Saturday, 13 June 2015

Authors in online book clubs BEWARE!

I’ve read for years and years. My mother recently produced a tape from her loft back in England of me, reading my own stories aged five...a very long time ago. I also did singing on the tape and I swear I haven’t done that for over thirty-five years so that gives you an idea. Even God doesn’t want to hear nails on the blackboard again. It’s probably still etched on his mind from the first sitting!

Reviewing was a whole other matter. Who would care about my opinion? I’d read a novel and enjoy it, then promptly forget the name of the author, the title and eventually the characters. I could read it again in ten years’ time with that peculiar sense of deja vu. Why would the author care what I think? They have publicists and agents and clever people to tell them if their stuff’s any good. Don’t they?

When I published my first novel, I realised how essential reviewing was. If you like or dislike a novel, it’s like the finishing touch, to submit a review. Amazon have made it so easy; you get asked to rate a novel as you finish it and on the more high tech kindles, you can do your review right then. My mother now reviews every book she reads, good and bad. Why? Because I told her to. As an author I see it from that viewpoint. We need reviews. They’re our life blood in the Amazon algorithm which pushes us up the greasy pole or buries us.

But it’s there in Amazon’s terms and conditions that competitors are not to review each other’s product. Now if I’m a blender manufacturer and so are you, it’s probably not appropriate for me to comment on yours as you’re clearly in direct competition. But if I’m an author writing in the same genre as you, why should your book not inspire me and vice versa? Well, apparently not in Amazon world. The blog below is written by a lovely reviewer who also publishes, but woke up to a dictatorial letter from Amazon and his 1700 reviews of other people’s work deleted. When he asked why, he just received automated copies of the rules, over and over without explanation. So sadly, he’s moved away from Amazon, having spent thousands of dollars on the books he reviewed with verification and is in the process of taking his own books with him.

A little research revealed blogs from 2012 when this culling actually began, making the national press in the UK. Amazon insisted they were primarily targeting reviewers with a ‘personal relationship’ with the author and malpractices leading to manipulation, such as other authors creating false 5* reviews for their own work whilst giving 1* to other authors in their genre. A case which blew it all out of the water involved writer, RJ Ellory, who after being exposed on Twitter, admitted to doing exactly that.

But in his messages on Facebook, posted over the past two days, Ellory wrote: “Thank you. Your kindness is immensely appreciated. I cannot, however, avoid responsibility for what I have done, and I do not intend to.

“Over the last ten years I have posted approximately 12 reviews of my own books, and I also criticised a book written by Stuart MacBride, and another by Mark Billingham, both of whom had done nothing to warrant such criticism.

“This I regret deeply, but time cannot be turned back. I have apologised for what I have done, and I hope in time that we can move beyond this.”

Here are Amazon’s rules on what not to post:

"To help illustrate, here are a few examples of reviews that we don't allow:
-A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
-A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
-A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
-A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
-A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
-A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
-A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor's product
-An artist posts a positive review on a peer's album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them
If you think we got it wrong and removed a customer review that we shouldn’t have, please e-mail and we will take another look."

Well, they have taken another look at poor Christoph’s reviews...and left him banned. I refuse to believe that of his 1700 reviews, a high proportion were for people he knew or other authors who reviewed his work in return. It’s just not realistic is it?

I’m a member of 2 online book clubs. Invariably there are both readers and other authors there. It’s inevitable as we chat about other people’s work, we will end up gravitating to each other’s.

In the above Telegraph article, a bestselling novelist is quoted, advocating peer reviews.

Joanne Harris, the best-selling British author of titles including Chocolat and the Lollipop Shoes, said authors were in many ways the perfect people to review books as they are experts on them.
"One thing authors are able to do is articulate about books. They tend to read about books and their opinions... are listened to," the 48 year-old told The Daily Telegraph.”

Amazon don’t want that. From the same article, the reporter writes:

Amazon has now admitted that it has introduced a ban on authors leaving reviews about other people's books in the same genre because they may pose a “conflict of interest” and cannot be impartial about their rivals.

This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books.

Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels.
In recent weeks, some authors said they had more than 50 reviews deleted without notice, provoking waves of critical comments and posts on blogs and internet forums.”

This blew up three years ago and it’s safe to assume it’s been happening fairly continuously ever since. We just rarely get to hear about it. Christoph reviewed one of my books, months and months after I reviewed one of his. We didn’t review swap, we’ve never had a conversation and I’ve never met him, but it puts me squarely in the firing line, I guess. I write across multiple genres and read across even more than that. Does that mean every review I ever wrote for an author I never met or spoke to is disregarded as manipulative and inappropriate? In their eyes, probably.

It really begs the question, is it better as an author not to review at all?

If I don’t do reviews for other people, I can’t have my integrity called into question and remain blameless. But then I don’t get to tell other authors how much I appreciated their work, or how much I learned from it. I become another faceless author with no voice, rather like Enid Blyton was to me as a child. I will have been censored and shut up, thanks to unscrupulous, unknown and known, others.

Many are taking their reviews to the other sites out there. My work is available on Smashwords and therefore Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and many other players. I’m coming to the conclusion it would be better for me not only to review there, but to buy there also. Yet even as an author, Amazon has me in a strangle hold. They demand my price is lowest at their site, driving readers to them. So if I choose to take my reading elsewhere, I will be financially penalised too. Amazon own Createspace and Goodreads so there's not much guarantee with duplicating reviews there. It seems the only thing to do is copy reviews instead to one of the Smashwords group if they are to have any longevity.

Authors beware!
This is coming to us all.

#Amazon #monopoly #votewithyourfeet #authors

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