A question on review ethics

So, I have a question I’d like to throw out there to the romance community.

What do you think of authors asking for reviews? I don’t mean asking for reviews in exchange for money or a prize.  I don’t mean asking friends and family for reviews. But I have seen a handful of self-published books, where at the end of the book, there is a brief note that says something like this:

If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com.

I have been arguing with myself about this practice for months now. First, I think that it is true that having reviews helps you sell books. My sales on Amazon.de jumped up a notch on the day I got my first review for my German edition of Unlocked. I think that having more reviews may get more people to click on a book, also leading to more sales–if people think that this is a book that people are “talking” about, and that it has buzz, that operates as an attractant. (There are some other, sneakier benefits that I won’t go into.)

People ask me questions about things like writing books and getting buzz and getting discovered, and the truth is, what little research I’ve done (I’ve seen it in three or four books, and those books have more reviews than you’d usually see in their position, and more uniformly positive) suggests that asking for reviews gets you more of them.

On the other hand, the fact that asking works makes me wary of the process. Is this not a form of biasing your reviews from their random sample? Is it okay to do this? I think authors–especially authors who value their reputation–need to be very careful of how they tread in this area, particularly in light of Linda Hilton’s post here, detailing books where it appears that the authors have dragooned friends, family members, and sock puppets into posting positive reviews without admitting to bias.

This is one of those things where I’ve realized it’s impossible for me to dissect how I feel about this all. Should I do it? I don’t know. Should I counsel other authors, who are just starting out to do it? I don’t know. If it’s wrong for me to do it, is it wrong for them? If it’s okay for them, is it okay for me? I argue with myself back and forth and forth and back, and what it’s really come down to is that I don’t know how this practice would be viewed by readers.

So, I’m asking for your thoughts. What would you think if you saw an author asking you to please consider leaving a review?

  • I have no problem with it. As long as the author doesn’t offer compensation, it’s all good.
  • It makes me a little uneasy, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that bad.
  • It makes me a lot uneasy, and makes me wonder whether the reviews the author gets are skewed.
  • It would completely turn me off, and I wouldn’t buy another book by that author.

Does your answer change if, instead of saying, “If you liked this book, please consider leaving a review,” the book simply says, “Please consider leaving a review”?

I definitely want to hear your thoughts on this.

58 thoughts on “A question on review ethics

  1. I’m going to have to think about this more. I know I wouldn’t say I *like* seeing/hearing it, but I also can’t say I *dislike* it or disapprove.
    I will say though, I see this a lot. A LOT. In books, blogs, websites, newsletters, FB, and twitter feeds. Authors asking people to leave reviews.
    Some people make won’t say “if you liked it” – some authors say positive or negative…

    I’ve never felt compelled to leave a review after the request.

    What I have seen that weirds me out is authors asking people to go to amazon and add tags to their books. So maybe it’s varying aspects of “promo” and what’s better/worse than others?

    … So in summary, I’ve said nothing but crap. Go me!

  2. If it’s just a “Please consider leaving an honest review at __.” I think it’s awkward, but fairly harmless. It would have no effect on me either way. I’d review it if I felt like it.

    If it’s “If you liked this book, please consider leaving a review.” I think that looks desperate and is more than a little uncouth. It wouldn’t land an author on my bratty-authors-to-avoid shelf, but his/her books would fall down the queue, especially since I wouldn’t trust the reviews on his/her other books going forward. It would also prompt me to make sure I reviewed it if I disliked it. I’d feel there was a bias to do my part to correct.

  3. I’m not a self-published author. I wouldn’t blink twice at seeing that note at the end of a book, especially a self-published one. It’s brief, bland, and what people in all branches of publishing are saying intermittently on their blogs and Twitter accounts anyway.

  4. Considering everything we’ve seen happening online in relation to authors and reviews, especially in the YA circle, I can definitely see the problems though. Any sort of author interaction with reviews can and will inevitably be seen as interfering of some sort and trying to push a particular bias. The emphasis on Amazon is suspect, but possibly only to me given my experiences with the site, its documented habit of deleting bad reviews and the less than positive attitudes displayed by some authors towards other review sites, mainly GoodReads. If the message didn’t have the “If you liked/enjoyed this” part then there would be much less of a problem. I think we also have to give credit to the reviewer and reader of reviews to know when they’re being bullshitted. The vast majority of interaction I’ve had with authors has been warm, positive and very open about these issues but with the market changing as quickly and drastically as it is with self-publishing, e-books and massive competition, I don’t blame them for wanting to do anything they can to keep ahead.

