To an Indie Author, a review is more than just a series of stars. It’s validation for all the hours spent creating a work of fiction. We want to be noticed by our peers. We want to know that all those hours bleeding at the keyboard weren’t spent in vain, and that we have done our job right. Those stars, to us, are priceless.
What happens when those 5 stars are fake, though?
Consider this. Your best friend Kim comes to you elated. She’s been dating Tom for a year and is head over heels in love with him. Kim was to leave town to attend University and engage in a long-distance relationship with Tom. Instead, he proposed marriage. She wants you to be excited, and happy for her. What she doesn’t know is that Tom made advances on you, her best friend, several times, and you were glad to know that many miles would soon come between the scoundrel, and your life-long friend.
What do you do? You have two options:
Jump up and down, and pretend you’re thrilled?
Or tell Kim the truth about the cheating jerk essentially changing the course of her life, and potentially putting an end to your life-long friendship. Kim will be upset at the truth, and you will feel the brunt of it, but as long as she can go on to marry someone kind, loyal, and decent, you’re okay with that.
I would hope you would choose the latter.
Now, consider this scenario. Kim is actually an Indie Author, who is about to self-publish her first book and she is bursting at the seams to share it with you, first. You settle in at home, crack the cover open, and your hand meets your mouth. Not because it is so good that you’re in shock, but because it so, SO bad. The sentence structure is wrong, the dialogue is unrealistic, there are repetitive words on every page, and even though you’re reading a thriller, you’re bored to death.
What do you do?
What I see everyday is the equivalent of a best friend who lets Kim marry the cheater. I see five star reviews for very poorly written books.
I get it. It’s hard. You don’t want to kill Kim’s dream. You don’t want her to cry. You don’t want her to yell. You value Kim more than you value some stupid rating system on the world’s biggest bookseller site. So, you hit those five stars, cringe, snap your laptop shut, and envelop Kim in a hug and hope it ends there. One day, someone is going to tell Kim the truth, (perhaps a random reader who doesn’t know her), and she will be shattered, and you will be there for her.
It’s not that simple. Your five stars on Kim’s disastrous debut are tarnishing the shine on other books that ARE deserving.
It’s a sad fact that many people don’t read Indie Authors for this very reason. They will choose to buy a “big name” author’s book because it is familiar to them, and when they are ready to review, they can do so freely, and honestly.
This is hurting all Indie Authors, and the practice of friends leaving unwarranted five star reviews needs to stop. How do we stop it? Authors need to find their readers elsewhere. Authors need to stop “harassing” or guilting their friends into buying, reading, and reviewing.
You might be thinking, “I don’t do that to my friends”. Maybe not intentionally, but that’s what friends are for, right? To support you. That’s a wonderful thing. As long as they are honest with you.
The next time your very best friend in the entire world, the one who took care of you when you skinned your knee in Kindergarten, and has been by your side for decades – cracks the spine to one of your books, please do not guilt them for offering you criticism and advice. Do not take it to Twitter or Facebook and vent about it with your other author friends (who will also lie to you and say, “there, there” or worse, “that reviewer is an idiot”). What you should do is: sit down, think about it, and write BETTER. (Comb that manuscript for typos. Ensure your characters speak like normal human beings. Make sure you have a beginning, middle and end.)
Besides, what are friends really for if not to help you succeed in life? No one is going to ride the coattails of five fake stars for very long, and even if that author does manage to secure those coveted 5 stars from the same loyal readers for the rest of their life, the exhilaration will eventually fade, and they’re going to be left wondering what their career might have been like if someone had told them the damn truth when they still had time to grow as a writer.
Just as you don’t scream at your boss for helping you improve at your job, don’t scream at your friends who are trying to help you improve at your craft. They love you.
Go write them a book that will make them (truly) proud.