9.04.2012

My Name is Allison M. Dickson, I'm Self-Published, and My Reviews Are Real

Chewing on rebar angry


I'm getting sick of this shit.

There is a new bone in the publishing sphere, and the insiders and consumers are slobbering over it like starving rottweilers. In the most unsurprising news ever, it turns out several self-published authors have gone into the business of buying their own rave reviews in order to artificially pump up their sales. Many mainstream buyers might not have thought this was happening, so it's kind of taken the world by storm, but anyone who has been in the industry for any length of time knows this is something that has been around for about as long as the internet, and the practice of artificially inflating the popularity of public figures (see: Payola for one such example) has been around about as long as, well, people. 

As genuine as some of John Locke's reviews?
It doesn't just happen in self-published books. It happens in traditionally published books. It happens in movies (see: "David Manning" of Sony fame). It also happens with local businesses through portals like Google Reviews or Yelp. It just happens, period. Fake reviews are as much a part of the internet's lifeblood as porn and photoshopped pictures of raptors riding on great white sharks. I wouldn't doubt for a second that some of said businesses have paid people to write negative reviews about the competition. And why not? Reviews are very easy and quick to write, and very few sites vet them for authenticity.

So none of this should come as a shock to anyone. But let's bring this back to publishing. I've said a lot about self-publishing on this blog, but there is one thing I haven't said, and it's something I've known for a long time. There is an undeniable stench of "hoping for the failure of others" wafting from certain circles of the traditional publishing community. They don't like seeing anyone making their own success, and so when these things happen, certain people lick their chops and proclaim, "I told you so! They're hacks and frauds and nobodies and this proves it!" 

Maybe people think I'm building a strawman about as ugly as mixed plaids on a mangy ape, but trust me, the sentiment is palpable. Especially if you are on Twitter. A lot of it is said in good humor, and a lot of it is directed at the more sycophantic and hard-lined thinkers in the indie publishing biz (like the ones who use the word "legacy" to describe traditional publishing--they should be punched), but  it's no less annoying hearing these things as someone who has worked my ass off for over two years to get where I am. And trust me, I'm not anywhere CLOSE to where I'd like to be. I think it's this elitist mentality exhibited by some circles of the industry that drives a lot of self-publishing upstarts to seek legitimacy through fake means. They just want to be accepted by their peers. They also want to be recognized and sell books. Not saying it's the right thing to do, but it still serves as a motivator for some. 

That being said, I earned the shit out of my reviews. Every last one of them, from the 5-star love gushes to the 1-star spite fests. I get excited seeing them pop up. Every one of them is unexpected and thrilling, and came completely free of charge or without any of my prior knowledge. I'm grateful for every single person who took the extra minute or two out of their day to say something about something I've written. Those reviews helped me to feel like a genuine writer, and confident enough to call it career. They are part of the reason I'm still doing this, because I know people are reading and they are responding. I'm writing for my supporters and I'm still hoping to win over some of the haters. 

I couldn't afford to buy reviews, even if I was ethically disabled, but more importantly, it's just wrong. I don't hire sockpuppets or create my own for the same reason I don't shoplift or steal money from tip jars or snort cocaine to lose weight or cheat on tests. I don't do these things because I'm not a shallow asshole, and I absolutely loathe the idea of cheating. I've danced at the threshold of ethical gray areas from time to time in my life (who hasn't?), but crossing over would just suck the joy out of life and my greatest passion. And I can guarantee that all of the people I know in this industry who are in the same boat as I am would say the same thing. We're just working over here. The only illusions you'll find from me are within the pages of my stories.

Really, this whole thing just fucking hurts. It hurts that the sockpuppets are ruining it for the rest of us trying to make an honest living. It hurts that those of us who have a story to tell, but who have not been given the recognition that others have enjoyed, are being marginalized and made into something "lesser" because we haven't been anointed by the oils of convention. It hurts that people are probably assuming that all of my five-star reviews are fake. If they are fake, let me tell you that no one would be as surprised and crushed as I. 

Some rotten apples. Outnumbered by good apples.
I've written a number of reviews for people I've never met in my life nor would ever expect to. If I can't put my name behind something, I don't review it. I do it because I want to be helpful, and because I like sharing my views with the world (as you might have guessed). A lot of people who write reviews want to do the same thing, whether they're being positive or negative. Reviews are a very democratic thing, and I think most people gravitate toward such a way of doing things. They want to believe that if the companies don't have our backs, that fellow consumers do. And I think for the most part, this system works. It isn't very often that I've bought something on the recommendation of a large consensus and wound up being thoroughly disappointed. Even though there might be a few rotten apples in the bunch, I think (like reports of voter fraud) incidents of fakery are far fewer than our cynicism leads us to believe. I think it's because average everyday people are still pretty damn honest, or they're too ambivalent to participate in elaborate theater over a fucking book.  

Let's not let the few assholes in the group spoil the fun for everyone else, reviewers, readers, and writers alike. My reviews are very real, and you're welcome to join the very real consensus or go against it. Either way, I am always very grateful for your time.