By Iola GoultonIt’s no secret that there are fake reviews on Amazon. Indie author John Locke has admitted to buying reviews, ‘entrepreneur’ Todd Rutherford admits to selling them, a Gartner study shows 10%-15% of online reviews are fake, and studies show consumers have difficulty identifying fake reviews (many people don’t even know it’s a problem).
Some authors are prepared to let ethics fall by the wayside in the quest for the almighty dollar. I’d love to say that Christians are immune to unethical or dishonest behaviour, but I’ve seen this isn’t the case.
Narelle Atkins recently posted on author etiquette, particularly in regard to online interaction with readers. It was apparent the ‘rules’ are slightly different depending on where you are posting:
- Retail sites (e.g. Amazon): don’t interact with reviewers
- Reader sites (e.g. Goodreads): you can thank reviewers, but don’t criticise reviews
- Reader blogs (e.g. AusJenny or Iola’s Christian Reads): it’s nice to receive a comment from the author on a review, and I think readers like the interaction. I agree with Narelle that authors should absolutely visit and comment if they have requested the review or been interviewed. That small courtesy certainly leaves me more responsive to hosting the author again.
- Social Networks (e.g. Facebook or Twitter): it’s fine to like or retweet positive comments or reviews, but best not to mention critical reviews.
In all cases, monitor the review site for a while before you comment, as this will help you understand the unwritten rules. For something like Facebook pages or Goodreads groups, be aware that different groups and authors have different views on author comments and author marketing. Lurk (read without commenting) until you are certain your post or comment is appropriate for the group. Read the welcome messages or check the group files to see if they have etiquette guidelines. For example, Australasian Christian Writers Facebook Group has etiquette guidelines for self-promotion.
One author asked if it was all right to contact a reviewer privately to ask about something that was puzzling in the review. I think this is perfectly acceptable when you know the reviewer in real life or online (e.g. when you’ve approached the reviewer to offer a copy of the book to review).
It’s less clear-cut when the review is part of a blog tour organised by a promotional company, through NetGalley, or simply a review that appears on Amazon. In this case, I think you look at the content of the blog and judge for yourself. Of course, it’s only an option if the reviewer makes their email address available on their blog (e.g. through the contact page). If you can’t find their contact details easily, that probably means they don’t want to be contacted.
If you have no relationship or existing connection with the reviewer, please be aware that the reviewer may not appreciate being contacted and queried about the review. Reviewers aren’t your beta-reader. You shouldn’t be using reviews as a way of receiving specific writing craft feedback. That is the role of your editor and critique group.
Over the next few months I’m going to address some of the common questions authors have regarding online reviews:
- Should authors review?
- What can authors review?
- What do Amazon and other reviewing sites permit? What don’t they allow?
- Can I copy my reviews?
- What can I do if my reviews are deleted?
- How can I get honest reviews of my books?
- Why do some readers and reviewers write mean-spirited reviews that can hurt authors?
I’m going to start with the final question, because I think it’s important to understand some of the recent history in online reviewing.
It’s not that readers and reviewers are mean to authors. It’s more that reviewers have seen so much dishonest and unethical behaviour online that they react to it—and sometimes over-react. You can help reader-author relations by displaying good author etiquette.
Don’t be part of the problem; become part of the solution.
Join me next week for a post on some of the background to online reviewing. Meanwhile, leave a comment and let me know what questions you’d like answered regarding author ethics.
By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (www.christianediting.co.nz), or follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christianediting), Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).
I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog (www.christianreads.blogspot.com). I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.