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Thread: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Getting Reviews

  1. #1
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Getting Reviews

    I hadn't wanted to resort to what I perceived as being less honest means (eg buying reviews), but when it comes to reviews I guess it's going to be necessary if one wants to compete in this business. I'm just not sure how far one needs to hide such activities and risk being openly seen as being a "cheat". Is it cheating anyway? Business is business.
    I'm not sure how relevant my viewpoint is. Many people on this forum seem to equate selling something with something underhanded. But the fact of the matter is, if you're in business, then you're in business to make money. Making money in business means you have to sell. Period. End of story. Call it what you want, dress it up any way you want, put lipstick on it, and call it something else, but you're still in business to make money. You're only fooling yourself if you think otherwise. The view point of "I'm in business, but I don't want anyone to perceive me as trying to sell them something" baffles me. If you opened a shop on main street would you stand in the doorway and caution customers who wanted to come inside with "I don't want you to think I'm trying to sell you something." Everyone KNOWS you're trying to sell something already because you opened a shop on main street! The same is true of the internet. They already know you're trying to sell them something, to act otherwise is just going to make them distrust you more.

    While I understand the uncomfortable feeling of selling, and I struggled with it myself for many years, at the end of the day it all boils down to fear. If you have a business, you are in business to sell. If you aren't selling, then you aren't in business. In Europe, my guess is, selling is associated with something low class, tacky, or beneath an "honest" person or making an honest living. If this is the way you feel, you shouldn't be in business for yourself. You're doing a disservice to yourself and everyone around you.

    Yes, there are dishonest ways of selling, and there are dishonest sales people. They use unscrupulous tactics, they cheat people, they steal from people, they ruin lives. I can say the same about every single one of your politicians, bankers, and I'll even go so far as to say, you can find dishonest people in any occupation, anywhere. There are dishonest school teachers, priests, and babysitters. Dishonesty is not confined to the business class only. If that is the way you perceive yourself, then that is the way others will perceive you as well. Just because there are dishonest internet sellers doesn't make YOU one of them by default or association.

    If you have a good product, if you know it is high quality, if you know it is better than your competitors, if you know that you are doing everything honestly, you should be PROUD to sell it. Because if they don't buy from you, there is a good chance they will get cheated somewhere else. If you're not proud of your own product, then I would ask why are you selling it to begin with? If you are ashamed of your own product, isn't it time to go back to the drawing board and either retire or create a better product you're not ashamed of?

    If you already have a good product and if you aren't doing everything in your power to sell your product, you are cheating yourself, and your customers. If you have a good product, there is no reason to cheat, or use subterfuge, or try and trick people. Nor do you need to. Quality will sell itself. But that doesn't mean it isn't your responsibility to put it in front of as many people as possible and give anyone the opportunity to buy it. That doesn't mean you don't use every ethical means available to you. That's called marketing. If they don't buy, then they don't buy. It is no reflection on you. It is a reflection on them. Even so, not everyone will love your product and want to throw you a parade when you come to town. There are a lot of haters in this world, and even more on the internet. Not to mention your competitors will hate to see you succeed. Get used to it.

    My father used to say "If the ignorati isn't talking trash about you, then you're doing nothing worthwhile."

    Keep in mind, there is a difference between "Amazon laws" and what I call, "natural laws." A natural law is "Thou shalt not steal." An Amazon law is "You can only do X, but if you do you, before doing Z, and then immediately after, do A, followed by C, D, F, and G. File each report in triplicate and submit separately to department A, B, C, and D." One is realistic, the other is man-made, made to benefit only one person or organization, and is intentionally misleading and confusing. There is only one purpose for legalese and that is to screw you. Otherwise, they could write the same thing in plain English. Legalese simply invites you to find a way around it, because adhering to it only puts you at a disadvantage. Notice I said "a way around it." (Not disregard or ignore it) Is beating someone at their own game dishonest? It seems to me if they are trying to screw you, then the first dishonesty is on them.

    In US law, if someone is being dishonest with you, you're under no obligation to HELP them steal from you. The concept is even enshrined in tax law. "Tax avoidance is legal, tax evasion is not." (Bend the law all you want, but don't break it.)

