In some ways what Mr. Locke did is not unlike what most writers (including myself) do when they request reviews from friends. In my case these “friends” are writers that I have met on the internet (I don’t know them personally). I prefer to think of them as “people who are familiar with my work,” but for the sake of the argument we will refer to them here as “friends.” When a writer sends a review request to a friend the writer knows that the review he/she will get is likely to be positive (5 or 4 stars, or at the very least neutral, 3 stars). Is this an honest practice? Some people claim it isn’t. More importantly, how is this different from Locke’s review buying? I am sure Mr. Locke knew he was going to get mostly positive reviews when he ordered them, much in the same way that writers who send review requests to friends know they will get mostly positive reviews. Are writers like me who do this any different from Mr. Locke?
As it turns out there is one big difference. Many of the people writing the reviews for the pay-for-review company did not even read the books and when they did, they just skimmed over them. These reviewers were trying to write as many reviews as fast as possible to earn money, and if they could not write a 5 star review they would get paid half of the regular wage per book. In my opinion these were not honest reviews. However, when my friends reviewed my book, The Sun Zebra, I am sure (and you can tell from the reviews) they read it. Furthermore many of my friends are good writers whose work I respect. They would not want their name associated with a 5 star review on a lousy book. Additionally, when my friends spotted a problem with my book they told me about it. Some even sent me a list of corrections with the understanding that their reviews were conditional on me implementing those changes. When my friends write that my book made them laugh and cry I am certain they are being honest. When my friends give me a 5-4 star review I feel that I deserved it.
Some people however would still argue that if the writer influences in any way, except through his/her book, the review process, then the review is slanted and dishonest. They would say the correct way to go about it is to put your book “out there” and let readers read it and review it impartially. I think this advice is misguided, and if you are a beginning writer, this is one of the worst things you can do.
As writers we are always told to promote to our target audience. Target audiences have one characteristic: they are people who are more likely to be interested in buying and reading your book, and they are also more likely to give you good reviews. Well, by this token, how are friends different from a target audience? If anything, friends are the best target audience: perfectly defined, easily accessible, willing to read your work, happy to review it, and even willing to help you make it better! When you promote your work to total strangers you risk going outside your target audience and getting your book plastered with a nasty review that will stick out like a sore thumb and may even damage your promotional opportunities.
So I have no qualms in requesting reviews from friends. In fact I think that for the beginning author these reviews are an important part of a sound promotional strategy. I talk more about this in my next post discussing the specific case of my book: The Sun Zebra.
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