  5. Well firstly I am a book reviewer with a blog so without a doubt, if I read a book, I’m reviewing.

    I work in an office with lots of women who read, but nobody reviews except me. They read my reviews on my blog (never comment of course lol) and instead talk to me about my book reviews to my face at work and buy lots of books on my recommendations. I have tried to get them to leave reviews and even explained they don’t have to be long drawn out reviews like my blog posts and instead just a simple few lines on Amazon or where ever they bought their books from.
    They just seem shy to it or something. Maybe they just don’t want to bother as they feel their few lines won’t make a difference.

    Now specifically regarding a wee blurb at the end of the book from the author, I am on the fence.
    I think it is the wording that turns me off. I would rather see it phrased something like, “Thank you for taking the time to read my book. If you are so inclined a review would be appreciated”
    With this wording, it just doesn’t say “if you liked the book.” It is those words I have an issue with.

    Great post and I will monitor back to see the other responses.

    Michelle Kelly
    Another Look Book Reviews

  6. As a self-published author I understand your dilemma. When I released my first novel a few family members did review it and they reviewed it honestly. 95% of the reviews I have now are from readers and they review without asking.

    I never read the reviews of a book until after I’ve actually read it. I look at the cover, title and blurb. If those intrigue me or pique my interest, I’ll download a free sample. If I enjoy that, then I purchase it. I think its the same for most people. When I’m at the library or book store, I don’t look around asking who has read it and what was their opinion. Its the same for ebooks.

    Yes, reviews are important. But people can rate it without leaving a review. That I have done. But I never leave a review for a book that I didn’t like only because I figure if I can’t say something nice I shouldn’t say anything at all. ;o) But that’s just me.

    Up until yesterday, I had only received four and five star reviews (18 up until that point) at Amazon and again, nearly all were from complete strangers. I love the fact that readers have taken the time to write even if it is just to say “I liked it!” Even I have done that, left a few quick sentences just to let the author know I appreciated their work. I don’t do ‘synopsis’. I haven’t the time. ;o)

    I also believe that not everyone who liked the book will rate or review it because 1, they might not see it at the end or 2, they just don’t want to. BUT they will tell their friends and they’ll loan the book out. I’ve got some blog followers who stopped by to tell me they liked my book. But they didn’t leave a review at Amazon, lol.

    There are some people out there who will RIP an author a part just for the sake of doing it. What do you do? There are simply mean spirited people out there and you just have to roll with the punches.

    Now one thing I will NOT do is trade ‘likes’. I won’t rate, like or review a book I haven’t read. I also won’t go hopping around the internet ‘liking’ blogs or Facebook pages just so that person’s numbers can go up. It is, at best, disingenuous.

    In the end it boils down to this: Is it a good story? Is it a good book? I do believe reviews are nice but they aren’t the end all. If you’ve got a good book, a good story then it will stand on its own. Its the work itself that counts…not the reviews. Your sales will reflect that.

    And that is my two cents. ;o)

    Best wishes to you! Just keep the faith, follow your gut and never give up. ;o)

    Suzan Tisdale

    PS: I write historical romance too! ;o) I’ll check out your work ;o)

  7. @Ceilidh: Of course if the author is really doing it right, the version the self-published author uploads to a site specifies the place where it was purchased. So the Amazon version of a file says to leave a review on Amazon, and the B&N version says to leave a review on B&N, and so forth.

  8. @Limecello: I have a really big problem with trading likes and tags. A really big one.

    That seems to me to be dishonest.

    I’m not sure I can articulate precisely why that’s dishonest, but yeah… that is a huge problem for me.

  9. I’m with the crowd. “if you liked” looks like gaming “please consider reviewing my boom at the site of your choice” type question just looks like business. But I have never been moved to write one by those blurbs. I do look askance when favorable ones are solicited.