    So what does that have to do with reviews? Everything. You already know you'll need between 300 to 500 downloads to get one review. That means, getting it in front of A LOT of people. THAT means marketing. Marketing means selling. Selling is business. Without selling you won't make any money, and you won't be in business. The line between "avoiding" the laws and "evading" them is a thin one, and up to your interpretation.

    My opinion only.
    Last edited by Kay; 6 March 2014 at 12:59 am. Reason: Promoted to front page article

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    Andy (15 March 2014), Chabrenas (6 March 2014), Dave McM (6 March 2014), JimWaller (6 March 2014), Kay (6 March 2014)

  3. #2
    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    As every book writer and publisher knows, reviews are an important means to drive sales for your books. We've been discussing the issue for some time in the Premium Lounge and have some great content about getting more reviews (why, where, how). However, the question of ethics came up (again). I asked David to post here in the hope of creating a wider discussion from various different perspectives. Please do join in and share your opinions.

    I just can't get comfortable with doing more than nagging my friends to write a review if they've liked my book. This is woefully inadequate, of course. Most people just "forget" and/or they just don't understand how important reviews are to those of us selling books. Even if you can get your friends to leave a review, you're still competing with the numbers that other authors are getting. (You need these numbers to drive your book up in the search rankings.) It's all very well to say that good content will attract good reviews. It would be nice to think so. But the reality is that for most people the process needs a kick start. And that often means buying reviews.

    It's certainly legal to do so, but is it ethical? I tend to think of many paid reviews as being shills, although some paid-for reviews are honest and there's no obligation for the reviewer to leave a positive review. There have also been some cases where successful authors have been outed and reviled when it's discovered that they artificially boosted their popularity by paying for reviews. John Locke is an infamous example.

    As a customer, no doubt you don't believe a word of the reviews on Amazon anyway. Does it matter to you that some of them are shills?

    Do you ever give reviews that aren't entirely honest, eg rate higher because you know the author?

    As a seller, how would you feel about buying reviews? Would you feel squeaky clean about it? Would you publicly admit to doing it?

    I'm still kinda on the fence about it all. I want to do it but it still feels grubby somehow. I'm trying to convince myself it's just like SEO. The whole point is to game the Amazon algo into thinking my books are popular, therefore they'll rank me higher, and I'll make more sales. Do you agree that it's just gaming the algo?

    What's your take on it all?
    British Expat - helping people to live and work abroad since the year 2000.

    The joy of Internet delivery - the cartoon illustrating this will make you laugh!



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  5. #3
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    It's certainly legal to do so, but is it ethical?
    The publishing industry does it all the time and they do it with every book they promote. If Random House approaches the NYT and wants to take out a full page ad, don't you think the NYT is going to get one of their book reviewers involved? Does that make the NYT unethical? Lots of authors get get preview copies of other authors' works in order to review, does that make Stephen King unethical? Why is it OK and ethical for publishing houses and big time authors to do it, but not OK and unethical for everyone else?

    Does it matter to you that some of them are shills?
    Does it matter to you that "9 out of 10 dentists recommend Colgate toothpaste?" You know it's BS, and you know they jigged the results. But if they hired 10 dentists and gave them $1000 a piece, to anonymously say they recommend it, and it's legal to do so, what difference does it make? It's my job to separate BS from fact, and not believe a paid actor simply because he's wearing a white lab coat.

    Do you ever give reviews that aren't entirely honest, eg rate higher because you know the author?
    Of course. But that still doesn't mean I give 5 stars to crap. Nor does it mean I think my opinion is the end all, and be all of literature. My definition of trash may be another reader's masterpiece. Every single book I buy some people praised it, and others loathed it. It's MY job to determine if a book is right for me, not some anonymous reviewer.

    As a seller, how would you feel about buying reviews? Would you feel squeaky clean about it? Would you publicly admit to doing it?
    Would I buy them? If I had too, but I've never had to. Would I feel good about it? I would feel about the same as if I bought ad space in a magazine or a TV spot. What I would feel bad about is that I had to pay money for something other people get for free. Would I admit it publicly? No. Not because I'm ashamed of doing so, but because my business tactics and resources are no one else's business.

