When I learned that an author I’ll call Ms. Y had a son in the Army, I asked her if she might be interested in reading Pretty Much True… . (At the time, it hadn’t yet been placed with a publisher and was just sitting around in my computer doing nothing.) She responded with “Yes,” but she also asked if I was looking for an endorsement. I told her I wasn’t, that it hadn’t even crossed my mind. (It hadn’t. I was out of marketing mode and really just wanted to send her a copy to read when she had the time. We write to be read. [Usually.])
She finished reading Pretty Much True… and wrote very nice things about it on her Facebook page. She also told me she would be happy to endorse it, if I’d like.
Of course I’d like!
In the meantime, I finished reading a book by Ms. X, an author friend of Ms. Y, and posted a brief review on Facebook, the only place I intended to share it. I’ve never been comfortable reviewing the writing of people I’ve met, whether in person or online. There’s always the fear someone will think my review is a lie, a favor, a cross-promotional throwaway. There’s also this: “What if I don’t like it?” Or, let’s say I know two people whose books I read: “What if I like A’s book, but I don’t like B’s?”
There’s also always just been something uncomfortable about being a writer reviewing other people’s writing. Depending on whether the review is positive or negative, it can feel either incestuous or cannibalistic.
Both are bad.
So, naturally, although I wrote a brief review of Ms.X’s book and shared it on Facebook, I wasn’t inclined to also post it on Amazon. (Back when Amazon allowed authors to post reviews.)
But then I remembered the value of small press writers helping promote one another. What I wrote about her book was honest, and it wasn’t originally intended for Amazon, which to me added to its value, so I copied and pasted what I’d written on Facebook and published it on Amazon (with a little bit added to it, because it didn’t seem comprehensive enough for an Amazon review).
What the hell. It wasn’t like she was providing an endorsement that would call into question the integrity of my review – or her endorsement.
I finished reading Ms. Y’s book. And I posted a review on Facebook. But, because she wrote an outstanding endorsement for Pretty Much True…, I certainly couldn’t publish my own glowing review of her book on Amazon, or anywhere else book reviews are posted, like Goodreads. What would people think?
Problem: Ms. X and Ms. Y are, as I mentioned, friends. (At the very least, Facebook and author friends.) I thought, “What if Ms. Y learns I published a review for Ms. X and not for her?”
So I sent her an email explaining that I really wanted to write an Amazon review of her book, but that – because she wrote such a wonderful endorsement for Pretty Much True... – I just couldn’t. “Seems like a backward thing, but I hope it makes sense,” I wrote.
(Why bother telling her at all? Because I hate imagining what anyone might be thinking, or that my actions might be misconstrued. Much easier to put things out there right away.)
As well as I understand why readers might make assumptions about writers who review other writers, I’m struggling with the fact that I’m allowing them to dictate my – or any writer – behavior.
Unfortunately, as much as I believe it should be enough that I know I’m being truthful, perception among readers is their reality, and if they can’t trust the reviews we write, not only will we be wasting our time, but we’ll be inviting their mistrust and disgust (which certainly can’t help sales or reader/writer relationships.)
It’s a shame, because in these weird writing/publishing days, we’re part of the “all we’ve got.”