Two years on from “sockpuppetgate” – when certain authors were discovered to be posting negative reviews of books they deemed to be in competition with their own – there is still confusion and dissent about the ethics and etiquette of authors reviewing other authors' books. This post shares self-published authors' current views on the issue and includes the latest guidance on reviewing practice from Amazon.
The following comments are taken from a recent private conversation between ALLi members after one had spotted a group of trade-published romance authors systematically posting rave reviews of each other's books across multiple platforms. The names of the participants have been removed to protect their privacy.
Is it ethical to take part in a mutually beneficial reviewing circle?
- “When you've got the same circle of people reviewing each other's books, the natural assumption is that reviews are not honest reviews. They appear to have been arranged, which reeks of quid pro quo and gaming the system. A few honest reviews between fellow authors? I don't have a problem with that. But the same eight people systematically exchanging reviews of each other's work across multiple venues? That seems fraudulent to me, little different than buying fake reviews.”
- “Even if the reviews are honest, even if one believes this is ethical behavior, it *looks* dishonest. It casts doubt on all the legitimate reviews for that book. And there's a very real chance that it could blow up in all of their faces at some point.”
- “I don't think there is anything wrong with this if they are honest reviews. People should be allowed to review books written by their friends. Just because they are friends doesn't mean their opinion isn't valid. If they are just rating them all 5 stars without reading them, then sure, that's foul-play. But there isn't any way to prove that. And I think assuming foul-play before being sure it's foul-play is like assuming someone is guilty of a crime until proven innocent.”
- “I feel very strongly about this because I have made at least 50 fabulous author friends online over the past four years. Does that mean I'm not allowed to review their books? It shouldn't. And I wouldn't stand for it if someone said I couldn't.”
- “It's a myth that Amazon and certain parties like to perpetuate that it removes all indie authors' reviews of other indie authors books. I've done dozens of them and I'm not sure that any of them have ever been removed. Please don't tell Amazon! But my conscience is clear: they are books I've read and enjoyed, I give honest and detailed reviews (which shows I have actually read the books), and I review more books now than before they started trying to discourage author reviews from reviewing, because I don't like my views suppressed. What I find much more irksome is the way trade publishers buy quotes from high profile authors and other celebrities to put on the covers of other authors' books. Has Stephen Fry really read and enjoyed all the books that bear his endorsement on their covers? I don't think so.”
- “Here's a hypothetical twist: what if there were twenty authors all reviewing one another's work and inflating their ratings with five-star reviews? Would that be kosher? I know a circle of 5 YA authors who do that – all rate each other's book 5 stars. Every single time, every person in the group. It does inflate their ratings, especially with titles not yet released, which is why I believe they do it.”
- “Is it any different to what used to happen before Amazon et al, when publishers would send books pre-publication to, let's say, a famous thriller writer for a review, who would get a good review in return from the same writer? Not as well organised as this cabal sounds, but not that different … ?”
- “If the author is a friend, or you have the same agent or publisher, an ethical reviewer will state that in a review. If you receive a free copy for review you're legally obliged to state that.”
- “I thought Amazon at least had vowed to remove all such reviews? And I'm surprised the Goodreads bloodhounds haven't sniffed it out!”
- “Two years ago, Amazon went on a review massacre, a rampage that was in direct response to the bad press about John Locke and friends buying their reviews. They also issued correspondence stating that authors were in the same category as manufacturers, and therefore could not review any book because it was a conflict of interest. They went overboard, and they have dialed it back since then, so we should be careful not to make assumptions based on their behavior in 2012.”
- “I spoke with an Amazon rep on May 26th to clarify their policy, and he stated clearly: “Authors are allowed to review any book they wish to review, as long as it is not their own book.” Amazon states this on their site as well: “Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.). If so, that author isn't eligible to write a Customer Review for that book. Personal relationship” is open to interpretation, but the policy is not to remove reviews simply because the reviewer happens to be an author.”
Two years on, the aftermath of the initial scandal continues to trouble authors, and particularly indies, but it should not stop you writing honest reviews about other authors' books, provided you are open about any free review copies received and the nature of your relationship. Of course, just like any other readers, not all authors are eager reviewers or feel comfortable writing reviews, but if you want to do it, don't let your status as an author constrain you.
OVER TO YOU Please feel free to join the debate via the comments section at the end – but remember that this is an open website, and your name will be published against any comment left there.
“Is it safe to start reviewing other authors' books again? Did you ever stop? Thoughts from indie authors via @IndieAuthorALLi: www.selfpublishingadvice.org/ethics-of-reviewing/”