Self-Centered Reviews

Every once in a while, I ignore the GPS of conventional wisdom and veer onto a poorly lit side street. From the condition of the road, this appears to be one of those times.

One of the conundrums facing independent authors is the task of securing a sufficient quantity of reviews for their work. Common sense says that new readers may not be drawn to a new book until a critical mass of reviews have been written for the book. No one wants to be the first to dive into new waters. That never ends well in a movie during shark week. As a result, independent authors end up lurking in public places, begging for reviews and (occasionally) offering to wash windows in return.

One alternative to this rather pathetic display is the use of non-reciprocal reviews. The idea is that multiple authors come together and agree to read and review books by another author in the group, but not the author who is reviewing their work. That way, no one is able to trade one fawning review for another. When the system works, everyone wins. Honest reviews are written for each book and the street corners and viaducts remain free of loquacious beggars.

The problem is that most authors are human. While some will honor their commitments and write honest reviews, others will not. Some will speed through the book, skimming an entire novel in a few hours in an effort to spend as little time as possible on the review. Some may read it, but won’t bother to write their own review and will just copy and paste reviews written by others. A certain number of cretins will happily accept reviews for their own book while failing to review others.

Yes, that is reprehensible and no, there is no excuse for such behavior. The issue is that many authors are so consumed with their own self-centered desire to rack up as many reviews and/or accolades as possible for themselves that they don’t care that they are cheating other authors in the process. Even worse, they don’t care about the impact on potential readers.

Chasing after them, begging for them to honor their commitment is an obvious waste of time and energy. Scrambling after reviews in a mad race to reach a magic quantity that will coax readers to your shelf is an insane game. The solution is obvious. We can choose not to play.

If someone wants to write a review, they will. If not, there is little an author can do to persuade them to do so. While many authors may disagree with me, I would like to think that books will eventually find their audience. That may be naïve, but I would rather follow this course than hunt down self-centered reviewers.

Hang on, I think I recognize this street. I’m back on track now and my GPS can stop recalculating. You can relax now.

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