  10. PS: I didn’t have any control over the “Please rate or review” at the end of my book. Amazon automatically put it there and its the same wording on all the books I’ve read. And I’ve not read one where the author asked for a review…I’ve only seen the “Please rate or review” at the end.

    See…I didn’t read the other posts until after I posted mine! lol….so I’m adding and addendum. lol

  11. I do like the more neutral request and maybe be more general as to where to review or share your thoughts. I am uncomfortable reviewing at the retailers but am trying to write something more often at goodreads when I finish a book. It does not bother me to see it.

    I don’t know if an entity (author, business, performer) can ignore the fact that reviews and crowdsourcing happen. The deskperson at the last hotel I stayed at mentioned leaving a review on tripadvisor when I got home at checkout. And they offered me a discount on my next stay if I sent it to them!

  12. I’m not bothered by people asking for reviews. I’m naturally suspicious when I see a book with all positive reviews, though. I usually go looking for a negative review before making the decision to purchase, and I think I’m more likely to buy a book with both positive and negative reviews than all positive reviews. Sometimes the negative review will actually sell me on the book.

  13. While the “If you liked this book..” portion makes me a little uncomfortable, it doesn’t make me think less of the author or make me less (or more) likely to review a book. I have no problem with a request for a review at the end of a book if it is phrased in a neutral manner, as mentioned by previous commenters.

    When using reviews as a tool for deciding whether to buy a book, I operate under the assumption (correctly or incorrectly) that people who liked the book are more likely to take the time to write a review. I’ve also read/listened to books that I loved and I didn’t think to leave a review until I saw a comment indicating that a review (positive or not) would be appreciated.

  14. Until I read this post, I’d considered adding that line to the end of my books. But honestly, I never thought about it coming across as *only* asking those who liked it to review it. (I know that’s silly of me since that’s pretty much the way it’s worded, but in my head, I always thought of it as a general “good or bad, please consider leaving a review”.)

    After reading this post and actually thinking about the wording behind it, I’m now disliking the ‘if you liked it’ part. But in general, I don’t see anything wrong by simply asking a reader to consider leaving *any* review/rating.

    As for trading reviews/ratings/likes–I wouldn’t do that or even consider it. If I saw it being done, that would completely turn me away from the author(s). I see it as dishonest, too. (I’m not sure how I feel about trading tags, though.)

  15. So long as there’s no compensation, I’m okay with it, but to me it feels a little unprofessional. I am also not thrilled when authors use phrasing like “please buy my book!” it makes me feel like I’m on doing a favor.

  16. Wait a minute…isn’t there ALWAYS a request for a review at the end of every book that you read on Kindle? I could have sworn there was. Not from the author, but from Amazon itself.

    Look, I don’t see what the big deal is. That wouldn’t bother me at ALL as a reader.

  17. I have a family member who has written several books. At one point, she brought up the fact that getting more reviews on Amazon would be helpful to her. I am not really enthusiastic about her books. Awkward! But a plea for a review by some author I don’t personally know? I’d feel free to ignore the plea. It wouldn’t bother me at all.

    I suppose that, like Ridley, I’d be less inclined to leave a *bad* review if the author’s plea did not specifically request good reviews. 😉

  18. Thank you all so much for the answers. These are great. I’m doing a handful of workshops, and this really helps me know what I can & should say in terms of advising people.

  19. This doesn’t answer your question directly, but it seems we live in an era where we are always being asked for feedback. A commentor above mentioned being asked for her opinion after a hotel stay. Last week I was asked to provide a review after an oil change. Merchants like Macy’s and Kohl’s are always offering a chance to win a gift card if you fill out a survey after shopping at the store. I suspect seeing a request for a review at the end of the book strikes most people as “normal.”

  20. It makes me uneasy, but I think much of this is based in my upbringing. One does not ever fish for compliments because God only knows what you’ll reap instead. Bragging is also verboten.

    I had a weird childhood.

  21. I have no problem at all with that wording. It’s a general request (if the author emailed me directly with that exact request, I’d feel very differently about it), and like Lanie Jordan says earlier, for some reason I never took it as an “only positive reviews accepted” sort of thing. I guess I saw the “if you liked this book” bit as more of a recognition that someone who had enjoyed it was more likely to have warm fuzzy feelings about the book and would be more willing to spend some of their own time writing a review.

