Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I don’t ask family and friends to review my books online

The New York Times ran a fascinating and freaky article about Amazon’s evolving policy in policing book reviews.

Apparently, if a family member and/or friend of an author posts a review of said author’s book, Amazon will remove the review.

Unless I missed this, the article does not explain how Amazon knows who a person’s family and friends are. This is not the first time we’ve heard that our online activity often reveals more to sites than we may realize, yet it never stops being creepy.

I don’t believe the article specifies if Amazon removes all reviews by people an author knows. Seems like algorithms can’t do all the heavy lifting here, and manually culling certain reviews would be time-consuming. 

Also unaddressed: unlikely as it seems, what if a loved one writes a negative review? (Looking at you, frenemies.) Would Amazon delete that, too?

I found one comment perplexing and perhaps paradoxical. An Amazon spokesman: ‘We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.’”

So Amazon will remove reviews by people who have read a book and know the author but not ones by people who have not read the book. This does not have the best interest of the consumer in mind.

A review is, by unverified definition, commentary on an item with which the reviewer has engaged. And the definition does not place any conditions on the reviewer—it could be anybody.

Just because your mom or first grade teacher or secret crush reviews your book does not automatically mean I will disregard it. If it’s not just a gushing review but a well-observed gushing review, I don’t care who wrote it. I would take that over a poorly written review by someone the author has never met.

This brings me to the policy announced in the post title: I do not to ask my inner circle to review my books.

I do brazenly e-mail family and friends (and status update, and tweet) about my new releases, signings, and speaking engagements—but I feel that is less ethically questionable and it’s certainly more private. Whether or not a person responds to such an e-mail remains between that person and me.

However, asking a confidante to post a review ultimately involves others. It is a form of mass, if mild, deception.

I want all user reviews to come from people who are users, not used. When an author asks relatives and friends to post a review, some who liked the book oblige not because they feel they have something distinct to add to the conversation but simply because they want to help a person they care about. Some who did not like the book might oblige for the same reason. And some might do so out of guilt.

None of it leads to organic feedback. I wouldn’t want to put a loved one in any of these awkward positions. 

But if a friend voluntarily posts a review, I’ll welcome it because it has a sincere origin.

The last question: what about asking strangers—for example, readers of one’s blog—to review your book?

You see how easily this gets murky?

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