Please, allow me to preface everything I’m about to say with a disclaimer. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to a negative review. I have no issue with honest criticism, especially from someone who digests the entire book but never connects with it. Everyone has individual tastes, and any author who expects to please everyone will soon have that delusion crushed. As an author, I accept that I am open to a certain level of criticism because my work puts me in the public eye. People have a right to voice their opinions about products they have purchased, and if those products do not meet their expectations, they have the right to vent. Customer reviews are a fundamental aspect of free market principles, and I embrace them wholeheartedly.
What I have a problem with is someone questioning my integrity and ethics. For those who may not know, fake customer reviews are a real problem on the internet, and there are companies that make a lot of money writing them. Today, on Amazon, I got a negative review that closed with an insinuation that my reviews were not entirely “honest.” In this current climate, where fake reviews are being dragged into the light, that kind of accusation could have real consequences against me as I embark on the largest and most expansive marketing campaign of my career. So with that in mind, I want to set the record straight.
Book one was released nine years ago. My first Amazon review for it appeared on August 28, 2005. It was written by a woman I have known for 24 years, someone I consider a friend. My second review appeared August 29, 2005 and was written by a childhood friend who now works as my editor (he was not my editor when he read and reviewed the book). In fact, six of the first eight reviews were written by either friends or family who I knew before the book came out because as an unknown, self-published author I had no audience base to speak of and that’s who read it. I never once asked any of them to say anything untrue or asked them to give me a specific rating. I encouraged them to be honest.
After those first eight reviews, the next seventy are a solid mix of people I’ve never met in person, people I met through the book itself, former students who on their own sought out the publication, blog reviewers who received promotional copies from my current publisher, close friends, and family members. To my knowledge every single review there was written by someone who actually read the book. Yes, I’ve asked everyone I’ve ever met to please write an Amazon review because I understand how important they are, but I have never made someone give me a specific rating or asked someone to say something they didn’t believe about the series. Yes, last fall I made a huge push to try to reach a hundred reviews before Christmas and pleaded for weeks on social media for everyone to write one. But I have never and would never pay someone to write a review. Are there ratings on there that maybe should be a little lower? Probably. But not because I personally did anything underhanded.
Here’s the thing the person who made that public accusation doesn’t understand: I’ve spent nine years of my life working damned hard to make a name for myself as a writer. In that time, I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count, but I’ve kept pushing forward because I believe in the quality of my efforts. I have suffered, sacrificed, traveled, juggled jobs, and probably shortened my lifespan in an effort to succeed in this highly competitive field because I love storytelling and, according to most people, happen to be pretty good at it. But that one person with his one sentence of speculation could turn away untold numbers of people from my hard work all because he personally doesn’t like the opening chapters of my first book.
Again, I have no problem with him not liking my work, but I have a huge issue with him insinuating impropriety on my part. Perhaps he didn’t consider the consequences of stating in public on Amazon that he questions the honesty of my reviews. I don’t purport to know his motives, and I have no idea if that accusation will damage this promotional campaign, but it hurts me on a deep level to think that someone would attempt to undermine years and years of hard work, of struggle and sacrifice, for any reason. It’s hard enough to survive in this business as it is. It’s hard enough to be seen among the deluge of titles released every year. So here’s my plea to those of you out there who do write reviews: if you don’t like something, state your opinion and leave it at that, but please, for pity’s sake, don’t smear someone’s name with a baseless accusation. You have no idea how that may or may not affect their life and career. Only time will tell if this will have any impact on mine.