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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ethics and the Writer

There's been a lot of press lately about paid reviews, people who try to damage an author's career by leaving one-star reviews, and authors who use a pseudonym "similar" or the same as a famous author. 

Let me add one more--authors who hijack an existing popular title and use it in part or whole for their own work. I'm not talking about parody books, but books that are simply using the title to catch unsuspecting readers.

But here's the thing about all these gray areas of ethical behavior. It's been happening since the beginning. No one has ever cornered the market on questionable behavior. It isn't new. It's just gone digital.

And what might seem vulgar to me might look like brilliant strategy to someone else. 

The other day, I caught an ad on Craigslist from a guy begging people to give his books five-stars. Can we get any more brazen than to ask the man and woman on the street to give you five stars for a book they've never read? He didn't care if you read the books or even if you liked them. Maybe he thought this was smart marketing, but I was embarrassed for him.

But let's bring it closer to home. How many of you have left a "kind" review because that person was your friend and you didn't want to hurt his feelings? Is that any less ethical?

While I've never lied on a review, I once left off an issue that bugged me in a friend's book. No one else mentioned it, so it seems it was just a personal bugaboo. Still, if I were completely honest, I'd reveal warts and all.

On someone else's book, I found some grievous formatting errors. I opted to write the author rather than put it in my review so she could fix them. Whether she did or not, I don't know.

Manipulation of the system is a constantly shifting beast subject to interpretation.

You're welcome to disagree with me if you think maneuvering readers to try a book is a means to the end.

As a tool, manipulation is successful in the short term. But if the writing turns out to be less than stellar, it'll hurt you for a lot longer than it helped.

It' a gamble. Are you that good--or that lucky? How do you feel about the current crop of "incentives"? Would you try any of them as an experiment? 

Have you ever been unduly kind in a review to spare someone's feelings? 

And for God's sakes, please don't say you did that for me. LOL!


Renee Miller said...

Back in the day, as in before I knew much of anything, I used to be ridiculously kind in my reviews. I know, hard to believe, eh? Now, I just can't do it. I'm not unfairly harsh (I don't think). Most of the time I try to find something good to say. Even if it's a 1 star review and 200 words of "What's this shit I just read?" and only 10 words of "good job" I try to find at least that much. Someone put a lot of blood and sweat into that book, so they deserve at least a small pat.

As far as friends, it's tough. I've politely declined to review most books written by friends and acquaintances that I felt were subpar or that just weren't my cup of tea, because I felt I couldn't be honest without hurting them.

And no, I've never been unduly kind when reviewing your books.

Maria Zannini said...

Renee: In the old days, if I truly didn't like a book, I quietly declined to review it. Nowadays, it's just a lack of time.

Though occasionally I will review a book I loved because I want others to love it too.

L.G.Smith said...

Er, this sort of came up recently for me. I've made it a policy not to write book reviews for people I "know". I do leave starred ratings, but I just don't feel comfortable reviewing other people's work like that. Partly because I do find myself fudging the truth to be NICE, sometimes nicer than the book deserves. And, yes, I admit to giving friends a one star bump on their books, when, really, if I didn't know them I might have given it a little lower rating. Gah, I'm a horrible person. :(

Maria Zannini said...

LG: LOL. Not horrible. Just kind. :)

That's interesting that you prefer to leave stars to reviews. I'm just the opposite. I've never liked stars.

To me, it reduces the book to a number and I don't see how I can rank a totally subjective experience to a number.

LD Masterson said...

I rarely write reviews. Not because I don't want to but because I suck at it. Not sure why. I either end up with something too simple: "I loved this book." Or I go way too in depth: "And then on page 27, the author did a very nice job of revealing..."

Sadly, this gets me off the hook as far as writing too-kind reviews for friends. If I like a book, I'll "Like" it on Amazon (or wherever) and I'll promote on my blog/Facebook and I'll even buy extra copies and give them as gifts, but I don't write reviews.

Diane Carlisle said...

I've written reviews before and I'm completely honest in my reviews, whether for a friend or a complete stranger. The reviewer's integrity is at stake each and every time they write a review, so why shouldn't their opinion be straight up?

