I was talking with my friend and fellow writer MaryBeth last night, and we were criticizing the work of a published writer we both know a bit through social media. I logged onto Goodreads, where I am an admitted newbie, to check out what other people thought of the book we were discussing.
It was like people were discussing a completely different book than the one we’d read. There were five-star reviews everywhere. Now, I understand that Goodreads ratings are the subjective view of the reader: The rating system breaks down incrementally from “didn’t like it” (one star) to “it was amazing!” (five stars). There were a number of reviews on there which were much more truthful (“it was ok” [two stars]), but they were drowned out by the chorus of falsely positive reviews.
Of course, then I read this: In a race to out-rave, five-star reviews go for $5. Now, I don’t know if this writer paid for people to positively review her work or got a bunch of friends to go skew the ratings. Either way, it’s not cool, and if you’ve read the book, you KNOW the kind of rating it deserves.
When I review a book, I take several things into account, whether it’s a commercial book or an indie publication: Is the story well-told? Is the writing strong and appropriate for the genre? Is the premise (or dialogue or character) a cliche’? Is this person an experienced writer or first-time novelist? Is the book riddled with errors that drag readers from the story?
Basically, I review with the idea that if I’m going to put my name on a post, then I’m proud of my opinion and can back up what I say. I’m also not going to lie about what I think. When I tell you that a book is good, it’s good. When I tell you it’s bad, it’s bad. The truth is that a lot of books fall somewhere in the middle: they’re good, but they often have problems. I’ll point out both sides, and will usually tell you whether I’m happy I spent my money on the book. That, IMO, lends me a credibility that the $5 reviewers don’t have.
Also, if I receive a free (or Advanced Reader Copy) of a book, I’ll tell you. If I get any swag for reviewing a book, I’ll tell you. It is ridiculous not to do so. It’s unfair to the potential reader a review reaches.
I think that’s my biggest problem with the fake five-star review. If you engage in this practice, you may be “helping” a writer in the short term, with sales. But you’re shortchanging the writer, who probably needs to know that his or her book needs work–sometimes MAJOR work. A tough review can help a writer in the long run by showing him or her areas in which to improve.
Most importantly, you’re cheating the reader–that’s the person who is plunking down their hard-earned dollars to buy your book. Basically, if you engage in this practice, it’s theft by deception. Plus, there’s another unintended consequence: You cheat people this way, and they won’t buy your next book. So you have to decide: do you want the short sale or the long money?
Let your work speak for itself, and let the reviews fall where they may. You may get fewer sales, but you’ll be able to live with yourself — and the new fans you do make will stay with you for your next book.