Shameless?

I’m seeing something that I hope isn’t a trend on Good Reads. Two authors, both of whom have large following in the podcast community, are rating their own works. Now, I’m all for “shameless self promotion”. I learn what to do and what not to do by watching those who have gone before me, and I try to come up with my own spins. Along the way I’m bound to make mistakes and want folks to call me on it.

As a writer I know you have to believe in your work. You need to be your own drum beater, horn blower, and cheer leader. You need to work on your stuff until you think it’s good enough to send out and should talk about it to anyone who wants to listen once it’s out there. This is different though. This crosses the line into something truly shameless (shameful)?

Here’s what I know to be true. You should avoid signing up on your own message board under a pseudonym to defend yourself. You should avoid responding to your critics in a negative fashion if they rake you over the coals. And, I’d think this goes without saying, you should avoid rating and reviewing your own work.

You don’t need to “prime the pump”. If folks enjoy what you’re doing, you could certainly share with them where you’d like a review (though this probably isn’t necessary). Doing that is fine. Rating yourself, in my mind and in the mind of many I follow on twitter, is only going to make you look like a douchenozzle. That will likely lose you more fans than it will gain you.

Personally I’m on the fence at this point as to whether or not I’ll ever listen to their podcasts or buy any of their books down the road. I’m not naming names and I don’t want anyone here to either. I sent a message to one of these guys, hoping for an explanation. None has been forthcoming. I am interested in what you think, primarily if you think I’m missing some good point to this.

41 thoughts on “Shameless?”

  1. Let me ask you something. What do you think of your work?

    Now remember, you can’t answer me.

    If you’re proud of your work, and I’ve given you a place to say that you are proud of it, you shouldn’t do it. That would be crass. You should pretend, in all things, as though you had nothing to do with the work. You’re not even allowed to dislike it. All you can ever do is say that you had no idea it existed.

    After all, recognizing that something is good is illegal if you were part of working on it. Things have to stop existing after you work on them, or else you become a douchenozzle.

    1. Like I said, if you put it out there obviously you think it’s awesome. Pointing to it and saying “I did that.” is great. Being proud of what you do is fine. I think there’s a line though and in my opinion they crossed it. That hardly makes it “illegal”.

      Do you rate your own stuff? If so, why? What good purpose does it serve?

      1. I write for money. I get more money if I can get good reviews. Lots of people don’t leave reviews, but every time I go to Amazon, it asks me if I want to leave a review. I feel no inflated sense of propriety that makes me feel I am ineligible to answer the question, nor do I turn aside an opportunity to make more money with my writing, when the things I do are not illegal or immoral.

        When I leave a review, I hurt no one. I help my sales. I don’t feel an iota of regret for the fact that I have admitted that I’m proud of my work.

        By saying, “if you put it out there obviously you think it’s awesome”, you are drawing a corrolary idea that this is as far as the creator is allowed to go. If they go any farther in showing their pride, you unfollow them. Why? Because they’re TOO proud?

        If you unfollow people because you don’t like their work, I can understand that. If you unfollow people because they like their own work, then it just comes across as sanctimonious and ignores the quality of the work.

        Unfollow me if you don’t like my work. That makes sense. But if you’re offended by my saying that I’m proud of my work . . . well, you should probably still unfollow me. Because I am proud of my work, and I’ll say it in as many ways as I can.

        I will not pass up a free, legal, entirely ethical way of making money.

        1. Brand Gamblin: “When I leave a review, I hurt no one. I help my sales.”

          Unless you were hoping to sell to me.

          Mur Lafferty: “It’s not illegal. It’s not unethical. But that doesn’t change that many readers are going to see it and think, ‘That’s weird. Why would they do that?’ and possibly steer clear of it.”

          I can speak for only one reader in this case, but my thoughts are slightly less charitable. They’re more along the lines of, “Wow. That author is a douchenozzle. That’s a book I’m never going to buy.”

          I’m the sort of reader who allows my personal opinion of an author to directly impact my decision to purchase said author’s works. I will never buy another book written by Orson Scott Card, for example. Does that affect Card in any tangible way? Not at all, but I feel better for not having supported someone who is, in my opinion, a douchenozzle.

  2. “you are drawing a corrolary idea that this is as far as the creator is allowed to go. If they go any farther in showing their pride, you unfollow them.”

    I drew no such corollary. I as much as said that I’ve no problem with authors taking other steps. Talk to folks about it. Go on talk shows. Write blog posts. Get the word out. I’ve zero problem with any of that. It’s just that this crosses a line for me.

