The Mail I Get

Today it's not my mail, but some that my friend author Joel Goldman received from a self-published author of erotic novels. She offered to swap reviews with him. He decided to play dumb, though he had a pretty good idea where this was going. He asked her:

Are we talking about reading each other’s books before we review them or just posting reviews of them?

And she replied:

Whatever suits you.

I checked out your work and it looks fine and properly formatted. If you want me to read and review it i’ll do it with five stars.

Similarly if you want me to post or reword your review I’ll do that too. What I’m after is a five star review on Amazon with as little work and as quickly as possible. I’m not asking you to read [title of book], I guess you have better things to do.

My first chapter is up there (on line), so you can judge the writing, I can post you a review to submit or reword or a synopsis to save you time.

Joel politely declined. This exchange would be funny if this sort of "review swapping" wasn't so common, especially among newbie authors. Just check out forums like Kindleboards and you'll see for yourself. 

What's really sad isn't how they are devaluing reviews, or how low their literary standards are ("it looks fine and is properly formatted") but that they don't see what's wrong with what they are doing, or how badly leaving rave reviews for books they haven't read (and are probably shit) reflects on their reputations, both as authors and as reviewers.

They simply don't care.

All that matters to them is garnering praise, even if its entirely fake and undeserved. They are so desperate for acclaim, success and respect that they have forgotten all those things have to be earned…and how good it feels when it is. 

And that's a feeling you'll never get from reviews by people who've never actually read your book…or, in the case of John Locke, from people you pay to buy your book and rave about it.

You're not just fooling customers, you're fooling yourself, and that might be the most hurtful swindle of all.


9 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”

  1. You tempt my contrarian side. Lena Dunham just landed $3.6 million for an as yet unwritten book based on a proposal–which in her case might be a page or two. Is her success earned? No, it’s a function of her celebrity. When publishing functions just like the entertainment business, and everything is gamed, it makes a mockery of the idea that playing by the rules will earn you success.
    I’m actually beginning to come closer to Joe Konrath’s take on this. In all likelihood, nobody’s going to read this woman’s book, with or without a few solicited reviews.

  2. I’m not a writer and I got one the other day from a writer wanting a review, a kindle attachment of his book included.
    No hey, how are you, my name is XXX. Just:
    “Please review XXX.”
    At least he said please.

  3. I wonder if it’s a natural consequence of giving a generation of kids trophies, ribbons and plaques for simply participating. We’ve robbed that generation of experiencing that wonderful sense of accomplishment and self respect.

  4. Your argument makes no sense, Peter. Her success is definitely earned…as is her celebrity…it comes from her remarkable, Emmy-nominated turn as writer-star-director of her own HBO sitcom. It’s clear she’s extremely talented (multi-talented, in fact) and can write, so the fact that her book was picked up on the basis of a proposal makes perfect sense. I don’t see how you can call this “gaming” the system.

  5. What I find equally upsetting are the campaigns of negative reviews by people who have never read the book. There is a page on Facebook,”BOYCOTT Jose’ Baez Book “PRESUMED GUILTY” and BenBella Books Publishing!” The boycotters are encouraged to all post negative reviews of the book which they have not bought or read on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. They are also encouraged to remove the books from bookstore shelves and hide them in obscure places in the store. Quite the opposite of your old trick of moving your books to the “Current Best-Sellers” shelf — that was simply precognitive marketing. The members of this group share stories of how they hid books, posted fake one star reviews, etc. This concerns me as authors who write in my primary genre (fact crime) are often singled out for such campaigns. Steve Long, for example, was targeted viciously a few years back.
    My editor, the wonderful Michaela Hamilton at Kensington Publishing once told me, “pay no attention to reviews on Amazon. The only review that matters is the one from your editor when we offer you a new contract for more books.”
    True, but we are sensitive types. The recent rave recommendation of me from CBS’ Erin Moriarty had me on cloud nine…and I didn’t even give her a free toaster!

  6. I watched about a half hour of Lena Dunham’s film, Tiny Furniture, then gave up. I didn’t see any manifest talent. And plenty of people, critics included, disagree with you about how wonderful Girls is. The fact that it received an Emmy means nothing. It’s useful for marketing, that’s all. The sytem is gamed when celebrities get all the attention and everybody else goes wanting for scraps. Just at, there were multiple stories about the show before the show aired, then more after. Same thing at And they are just a microcosm of the media gushing about her. And her debatable talent aside, Dunham got her deal because she’s a celebrity. If she wasn’t one, her proposal would have most likely gone nowhere. Next think you know, you’ll be telling me Schwarzenegger got a book deal because he was such a gifted actor and exemplary Governor. C’mon, you’re not really naive.

  7. I agree, it’s an egregious practive. That said, I hereby offer to write rave reviews for anyone, anywhere, for the modest sum of $500 per book. Double that if I have to read it.

  8. It’s horrible to have people writing 5 star reviews on books they’ve not read. It calls into disrepute ALL of the reviews on Amazon.
    To halt this practice, Amazon could require a reviewer to “certify” that he or she has read the book, and that no payment has been given to procure the review. As well, there could be an automatic fine of $1,000 dollars for anyone convicted of breaking the rules.
    In addition, Amazon might create a “reviewer’s test.” It could consist of 5 multiple choice questions, 5 choices per question. If the reveiwer can’t pass this simple memory test, proving that he or she read the book, then the review does not get posted.
    When an analyst praises or criticizes a stock, he or she has to reveal if they own shares in the stock or not, or intend to buy shares within the next 72 hours. This system seems to work well. Getting a reviewer to become transparent breeds responsiblity and trust into the system.


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