Is It Better To Be “Nice” Or Honest?
Reviews are necessary for authors. Completely necessary. As such, I feel the best way to support other independent authors is to buy, read, and review their books (or, at least, read and review if I have the option to get the book free). It's great and all to do blog tours and post when your buds release books, but, honestly, it doesn't sway me to buy the book if you haven't read it. I mean, if you haven't taken the time to read your friend's book, why should I? Give me a review, though, and I'll start to think about it.
The question, then, is how to go about reviewing a fellow author's book. Do you do the nice thing and just say the book is good (or avoid the review all together (but, remember, without the review, I won't think about buying it)) or do you be honest without regard to the good or the bad?
Giving the “nice” review (or avoiding bad reviews) is the easy thing to do. It's probably also better in the short term, and it doesn't have the risk of ruining online relationships. Heck, you might even get someone to buy a copy of a book that way (I know I have). Great short term gain, right? But is it the best thing to do?
I don't think so.
Giving an honest, objective review is a hard thing to do, especially if you know the person. You know how people respond to bad reviews (assuming the review is bad); is it worth the risk?
What's The Risk?
There are two main factors to look at here: 1. your own credibility 2. the bigger picture of the independent publishing world.
Let's talk about your own credibility. There are several (many) bloggers whose reviews I completely dismiss at this point. Why? Because they only give good reviews. It's impossible to tell if the review is “real” or not. Is this person saying the book is good because it is good or because s/he was trying to not hurt the author's feelings? I've been fooled by more than a few of these “nice” reviews, so, when I see that an author only gives positive reviews, I can't take his/her recommendations seriously. It's okay to talk about the books you love if you only talk about the books you love, but that's not the same as a review, and I'm still going to ignore any promotion you may do of another author's book unless every book you promote is obviously a book you've read and really loved.
If you only give positive reviews, you may have the short term gain of an author's gratitude, but you lose credibility as a reviewer and as someone who knows anything about writing if you continually plug books just to be nice. Yes, it affects peoples' opinion of your own writing ability if you push bad books just to be nice to your blogger friend. If you can't tell such-and-such a book is bad, that means you also can't tell if your own writing is bad. If you can't tell if your own writing is bad, I'm not going to risk reading a book that you write.
What it really comes down to if you're going to be nice is that you have to refuse promoting books you haven't read or didn't like. You have to develop a reputation of only talking about the books you really love if you want people to believe your posts about other people's books. If I buy the book on your recommendation and don't like it, at that point, at least I know that that is just an issue of taste, not being fooled into buying a bad book. Of course, the truth is, this really is a form of reviewing with the veneer of niceness. What you leave off of your list becomes just as important as the things on it, and, then, you have to have the ability to tell other authors that you can't promote their books, which risks bad feelings, and that's what you were trying to avoid to begin with right?
Think of the Long Term Repercussions
Think of the Long Term Repercussions
All of this affects the overall independent marketplace, too. One of the reasons people buy books from the traditional, big publishers is that they trust them. They trust that those guys have made some kind of judgment as to the quality of the book. By some standard, it's worth reading. People don't trust the independent market, and they don't trust it because we don't give them anything to trust.
Right now, anyone can publish any piece of trash they decide to throw out there, and there are plenty of people doing just that. And, right now, the independent book publishers (meaning, mostly, the authors themselves) are yelling, “Buy our books! They're great! It's not our fault that traditional publishers couldn't see it.” The problem is that that is just not true. The vast majority of independently published books are garbage. Not that they have to be, but they are missing so many steps in the process, especially editing, that any story that's worth reading is too hard to find. What the reader finds is garbage, and the reader finds garbage because a bunch of the author's author friends gave the book a good review to be “nice.” What the reader takes away from it is “The big publishers are right; this independent stuff is garbage. I'm not buying any more of it.”
That is something that we, as independently published authors, can't live with. We have to change the perception of the larger reading world, and the only way we can do that is by being honest. The only way we can do that is by not promoting books we haven't read. By not giving “nice” reviews to books that don't deserve it. By approaching each work as objectively as we can and having the courage to say to someone, “You need to go back to work on this.”
So what do you think? Andrew has more to say about this on his own blog today. Be sure to click on over to Strange Pegs to get more on this topic.