“If you read my book and give it five stars, I’ll read your book and give it five stars.”
Seriously. That’s what many writers agree to do, and I get it. Really, I get it. We need to help each other out, we who battle to make a name for ourselves in the self-publishing industry. After all, if we don’t give one another five star reviews, who will? Who does it hurt, anyway? No one takes these reviews too seriously.
Ah. But that’s where the argument breaks down, not so much for moral reasons, but more for practical ones. You see, Amazon had adopted a new policy thanks to this mutual back patting among and between writers. It has begun removing many reviews added by writers to its website. The thinking goes: how can we trust a review written by a writer? They’re a mischievous, deceitful lot, they are.
Wow. I don’t like this new policy at all. It condemns a whole group based on the misdeeds, the exaggerations, the innocent white lies, of a few. I’m aggrieved that Amazon has done this. And yet . . . I understand it too.
I understand it because I for one cannot set aside my moral objections to trading mutual good reviews with other writers. The concept of a “tit for a tat, or a back scratch for a back scratch doesn’t sit right with me. Don’t get me wrong. I want to write good reviews. I want to like everything my fellow wordsmiths fashion, because it’s a lonely profession and one that demands commitment and hard work.
And it’s painful to receive mediocre or even (gasp) poor reviews. We writers, we artists, are a sensitive lot. We spend months and years creating a single product, and it’s next to impossible not to invest at least some of our self-worth in whatever book or books we release. It’s deadly of course to allow our self-worth to be connected to or conditioned upon how well-received our work is. When we do that, it makes our self-worth an unfixed thing outside of our control.
And when we expect our friends and acquaintances to provide only favorable reviews of our work, it connects the friendship to the product we’re selling, and this hurts us in more than one way. For one thing, it devalues the unconditional nature of each friendship. We should be loved for who we are, not for what we create or for how well we rate our friend’s creations. Basically, it takes our self-worth, ties it to both what we sell and to what our friends enjoy buying and reading, mixes the entire thing up into a toxic brew and before we know it, we’ve lost a real sense of who our friends are and why they love us.
It hurts friendships. It hurts our ability to love ourselves and be loved unconditionally. It makes reviews untrustworthy. And quite simply, it’s not honest.
I recommend that we preserve our integrity as writers, artists and readers and refuse to trade good reviews for good reviews. By all means ask your friends to give your work a shot. But ask them for their honest take. And promise that it won’t affect your friendship one way or the other. After all, deep down, what really matters is how we view our own work. Right?