Simon Wood

Shelf Life: Relying On The Kindness Of Strangers

Last week, news broke in the UK that a well known author posted glowing reviews on Amazon of his own work, while trashing other writers, all done under a variety of fake names. This news comes on the back of another author caught red-handed doing something similar. To make matters worse, another author admits paying people to write reviews for him and one reviewer claims he makes a living writing inflated reviews for writers. Now I could name names, but I’m not. Who these people are isn’t important here. I just want to share my own thoughts on this matter.

I groaned when I read the news. Situations like this don’t help me or any author out there. There’s already enough suspicion about the authenticity of online reviews and exposés like this only reinforce those beliefs. So things like this don’t help because writers rely on good word of mouth and if people believe it’s tainted, the writers are screwed. Someone’s short term gain is everyone else’s long term loss. It’s the equivalent of doping in sports. Everyone is viewed with suspicion and proving otherwise is hard. So this latest revelation is a real pain in the arse.

But while I don’t condone the posting fake reviews, I do understand the temptation to do so. Publishing is a tough business. Everyone from the publisher to the bookstore looks to the author to make the title a success and when a book/author fails to live up to expectation, the author won’t get as much shelf space next time around, so it’s down to the writer to make things happen. So the pressure to do anything to succeed is always present, because we’re not just dealing with someone’s desire to see their book in print. It’s about being read. What’s worse than not being published? Being published and not being read. Mediocrity is a flag no one wants to wave.

As much as any writer wants to be a success, there’s one thing ever writer has to accept—success isn’t in his or her hands. It’s in the hands of the public. The writer loses ownership of their book the second it goes on sale and all any writer can hope is the readers will discover the book, love the book and most importantly—to spread the word. It’s a truth that’s a little tough to accept when the pressure is on. So consider this blog an appeal. Readers, if there’s a book or writer you like post your feelings, because we scribblers all rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers to succeed. There is no other way.

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