It's the 4th of July, and like any great American writer, I'm sitting at my computer instead of basking in the warm (read: scorching) afternoon sun. Don't worry, we've got all our plans laid out for an evening bbq and fireworks later.
Today, we're going to talk a little bit about the reviews system on Amazon. As most of you know, Amazon is a huge company - a virtual marketplace where businesses and individuals can sell just about anything. In this vast online department store, there is a book department. Within this book department exists the means for self-publishers to upload their literary works and sell them. Like all of the departments within the Amazon SuperStore, customers are encouraged to leave reviews of the items they purchase.
Critical reviews used to come exclusively from bona-fide sources. The New York Times had a book review section, as did The Wall Street Journal, local newspapers and later, television broadcasters got in on the game. If you wanted a review of movie, you looked for Siskle and Ebert and their famous thumbs. If you wanted to know about great books, you checked the newspaper or your favorite magazine.
The "average Joe" could certainly tell his or her friends about a book they loved, but that word-of-mouth generally passed from one person to one person (or several at a dinner party) and it didn't involve posting on an airwave viewed by millions.
So, enough history. Enter the Internet. Enter Amazon. Now, one person can write a review about a book they've purchased and many, many people can see it. It might have an impact on some buyers and less of an impact on others, but it's there. For all to see.
Amazon, specifically, has rules about who can and who can't post a review on a book. If you know the author or if you are related to the author, you're not supposed to be able to leave a review for fear that the review will be biased. Makes sense, right? Of course it does.
Recently, there has been an outcry over this practice, not necessarily because it exists, but because some feel that it is being wrongly applied to them. A blogger who is also a self-published author, was forbidden to post a review on a book she'd read. The Zon claimed that she knows the author of said book. (You can read the blog here.)
I want to focus on two independent aspects. The first is whether this blogger has a bona fide issue. She is not revealing the name of the author nor the title of the book she attempted to review. The review is listed (sans identifying information) in the comments on the blog, but I was unable to invest the time to track it down. (If you find it, please feel free to post it in the comments so I can see it!) Here is my question about that:
Second issue: WHAT IS AN EDITORIAL REVIEW?
The Amazon book listing page via KDP includes a section for editorial reviews. Traditionally, these reviews were the one's I mentioned above: WSJ, NYT, etc. If your romance novel got a write up in Romantic Times Magazine, you could reprint it in the Editorial Review section of the page.
The publisher (in many cases this is also the author) has complete control over this section of the page. It looks like this on your Author Central Page.
You click on that Editorial Reviews tab just under the cover image, and then click on the ADD button (it changes to edit if there is content to edit) and you can fill that up with all kinds of information. You can have notes from the author, you can list Editorial Reviews to your hearts content.
But that begs the question: What is an editorial review, exactly?
Let's break it down. The following is a list of what would constitute a review that belongs in this section:
No, the starred review section is for the average customer, which does not include anyone who has published a book. We, as authors, are held to a higher standard. Our voices have more weight. We have information about writing a book that comes into play when we judge other's works. Some of us are snarky and in some cases authors have attempted to sabotage another person's book by leaving single-star, nasty reviews. Some authors will trade reviews with other authors. This is unethical, unless those authors' reviews are posted in the Editorial Review section. (This way, the weighted, possibly biased opinions do not effect the overall star rating.)
Many authors, myself included, are concerned over how Amazon is tracking online relationships. This is an important topic. (And one they do not have to address. We have the option to not be online, and not have an account with them, certainly.) But I ask this question:
Shouldn't we, as authors, be more concerned about our own reputations for integrity, and less concerned about whether Amazon is being fair?