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Book Reviews - Astroturfing
The astroturf might look greener, but it isn't sweeter.

Reviews can be very frustrating for a writer. Especially on your first book.

You spend months, maybe even years, pouring out your soul onto paper, only for some ignorant stranger who doesn't understand your genius to completely trash your precious work with some garbled nonsense they cobbled together down the pub. These strangers obviously don't understand your beautiful manuscript.

Even those proper fulltime reviewers who have to plough through countless books don't have enough time to properly pick up on all those subtle nuances in the protagonist's back-story that so carefully mirror Greek mythology.

In fact, you as the writer are the only one that fully gets it, so why don't you just write the review yourself? You not only have the depth of knowledge of the work to fully appreciate its worth, but you, as a writer, also have the skills to perfectly hone a review whose carefully crafted prose is a piece of artwork in its own right.

And it does happen. It is often called Astroturfing (which began as a reference to overtly political messages engineered to resemble independent opinions) and you can read all about the origin of that term here on Wikipedia:

But, not only is this practice deceitful, it completely misses a fundamental truth that all writers should be aware of.

The book review is sacred.

The relationship between a writer and reader is a dialogue. The writer speaks first at great length in a huge monologue in their novel.

Often this long message will go completely unanswered and the writer is left to grapple with the silence and wonder what this means.

The review, whether it's the top critic from the New York Times or some sweet old lady writing an opinion about Delia's latest book on Amazon, is sometimes the only reply a writer might get.

So any review, good or bad, should be treasured and appreciated for what it is.

Writers are also avid readers. In order to give out creatively, you need to take in as many fulfilling and inspiring reads as you can. For a writer, reading and writing are like breathing in and breathing out. If one stops, then the other stops.

How do writers decide what reads to buy and which of the many unread books in the pile to start next? Just like everyone else, you have to read other people's reviews to help you decide.

So writers should treasure all reviews of their own work as part of an important dialogue. They should also appreciate the need for accurate and trustworthy reviews, as they themselves rely on these in their own buying and reading decisions.

Therefore, any attempt by an author to interfere with the review process is a grave error. It shows a lack of respect to the review site, it shows a lack of respect to the readers, it shows a lack of respect to other writers and it shows a lack of respect to yourself as a writer.

And the punishment is severe. To suffer the damage to your reputation and forever carry the stigma that your status as a writer is a bigger work of fiction than your novels is surely not worth the risk.

Your sins will surely find you out, so best not to sin in the first place. Best to leave all that kind of thing on the pages of your novel.

Christian Cook - 9th September 2010

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