    I’m not trying to be “sanctimonious” and it you’ve no problem with it, go crazy! I wish you a great deal of prosperity. You happen to be one of my favorite authors and while the knowledge that you’re okay with this won’t make me unfollow you or dislike your work, it’s still off putting. Could very well be that I’m wrong for thinking this is over the line, but I’m not alone in that. And while reviewing your own work on Amazon or wherever may get you some new readers, it may also lose you some old ones. That’s worth thinking about.

    1. If I lose readers because they can’t stand the fact that I write an honest review of something I’ve done, I’m okay with that. After all, I’m not an embedded journalist writing news copy. This is opinion, and some people might like to hear the opinion of the creator.

      Every single person who reviews a work has a bias, and if I review my own work, then my bias is fairly displayed.

      You keep talking about “crossing a line”, but you don’t say what the line is. You just say that some things are okay, and some aren’t. That’s why I’m bristling. I don’t recognize your authority to tell people what is going “too far” or “across the line”.

      Consider this: It’s wrong for me to review my work, because I am too invested in the result. Is it, therefore, wrong for my wife to review the work? How about my mother? My best friend? Someone I met at a con? Either we say that

      1) no one can review the work
      2) Everyone can
      3) we allow for a specific point between the two.

      At that point, you draw the line between it being okay or not . . . and that’s what bugs me. Each person has the right to draw their own line.

      Please understand that I respect your opinion, and I treasure your custom. But the Libertarian in me gets riled up every time someone tries to say that it’s wrong to do something that hurts no one, without any explanation of why it is wrong.

      1. I’m sure that a lot of people want to hear many things from the author’s perspective. I’m not sure they want to hear about how awesome the book is from the author in the review section of their book’s space on GR/Amazon. I know I don’t. If you just want to give me the break down of what the book is about and some of the themes you deal with in it are, there’s a place for that, the jacket copy.

        You don’t have to recognize my authority. I don’t have any in this case. This is just me as a creator/consumer saying “I think this is creepy/wrong and may bite you in the ass.” and that I think it actually can harm your book’s and your reputation. Writers share their opinion on crap like this all the time. That’s all I’m doing. So you can soothe your Libertarian hackles. I don’t think it should be illegal. I don’t think it’s immoral per se.

        Each person does have the ability to draw their own line and as I said in the post “I am interested in what you think, primarily if you think I’m missing some good point to this”. I want to know where folks draw the line and why. I respect your opinion and understand where you’re coming from. I hope I’ve clarified mine a bit.

      2. So, if I see that you’ve written a review of something that you’ve done, how do I know that that review is honest? Especially since you’ve already established that if you get a good review you make more money. Wouldn’t you make even more money by focusing your skills on writing good reviews and putting no effort into making a quality story?

        Doc

  3. I see your point, I have asked myself the very same question after I saw it being done on Goodreads a couple of times.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not a good judge of my own work. It’s like those parents who think their baby is the most beautiful one in the world even though it really looks like an old sock. I will always love my book, but that should go true for every author. I can’t judge it. But that’s what other people are there for. That’s what Goodreads is there for.

    I must think it was a good idea cause I wrote it, damn right! 😀

    Seriously, I wouldn’t rate my own book on Goodreads. I would like to think it takes more balls to go out there and just let others decide, without trying to influence it one way or the other.

    And I also agree with Scott that I usually more as frown if someone else does it. It’s a No-Buy for me.

  4. It seems I can’t read something, anything really, without weighing in.

    So…

    I’ve never written a book. I’m barely able to call myself a podcaster. However, I do read and listen. While I would never rate myself in any forum (I NEVER deserve a gold star, stupid puritan work ethic), I don’t have a personal problem with an author doing so IF they identify themselves as the author.

    As a reader of comments, I would expect an author to be biased about his own work and take the critical portion of the comment with a grain of salt. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be something there of value to take away.

    I would also expect any author that is doing this to do it early on as a means to get his/her book noticed. If they’re leaving a comment/review after 50 others have, that is much more tasteless IMO.

    I think we can all agree, defending yourself or attacking other reviews is simply tasteless.

    1. A reader’s perspective is actually more valuable on this (though we’re all readers of course). I think that because of the writer’s inherent bias and because I (and I suspect most people) are acutely aware of that, at the very best I just don’t see the point and at the very worst it smacks a little of desperation.

      I’m not sure which is worse, if you have only one review and it’s yours or if you have fifty and yours is the fifty-first.