If I read a favorable review and purchase the book, the reviewer looks worse than the author if it turns out to be crap.

Always be honest, and if for any reason you can't be honest, don't write the review.

Angela Brown said...

If you've ever read a review I've done on my blog, I'm not big on stars or any of that stuff. I like to share what worked for me and what didn't work for me because I know that what is golden to me may be trash and crap to someone else.

Any review I've done for you, Maria, hasn't been out of kindness. It was a reader's true feelings. And it would be the same today :-)

Giacomo Giammatteo said...

Good points, Maria. I am honest with my reviews, but like you, there have been a few that I opted to not post and write the author instead. And like Renee said, there is always something nice you can say, but you can't cover up flaws. If we're going to post reviews, we owe it to the readers to be honest about it.

As to your books, Maria, I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read them, but Mikki has read two of them now and liked them a lot.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. How are you doing in your war against the scorpions?

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Hi Maria,
I will write a review if I love a book. I will give it five stars, and do a quick review. However, I don't do reviews for friends, I don't lie, and if I don't like a novel there is no review. It's as simple as that. I also don't ask friend to undertake reviews.

I was sent an email recently by an author asking me to review their novel. I said, If I don't like it I won't be able to undertake a review. I didn't hear back from them. Hmmm. :)

I've seen a few authors rave on about their friends book, and I mean on and on, yet it does nothing for me to make me think it must be a great book.

I think deep down it is the sense of achievment for me. If someone likes my novels they'll do a review, and at times if they don't they still do a review. lol That's okay because I have to take the good with the bad.

Have a great day. :)

Stacy McKitrick said...

I suck at reviews, but I'll usually say something on Goodreads AFTER I've read the book (basically if I liked it or not and maybe why - if I knew why. Sometimes I don't know why - is that strange?).

I read how some people refuse to leave bad reviews, but if everything is good, are you being honest? You might as well not leave ANY reviews at all.

I'm not saying to trash the author (I would never do that), but what's wrong with saying WHY you didn't like a certain book?

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: Ref: ...I'll even buy extra copies and give them as gifts, but I don't write reviews.

That's one of the nicest ways to truly show an author support.

Words are cheap, but talking with your wallet says buckets.

Maria Zannini said...

Diane: And yet, I've read some lousy reviews on a book and I ended up loving. So who was right?

As long as you can preface it with: "I feel/think whatever" you've covered your integrity.

There is no one size fits all.


Angela: I actually like the way you do reviews. (Raelyn Barclay too). It's not high and mighty dissertation, but rather one reader talking to another.

You put me on your level rather than preach to me. I like it.

Maria Zannini said...

Jim: I don't take you for a paranormal romance junkie so I let you slide. :)

Ref: scorpions
We have them on the run, but they learn quickly. After two days, they're learning to avoid my traps. Da bums!

Maria Zannini said...

Suzanne: I used to think it was an achievement to me if I earned reviews, but too many people (me included) just never get around to writing reviews.

It's time consuming and often the last thing I think to do.


Stacy: Books are so personal. It's not like writing a review for a toaster. I can tell you precisely what I liked and what I didn't. But a book review is a series of intangibles.

When I read a review, all I want to know is if the author was consistent. Did she deliver a good ending? And were the characters believable? I don't really care about the reviewer's personal bugaboos. I just want to know if the story was worth opening my wallet.

KarenG said...

Since I'm an extremely picky reader, I'd have to say I'm kind in all my reviews. I don't say everything that bugs me in a book. And as long as I enjoyed the reading experience overall that's what I write about in a review. If I give a book 1 or 2 stars that means there was very little enjoyment for me, even upset me it was so bad. But these are few and far between. And I only post my reviews on Goodreads, not Amazon, where a 1 star review will hurt sales.

Maria Zannini said...

Karen: That's an excellent point about Amazon. And that's very responsible of you not to allow Amazon to dictate sales based on stars. Kudos!

Darke Conteur said...

I have written reviews after reading books written by friends, but I'm VERY picky as to what I read. There's only one book written by a friend that I didn't review. I didn't care for it. She's never asked about it either.

