View Full Version : Review swapping ethics

12-11-2012, 11:09 PM
I'm moving towards self-publishing a novella in the near future, and I'm planning to give some of my friends copies, and to ask them to read and review it on Amazon, goodreads, or elsewhere. For some of my fellow writers, I could offer to review their books in exchange, but then I wondered if that was getting into foggy ethical territory.

I can think of a few reasons why it should be OK, but I'm still on the fence and I was wondering what other people thought. The main point against it is that you're paying for a review by offering a review in return, but it seems fundamentally different from paying however many dollars in return for a favorable review.

1. These are friends, so I hope we will all want each other to succeed... leading to a positive bias.
2. Many of these people are writers who understand the value of honest feedback, somewhat counteracting the friendship bias.
3. If you know that the other person is going to comment on your book, that might make you round your opinion up a star or two.

I think I had a few other thoughts, but I can't remember them now. So, folks, would you weigh in on the ethics of swapping reviews with your fellow writers?

12-11-2012, 11:12 PM
If your books ends up with lots of enthusiastic, vague, friends-and-family reviews, that can be worse than no reviews at all. I would suggest giving friends books and leaving reviewing up to them, and sending review copies to stranger-reviewers (review sites, Goodreads giveaways etc.)

12-11-2012, 11:40 PM
I know that when it comes to getting opinions on your writing, it's always better to go to strangers or to friends who are also writers and who you trust to be honest than it is to go to most friends. I learned this the hard way when several of my friends told me my book was amazing a few years ago. I hardly got any negative comments, but when I learned a bit more about writing I saw that my prose was garbage.

I would assume that the same basic concept would apply to getting honest and respectable reviews. If someone has nothing but generic praise (it's amazing! Best book ever!) for your book, it probably won't hold up the way a review saying exactly what about it is good or bad from a more knowledgeable perspective would.

12-12-2012, 12:09 AM
I have to agree with the above posters that reviews from strangers are your best bet. The idea of give-aways on Goodreads, and that kind of thing is a great way to go.

As to swapping reviews, I think it inherently assumes that both reviews will be positive, which means not only are you not getting a completely honest review of your work, but you're not able to give a completely honest critique to the other person's . I wouldn't want to be in either position, but I particularly wouldn't want to be putting my name to a positive review that I didn't believe 100%. As frightening as it is to be out there and let the work truly speak for itself, I think it's the way to go. :)

12-12-2012, 12:19 AM
Swapping implicitly means giving this for that. Good, bad or otherwise.

I can't find a way this could be anything but unethical.

12-12-2012, 12:20 AM
If you want to play the system, get your friends to review your stories.

If you want honest, unbiased reviews, get them (or let them come) from anonymous sources, including readers who have no stake in the success of your stories, but who react to what you've written.

Guess where the path of ethics runs?

Susan Littlefield
12-12-2012, 12:53 AM
No, don't swap reviews with anyone, especially family and friends. It's dishonest because the review will be based on getting something in return.

A writing acquaintance asked me once if I minded giving a review after I contacted him and told him how much I liked his novel. I could say yes, no, or not anything at all, but I said yes. I wrote the review but I asked nothing in return. Once he read it, he thanked me.

I wrote a review of a friend's grammar series (which ROCKS, by the way) for Amazon, but I was not asked to review and I did not tell her I did it. She saw it anyway and thanked me. Nothing asked for in return.

Honest reviews just come from people who want to write a review on your work. Period.

Susan Littlefield
12-12-2012, 12:54 AM
Guess where the path of ethics runs?


12-12-2012, 05:13 AM
If you are trying to tweak the public record of the public's reaction to your book, you are engaging in a type of financial fraud.

Having your author friends leave reviews in exchange for a review-payment is exactly this sort of fraud. The people reading those reviews are presuming the reviews come from objective readers, not biased people trying to scratch each other's back. And you and your friends are taking money from these people you've deluded; of course that's dishonest.

Also, you could damage a friendship. What if you don't like your friend's book? The honest thing would be to say so in your review, but your friend may be working on the assumption that you agreed to give them a positive review (whether or not you said you would.) It's never a good idea to mix business and friendship in such a casual manner--all kinds of hurt feelings can occur.

12-12-2012, 05:34 AM
At this point, review swapping is so rampant, especially amongst self-published authors, that it doesn't matter what you do as long as your conscience can stand it. Most people are going to ignore the gushing 4/5-star reviews and just read the lower-starred ones for a more accurate assessment anyway.

