After a lot of careful consideration, months of it really, I’ve decided against doing “tit for tat” book reviews. What do I mean by that? I mean I’ll no longer trade reviews with other writers. The idea goes like this: I’ll review your book if you review mine.
There are several reasons why I’ve decided upon this course of action. One of the most obvious is that you cannot trust reviews if the person doing the review is held hostage by his own book’s review. This has actually happened to me. A writer said he/she would review my book and afterward suggested I read his/hers. I said I’d be glad to do so only to find that this person would not release a review on my book, until I posted the review of their book, for fear that I might give them a low rating. Expecting a good review, and not receiving it, they might have given my book a lower rating than warranted. Perhaps they wished to give me a bad review, or even a less than stellar review, but were afraid of retribution from me. I’ve even heard of authors going back and lowering reviews they’ve given to others after receiving poor reviews of their own work—payback.
This same system of trading for reviews gives a bad impression of Indie authors. The notion that we may bolster each other’s reviews in order to get something for ourselves makes all our reviews suspect. It’s a messy business.
I don’t want to see this happen, as I know the majority of Indie authors are honest, hard-working writers. Many also review books regularly on their blogs, and for book review websites, and I’ve found these reviewers for the most part to be very honest individuals.
My good friend, Maria Savva, is the perfect example of this. She runs a forum with a couple of her friends, Darcia Helle and Stacy Juba, called, BestsellerBound.com—a wonderful place for Indie writers to discuss their trade. When I first joined, I thought it best to read a few of their books to see what I thought of them as writers. Maria Savva’s, A Time to Tell, is a wonderful read and so I posted a review of it, giving a well deserved five stars. Maria and I had never discussed reviewing each other’s work and so when she decided some months later to review my novel for BookPleasures.com I was elated. Here’s a link to the five star review she posted on Amazon.com.
Maria didn’t owe it to me to give it a high rating, she had no book review that I was holding hostage; she simply liked my writing. I wish I could say all reviews of my book were five stars, but I cannot. Reviewers should be honest and straight forward, without the fear of retribution from their fellow writers, because we all benefit from such transparency.
You might wonder what prompted me to write about this. I had just started reading the novel, Rock & Roll Homicide, by RJ McDonnell, a fellow Indie writer. I had gotten about a chapter in when I decided that I was really going to like this book. I don’t know if I’ll feel the same at the end. Will I love the plot? Do the characters work to the very end? If I make it to the end and thoroughly enjoy it as much as I hope to, I’d like to write a review to tell the world it is worth their time to have a read.
Yet, just before starting McDonnell’s book, I read the first few pages of another Indie author’s book and was surprised by the poor quality of writing. I am not a book reviewer by trade, and I don’t wish to be. So, I’ve no reason to continue to read this book, I’ve no review promised, I’ve no reason to hurt this person’s career or ego by giving them a low review (one star I presume at this point), and frankly I don’t want to suffer reading through it without reason. The only possible reason I might have had to read it would be if I had a book review held hostage by the author; I’m happy to say, I don’t.
I hope my friends in the Indie community understand this, it’s not meant as a reflection upon any individual writers, but rather on the seemingly unethical approach to reviews it may portray to our potential readers. It’s important in these changing times when the author has become his/her own publisher that the Indie community is viewed as above reproach. It’s equally important that the cream-of-the-crop can rise to the top because reviewers feel they can be completely candid. And so I will no longer write “tit for tat” reviews and I hope others will follow suit.
Someone once said that you should only read the best books in order to be a great writer, allowing only superb prose to affect your writing style. That, in my book, is a huge vote against “tit for tat” reviews.