Another wonderful post from David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants newsletter. If you would like to receive his daily newsletter go to his website and create an account: http://www.davidfarland.net/members/. Or you can go to the “writing tips” section of his website to find them.
Amazon.com did a fascinating thing a few days ago: they banned authors from reviewing other authors’ books. As I understand it, author quotes and reviews were just stripped away.
This is a pretty big step here in America. Amazon.com is now the nation’s largest bookseller, and as an author, my income from book sales comes mostly from them.
So, why did they do it?
The answer of course is the authors themselves. Some authors have behaved in ways that are so dishonest, they are criminal. A few years ago, Amazon had reviewers use handles when granting reviews. Then one day, the real names of reviewers accidentally showed up on some books. One author, it turned out, had gone to more than a hundred websites, written bad reviews of a competitor’s book, and then directed them to go check out his own book, in order to find a really great read.
Lately, I’ve been hearing about authors contacting one another offering to “give a rave review in return for a rave.” I’ve even gotten a couple of those emails myself. I thought that the proposition was outrageous.
Other authors have gone so far as to “buy” rave reviews. Apparently someone started a company last year where they offered rave reviews. If you bought a hundred or more, you got a discount. At least one author purchased hundreds of reviews, and thus was able to sell hundreds of thousands of books. In this case, the company’s services were illegal, and the government closed them down. But I saw ads on Facebook offering the same services a week later.
Then of course there are the authors who send out sock puppets to do their dirty work. I had a publisher suspend orders on a bestselling book a couple of years ago, after a competing author in a very narrow field sent nasty letters to the publisher, put up dishonest reviews online, sent a letter campaign to the bookstores, and then had her close friends do the same.
In short, a mean-spirited author can do a lot of damage.
So, Amazon.com’s policy has been undertaken with good intentions, but unfortunately it won’t do much to stop corrupt practices by certain authors.
You see, authors are creative people by nature. Like Br’er Fox in the old Uncle Remus tales, if they can’t get in one way, they’ll find another route. As a science fiction writer, I admit to having gone to a World Science Fiction Convention, looked around, and thought, “You know, with a small bomb I could get rid of nearly all of my competition.” Show some restraint, my friends.
As an author and a critic, it has long been my practice to only give reviews to books that I genuinely like. I don’t have to think that it’s the greatest book ever written (we can’t all be Shakespeare), but it does have to excite me and persuade me that others will like it, too.
I don’t give negative reviews to books. If I don’t like one, I toss it aside. I don’t have time to read books that I don’t like. I figure that in most cases, lesser books will sink into anonymity. (Though one megahit last year mystified me.)
The really sad part about this is that it puts a gag on writers. If I read a story that I think is brilliant and beautiful and worthy of praise, Amazon.com says they will not let me comment on the book.
Oh well, maybe I can do a little identity theft, create a name under an aging neighbor’s account and tell the world anyway. It won’t have much of an effect—unless I do it a thousand times for each book that I like.