12-12-2012, 05:19 PM
And if it makes you feel better, I don't give a crap what any review says as far as buying a book is concerned. I read well-written reviews, good or bad or indifferent, for their own entertainment value.

What makes me buy a book is the book itself, and I don't think I'm alone in this, so make sure your sample is tasty.

Then make sure the rest of the book is tasty, and I'll buy the next one, too.


12-12-2012, 07:18 PM
Admittedly, this is a personal "gah" of mine because I'm going through it at the moment, but...

you also run the risk of driving your friends crazy asking.

I have a friend who self-published a collection of short stories and she mass-emailed about forty of us offering free copies and asking us to review. She now is emailing asking us to please review if we got a free copy before her book goes on KDP Select free days.

I didn't ask for a free copy because I can tell from the sample the prose isn't to a professional standard. But now I feel set upon and am starting to get almost annoyed enough to request the free copy and 2-star it.

I'm kinder than that, but still. Offer your friends a free copy not for promotion but because you want to thank them for supporting you, and let them decide if they want to review. And bear in mind what veinglory said: a bunch of obvious friend-and-family reviews looks worse than no reviews to most people who use reviews as a buying guide

Stacia Kane
12-12-2012, 08:10 PM
I specifically forbade any of my family members or friends from reviewing me or commenting on reviews of/discussions about my books. It can just go too wrong, too fast, even when the reviews or comments are inoffensive and well-intentioned, and even if/when you don't know they're doing it.

12-12-2012, 08:13 PM
Even if you succeed in getting these reviews it can lead to the dreaded 1/5 review pattern.

That is: a bunch of clearly biased 5 star ratings. And a bunch of disillusioned 1 star ratings commenting on how misleading the other reviews were.

I bet nothing kills sales like a 1/5 pattern. I know it puts me off.

James D. Macdonald
12-12-2012, 09:14 PM
Tell you what. You want to review books? Review mine.

Here's the list of stuff available in e-book form: http://www.sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/ebooks.htm

Download one*. Read it. Review it.

I promise that I won't do a darned thing for you in return. I won't hunt you down, won't comment, won't write a revenge review, won't write a buddy-buddy review, or anything else. I won't read the review and probably won't even know that it was posted.


*Or two, or three....

12-14-2012, 01:59 AM
I've seen one author in particular doing this and I watch her reviews with interest. Partly because I've sampled her work and don't think it could be anywhere near the 5 star reviews she received, but also because I observed her twitter account for several months - I kept her on my follower/following list willingly for quite a while. (I can take a while to realize things.)

Anyway, I don't think her work is very good and I think she actively campaigns to network with other writers to get those 4-5 star write-ups. I have seen the 1star/5star thing - that someone else mentioned above - happen to her on Amazon, seen her personally challenge the bad reviews she's gotten, seen the anger that the 1 and 2 star readers displayed - they felt tricked into buying the books by her other reviews. I've also seen how the good reviews she DOES receive are quite one-sided and gushing with positivity. Like commercials for the book. They don't seem like laymen's words at all, but instead finely polished book cover previews. They say things like: 'You'll LOVE this character! I couldn't put it down! I was enthralled to the very end!' After a while, you learn to spot them, but it's very deceptive.

It's made me very cynical and there's no way I would buy a book on the strength of a review anymore. I have to like the sample, or no dice.

12-14-2012, 02:26 AM
I think that trying to get folks to read your work is cool, in general. But the reviews shouldn't be a part of that. The reviews come later, and organically, imho. They are for the readers, not for the author at all, even though they may affect sales.

I certainly don't mind friends giving honest reviews of their own accord! But I never ask for them. As a matter of fact, I kind of expect them to win the book in a giveaway or pay for the Kindle version. If they won't pony up the money for it, it must not sound interesting enough. Of course, my arm is easily twisted on that if anyone asks, lol.

12-14-2012, 10:59 PM
I can think of a few reasons why it should be OK, but I'm still on the fence and I was wondering what other people thought.

1. These are friends, so I hope we will all want each other to succeed... leading to a positive bias.
2. Many of these people are writers who understand the value of honest feedback, somewhat counteracting the friendship bias.
3. If you know that the other person is going to comment on your book, that might make you round your opinion up a star or two.

What are your reasons why it should be OK? Because these sound like the reasons against.