Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Quid Pro Quo Reviews...Where's the Integrity (and the Chianti)?
In the world of self-publishing we all know that reviews sell books. We also know that self-published books don't get reviewed, not by the pros anyway. So, how does a self-published book get reviewed? Usually the author gets other self-published authors to do the reviewing. And, whether it's actually spoken or not, there is an expectation of quid pro quo. But can you review something honestly if a review of your own work is hanging in the balance? I think it's probably very rare unless you're lucky enough to review something that is genuinely good. Sadly, more often than not, you're gonna review something that is just plain bad or, best case scenario, in need of much editing. If you were an agent or editor, you might be able to get away with an honest review as constructive criticism. As a fellow self-published author, however, you are opening yourself up to resentment, questions about your intelligence and/or sanity and a retaliatory hatchet piece about your own work.
What got me thinking about this was a self-published book I recently read half of. I only read half because I was so frustrated by the poor writing that I couldn't force myself to finish. The metaphors were tortured, the pop culture references were jarring and self-conscious and the dialog swung wildly from something out of a hip hop video to what you might hear in a 1930s film noir. In addition, the characters were schizophrenic and not in a "this is a story about schizophrenic people" way. I was frustrated and, quite frankly, kinda pissed because not one of the reviews had anything negative to say. They were undeservedly glowing. I suppose I got hoodwinked because, like a naive idiot, I believed the reviews. This dichotomy between review and actual product got me thinking about the integrity of quid pro quo reviews by fellow self-publishers. I don't think any of us have the balls to give someone a tough review when we know that they either are, will be, or could be reviewing our stuff as well or even that they are part of the same writing community. The stakes are too high, our egos too fragile and we empathize too much.
This book could probably be a good story but it needs a lot of editing. However, if no one is ever honest with the author in a review, he/she may never know that it needs fixed. He/She cannot grow as a writer either without honesty from peers and readers. So, you're probably wondering if I wrote an honest review. Absofuckinglutely not! I want to give and receive honest reviews but I also want to have friends and colleagues who don't hate me. Yeah, we talk a good game about having a thick skin when you put your work out there but who doesn't resent a bad review? For my own work, I'm sticking to strangers and, where possible, people who have no interest in blowing sunshine up my ass.
What do you guys think? Can quid pro quo reviewing result in an honest review? Am I wrong?