Monday, 30 June 2014

Reviewing Ethics: Where can Authors Review?

By Iola Goulton


Last week we asked whether authors should review books (I trust I persuaded you). This week we are going to look at where authors can post their reviews online.

Commercial sites

Commercial sites are any sites which sell books directly. These include Amazon, ChristianBook, Koorong, DeeperShopping, Book Depository, and Smashwords.

As discussed previously, authors are permitted to review on Amazon, but need to be careful they are within the Reviewing Guidelines. This means not writing any review which could be seen as promotional, either to promote your own books or those of a colleague (e.g. from the same publisher), or to denigrate books in the same category which could be seen as competing.

It also means:

  • Review under your author name, not a pseudonym
  • Don’t include the word ‘Author’ in your Amazon reviewer name
  • Don’t include ‘Author of …’ or refer to your own books in your reviews

If you choose to review on Amazon, review a wide range of titles. Don’t only review books by friends or authors from your publisher, as that will look like a reviewing circle.

Some authors do choose to review under a pseudonym. If you do, you need to act as a regular customer, not an author. This means:

  • Review everything under the same pseudonym
  • If you copy reviews across sites (e.g. reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads), use the same pseudonym across all those sites
  • Never mention your own books in reviews or discussions
  • Never comment on reviews of your books. This catches a lot of authors out.
  • Always remain within the reviewing guidelines. Your real name might not be visible to customers, but the retailer has your real name and address.

Overall, I think it’s easier to use your own name.

Reader Sites

Reader sites don’t sell books directly (although they might link to retail sites, and they might earn an affiliate commission from those links). Reader sites include Goodreads, Library Thing, Shelfari, Riffle, BookLikes. Note that Goodreads and Shelfari are both owned by Amazon.

Reader sites are a more problematic than retail sites for author/reviewers. If you’ve been using a site like Goodreads for a while (months, if not years), and are a member of different discussion groups, then it might appear strange to change the way you use the site simply because you are now a published author. So continue using the site as you have done—although you may decide not to review any books you rate below a certain level.

If you are a published author and you’ve never used Goodreads, I suggest you set up an author page, perhaps link your blog, and then sign out. Do nothing. Observe for a period (perhaps months) before deciding if this is a community you want to be part of. Goodreads is a complex site with its own culture, and a lot of author-vs.-reviewer angst could have been prevented if authors made the effort to get to know the site and its users before jumping in.

If you decide to participate in the Goodreads community, participate as a reader. Don’t mention your books, or the fact you are an author. If people are interested, they will view your profile, see you are an author, and may be interested enough to try one of your books.

I think the major thing to know about Goodreads is that members use the rating system in a variety of ways. One star often means “I don’t want to read this book”. They might not like the cover. They might not like the blurb. They might object to the way the author behaves online. They might not like Christian fiction (in which case, it might be an example of Christian persecution, which calls to mind Paul’s pesky injunction from Romans 12:14, to bless those who persecute you).

I understand this behaviour annoys authors, who see it dragging down their average rating. But Goodreads is for readers, and since Goodreads banned shelf names that were about the author not the book (after certain authors complained about “abusive” shelf names, like “badly behaved author” or “reviews own books”). Many Goodreaders now one-star such books.

Personal Website or Blog

This is your personal space, so review away. Host blog tours. Endorse. Influence. Interview authors. Guest post on other blogs. Gush about everyone and everything. Blog readers want to connect with the author, so give them the opportunity to connect with as many of your author friends as you want.

The advantage of reviewing on your personal blog is that you don’t need to use any kind of rating system. When I see authors complaining online about reviews, it’s usually the star rating that first caught their attention. They forget the ratings are subjective: one star on Goodreads means “I didn’t like it”.

I didn’t like Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Vanity Fair, but they are classics, and I’m not about to question their contribution to our literary culture.

My only proviso with promoting other authors through your blog is that readers will judge your writing based on the writing of those authors you choose to endorse and influence. If you write Christian romance, you probably don’t want to be endorsing an author who specialises in erotica. If you review a book with obvious writing or editing issues, and don’t mention them in your review, I’m going to think you didn’t notice them—which makes me wonder about the quality of your own writing.

That's the end of this series of posts. I'll be back in a few weeks with two final posts to finish my series on reviewing, and will be looking at copyright, and how to get reviews deleted.

Do you have any other reviewing questions?

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.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Iola,
    Thanks for another post I'll bookmark for reference. It's good to have clear guidelines set out. I remember a time when I was calling myself 'Paula Vince, author' because I'd taken the lead of several other Amazon reviewers I'd seen and thought that was the proper thing to do.

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    1. That's a good point, Paula. Just because "everyone" is doing it doesn't make it right.

      Personally, I don't see anything wrong with "Paula Vince, Author", because it tells people clearly you are an author and your reviews are written from that mindset. But then some people took it a step further and called themselves "Joe Bloggs, Award-winning author of XXX", which did cross the line into self-promotion.

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  2. Hmm, yes, uh-hah! Oh, that's why. And it does pay to be cautious. What else can I say but thanks for such an informative post, Iola.

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  3. Iola, great post! I think transparency is important for maintaining integrity. If authors review using their own name, follow the reviewing site rules, and make all the right declarations eg. free review copy, author is in their critique group etc. they're not likely to mislead readers.

    The Goodreads rating system is interesting. I can understand why Goodreads members, who use the site as a way to keep track of their reading library, may want to designate a book or author in a 'never want to read again' category. It's unfortunate that one of the only ways they can do this is via the ratings system. Maybe Goodreads will look into adding a new feature to the site to address this issue?

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    1. Could Goodreads add a new feature to address this issue? Probably, but there is every chance those authors who objected before will object again. Personally, I'd have thought a random shelf with no star rating was better than a one-star rating.

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  4. Thanks Iola. I've appreciated these posts on reviewing.

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  5. Thanks Iola for a charting a path through the maze.

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  6. Dale, Jeanette - I'm pleased you've found them useful.

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