There was a recent thread on the Kindleboards
that has been censored into oblivion about authors helping each other out with "Likes" on Amazon. Allow me to give a little information here for those who aren't aware of what this means.
When you look at books (and other items) on Amazon there is a "Like" feature which enables you to promote that item via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. There are Indie authors who are exchanging "Likes" with each other's books in order to (theoretically) bump their book up in searches. There are also "Tag" exchanges and "review" swaps.
Tagging is where you list several keywords about a book so that when someone searches for those key words that book will pop up in the search list. If you are web savvy you know this is similar to what is done for websites. In theory, the more tags you have, the more visible your book will be when searches are done using those key words.
Every author wants their book to be highly visible. Our first goal, as an author, is to have people reading what we wrote. The secondary goal is to make money off of the time that has gone into all the writing, editing, formatting, promotions, etc. Authors who don't have a major publishing house behind them have to get creative. Let's face it, many of us don't have the advertising dollars that major publishers have to throw around. We don't have the big names to lean on to get the word out. That being said, there are tag exchange threads on forums, there are "like" exchanges, and there are even review exchanges (where authors read each other's books and review them).
Before I get into that ethical debate and censorship, I'd like to point out where I stand on all this. I am an author, a reader, and a reviewer. It's important to remember, in my stance, that I am all three. When I make decisions for my own books, and for the reviews that I choose to do or choose not to do, it is made with all three of those things in mind.
If I join a "tag" exchange, how does that affect me as an author? It possibly pushes my books, as well as some fellow Indie authors' book, higher in the search results. Is that good for my book? Yes, it is more visible. Is it unethical for other authors to "tag" information about a book they haven't read just to help someone else out? That is one of the questions that was being debated on the Kindleboards recently in the writer's cafe.
My answer in short, NO! Now, here's why...
I have been an avid reader for a very long time. I was reading the likes of Stephen King by the time I was in third grade. Long before there was a venue for reviews online, I was telling people about my latest reads, as well as the books I looked forward to reading in the future. I was, in effect, telling people about books I had not read. I was telling them what I knew (basically verbal tags) of books I had not read, yet. I still do this today. If I see an interesting book cover that pulls me in and I read the blurb and think, 'man, I've gotta read that book!" Then, I tell people about it, long before I ever read it. And I will tell people what I eventually thought of it after I read it too. I consider tagging people's books with key phrases and words as the same thing. I am telling you, not that I have read this book, but about some simple key words that describe it. If you really like books about vampires and "BOOK A" is all about vampires, the tags should lead you there. When I know a friend likes books about pirates I tell them about the pirate books that I come across. It doesn't mean I have read that book, just that I am pointing out that this is about pirates and you may want to glance it over and see if it's something you would buy. That is what tags do. Tags are not reviews. You do NOT have to read a book to tag it. Just as I did not have to read that pirate book to know that it was something a friend might like. I've been telling people about the books, "Wither" and "Divergent" for a while now. I haven't read either in full yet. I know about what I read in the blurb and I basically regurgitate that information to people who may also be interested. Again, this is a form of "verbal tagging," in my opinion.
As an AUTHOR:
- Tagging will possibly lead people to my books who may not have discovered them any other way - GOOD
- Tagging will tell some readers that they may not like my books (not everyone likes paranormal) - GOOD (Yes, it is good because I don't want someone who really won't like my book to read it and leave a bad review just because it's something they don't like - normally wouldn't read. I want my readers to know exactly what they are getting and tagging helps with that.)
As a READER:
- Tagging lets me know exactly what I am getting into, generally they tell me genre, the types of characters I might find, and some of the themes of the books. If I don't like insects and I see a tag of "insect infestation" I know this book may not be for me. If I see vampires and paranormal tagged, I think, 'hey, I need to check this out further.'
- Searches have lead me to some of my favorite books, if tagging helps with those search results - please, everyone go tag as many books as you can! I want to be able to find them all easier!
As a REVIEWER
- My points as a reviewer as similar to the reader, for obvious reasons. I want to know that this book is in a genre I love to read before I try to do a review.
- I take requests for reviews, but many of the books I review I do based on random searches where I find books that look interesting to me - I check tags to make sure the book is a good fit!
- As a reviewer I tag my blogs with specifics too, if the book I am reviewing is a young adult horror short story anthology then I am going to tag with YA, horror, Short stories, Reviews, and books so that people who come to my blog can find the reviews for what interests them. I feel that online stores should work the same way. I want to be directed to the books that I want to read, without the tags - it's that much harder.
- Tag exchanges introduce me to books by authors that I haven't heard of before. My TBR list has been doubled based on tag exchanges with other authors. That is a very good thing for those authors who are not only going to get a sale from that tag exchange, but possibly a review as well!