  22. I’ve been wrestling with this issue myself, in respect of my self published books. I think they’d do better with more reviews, but I feel desperately uncomfortable asking for them. It just seems to me that a review should be a spontaneous act, in order to be a true reflection of the reader’s response to the book.

    And yet I still wish for more reviews! LOL

    I get annoyed when I see people constantly asking for reviews on Twitter etc, yet at the same time, I think… should I ask for some myself?

    I don’t think I’d mind at all seeing a simple, neutral request from the author in the book itself though. If a reader has already invested their time in reading the book, I think it’s a legitimate request. Something like…

    “What did you think of this book? Please consider leaving a review.”

  23. Writing a review provides feedback to the author and insight to other readers.

    Other “industries” solicit feedback – rating systems on travel sites, survey links on sales receipts, etc.

    Human nature is what it is … I think most readers can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes from reviews.

  24. I review everything I read anyway, but FWIW personally I’d respond better to a request that left out the “if you liked it” part.

  25. I am comfortable with writers soliciting reviews as long as they don’t suggest what kind of review they want. If they want me to write an honest opinion and I have enough time I am game. If they demand just positve opinions, I might get mad. You can make me advertise your book but don’t tell me what I think about it.

  26. What I’ve seen recently, are authors offering readers a free copy of their book in exchange for an honest review. In my head, that would make the review a bit biased and the reader might feel compelled to leave a good review even if their feeling on the book wasn’t. The reader is getting a free book and might get more if they follow through with leaving the review. I don’t know if that’s how readers actually feel, but I as an author know that’s how I feel when I read those requests and it makes me uncomfortable. What are your thoughts?

    My books don’t have many reviews and I have only asked once for reviews to be left. The request was largely ignored so I haven’t asked again. My personal thought is if a reader likes a book or hates a book enough to leave a review, then that’s more honest and true than them feeling the ‘need’ to leave a review because I’ve asked. Asking for reviews from review sites is different and asking if they would please post their review to Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc… I feel is different than the asking of a general reader to do it. Maybe my views are skewed…

    Good topic though because it’s one I’ve wondered about a lot…

  27. I don’t mind seeing the request, but it doesn’t change my behaviour. For example, I don’t do Amazon reviews, so I wouldn’t put one up there. I do write Goodreads reviews for all the books I read, so regardless of whether the request was there or not, I would eventually put it up there. If I really liked the book, I would post about it on my blog as well.

    But in terms of the actual request & wording, I see it as something quite standard. I can see how some people may interpret it as asking for positive reviews only, but my take on it is something along the lines of “if you liked my book enough to spend time reading it, would you spend a bit more time writing a review on site xyz?”. And it doesn’t make me feel obligated to do so.

    Hopefully that makes some sense!

  28. I vote for “It makes me a lot uneasy.” It’s tawdry, it perverts the review process, and it should be beneath any self-respecting author. (I’m not saying it is, but it should be.)

  29. Thanks so much for the answers so far. This is all really helpful to me.

    I’m putting together a workshop on practices in self-publishing, and I want to make sure that I’m including a lot of things that help authors sell, while making sure that what I suggest is okay.

  30. I have no problem with it. First of all, I think most readers who feel strongly about a book either way will see this and consider posting–the fact that you only ask those who liked it to post is actually not going to bias the sample that much. Second, this is not like arm twisting people you know. You don’t know your reader (or if you do, that’s not the relationship you are using) and you will never know or hold it against me if I don’t post or post negatively. I do think people who know you should say so and people who havent read the book shouldn’t post–but if I made it to the end I either read it, or at least cared enought that I wanted to see how it came out, and skipped to the end.

  31. I don’t really have a problem with it. If reviews are important to your sales, then it’s part of marketing. For those of us that don’t have a blog, we don’t always think about leaving a review at Amazon or BN.

    An author recently gave away a few of her books with the caveat that the winners leave an honest review. I didn’t like the book, but I find that I can’t leave an honest review. I would have to leave a negative review and that doesn’t sit well with me. I didn’t pay for the book and hate to hurt the author’s sales.

