This post has been brewing for a while. How appropriate that today I woke to find not one but two um, less than shimmery shiny reviews on Amazon.
For several months now, as you’ll have noticed from posts like this one on the Self-publishing Review , I’ve been equal measures delighted and disillusioned by the increasing mainstreaming of indie writers through Kindle sales success. Now there’s no way I’m going to kick off about how terrible it is that indie writers are being taken seriously, how awful it is that the bestselling indie books on Amazon are indistinguishable in genre from the bestselling mainstream books anywhere. After all, I put a thriller out, I’ve got bonkers-lucky and sold 5000 copies of it, and it’s opened doors for me. I have a love-hate relationship with The Company of Fellows and the response to it but that’s my problem, and moaning about being forced into the mainstream would be disingenuous. Besides, I have far more problems being sucked centrewards with my live shows and eight cuts gallery projects.
BUT. The thing’s this. There are things about the mainstream publishing world that really really suck. And one of the reasons I self-publish is because I want no part of it. But a lot of what I see from self-styled indie writers (with whom I get lumped whether I like it or not and whatever the definition of indie may be) is exactly what I went “indie” to get away from. And as is always the case, it always makes you crosser when your peers do something stupid than those to whom you have no connection at all.
And nowhere is this more the case than in responding to reviews (I won’t even go there when it comes to eliciting reviews). It’s been a hot topic in the blogosphere ever since *that* review of Greek Seaman on Big Al’s site. The best take I’ve seen on the subject, by far, was this from the fabulous Susanne O’Leary. Says it all, and in the best way.
I don’t really know what the best protocol is. I think it depends on who you are and all sorts of contextual details, but the basic principle I operate by is if you do nothing the reviewer looks like a dick. Say something back and you look like a dick. Only it’s not just responding in or out of kind to negative reviews. I can understand that in a way. We all get cross. Most of us write out the response in Word and then delete it. Or shout it in the shower. But I can understand if someone accidentally hits submit. It’s the calculation that bothers me. The gaming. The systematic downvoting of negative reviews and upvoting of positive ones, the pointed pointing out that really bad reviews are by reviewers who’ve not posted anything else (that’s a good thing if it *is* a conspiracy, right? It means you’ve got people worried) whilst, in the wake of the bad review one or more heavily upvoted 5-star reviews will appear by – you’ve got it – someone who hasn’t posted a review before.
Yes, it might get more readers who fall for the gaming. It might even have a positive effect in the long run. But that doesn’t make it OK, and it doesn’t make it cool. OK? Think of it like this. Two years ago we "indies" were callingb out for a less patronising system of gatekeeping. Out One. Big. Beef. with the status quo was that readers were being patronised and told what was Good For Them. We wanted to give readers the freedom to make up their own minds what they wanted. To bastardise the immortal Rolf Harris, can you see what the irony is yet?