    The whole point is to game the Amazon algo into thinking my books are popular, therefore they'll rank me higher, and I'll make more sales. Do you agree that it's just gaming the algo?
    I disagree that it's "gaming the algro." Amazon wants, and profits by, you selling more books. If you do, they reward you by going up in their search results. So if both parties are in agreement as to their outcomes, how is that "gaming" the algro? By your definition, then, the algro is put in place to STOP you from selling more books? If you're honestly selling more books by being smart, by being knowledgeable, how is ANY party in the transaction hurt? The customer isn't hurt. (They can get a refund) Amazon isn't cheated. (They got a sale.) And you went up in the search results, which got Amazon more sales, and exposed more people to your work. I fail to see how anyone is being hurt, or cheated.

    At the end of the day, what I'm hearing is you're abdicating YOUR responsibility as a buyer, and your ability to make your own decisions, in favor of someone you've never met, then blaming them if the product isn't right for you. A buyer has a book description, reviews, a "Look inside" feature, and can even get a free sample of the book. if they don't like the book, they can get a refund. What MORE can they possibly expect before buying? Where does a buyer get all those options before buying in the offline world? All buyers aren't Zombies, lurching around Amazon, eyes glazed, saying "Must buy book-reviewer said so. Must buy..." What's wrong with that picture?
    Last edited by dsieg58; 6 March 2014 at 9:54 am.

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    I don't believe in "natural laws" but that's a whole different debate

    I'm really not sure what the problem is with gaming the system - isn't marketing basically a game where you keep score with the number of sales you make? People seek to influence each other all the time but it seems like it only becomes an ethical issue if money is involved.

    Do you think supplying free copies to reviewers in the hope they'll give you a good review is unethical? Why does it become an issue if you pay them?

    I think it only becomes grubby if it's an obviously substandard product that's been given a good review merely because of the benefit provided to the reviewer but that probably reflects more on the honesty of the reviewer than the ethics of the seller. On the other hand, if the seller is seeking to unduly influence a review (for instance threatening to pull advertising in a magazine on the basis of a bad review) then that's definitely grubby.

    Nagging friends and even customers to write reviews isn't unethical - let's face it, if you don't ask you don't get. You'll probably only nag people who liked the product but so what? Who the heck wants a bad review?

    I just looked up John Locke to see what you were talking about and, being honest, I really don't see why he should have been reviled. I do have an issue with selling good reviews though - it sounds like Jason Rutherford was selling artificially embellished reviews. I think selling bad reviews for competitors products is pretty awful too, as is buying them. The latter is probably worse since you're deliberately setting out to harm someone else.

    It's kind of difficult - these things undermine trust every time they're brought to light and it's probably impossible to police in any reasonable way. I suppose all you can really do is remain true to your own principles and stick with what you consider to be ethical.

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  9. #5
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    isn't marketing basically a game where you keep score with the number of sales you make?
    What a great way of putting it! I wish I would have thought of that.

    I think it only becomes grubby if it's an obviously substandard product that's been given a good review merely because of the benefit provided to the reviewer but that probably reflects more on the honesty of the reviewer than the ethics of the seller. On the other hand, if the seller is seeking to unduly influence a review (for instance threatening to pull advertising in a magazine on the basis of a bad review) then that's definitely grubby.
    Well said.

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    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    Dave, some people were upset with John Locke because he purchased reviews. A lot of people thought that was just a business tactic.

    He later published a book saying how he made his millions. Naturally, a lot of his fans wanted to read his story in the hope that they could replicate his success, so his "how I got rich" book was a big success. But for some reason he never mentioned spending thousands of dollars to buy reviews in his book. The sh!t hit the fan when it came out. Not so much because he bought reviews but because he had omitted to mention this very important fact in his book about how he did it. That's just how I remember it all unfolding anyway. Sorry I don't have time right now to dig back for the full story.

    As for buying and selling reviews, I've heard the freelancer places are full of review writing gigs from both buyers and sellers. It's kinda like fake testimonials, they're so common these days that some people just assume all testimonials are fake.
    British Expat - helping people to live and work abroad since the year 2000.

    The joy of Internet delivery - the cartoon illustrating this will make you laugh!



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