Is it Even Ethical? – Guest Post by, Barbara Spencer…

Amazon published a million books last year, does that mean that there were a million new writers, one person writing a million book (hardly likely) or many, many people for which the majority are on their second, third or even tenth book.Nevertheless, that’s an awful lot of people writing at a time when reading butts up against technology in the form of computer games, pop music, Netflix and reality shows.

When I think of the numbers now writing, I usually start humming the tune to ‘Stout Hearted Men’ which appeared in the film New Moon starring Nelson Eddy.


Give me some men who are stout-hearted men,

Who will fight, for the right they adore,

Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men,

And I’ll soon give you ten thousand more.

Shoulder to shoulder and bolder and bolder,

They grow as they go to the fore.

Then there’s nothing in the world can halt or mar a plan,

When stout-hearted men can stick together man to man.


Before your time – mine too. Nevertheless, I often find it appropriate to hum this tune when I remember what Amazon has achieved in twenty years. Jeff Bezos is undoubtedly a genius and also intelligent enough to employ several – what genii? – who have allowed Amazon to offer other services. Bythat I mean, a free publishing service through KDP which comprises a simple template and a piece of software that gives several different page sizes, another template for the cover, whilst another piece of software checks for errors. Yes, there are limitations, fancy print being one but the paperback is surprisingly well-printed and with the e-book you can update as often as you wish.

I had never used Amazon, not until I was faced with reprinting ‘Running.’ Published in 2010, this futuristic thriller had already had several print runs, but now the cost of printing made its £7.99 price quite uneconomic. As a YA novel, where sales are usually in paperback, it worked at this price. Troubador suggested increasing the price to £8.99 but I didn’t at this price sales would follow. By using KDP-Amazon, I found I could hold the £7.99 retail price and still make a small profit.

Admittedly I have a wonderful artist who sorted the cover, nevertheless, my Amazon journey proved to be a relatively pain-free experience (even for the not-so-technology-savvy). Their KDP website is simple and easily manoeuvred – unlike Goodreads which continues to baffle no matter how many times I bolster my courage with the words ‘I can do this’ and try to change the blurb for my latest book. And by taking it slowly and cautiously I even managed to order a few copies of the paperback for myself!

Recently, I wrote the words ‘The End’ on the last page of Book 3 of my trilogy, Children of Zeus which begins its journey with The Click of a Pebble. Not that this is pertinent to my argument, except that these three books will undoubtedly add to the number Amazon intend publishing in 2021 and the finishing of my book invokes a very different question – not how will I publish my novel, but how do I create an audience eager to read it?

In the olden days I would not have given a thought to this question. Writing for children and YA’s, I had a ready-made audience through Waterstones, and an excellent publisher – Troubador. Self-published, yes, but nevertheless an excellent reputation, and well represented in shops, schools and libraries. With the retraction of Waterstones as a major stockist, and the death of in-store signings, I along with many other authors were relegated to an on-line presence only, and now my titles show the message on the Waterstones website, ‘can be ordered, delivered in 10 days.’ Only the wondrous ‘Time Breaking’ and ‘A Fishy Tail’ still after ten years deserve a place on their shelves.

And so, I have joined the throng anxiously scanning the number of zeros (000000) to gauge my Amazon ranking for the E-book edition – and worry myself to death about marketing.

In my experience marketing is far more difficult thanwriting. With writing if you keep on, one day you reach the end. Not so with marketing. It is so hit and miss that if you follow two authors, both using an identical marketing path (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogging, guesting on other sites) to achieve sales, one may succeed and the other languish.

What marketing requires is an understanding of what people want and how to give it to them.

A Scottish author who I admire takes her novels to fairs to sell. That takes some staying power. But among the successes there are some equally brilliant writers who have no success whatsoever, simply because they can’t achieve more than a small handful of reviews.

The changes to the market don’t stop there. Following doggedly in Amazon’s footsteps are marketing companies – most of which try to be ethical even if they do guild the lily somewhat. Also those wishing to offer services such as formatting, copy-editing and proof-reading. Announce the publication of your book on-line and they are right there, hand on heart and dewy eyed, offering promises for future success.I am not sure how ethical these people are; my own experience has shown me that the advertising blurb regarding their services is just that … advertising blurb. Most of the ‘so called experts’ are amateurs hoping to make money – so be very careful.