  5. I agree that it’s not illegal or unethical so long as the author in question isn’t leaving a review under some kind of pseudonym. I don’t like sockpuppetry. I realize that’s not what we’re talking about here. It does strike me as gauche. I’d love for Flagship to get more reviews, and it would be a very simple thing to direct the FIP crew to leave reviews on Amazon and BN.com for our stuff, but I regard the review section to be a place for third party feedback. Maybe I’m being naive, but there are so many places an author can pimp their own stuff – the Reviews section of their work seems like maybe a step too far in self-promotion. Again, not unethical, definitely not illegal, but it does raise an eyebrow.

    1. Yeah I wouldn’t go so far as to say it should be illegal or that it is unethical (again so long as the author is proclaiming themselves the author). When it comes to FIP it’s a little more gray I guess because at least we didn’t write the stories and we’re not saying “OMG FIP IS DA BOMB!”, but yeah gray areas can be good to avoid.

      Gauche is a good word for what it is. Skeevy is another one.

  6. My 2 cents is that there’s a difference between logging in under a pseudonym and leaving a review of your own work and logging in as yourself and leaving a review.

    Honestly? I’ve got no problem with an author leaving a review on the Amazon page of their own book if they clearly state that they’re the author of the work.

    If, on the other hand, they do it under a pseudonym then it seems disingenuous. But that’s just me.

  7. There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with leaving a review of your own work or a rating. It’s just goofy. And it’s bad taste.

    You want to make a sales pitch, make a sales pitch, but it seems to me the review section is the wrong place to do that. There is the obvious case of BIAS. Will an author come on and rate their product 4 stars? Maybe. But 3? 2? 1? And what consumer wouldn’t see through it as a cheap way to make a sales pitch?

    And what consumer is going to leave a review to do the author a service, when you can see the author can take care of it himself?

  8. If I walked up to you with your book and asked ‘why should I buy it?’ what exactly would you say?

    I have to assume you’d give me an elevator pitch and then tell me about all the nice things others have said. That is after all what the blurbs on the cover are for, right?

    That is a review. So the real question is why is it considered ‘shameless’ to put that sort of review on an electronic page when it is perfectly normal [not to mention required by editors and publishing houses] when you do it on the book cover itself?

    All too often we get ideas in our head about what is ‘right’ or ‘proper’, when what we should really be worried about is “does our view point make sense?”

    Getting bent out of shape because someone was brave enough to say ‘I wrote a damn good book and you should buy it’ seems to me, to be a waste of both energy and time. For a start, it’s not a fight you can win. Second, it’s not really a fight anyway. You won’t change the person’s opinion by unfollowing them on Twitter or Facebook.

    What you do manage to do by making a tempest in the tea cup over you personal preference is make a lot of other authors look at their pre-conceived notions and look where that got us on the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing front.

    With that being said, from here on out we can blame Scott for giving ideas to all the other authors who just ran out and rated their own work. It’s the Streisand effect at its best.

    1. I’d say that’s not a review. That’s telling other people about review’s you received. A review is “this is what I think of this book”, not “this is what others think of my book”

      Having said that, if what I wrote here is making other people go out and rate their own work, I’d be interested in knowing that. If they do and that works for them, great. For me, it’s not something I’d do or encourage anyone to do. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted energy or time.

      FWIW, I do think it’s brave to write a damn good book and put it out there for people to read. Is it brave to go on Amazon and say “This is my damn fine book and it’s worth five stars!!!” I guess so. It might also be considered brave to walk into a biker bar and scream “Harley’s are shit!”. It might not be very smart though. And I’m not bent out of shape, so much as I am puzzled by the need for someone whose already got a big audience (and by all accounts is getting bigger) to do that.

      And tempests in teapots are fun and I think examining pre-conceived notions is valuable, so WIN!

    2. If you asked me why you should buy my book, I would tell you why I thought it would be worth your money. You’d know that comment came from me and that I had a vested interest in you buying my book. You could then make your own decision about if you could trust my words or not.

      If you held my book up in a bookstore and asked everyone to rate my book from 1 to 10, write that rating on a slip of paper and throw it into a hat, and then based your purchasing decision on how high an average rating the book got, I would have to recuse myself. If I were to add my rating to the pool, I would be skewing the results. Everyone else would rate the book based on their willingness to pay money for it. With my vested interest, I would be perceived as rating the book based on my interest in receiving your money, and you would be unable to isolate my feedback from everyone else’s.

      Your mileage, and ethics, may vary.