  32. @Kim:

    Negative reviews don’t necessarily hurt an author’s sales, Kim. I think all negative reviews would not be a good thing, but I think a good balance of reviews helps readers get a full picture of the book. From a sales perspective, I would much, much rather have a handful of thoughtful negative reviews on a book than purely positive ones.

  33. This has been a very interesting group of comments and very helpful. I know as an author, I’ve enjoyed reading what everyone has had to say.

  34. The original wording bothers me some. I have no problem with “Should you feel so inclined, an honest review would be appreciated” (or something to that effect), but I don’t like the “if you liked it” bit. I wasn’t sure why, until I read Lani Jordan’s comment.

  35. I’m going to have to think about this more. When I first saw that in a book I was kind of thrown off, not because of the “if you liked this” line, but because of the asking for reviews.

    As a reader I don’t feel compelled to leave reviews. Even if I lovelovelove a book, I probably won’t leave a review on Amazon or B&N. I might rate/ review on goodreads, or tweet about the book, or write about the book on my blog, but I’m not a reviewer. My goodreads reviews are a line or two and the star rating. If I write more, like a blog post, for instance, it’s more likely to be about the thoughts the book got me thinking or a character I liked or disliked, not about the story itself.

    I think it’s the potential for abuse that throws me off. Reviews should be an honest response upon reading a book. And for a writer to interfere with that process, even the teeniest bit, feels wrong to me. Reviews are not the business of writers–they are for readers. I know that reviews can help sales which can mean more contracts for an author, but asking for reviews, specifically positive ones, goes beyond publicity or marketing. It feels slightly off, ethically-speaking.

  36. I think most of the replies have covered my feelings on the request for a review. I occasionally leave reviews on Goodreads for books I specially like or hate, but I read a vast amount and frankly don’t have the time. I always use the rate request at the end of a Kindle book and on Goodreads because it’s quick and easy.

    I’d like to add a little on the effect of reviews on the purchaser, that is to say me. If I’m looking at an author I already know, I don’t take an awful lot of notice of bad reviews – chacun a son gout after all. If it’s an author I’ve not read before I might possibly be influenced by a large number of reviews either way, but if there’s a balance of likes and dislikes I would be inclined to buy the book and make up my own mind. And having read one book no glowing review would be able to make me buy another if the first were not to my taste. So the effect of loading reviews in the way suggested would not be great, if I’m typical. In fact it might result in a “turkey” rating and review from me.

  37. Since Barnes and Noble and Amazon send out emails asking folks to review books they purchased, I don’t see a real problem.

    On another subject, I will admit to not knowing what to do about leaving reviews for writers I know. I know many writers. I read many books, and I like to leave reviews, especially for the good ones. But I feel inhibited by the potential for backlash. I am not happy, frankly, that I cannot freely post a review for a book I loved, because I know the author. I used to do that, but now I worry it will hurt that author. I guess the key is honesty about your connection with that person. But, I mostly just pass now or call it a recommendation instead of a review.

  38. @Carey I do the same thing–at this point, I don’t really do “reviews.” I do recommendations. I love talking about books, and I used to do reviews, but after I started getting to know people I didn’t feel like I could do it honestly and fairly any longer.

  39. What’s interesting to me is that my social circle doesn’t review on amazon at all. We review on goodreads. And before I buy a book, I’ll take the amazon reviews into account but often find that when I look the same book up on goodreads, there are more ratings and reviews which gives me a better sense of whether I’ll like the book. For whatever reason, and maybe it’s because amazon reviews are skewed(?) I find goodreads reviews to be a better source.

    To your original question though, when I first started noticing the request, I thought that it was just the self-published author trying to get the word out. I didn’t get a funny feeling about it and it also didn’t change my review behavior at all. Since I now see it rather frequently (I guess I’m buying more self-published books without even realizing it) it’s kind of become like white noise. I hardly even notice it any more.

  40. So here’s a question on the “honest review” language.

    Would it annoy you if the author said, “Please consider leaving an honest review on your site of choice”?

    I ask because the implication might be that if the author didn’t specify “honest” the reader might leave a dishonest one, and what author wants to imply that her readers are dishonest?

