Writers: Something you need to think about and, if I'm right, change.
I wanted to chip in to the debate that arose because of the Goodreads blow-up that followed an author responding negatively to a four-star review, and the subsequent backlash on Twitter. As both a reviewer and a writer, I know firsthand how it is to both wait for a review, and also how it feels to have to write a review for a book that was ok – not amazing, not great, but ok, knowing that there is an author out there waiting on a review of the book which they gifted me. I’m not going to go over old ground here, I just wanted to put forward a proposal to the writers, something that I believe no one has really considered, certainly I hadn’t, to my shame.
As a writer, we consider our books “our property”, and rightly feel any infringement on the copyright of our book is an attack – we have spent months, years, in my case – decades – finally putting down onto paper our stories and then refining those words, into a tangible whole. Most indie writers are in it to have their voices heard, there is no monetary gain that is not offset by the marketing of the book. So we are in it (I assume) to have our stories heard, liked, disliked -whatever – out there in the world.
But it’s a one-sided game.
Reviewers often receive gifted copies from the authors, or, like me, primarily buy them from Amazon or direct from the publishers. Yes, Netgalley exists, but no, as a writer, I cannot afford to spend another 500 euros on placing my book up for review. And as a writer, I wait, patiently, for the book to be read and hopefully a review to arrive – be it in a month, a half year, at some point in the future. I do not assume that said review will come, but I hope. A part of my day is spent checking Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub. It is now a part of my “every day”. I don’t nag, I don’t pester the reviewers. It’s not my place to add stress to a person that is doing me a favor. And that’s all ok, I feel privileged when reviewers post reviews, grateful, thrilled when they like my work. It is an affirmation that is on offer here. And, until recently, I then manage to stomp all over the relationship, by not thinking – and here’s the rub:
As soon as that review is up, it’s in the public domain.
As writers, people buy our books. They often buy our books based on the reviews they read online. A good review from an established reviewer can influence many people to buy our books when previously they might not have even heard of them. It makes sense to nurture relationships with reviewers. Not to influence those reviewers, but because they are effective partners. Yet as soon as those reviews are out there, what do we do? We repost their reviews. We bring attention to their words (not ours), it is a moment of payoff. Someone understands us. Someone got it. But exactly at that moment, we stomp on the reviewer because (and I am guessing, here, though I believe it is accurate) we almost never ask the reviewer for permission to repeat those words.
Now there are reviewers out there who even go the step further of declaring online, that they are ok with their reviews being shared, that it is fully expected, a part of the review process. Let me make it quite clear – that is goodwill on the part of the reviewer. It is not a reflection of what should be considered normal. And I’m as guilty of this as the next man. I’ve got maybe 30 reviews up on my website happily extolling the virtues of my books. And did I ask them if it would be ok to show their opinions off to the world because it makes me look good…
Honestly, what would it have cost me to have contacted those reviewers first to ask their permission to repeat those words? Nothing. It’s a simple courtesy. No-one is going to say "Hell no.". It's an unspoken assumption. And we all know the phrase about the word "assume".
If we, as writers, can expect our works to be held in respect, the same has to be said of the reviews, be they negative or positive. They are owned by the reviewers that wrote them, who had the guts to express their opinions online, to the world. I am 100% positive that a reviewer would be thrilled to be consulted for permission to repost their review. It is an acknowledgment of equality, of the importance of the review itself. It’s really time that we, as writers, started to recognize that those reviews have rights as well. And common courtesy really should be extended. The reviewer has taken the time required to read that book. Then the time to write a review. And then we jump on those reviews like we own them? That’s gotta be wrong. I mean, I get that reviewers don’t “care” – that in fact, it is also exciting for a reviewer to have their review spread out into the world, reaching more people than it would have without us reposting it. But if a reviewer can take the time to contact me personally, to inform me that their review is online on their site, it behooves me to return the consideration by asking their permission to repost their review? Surely? Am I wrong here? Is it ok to just consider it my right to highlight someone else extolling how great they thought my writing was?
I hope this is food for thought, please, let me know what you think. Maybe I’m wrong? It doesn’t feel like it. Use the chat button here, I have time for you.