      Doc

  9. Specifically for Goodreads, I can see where an author would list their book on a shelf, and why would they rate it any less than 5 stars? It’s a case of a site that is ill-equipped for the AUTHOR to list both reading titles and writing titles. I care less about an author using Goodreads for this purpose than, say, Amazon reviews.

    Allie, cover blurbs are written by people who are not the author. What if the author blurbed his own cover? “Read ‘Archangel’ by Scott Roche. Scott Roche says, ‘I couldn’t put it down!'” Same thing here, I should think. As for the elevator pitch, it’s “let me outline the good points for you.” Isn’t that where the product description comes in? So why would I come on and insist on writing MORE about how good my book is? It seems to me a sign of a lack of confidence in the initial pitch.

  10. Lots of interesting takes on this so far.

    One thing I find interesting is that most people aren’t willing to say that leaving a review of your own work is unethical. Obviously, everyone has to make their own decisions about what is ethical. There is no common standard of ethics, although there are generally accepted principles.

    Let’s look at this a little differently. Let’s say that I’m a seller on eBay, and after each sale, I give feedback on myself saying that I game timely, responsive attention to the sale, provided the promised product on time, and was otherwise a joy to conduct business with. And I give myself a 5 star rating on the transaction. Would this be ethical? If my buyers never bother to rate me, I’d have a 100% 5-star rating as a seller, regardless how how I actually conduct business. Would eBay allow this? Hell no. They would say that I was gaming the system to inflate my satisfaction rating and get more business.

    So how is it different on Goodreads? If I am now an author on Goodreads and I review my own work saying that it is a fantastic story that is sure to be a classic tale to be read and re-read down through the years and that it is a fine example of the best of 21st century writing and give myself 5 stars, am I being ethical? While a review on Goodreads will not give me direct financial compensation, it will influence purchasing decisions, both as an individual review, and in the aggregate. Am I giving myself an honest review, or am I inflating my rating in order to deceive others that my writing is better than it really is? And how can someone else tell?

    Is it unethical to give yourself an honest review? I don’t think so. Is it unethical to inflate your rating so you can make more sales? Damn straight it is! So how will a third party decide if you are being ethical or not?

    The answer to this is also pretty obvious. If there is doubt, the third party will assume that you are being unethical. The appearance of impropriety is equivalent to actual impropriety.

    I believe an author can leave commentary, and can answer questions asked by his audience. But as soon as the author enters a ranking that will be aggregated with other people’s ratings and is no longer separately attributable to him, he has breached the bounds of what he can do without the appearance of impropriety.

    I won’t rate my own work. Just like I won’t nominate myself for awards. Those kinds of accolades mean more when they come from someone else.

    Doc

  11. If you’re clear that you’re the author, then I personally don’t see an issue here.

    However, if you’re trying to obscure that you’re the author … well then that’s where things get sticky for me.

    I don’t care if an author/publisher reviews their own work, so long as I *know* they’re the publisher/author of the work. If I know it’s them, then I think it’s actually pretty darn cool.

  12. Go look on Goodreads. Pretty much every author who is a Goodreads author has given their own stuff 5 stars, or sometimes less as a joke. Doing so on Amazon would seem like something of a faux pas, but Goodreads is more on a level with Facebook.

    1. I’m not sure I understand the difference between Amazon and Good Reads in that way. I’d want to behave the same regardless I think. I mean I understand that GR is more of a social networking site so I guess that’s what you’re saying?

  13. I suspect I noticed one of the instances just yesterday in my Goodreads feed. What struck me about that occurrence is that the book in question is not available for many months.

    I think this practice is rather tacky, especially for a book that will not be out for a few months. That said, there are far worse offenses an author could do.

  14. I don’t do it, but I’m willing to give people a pass on rating their own work on Goodreads because:

    -GR encourages you to rate everything on your shelf
    -a book might have a rating of 0.0 otherwise
    -it’s immediately clear from browsing the ratings that the author left it (not deceptive)
    -other ratings will confirm or contest whether it’s really worth five stars

    As long as it’s under your own name and you don’t leave yourself a review, I don’t have a problem with it.

    1. Far points, but:

      – GR encouraging it doesn’t make it a good idea.
      – I’m largely talking about authors who’ve done this where getting a 0.0 rating ain’t gonna happen.
      – I’ve not accused anyone of deception (though it happens)
      – It may be worth it whether the author says it is or not. That’s not the point.

      Thanks for the comment!

  15. Reviewing implies you’re talking about the strengths and weaknesses in a book, and how you reacted to the book as a whole.

