a 4 star and I privately contact the author if it is known publicly that I am reading the book with the intent to review it. All I ever expect in return is the very same professional courtesy. What’s just as good as an honest review? Honest feedback. Another side to this coin are the writers who want to do a review but expect you the author to edit it. I still haven’t been able to get that one settled as even remotely right. As for Amazon’s new policy… maybe it will weed out the dishonesty and if you think about… there are many more places than just Amazon to post a review with plenty of exposure.

    • Kai says:

      Less than four stars? Seriously?
      I mean, I can kinda see the point of warning them if it’s one star, or two stars, but less than four? That’s just….
      *boggle*
      As for ‘professional courtesy’. It’s pretty much fair to say that if I’m asked to review a book, I’ll review a book. I’ll let the author know what the review was if it’s horrible, but I’m not going to back away from submitting just because of ‘professional courtesy’. And I expect others to review my work just as honestly.

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