Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Internet and authors--next phase?

For a while now I've been standing back a bit from Google alerts, Amazon, Goodreads, etc. I keep half an eye out on Novelrank, just to see if my books are selling on Amazon, but I don't read all the reviews any more. (I used to read every word.)

My sense that this was a sensible thing to do was underlined this weekend when I read an article by a fellow Brit in which she freely admitted to writing Amazon reviews for her own book. In Britain we've had several instances of authors changing their names and slamming rivals' books on Amazon.

Is the system now so damaged that it's worthless? What's the point of spending a year or more on a book to have someone with a grudge come back again and again and deal out one-star reviews? Or having a rash of family and relatives boost your book to five-star status, even though their 'review' consists only of a brief summary of the plot and then a line saying it would make a good present?

When Playing with the Moon was nominated for a national prize a few years ago the voting system was based on people registering on a site and nominating books. The more people you were able to persuade to do this, the better you did. 'So there's nothing stopping us giving our nephews at university some money and getting them to buy beer for everyone who signs up and votes for you?' my husband said. 'That sounds an interesting way of running things.'

We didn't do this. But supposing we had? Would I have been able to win by simply lining up undergraduates in three or four universities?

I should say at this stage that there are some Amazon, Goodreads and blog reviewers who are fantastic. We may not always agree with what they say about our books but we can't fault them on integrity or their passion for the novel. I'd like to say a big thank-you to them all. You're doing valuable work.

Reviewing aside, there's the whole issue of the illegal free downloading of our work on the internet.

What's the next phase? How can we make the internet fairer to both readers and authors?


Frances Garrood said...

Interesting points, Eliza, and I have been especially torn when asked to vote for a book which I haven't read when I really like the author (so far, I haven't). As you say, there are some excellent reviewers out there, and it's usually easy to tell which are the good ones by they way they write and by looking at more of their reviews. I tend to review books on Amazon (a) because I quite enjoy it but - more importantly - (b)so that I can look books up to remind myself what I thought of them (goldfish memory).

It's never occurred to me to review my own books. Now, there's an idea...

Tim Stretton said...

I would--and have--voted for MNWers' books for awards even if I haven't read them (to me this is being part of the gang), but I wouldn't post a review of a book I hadn't read.

It seems to me no worse to vote for an unread MNW title, than to vote for one I have read while there are others on the shortlist I haven't read. If you haven't read the whole shortlist, how can you decide which is best? (I think the only award I was properly qualified to vote on was one of the crime ones where Brian shortlisted, where I had actually read all the books).

Eliza Graham said...

You'd probably read the summary of the book, Tim, and at least decide whether you liked the sound of it.

I'm not sure my (hypothetical) students in a bar would have even done this in return for beer. But perhaps I'm being judgemental.

There's probably somewhere you can go on the internet to rent online votes by the hundred. Now there's a business opportunity...

Deborah Swift said...

I've just posted on a similar theme - publishers paying PR companies to write Amazon reviews. I haven't yet reviewed my own book!Isn't that cheating?Or is the whole idea of cheating or any other morality out of the window in the cut-throat world of book marketing?What happened to word-of-mouth reader recommendation?

Frances Garrood said...

Dee - I've just read your post. It's appalling to think that publishers would sink so low as to pay reviewers. I quite frequently refer to reviews of books, especially if I'm having problems struggling through a particular novel, and find them quite helpful. Now, however, I shall be a bit more circmuspect.

Tim Stretton said...

Equally dubious is the practice of publishers paying Waterstones to make certain books "recommended" by staff. You know, those nice little handwritten cards on the shelves? Not actually the staff's choice at all, I understand.

Alis said...

Crikey, this is all depressing. But hardly new, I suspect. Human beings are an ingenious bunch and, as long as there's been a system to play, somebody more or less unscrupulous has played it.
I haven't written my own Amazon reviews though - never was any good at playing the system!!

C. N. Nevets said...

Writing may be an art, but selling books is business. As in all business, there's a lot about it that's dirty. Readers and writers suffer, but that seems a special interest. National and world culture may suffer, but that seems lofty and abstract. Knowledge and critical thinking might well suffer, but that's what the internet is for.

In other words, when looked at in the scope of dirty business practices I'm not sure how we get the world at large to care.

I think the big question, which I daren't answer as an author completing his first (and therefore unpublished) book, is how we writers choose to participate in or protest against, embrace or fight the business at large, and the dirty bits specifically.

David Isaak said...

The truth is, I find even "honest" Amazon reviews to be relatively useless. Like letters to the editor of a newspaper, they are a weird cross-section of the highly motivated (positively or negatively) plus a collection of busybodies. Most people have something better to do. The only time I tend to get interested in a book because of an Amazon review is when the reviews clump up at both ends of the spectrum. Something that arouses that much pro and con passion might be fun.

But as far as publishers paying Amazon reviewers: Sure, it's dishonest. But is it any more dishonest than quoting:

"I'm so grateful I received an advance copy of this so I could save my money. It's astonishing what the public will buy, and even a piece of crap like this might be an instant bestseller. For my part, I plan to keep my copy somewhere safe--like the bottom of the canary's cage."


"I'm so grateful I received an advance copy of this...It's instant bestseller. For my part, I plan to keep my copy somewhere safe..."

Publishers have been doing that sort of thing for about a hundred years.

David Isaak said...

PS I've never reviewed my own work on Amazon or elsewhere, but wouldn't consider it immoral. Just a sort of masturbation.

But slamming the works of one's rivals is a mortal sin.

In fact, no sensible writer has "rivals."

Tim Stretton said...

"I tend to get interested in a book because of an Amazon review is when the reviews clump up at both ends of the spectrum."

Case in point being Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones. I gave up 140 pages in, so I was in 1-star camp.

Faye L. said...

I'm not a fan of the Amazon review system at all - in fact, I wish I could get a Firefox add-on that would remove it from my sights, in the same way I no longer see ads thanks to AdBlock Plus. That might seem extreme, but I never read reviews, so to me they're as extraneous and annoying as pop-ups inviting me to enlarge my penis.

There are so many flaws with it I don't know where to start, although as Eliza said, there are some insightful reviewers on Amazon too (at least, there were when I still read them).

Frances Garrood said...

"No sensible writer has rivals". You're so right, David. That's one of the nicer things about writing; there's room for us all, provided we're good enough. It's not a competition (thank goodness!).