    First, the author is not going to talk about the weaknesses. That’s just dumb. “I felt my characters could have been stronger and the twist relied too much on a standard trope.”

    Secondly, if you talk about the strengths with no weaknesses, you sound disingenuous. Of course you think it’s awesome. You wrote it and put it up for sale.

    Lastly, you can’t tell how you reacted to the book as a whole. You wrote it. You’re inside looking out. You have a biased eye.

    As a reader, I don’t trust an author’s review. Because it’s not an honest review; it’s a sales pitch, and there are many, many other places to do that – including right above the review area where you can put the book description.

    As an author, I once “Liked” something of my own in order to put it on my Facebook page (essentially, I was lazy and figured it was the fastest way to announce that I had launched something.) I immediately felt bad about it and apologized in the comments.

    It’s not illegal. It’s not unethical. But that doesn’t change that many readers are going to see it and think, “That’s weird. Why would they do that?” and possibly steer clear of it. I don’t know the metrics of whether it helps sell books or not, but it feels like a conflict of interest.

  16. Scott,

    I agree whole-heartedly with your post and your comments. It sours my opinion of the author and the work when I see they’ve rated/reviewed their own work. Especially the ratings, as it skews the average. That is my opinion, and I’m not going to justify or explain my stance.

    In addition, I recently wrote a review for a book on Amazon, and upon returning to that page later to link the book to a friend saw that I would have been blocked had I wanted to rate how helpful my review was. Seems like common sense to me, and I wish that Amazon would do the same thing with authors, manufacturers and secondary sellers. But I’m guessing that’s too complicated or not important enough to make it on their radar. Shame, that.

    I also think that anyone that questions your authority to write any damned thing you want on your blog needs to remember that this is YOUR BLOG. It’s your place on the internet to give your opinion, your peach cobbler recipe, advice on removing red Kool-Aid stains from clothes, and anything else you want.

    And, to repeat a long-standing response to podcasts not enjoyed, you can always refund their money. Or they can just not read your blog.

    I love your bravery in posting this, knowing that it would be contentious. Cheers to you for saying something I’ve long felt!

    1. Viv, thanks for your support! I did not know that about Amazon’s preventing you from marking your own review as helpful. You’re right. It does seem like it would be easy to do something similar with reviews. But if someone wanted to get around that, they could. They’d just have to do what Scott Adams did and create a dummy account.

      I think the question of authority was less of a “you have no right to say this!” and more of a “have you set yourself up as a moral authority here?”. That’s how I interpret it anyway. That’s not a bad question. Anyone who says “You shouldn’t do this! It’s a bad idea.” Is setting themselves up as some kind of authority and that’s tricky ground.

      I appreciate your kind words re: my bravery. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I don’t know that I feel terribly brave, but I am proud of the discussion we’ve had and more than a little excited to see so many familiar faces in the comments.

  17. I don’t mean to pile on, but do want to agree with the overall consensus here: I agree that it comes off as douchey and as Scott said in a comment “smacks a little of desperation”.

    Just because some popular authors have done it, it still feels like an amateur move to me and lowers my respect for them.

    There is a clear difference in my mind between review, blurb, jacket copy, item description and personal conversation. They all have their place and expected behavior. While there may be some overlap, reviewing your own work feels inappropriate.

    In the first year (and maybe the second, I can’t remember) our podcasts were eligible for Parsecs I went ahead and nominated them. Looking back, I feel that I crossed a line. IIRC I wrote something along the lines of “shameless self nomination” which means I was conflicted back then but did it anyway.

    I do know that in the future I won’t be rating, reviewing, or nominating any of my projects on my own. I’m not saying others shouldn’t do it – but I am saying that I will think a little less of them for it.

    While I don’t think that spouses or family are crossing a line by submitting reviews I think that they should declare their conflict of interest.

    1. Hey Chooch! Yeah I’ve come close to nominating some of my stuff for the Parsecs. There’s no rule against it, after all. Still, it’s much nicer to get nominated by a fan and win it “legitimately”. As such I figure I’ll win one when I deserve it. Same goes for a good review. Doesn’t mean I won’t ask my listeners/fans/etc. to review/nominate me. If I get silence that just means that while they enjoy me, competition is steep.

      RE: Family reviews, yeah they should definitely consider declaring their relationship, but they should feel free to review it. After all, my own dear wife (who hasn’t actually reviewed anything of mine) does’t like some of my stuff.

    2. I clicked submit too soon: “Just because some popular authors have done it” should have been “EVEN THOUGH some popular authors have done it”

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