The Ethics of Reviewing: Questions for veteran authors

One thing that remains clear to me as I continue my odyssey as a self-published author is that, for all the research and preparation, I could never be totally prepared for what all is involved.  The biggest stumbling block, the one that I imagine stymies most indie authors, is self-promotion.  The truth is I am horrible at it.  Not in the sense that I tell prospective readers to stuff it or any conventional PR disaster, it is simply that I don’t want to be bothered by it.  I’m a writer … I would much rather be left alone to, you know, write.  The vast amount of time and energy to be invested in constantly shilling oneself is amazing and, frankly, to someone such as myself who usually has a humble self-image, it is hard to put myself forth as ‘THE BEST THING EVAR’ because I don’t truly believe that, no matter how good I feel about my books.

What does this have to do with the topic of this piece?    As many of you may know, reviews and ratings are a critical part of marketing success.  You can have a good cover, a nice blurb, but get shot in the foot by a string of 1-star reviews.  Even if you have no reviews, you are basically asking people to give you a chance with no assurance of success.  This can be especially vital if your book has a ‘slow burn’ and the real meat of the novel may not be apparent in whatever preview the retailer allows.   It’s a classic ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum:  You need good ratings to get people to read your book but you need people to read your book to give you good ratings.

Obviously, there is a financial market that has sprung up around this.  I notice one key service almost every book marketing package includes is guaranteed reviews.  On top of that, I noticed, to my absolute confusion, that I could review my own books?! Talk about ultimate bias!

I suppose here are my questions to veteran indie writers:

– How do you approach trying to gather reviews?

– Do the ethical implications of some of the more questionable promotional services bother you, such as guaranteed reviews and changes that alter your vision of your work (radically rewritten novel blurbs and descriptions, tagging to fit the market and not the book, etc.)?

– Do you think it is ethical in any sense to review or rate your own book, beyond a simple ‘Like or Don’t Like’ system?

– Is there a way to balance self-promotion and actual writing without paying hundreds of dollars to someone to manage it for you?

– Should I just damn the ethics and charge full speed ahead into self-promotion land?

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