Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 | Posted by: Kristen Tsetsi
Last week, I read two new (to me) books, one by Ms. X and one by Ms. Y. I found the books after I found the authors. Ms. Y had been a Facebook friend of mine for some time, but as is common with Facebook friends, I didn’t really know her. As much as I enjoyed her posts, I hadn’t taken the time to visit her page to learn more about her, and she wasn’t someone I’d met outside of Facebook. I don’t even remember when we became Facebook friends, or who initiated it. (I’m usually shy about that kind of thing, so it’s safe to say she sent the invite. She’s also very friendly, and highly encouraging to, and supportive of, other writers, so it makes sense that she would seek out a fellow writer.)
One of her Facebook status updates mentioned her son, a Lieutenant in the Army, and her empathy for military mothers whose kids are deployed. I thought, “She might enjoy Pretty Much True…,” which at the time wasn’t yet placed with a publisher after having been pulled from distribution and was just sitting around in my computer doing nothing. I sent her a PDF (after she said that, yes, she’d like to read it), and she reminded me that we’d gotten in touch several years ago when both of our books were book-of-the-month picks for the Army Wife Network (I was horrible at making connections back then, frantic with learning how to self-promote and doing a very poor job of it). She then told me about her book and suggested I join the Military Writers’ Society of America (MWSA).
She also told me about Ms. X’s book and recommended I “friend” her on Facebook. So, I did, and Ms. X gifted me a Kindle copy of her book. Because I’d ordered Ms. Y’s book in paperback, I was still waiting for it to arrive when I started reading Ms. X’s.
I have to backtrack for a second: when I sent Ms. Y a message asking if she’d be interested in reading Pretty Much True…, 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 Ms. X’s book 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.
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. What would people think?
Problem: Ms. X and Ms. Y are both MWSA members. I thought, “What if Y learns I published a review for X and not for her? How rude would that seem?”
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.)
Sticky spot: I enjoyed Ms. Y’s book, but because readers might think my positive review is a “payment” of some kind for her endorsement, or that her endorsement was payment for my good review, I won’t publish it on Amazon.
Still, as much as I understand why readers might make such assumptions, I’m struggling with the fact that I’m allowing them to dictate my behavior, and since explaining my position to Ms. Y (which she completely understood), I’ve wanted more and more to share the review on Amazon.
Unfortunately, as much as I believe it should be enough that I know I’m being truthful, I’m trying to accept that perception is reality, and that writers reviewing other writers can, in many cases, end up looking like a big [insert nice word for circle-jerk]. Especially if our good reviews aren’t balanced out with bad ones. And I absolutely refuse to write a bad review for a writer I know*. (If I don’t like the book, I’ll just be very quiet about it.)
And it’s a shame, because in these weird writing/publishing days, we’re part of the “all we’ve got.”
*“Why only if it’s someone you know?” you ask.
Be the first to write a comment