It’s Not About You…Unless You Make It That Way

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (do people even understand what that means anymore?), I feel the need to talk about authors responding to reviews. Yes, again. My apologies in advance for beating the dead horse, but apparently, it’s like the old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and not quite dead yet.

Why do I say this? Check out these links:

Finished with your reading? Depressed, shocked, and horrified yet? Thought so.

Before I go on, I’m going to be completely honest here. I have responded to reviews. I believe I have always been polite and respectful in doing so and that no one would accuse me of “behaving badly” in those interactions. However, I was wrong to do so. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And the reason I was wrong is because the instant I posted a comment on a review of my book, I made it about me.

And that, my friends, is the reason authors shouldn’t comment on their reviews. Over and over, I hear authors say that that reviews should be about their books, not about them. But then they persist in making it about them by commenting. It doesn’t matter whether the comment is polite and respectful or mean and nasty. It doesn’t matter whether the review is positive or negative, or whether author is trying to change the reviewer’s opinion or not. The second the author puts his or her oar in, the book is no longer the issue; the author is.

I’m the first to admit that it’s difficult to sit on your hands in the face of a bad review. It is also hard to sit on them in the face of a glowing one or if the person who has posted the review is someone with whom you have a friendship that extends beyond the context of author-reader. In the latter case, it almost feels rude not to acknowledge and thank the reviewer for their kind words. The problem is, those kind words aren’t for you. (Neither are unkind ones, by the way.) So unless the reviewer explicitly invites you into the discussion, you need to keep your grubby fingers off the keyboard. Whatever your relationship with the reviewer, it’s not your relationship with everyone who will read the review and potentially want to discuss the book. But if you’re there, hovering like Big Brother, any discussion of the book is likely to be stifled because people know they’re being watched. And whether you’re perceived as nice or mean, it’s probably pretty likely that people won’t feel they can be truly honest as soon as your presence is perceived.

Should authors be allowed to discuss their books with readers? Absolutely. It’s just that reviews aren’t the place to do it. Use your own website/blog for that stuff or guest posts you’re explicitly invited to do on other blogs. Otherwise, shut up and let the discussion be about your books. Because that’s what you want.

Why Is It Wrong to Rate Your Own Book?

This morning, a writer friends IM’d me to show me a five-star review of a book on Amazon–posted by the author herself. I’m not going to tell you the title of the book or the name of the author, because it’s not relevant to the question and I don’t want to cause trouble for the author. But it did make me ask the question that is the title of the post. Becuse as much as I have a knee-jerk reaction and think rating/reviewing your own book is a bad practice, I’m not sure it’s an objective or reasonable reaction.

The thing is, authors are expected to promote their books. Promoting your book with commitment and enthusiasm presumes that you think it’s a good book, that it’s worth buying and reading. Is adding a positive rating for that book on Amazon or GoodReads or LibraryThing really so different from going onto a blog and touting your book’s merits there? I suppose you could argue that because it’s a given that an author loves her own book, giving it a five-star rating is a little redundant, but is it really so an issue? Especially assuming the author posts the rating/review in her own name, thereby allowing anyone who reads it to discount it as an indictor of how well readers liked it.

In fact, I’d argue that posting a review of your own book under an assumed identity is far, far worse than doing so openly because it doesn’t allow readers to consider the source. The problem is that, short of the author inadvertently outing the alternative identity of the sockpuppet, it’s prctically impossible to know whether an author is engaged in this behavior or not. Which is all the more reason I wonder if we are making the ratings system less honest rather than moreso by discouraging authors from rating their own books. We wouldn’t discourage politicians from voting for themselves in elections, so why do we think authors shouldn’t “vote for themselves” in the court of public opinion?

All of that said, I’m not exactly in favor of authors rating and reviewing their own books. It just seems desperate and even a little pathetic. I’m just not sure why it SHOULD. Maybe it’s really just honesty.

Am I wrong? Tell me why…