Saturday 23 August 2014

You’ve Only Got One Review

Signs of a problem: review count says 1; ‘refresh’ key looks worn.

The symptoms: impatience; fear; disappointment.

People prefer to buy books that have numerous reviews, but how do you get reviews if people don’t buy your book? It can feel like a catch-22, but there is a way forward.

Whatever you do, do not fake a review. You may think you’re being clever by signing up a new account under the name Hermitrude Winklebottom … You may think you’re throwing people off the scent by including a mild negative comment … You may think that spelling your pen name wrong adds authenticity…

Faking reviews is immoral, dishonest, unfair on your fellow writers and could come back to bite you in the arse when you’re rich and famous.

In fact, if you fake reviews, they could come back to bite you in the arse within days. Genuine critical reviewers are likely to go to town on you if your reviews don’t match the quality of your book. ‘WHAT?’ shrieks Mrs Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer, ‘Thirteen five star reviews? They must be fake. It was as entertaining as watching a wing mirror de-mist.’

Then there’s the reaction when potential readers notice that Hermitrude Winklebottom, Hedrik Globber and Melicity Booblemocker have each only reviewed one book, and one book alone (none of which are verified purchases).

You might get away with faking one or two reviews but pulling off a large-scale undetectable review fraud campaign would involve so much effort that even a duplicitous swine with no conscience would find it easier to go down the ethical route.

I do understand the temptation. I once faked a review for an entire hour. I had a book rapidly climbing the charts and then an early reviewer gave it two stars. I panicked and rushed off a quick review. Immediately, it started eating away at me – guilt, prickles, fear… I tore it down in a red-faced hurry and resolved to redeem myself by taking a more ethical approach from thereon.

Some authors believe it’s acceptable to use a subscription service to get reviews. Authors pay a website to hook them up with reviewers who enjoy books in the relevant genres. The reviewers aren’t paid, just the intermediary. This is a tricky grey area. Paying people to review your book is certainly considered unethical, but in this case, you’re not paying the reviewer but the middle man. This reduces the likelihood of reviewers feeling obligated to give a good review. However, it is still exchanging money for reviews. Often authors can cherry pick reviewers, only agreeing to provide free copies to those who consistently award four or five stars. In my opinion, it’s best to steer clear of any review scheme in which money changes hands.

It is, however, deemed acceptable to offer complimentary review copies in exchange for honest reviews. Publishers have been sending free books to newspaper columnists for decades. Join a few forums and search the web for review blogs that deal with your genre or the themes in your book, then politely ask if anybody would like a no-strings review copy. It’s best not to send books without prior arrangement as you could waste resources and annoy the reviewer. You might think your sex-filled crime thriller has universal appeal but the author of ‘Sister Sarah’s Christian Fiction Selection’ might not. If your book is appealing enough, it shouldn’t take you long to gather a dozen or so reviews.

In my opinion, it is acceptable for a small percentage of your reviews to have been written by people you know, provided that they’re honest opinions. When you start out, almost all your readers will be friends, family and colleagues. However, you should refrain from letting too many pals post reviews, certainly discourage anybody from lying about reading or enjoying the book and never, under any circumstances, let anybody sign off ‘Love, Mum’.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Jim Webster

There are ways to cope with this, some work better in person. When mingling with other literati, whether in the flesh or on forums you have to affect a yawn and in a world weary voice say, “Reviews? Why they’re so passé, they’re so yesterday. Nobody worries about reviews nowadays.”

As you can see, this works better in the flesh, few people can convey the yawn without excessive use of html.

Another option is to play the battle hardened survivor. When asked about your lack of reviews, just shrug and say, “Flame war, long story, courts won’t allow me to talk about it, but at least that troll isn’t going to lurk under my bridge anymore.” Then change the flow of the conversation before anybody tries to get enough detail out of you to enable them to check your story on Google.

But perhaps you want more reviews? Well at this point you have to realise that if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. If you’re going to set up a false persona to review your book, as has been mentioned above, this is going to be rapidly spotted. So the obvious thing to do is to set up your false persona before you even start writing.

Okay, so it’s a little late now, but we can still do something. Firstly get that persona created and clock up the reviews. Avoid just reviewing books, or people will soon spot that you’ve reviewed one thousand four hundred and twenty two books, all of which you have apparently read in the same six week period. Review everything. Books, cordless drills, cardboard cut-outs of celebrities, sex toys, miscellaneous white goods. Get them reviews written. Then, after a year or so of hard work, with your writing style perfected through constant practice, write a book under the pen name of your new persona, and that way you can do a review of that book under your own name without anybody becoming any the wiser!

As an aside, once you get a reputation for reviewing stuff other than books, companies will start sending you things for review, and selling them off online will help fund your writing career.

Finally, you could always do what the big names do. Just give the job of writing reviews to the company interns.

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