    I’m not sure that’s a well-formed question, but there you are.

  41. Courtney: that sounds absolutely fine to me. In my mind, it doesn’t imply readers might be dishonest and need to be told not to be, it says “I’m ok with you posting a negative review, as well”. But then again, I was perfectly fine with the language in the original post, too!

  42. I read books, rate them on Goodreads, but don’t review. I’ve pretty much gotten used to the “If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com” and basically don’t notice it’s there anymore (mostly because I just *don’t* review). On the other hand, I opened one book and found this: “If you enjoy [this book] please leave a comment on our Amazon page. Do not post negative comments as they may hurt sales.” I was so annoyed that readers weren’t “allowed” to leave negative comments that I didn’t read the book.

  43. @Courtney Milan: I’m a few days late on the latest question, but I think adding the ‘honest’ might be better wording. As much as I’d love to receive 5-star reviews/ratings, I don’t like seeing a book with *only* good reviews. To me, that looks just as bad as a book with only negative reviews.

    @Tracy: If I saw a book that specifically asked me NOT to leave negative comments, I think that author would automatically go on my Do Not Read list.

  44. I love reviewing books. Mostly, if I read it, it’s going to get reviewed at some point. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to say what I think.

    I usually ignore the requests at the back (or beginning of some ebooks) asking for reviews, but asking for ‘positive’ reviews leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Not really worrying about it myself I can’t say for sure, but I feel like a lot of people already feel uncomfortable leaving negative reviews and this would just exacerbate the feeling – like my negative opinion of the book isn’t welcome.

    I know a lot of authors don’t want to see negative reviews, but I’ll be honest that it’s more often a 2 or 3 (and even sometimes a 1) star review that convinces me to try a book.

    I’d be more comfortable with authors asking for honest (and I take this word to mean candid I think) reviews if, the reader, is so inclined.

    And as a book blogger/reviewer I have no problem what-so-ever with review copies and authors requesting reviews. But I think most book bloggers don’t feel the pressure to leave only positive reviews because they got the book for free.

    Somewhat OT, but I won’t entirely trust a book that has only positive (or negative) reviews, nor will I trust a blog or reviewer that has only one or the other.

  45. Would it annoy you if the author said, “Please consider leaving an honest review on your site of choice”?

    Even though the inference is that some readers leave dishonest reviews, I think the intent is quite different: I think the author simply doesn’t want to be accused of asking for only good reviews. The only way to circumvent the accusation of soliciting favorable reviews is to ask for an honest one.

  46. Ok I have finally figured out why it bothers me to frame this as an ethical question at all. I’m a romance reader not an author and it feels condescending to me to suggest that your readers are so weak minded that they will post a good review just because you ask but won’t post a bad one once reminded they have that option. I think it’s an ethical issue only if it somehow distorts the balance of public comment or forces people to express a view they don’t hold.
    Have a little more faith in your readers!

  47. @Debbie Stein: I don’t think it’s a question of weak-mindedness at all, but rather niceness: people are generally nice, I think, and if someone asks them to do something, they’ll think about doing it, whereas they might not have considered it otherwise.

    I often see it framed as, “If you liked this book, help the author out/help other readers find it by leaving a review.” I don’t want to name names, but I have identified a handful of authors who do this. Empirically, it appears to increase the number of positive reviews they have.

    I think the request will have little effect on most people–but to give you some idea of the strength of the effect that that this request could have, if I did this and it influenced only 1% of the people who bought my book, I’d have hundreds of reviews on Unraveled on Amazon instead of twenty-something.

    You only need to influence a tiny, tiny percentage of people–and those people who respond to that kind of a request are invariably going to be on the nicer end of the spectrum–to have a substantial effect.

    So I think, empirically, it does distort the balance of public comment.

  48. @Courtney – this is probably a stupid question, but do Amazon reviews make a huge difference to your sales? I review everything I read but I haven’t put any of my reviews on Amazon – just my blog* and Goodreads.

    So does a 5 star review on Amazon mean as much to you as a 5 star review on Goodreads?

    (*I review for ARRA (Australian Romance Readers Association) and Speaking of Audiobooks @ AAR as well but those reviews are mentioned on my blog).

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