Your post and other has got me thinking. Maybe I should stop. Mind you, it's not like I write a good review for a bad book.

I don't know any more.

Jenny Schwartz said...

I write positive reviews. Why? because it makes me consider why I read to the end of a book. If the book was truly bad, I'd have thrown it away (or deleted it from my kindle -- which isn't as much fun as the bin lid slamming closed). I've found it's a useful exercise to examine why I kept reading. That and positive reviews are my bit of balance for all the negative **** on the net :)

Maria Zannini said...

Darke: And let's not even get into authors who bash reviewers if they don't get five stars and butt-kissing. Sometimes the world is very mean.


Jenny: That's such a nice way to look at it. I like the idea of balance and reviewing for the sake of analysis.

I don't owe a review to the author, but I don't owe it to the reader either. I'm just sharing what I got out of it.

If it helps someone, fine. But my real reason to review is to analyze what I read, why I liked it, and why it stuck with me long after it was read.

Angelina Rain said...

I've seen authors do all those things you just mentioned and then some. In this digital age, I've seen a lot of author spamming their books, and oddly enough, that actually works for many of them. I might actually try that, although I think it's kinda a low blow.

I get turned off when authors beg for reviews. and I hate it when they review their own work while pretending to be a reader.

As for being "kind" in a review, I've done it to a degree. If the book has several issues, I will name most of them, but will let one slip by without me bringing it up. I think we all give our friends more leeway.

Melissa McClone said...

I don't review books so I don't need to worry about it. I don't send out review copies (my upcoming release is on Net Galleys so I may actually see more than 1 or 2 reviews.) I would hope no one would post a review just to be nice. Either post your true opinion or just don't bother. Nor would I pay or trade reviews. It just seems wrong to me.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yeah, I've been guilty of being a little extra kind on reviews for friends. Ack, I never thought of it as being unethical. :(

But I think you can have all the great reviews you want, it's still word of mouth that will have it sell well.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: "spam" is actually a post in itself. The number one rule of advertising is repetition. This is why companies use the same message for a very long time.

But in the digital world, this has been renamed as spam even though it's the same thing as a repeated commercial.

The best thing to do is to send your message to as many different communities and audiences.

Maria Zannini said...

Melissa: Not reviewing might be best option of all. Maybe authors and BFFs of authors should be denied to review. I wonder how many legitimate reviews there would be then.


Jennifer: But to play devil's advocate, don't all reviewers do that on some level? If something or someone resonates with us on an intimate level, don't we gush a little bit more than normal? And if something rubbed us the wrong way, aren't we more angry for seeing it in the book?

I read all reviews with a grain of salt and read between the lines.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I don't think I've ever lied in a book review, though I have bumped people up a star because I thought they were awesome as people. ^_^

Mike Keyton said...

I'm okay with sound-bites but I'm crap at reviews. A friend of mine, Kate Monroe tweeted she'd love to be paid for reading free books and reviewing them. To me that would be hell - like doing 'homework' after enjoying a read. Like the dreaded post holiday English essay 'What did you do on your holiday'. I'm rambling. Renee, however, is very good at reviews. I've read them.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: I often wonder how much the number of stars help an author. I know I have a tendency to disregard 5 star and 1 star reviews and concentrate on the ones in the middle.


Mike: I enjoy analyzing novels, but never as a job. You're right. It would seem too much like work. I analyze it more for myself anyway. And as long as I typed it out I might as well post it. LOL.

Renee writes great reviews! I always feel honored when she chooses to review me.

Angelina Rain said...

Wow, Maria, that's an interesting lesson about "spam". I always thought of it as a bit shameful to constantly post the same things about owns own book over and over, but now that you compare it to a TV ad, it makes sense. I've been thinking of "spamming" my own works as they don't seem to be selling well and authors who spam are usually high up on those bestsellers lists.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: I should write a post on spam and pseudo spam.

Nas said...

Hi Maria!

I always try my level best to give an honest review of a book I read but if I didn't like a book, I just don't review it.