The equivalent to Fifty Shades when I was a teen

I love books.  When I was little, the book-of-the-month club was not enough.  I practically lived at my library, I borrowed books from the school.  And when I was around 12, I started working my way through the hundreds of books on my parent’s book shelves.  Which weren’t always age appropriate.  While my peers were sneaking peeks at Judy Blume, I was wide eyed over Sons and Lovers, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  One day I found a whole new stash, hidden away in the basement next to the how-to electrical and plumbing books.  I spent a lot of time in the basement from that point forward.

There are few things better than losing yourself in a good book.  I try to write reviews that show the best, as well as the areas that didn’t work for me.  I try to point out elements that I think might be deal-breakers for some, or possibly gotta-haves for another.   Most of my reviews feature new authors, the underdogs cheerfully trying to make their way out of the gate.  Some are mid-list authors who really deserve kudos for great work.  I read the big-dogs too (just finished Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost), but only occasionally review them.  Now that I’ve been doing the blog review for a few months though, a few dilemmas have crossed my path:

  • The Free Book.  Big publishers send out ARCs (advance review copies) of books, and one occasionally falls into my hand, usually as the result of a contest or a marketing campaign.  I review the book if I want to, but I don’t feel any pressure to do so, or to give a favorable review.  The ARCs come to me fairly anonymously, and although the publishing company is hoping for reviews to generate interest pre-release date, they certainly didn’t send it to me with the express request to review the book.  BUT!  I have had several offers from authors to send me a free copy of their book.  There is definitely an implication that they are hoping for a review.  This is a common practice, and it’s a good way to get your book in the hands of a reviewer who may not otherwise buy it.  For high volume reviewers, or multi-reviewer sites, this may work, but for me it doesn’t.  I did receive a free short story once.  THANKFULLY I liked it and was able to give it a good review.  As soon as I said ‘yes’ and had it in my hands, I was full of angst.  What if I hated the story?  I’d need to give the author the heads-up that I was not going to write a favorable review.  Should I give them the option to not-review?  I would never fluff a review to appease an author.  What if they hated me?  Threw psychic tomatoes at my front door?

Now I decline the free offers.  I don’t even tell an author I’ve purchased their book until I’m enough into it to let them know I like it.  I do write the occasional critical review, but I dislike some books so much that any review that I wrote would be harsh. I’m not the writer’s English 101 teacher, I’m not a paid crit editor.  This probably makes me a coward, but in those cases I just let my silence speak for itself.

  • The Review Swap.  I’ve heard of this too, but unlike the Free Book, I don’t like it at all.  In the Review Swap, two authors agree to send each other their books, and then basically trade reviews.  I’m ALL for reciprocation.  If someone buys my book, there’s a good chance I’ll pick up theirs.  If I like it, I’ll review it, but I don’t want to ever feel like there is some kind of quid pro quo going on.  If I write a glowing review on their book, is the glowing one they wrote for me really sincere?  If I’m at all critical and honest, will they be hurt?  Will the psychic tomatoes start raining on my door?  If we agree to approve the review first, and I hate her review of my book, does that mean she gets to use my glowing one?  Honestly, I just don’t want to go there at all.  Which brings me to:
  • Fear of Mean People. They’re like that ant infestation in my kitchen.  They’re everywhere and just when I think I’ve got them licked, more sneak in.  The internet is filled with horror stories of authors-gone-wild.  These bad apples argue with reviewers, get their buddies to gang up on them, and worse.  There was one nut case who hounded a Goodreads reviewer on a specially set up website, including posting personal information about the reviewer.  The poor reviewer was ready to take out a restraining order.  Yes.  That bad.  I’ve never had that happen to me, thankfully.  I try to write my reviews as honestly as possible, and even if I don’t like a book, I make sure to point out what the author did right.  Still, as I recall from my Human Resources days, some people are very sensitive to even the slightest criticism.  And now I’m an author too.  It’s not just the psychic tomatoes I fear, it’s actual retaliation.  If some nut case is angry enough to dig for personal information and post it on a hate website, what will they do to my poor defenseless book?  Will they and their buddies overwhelm Amazon with one star reviews to kill my stats?  Write a horrible review of my book solely in retaliation?

Some authors have stated that they no longer post any critical reviews.  They’ll put up the four and five star ones on the books they love, but if they feel the book should receive anything less, they don’t review.  But then how is a consumer to make an informed purchase?  If there are three books with the same reviews because no one has the dangly bits to say “this one has issues IMO


    • Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

    • 10 years ago

    Review swaps are notoriously problematic. Some authors swap 5* reviews without even reading the books (“I give your book five stars if you give mine five” ) and the review is something generic (“Wonderful book! Unputdownable!) .
    I’ve attempted review swaps in the past, insisting on honest reviews. The authors all agreed that they wanted honest reviews… but when my honesty compelled me to point out flaws and give less than five stars, the authors took offence.
    In one case, we agreed that if we did not like the other’s book, we would say so and cancel the arrangement without hard feeling. This seemed a good opt-out clause. However, when I told an author that after reading the first chapter I didn’t want to read on because it wasn’t my kind of book, she informed haughtily that I was mistaken: since her book was brilliant, I obviously loved it and was merely too mean to admit it.
    Another author gave my novel a five star review (“the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read”) and demanded I give her novel five stars as well. After reading the sample chapters, I declined. She promptly deleted her review.
    It gets worse. One author (not personally known to me) whose book I reviewed critically emailed me with a demand to change my review to 5* – otherwise he would give all my books negative reviews, and would get all his friends to do the same. Hmm.
    So now I stay clear of all reciprocal review arrangements.

    1. That’s exactly the kind of nightmare I’m worried about! I’m very honest about my reviews, and although it stings, I really appreciate knowing where I’ve missed the mark in my own writing. I can scent out the mean and weird reviews, but not all readers might. I hate that anyone has to fret about this stuff!

  1. I empathize with your feelings. It’s really tempting for me as a noob to ask to trade reviews with someone because my book has none so far (my friends and family are staying clear of the stigma that goes with overzealous reviews). But I’ve resisted on the grounds you mentioned. I think the difference between authors and readers is those negative reviews. As authors, posting bad reviews can lead to retaliation and depending on the manner in which it is done, can be really tacky. The problem is that most writers are voracious readers, too, so as customers we still get a say, right? It’s a conundrum I’ve yet to work through, but this blog hits many true points.

    1. It is really difficult to get those first few reviews. My book has only been out for a week, but I hope I’ll get one posted up there soon. (Hopefully a favorable one!) Hang in there!

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