The "LIKE" Button is a very similar feature to me. I said it earlier in this blog, I tend to recommend that friends check out books that I THINK they may like based on the information I have on hand. I am very upfront with whether I have or have not read said book. I am not perpetrating a lie of any sort. I am not telling people that I have read this book and love it (unless I did and I do). I am simply stating hey, this book looks interesting, go check it out and decide for yourself if you will like it. That is what the LIKE button is, in my opinion. If i want to know what people really thought after reading a book I am not going to look at how many "likes" the book has, I am going to read the reviews! When I advertise something on my own personal Facebook or Twitter accounts, I usually do so with a targeted audience in mind and I always let people know if I have read a book or if I just thought it looked interesting. Either way, the author of said book is getting the benefit of my word of mouth. Their book just got a shout out whether it's a 'hey this looks cool' or a 'hey I read this, it's great.' No matter what I say, informed consumers will go check that book out before clicking the "buy now" button. They will check out the cover, read the blurb, check out tags and reviews, maybe even read the sample chapters, and make an informed decision before purchasing. My suggestion may have gotten them there, but the author/book information is what will eventually sell them!
So, when the question of ethics popped up on the Kindleboards recently, I was actually in awe. I have to suppose that these same people who are against authors promoting each other through "tag" and "like" exchanges have never said to a friend, "hey, that book looks like it might be pretty good." Because their argument for ethics is that this should never be done unless you have already read the book and really do like it. I can't tell you the number of books I have ended up buying based on someone saying, "hey, this one looks like it might be good."
Personally, when I walk into a book store with friends or family, that is exactly what we do. We browse, we discuss what looks good to us, we take notes on which books to add to our "to buy later" lists, because I can never afford to buy every single book I want at the same time. One of us will say, "oh, I like this, it looks interesting" and so it goes on the list. "Oooo, look at this one!" It's the same as me pressing "LIKE" on Amazon. It's the same as me sharing on my Facebook a book I haven't read yet, but one that caught my attention and made me want to take a closer look. I do the same thing with movies, games, electronics, etc. Where, oh where is the ethical dilemma in that scenario?
AS A REVIEWER: I never review books that I don't like. This is where my "as an author" comes into play. If I don't like a book, I will just tell the author (if they are available) what I liked and didn't like about it and let them know that I can't do the review because it would not be positive. Why don't I write negative reviews? Because reviews are personal opinions. I may hate your book, but there is someone else out there who may love it. I do not want to put on permanent record how much I hated your book, because that negative review may chase away a person who truly would have loved it. I will tell people when I love a book, because it can't hurt the book or author. Besides, when I love a book, I will scream it from the rooftops. I will tell anyone who will listen. I will especially tell the people who I know read within that genre.
So, that brings me to the "review" exchanges. I have reviewed books and had authors turn around and review mine too. I have offered to do review exchanges before, but I never give a good review of a book for any form of payment. That is to say, even if I agree to a review swap, it is with the understanding that if I don't like your book I won't review it. I will tell you why I didn't like it and I expect the same consideration and honesty in return for my own books.
That is the only ethical issue I see worth talking about when author exchanges are discussed. If you agree to "swap" reviews then do so with the full knowledge that someone may not like your book. I tell people who read my book that I want to know their honest opinion. If I gave them a glowing a review and they hated my book, I'm cool with that. It's not for everyone. I will not compromise my reviews of other books just because you gave me a glowing review either. Doing so would result in an ethical violation for me. If you've read a review here at Moonlit Dreams, then you have read my honest opinion.
If you see (somehow) that I have "Liked" a book on Amazon or know that I have "tagged" a book on Amazon, Shelfari, or Goodreads, but you don't see a review yet, you can rest assured I have not read it, but thought it looked interesting (either for myself or someone I know). If you see my "To Be Read" list on any of those sites, you can rest assured I found something about that book interesting and I plan to read it eventually. I consider my TBR list to be just a step higher than me hitting the "LIKE" button on Amazon.
Sometimes, I think people want to see the negative in everything. Sometimes, I think in making rule after rule for behavior and conduct in the cyber world, people forget what they do in their day-to day lives. If you have no problem looking at a book (movie or anything else) and tapping the person next to you (be it friend, family, or complete stranger) and saying, "hey, this looks like it might be good" then why on Earth would you have a problem with someone doing that in cyber-land with a "LIKE" button?
OH - and I almost forgot before signing off, I'm not sure why that thread that I mentioned disappeared from the Kindleboards. Perhaps, (and I really hope this is true) I simply lost the thread somewhere and this is a case of operator error on my part. I certainly hope it wasn't a sign of blatant censorship from the administrators who saw an ethical violation where others did not, but alas, I am not privy to these things. So, I will simply say this, as an author it astounds me that other authors would seek to censor their own. Is this what intelligent adults do in lieu of book burnings these days? Do we now decide that if someone has a difference of opinion with us that we should just shut them down and make sure the rest of the world doesn't get the chance to hear it? Now, there - there, my friends is the real ethical dilemma.
You don't have to agree with me, and I welcome comments from everyone - no matter which side of the fence you sit on. My final say is this, as far as reviews go - they should be honest and you should have read the book before doing one. The "LIKE" button doesn't necessarily mean you have read the book, just that (like in a store) you may look at it and find it interesting and pass it along to those who would like it, or add it to your TBR list. Tagging is helpful to everyone! You don't need to read the entire book to know the blurb says it's about vampires, witches, and a retro-virus that may save humanity from itself (or whatever). Tagging helps readers find books, it helps authors sell books, and it's just plain smart!
Censorship because you don't like someone's opinion is never cool though!
*EDIT: Just to update, the aforementioned post has suddenly reappeared on the boards again. Perhaps it was just hidden for a while. ;)