Please hold my calls–I may have to engage in an epic battle. Like many self-published authors, I have had a review pulled for one of my books. I could sing the praises of Cress in Waterbee, ask my brother to sing the praises of Cress in Waterbee, or ask a next-door neighbor to post a review. Oh wait. I can’t do any of that, because the alleged algorithms of a certain website will strike them down.
It sounds noble at first. The guidelines state that reviews from people close to the author (friendly or not) are out of the running due to the website’s alleged desire to bring integrity to the posted reviews. Oh, and I suppose there isn’t anyone in the business world whose parent or close friend didn’t give them a leg-up. No one got hired because their dad owned the company, no one got a client because a customer raved about the product to their sister. Sometimes that son who got the job ran the company as good or better than his father. Sometimes the second customer used the product long after her sister stopped.
But the ball had to start somewhere.
Before a famous person gets famous, somebody has to recommend them. How many celebrities got their foot in the door because a total stranger believed in them? Who are we, Eliza Doolittle? Some guy off the street’s gonna believe in me because I got a nice face? Even if I were discovered as a street performer, I’d have to get a permit to perform on the street. Somebody would have to know me well enough to issue the permit.
I know there are all kinds of abuses in the review system. Trolls live among us. But how many five-star, non-specific, gushing reviews have persuaded you to buy something? How many one-star, two-word reviews have stopped you? Oh yeah, we have brains, don’t we? Crazy little thing called discernment. No one told us those extreme reviews are fake. We figured it out for ourselves.
So if my uncle parts with his hard-earned money to buy a product, he has every right to review it. If he is a longtime customer of the website, why is his personal information being used against him? If a human bothered to screen it, they could determine if it’s a genuine report of his experience. If the review is forthright and specific, my uncle’s relationship to me should not be used as a weapon to limit my exposure.
How many actors in Hollywood are there on a parent’s ticket? Drew Barrymore, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, Tony Goldwyn, on and on. Sure we appreciate their talents. Now. They have proven their worth, but it was the family tie that got them the gig and we all know it.
Are these websites so afraid of self-published authors that a hard-won review is somehow a threat to their empire? Newsflash—getting a review from even a family member is like herding cats. And most authors will tell you that their family is their toughest critic.
Then there is the money we spend as customers. Most of us are customers as well as content providers, so what kind of customer service is this? I ask my cousins to review my book, and that is somehow going to undermine the website’s foundation? Never mind that if we use the self-publishing programs available through these websites, they get a cut of whatever we sell. We buy copies of our own books from these websites. From one end to the other, the website is profiting from our endeavor. Then they go and hobble the only option available to us poor folk—word of mouth.
I’m not a big corporation. I don’t have a $500,000 advertising budget. Or even a $500 budget. If my nephew twice-removed is willing to post an honest review of my book, it is the height of pettiness to forbid him. I don’t like con artists any more than anyone else. Trolling drains my faith in humanity. But people know a rat when they smell one. And unless you want to bankroll my publicity campaign, leave my grass roots alone.