Not long ago a friend of mine received an email from a traditionally published science fiction writer she knows. “Will you review my new book on Amazon?” he asked her.
“But I haven’t read it,” she wrote back, “and I don’t have time right now.”
“That’s OK,” he replied. “Just say it’s my best book yet and give it four stars.”
I’ve never been naive enough to believe that many reviews of independently published books were written by people other than the writer’s friends and mother. Just reading a few of the four-star reviewed books would quickly dispel that notion. But until I became a published author myself, I had no idea how far writers would go to get reviews, or how brazen potential reviewers were in asking for money to write them.
I received a friend request on Goodreads. My new buddy said she would love to review my book. Of course, she was very busy, so if I wanted to guarantee it would be posted, I needed to send her $5.00.
Not all review requests are so obviously unethical. I belong to a Goodreads group called Authors and Reviewers. I posted that I was looking for reviews for my new book Goddess. A science fiction writer asked if I’d like to trade reviews. It sounded like quid pro quo to me. And what would happen if I hated his book and wrote my review first?
I do sometimes write reviews for friends and fellow writers. I tell myself that it’s okay as long as I’m honest, but if the book is mediocre, I find myself pulling my punches, saying things like “the author shows a lot of promise” or “the book only has a few typos.”
I was thinking about how the less-than-honest review problem could be eliminated, or at least mitigated. I came up with two ideas.
What if there was a curated section of Kindle books? Unpaid interns would cull through the thousands of recently published e-books and pick out the ones that were interesting. Much like the New York Times book section, famous authors would then write reviews of them. Could you imagine the boost an independent author would receive if Stephen King reviewed his new horror novel, or Julia Quinn reviewed her new romance novel? Plus, Famous Author would feel great about discovering a promising new voice.
Of course, Famous Author might hate your book, but that’s the chance you take.
Another idea I had is already used by screenplay peer review websites like Talentville. What if, before an indie author could publish her book, she was required to read and review five randomly selected books by other indie authors in her favorite genre? That system isn’t perfect–many reviewers write lazy reviews–but at least it would afford authors the chance to garner a few honest reviews without resorting to desperate measures.
But until the current review status quo, I will have to resort to asking romance readers to buy and review my book with no strings attached.
Including sexual favors.