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Author Ethics

ethics of book reviews

Welcome back to "The Ethics of Book Reviews."


We are now at the penultimate blog post:


In this post, we'll be addressing the ethical issues that authors may face when soliciting reviews. As with the previous post, this post will contain analysis on current trends in various bookish communities, personal and secondary experience, and plenty of commentary.


Let's jump right in!


Conflicts of Interest


We've seen in the previous post that conflicts of interest can sometimes influence a review, but how does it affect an author?


The answer is simple: performance.


Ultimately, how well an author's novel performs is greatly influenced by how much algorithms recommend their book. Yes, marketing is important, but even then marketing still relies on performance.


I posed the question in the previous post if authors are incentivized to want dishonest reviews. We'll address that now.


As I said, how a book performs is important. Take Amazon. The algorithm will recommend a book more if the book is doing better. This means that more positive reviews boost the book's rankings, whereas negative reviews have adverse consequences in the algorithm. To that end, the more negative reviews a book has, the less likely people will want to read it.


However, perhaps one of the worst things an author can do is to bash their reviewers for leaving a "bad" review. Lately, I've noticed an uptick in authors making nasty comments about reviewers, simply because they didn't leave a 5–star review. There was one particular book (which I don't remember the name of, but if I do, I'll edit to add the name) that garnered a LOT of negative attention due to the author responding poorly and coming after their reviewers on BookTok. I think that if the author hadn't taken such drastic actions, the book could have performed better.


Requirements


This leads into some of the requirements an author may ask of a reviewer. This may include either cross posting or minimum ratings.


Cross Posting


In many cases, authors will ask a reviewer to cross post a review to multiple platforms. For example, the same review may be cross posted to Goodreads, Amazon, Bookbub, a personal blog, etc.


For me, asking a reviewer to cross post to multiple platforms is perfectly fine. In fact, I believe that you would be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees.


Minimum Ratings


In some cases, some authors will ask a reviewer to only post reviews or ratings if they can give a book at least 3 or 4 stars. In the cases where the rating falls below this threshold, the reviewer would then be prevented from giving a rating or review.


I personally think this is highly inethical. It is my personal opinion that this is similar to asking for a dishonest review. To that end, I believe that doing so artificially boosts your ratings. While I understand that good reviews are necessary for the success of a book, having multiple opinions, both positive and negative, is necessary. Based on responses on my story polls, it seems that I am not the only one.


Personal & Secondary Experience


I've already outlined some of my personal experience, but let me provide some additional experience, analysis of trends, and commentary.


With almost every author I've worked with, all they asked for, rating wise, is just an honest review. Based on my interactions with other reviewers, this also seems to be the case.


However, I myself have encountered instances where an author requested I leave a 4–star or higher review, and in the case where I couldn't do so, I was not leave no review and no rating. For me, this just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I work hard to maintain my integrity as a reviewer, and I don't like being required to only post reviews with a certain rating.


This is just me. Author Isra Sravenheart (@israsravenheartauthor_) encountered a similar but much more negative experience, which she shared with her newsletter subscribers. With her permission, I shared her story on my IG; you read the post here.


She talks about how she read a book, which she rated 3 stars due to rape and the lack of a trigger warning for it. Now, 3 stars is not a bad rating; in fact, Goodreads describes a 3 star rating as "I liked it." However, the author got upset and accused Sravenheart of "humiliating" her. Below is a direct quote from her message to Sravenheart:

"Hi, let's stop this conversation. I thank you for your review. But next time you want to publicly humiliate another author like that, please give them the heads up first. Authors support authors. I have never in my life publicly humilated an fellow author in a group. I would have appreciated the heads up first. That is a great supportive group. And all kinds of books are read in there."

To me this is absolutely absurd! As Sravenheart says later in her newsletter, "reviews are for readers," not authors.


I mentioned above a book that received negative attention due to an author's reaction on BookTok. I don't know if this is the same one, but Three Rivers by Sarah Stusek currently has a 1.40 star rating on Goodreads due to an overwhelming number of 1 star reviews. True, that response was largely petty, but the fact still stands that the book has a terrible rating. It could be the best book ever, but due to an author's poor response, the book will forever bear the stain.


One last trend I'd like to note is the push for diversity. This isn't really about soliciting reviews, but this trend has gained attention recently, so I feel the need to address it. More and more reviewers have been emphasizing the need for representation in books, be that POC rep, queer rep, or postive rep for plus–sized characters. This too causes some debate, surprisingly or not.


Most reviewers will agree that representation is good. However, a while ago, there was a Goodreads poll (which I can no longer find the link to) about the role of diversity in books. Back then, most people (myself included) agreed that diversity should only be included if it has a role, so not just to check a box. Unfortunately, I don't actually know if that still is the reigning opinion.


Author Ethics


Just as with the previous post, I will now summarize some of the ways authors can ethically solicit reviews and respond to reviews. Again, note that this is not an exhaustive list. Rather, think of this as a list of suggested guidelines. :)


  1. Asking for a review to be cross posted is absolutely fine.

  2. Avoid asking for a minimum star rating. Allow your reviewers to give the review they feel is right.

  3. Don't bash your reviewers if you don't like their reviews or ratings.

  4. If you include diverse rep, make sure it has a reason, not to check a box.


Next Up


And that wraps up this post! I hope you liked it!


The next post is actually the last post, and it'll wrap up everything we've looked at thus far. As always, drop your questions below or message me via my contact page or directly at asia.booknerd117@gmail.com!


See ya in the final post!

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