Their presence also introduces another element to the mix, that of cost. Like the old saying – there is no such thing as a free lunch, so too there is no such thing as a free book, not if you plan on making it also a ‘well written and most readable book’. That costs.

Does it work? The jury is still out on that one. I know Pay Pal upheld my claim against one company and refunded their fee.

What is not ethical, however, is the cant that revolves around the Amazon star-rating. For a society in which most people possess only a tiny circle of friends, a star-rating has become the Holy Grail, with Reviews being Excalibur – the sword of truth. Armed with enough 5* reviews and one can scale any wall or barrier. And so groups that review each other’s work and give it either 4* or 5* have grown up to promote ratings.

Six years ago, I belonged to one such group that did just that but it was ethical – very much so. The rule was if you didn’t consider the book you were reading deserved more than 3*, you contacted the author privately and shared your concerns. But you did not post a review. Sadly that was quickly disbanded under Amazon’s Eagle-eyed watch. Most recently I joined another group, with a vast number of members which allows the group to sneak under the Amazon radar. In this group you buy a member’s book, read and review it, while another member buys yours. In this group, I commend both the enterprise and the idea behind the project. I question only the route it is heading down. Some authors were asking for 6 books to review in a month. How does one actually read 6 books a month? Fair does, they were then buying 6 books on the list in order to receive their 6 reviews. The problem for me; they had to be 4* or 5*reviews and this was mandatory.

A brilliant system and I confess to having huge admiration for the brains behind the scam. Because, whichever way you look at it, it is a scam. The gullible public when faced with a book that has twenty 5* reviews, even though the majority of reviews are between two and six words – Excellent book, thoroughy enjoyed – will choose that book over another that boasts only two reviews, even though both consist of a thoughtful paragraph and several lines of writing. Yes, I did dip my toe in the water – twice. Both times I was shocked by the standard of writing. Fortunately, a very sympathetic and professional author did advise me to always read the ‘sample’ on Amazon first … carefully.

More recently up popped information from a company actually advertising and promoting 4* and 5* reviews.

How then can you trust Amazon’s ratings? Admittedly they are trying to cut down on scams both Amazon and Facebook, with Facebook cutting down on the sharing and dissemination of posts to friends, while Amazon have limited reviews to those who have spent over £50 on their site in any year.

The heading of this piece, is it even ethical is asking a question which deserves an answer. But I don’t have an answer. If everyone is dishonest around you, should you also be dishonest?

If you go along with the false creation of reviews, up will go your sales. If you don’t, the chances are – unless you already have a good following – your book will languish?

What do you think?


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40 thoughts on “Is it Even Ethical? – Guest Post by, Barbara Spencer…

  1. I post reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. I try never to read a 3-star or lower. Not worth my time.

    Paid reviews in my mind are unethical. It took over a year to achieve 50+ reviews for my memoir and they all are real. I did not “pay” for a single one. Also, I believe Amazon can detect “quid pro quo” reviews, so I let some time lapse if I review the work of an author who has reviewed mine, a somewhat tricky business. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There have been so many comments about my article – it hadn’t occurred to me that others feel as strongly. Thanks everyone. I have tried to respond to each comment but if I have missed any, put it down to my being inept with social media.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent food for thought here from Barbara, Chris. I’ve never paid for reviews or even hardly promote my own books lol. Yes, there are tons of scams for reviews and I don’t want to be labeled and who knows their methods for finding out, since we all live in Big Brother world. But I do have my own review protocol. I won’t post a review with less than 3 stars. And yes, I recently encountered a book that was many 4 and 5 star reviews with description and a rare few 2 stars. Now that I’ve read this post, it makes me think if I got caught in a ‘paid for review’ 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great post, Barbara, that outlines not only the need for reviews, but the ratings scams. Giving a book a underserved rating is a disservice to readers and that includes me. I’ve only found one review resource that seems to have avoided the pitfalls and that’s the Goodreads Review Group “reading rounds.” Reciprocal reviews are prohibited and authors who break that rule will get kicked out forever. Honest reviews are encouraged even if they are a one star and members are required to post them to both Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve given less than stellar reviews as well as received them. Ugh. But on the positive side, I also know that the 4 and 5-star reviews are real. I have no qualms recommending the group. And it’s free. But be prepared – the reviewers are tough. Put on your armor. Thanks, Barbara and Chris. Happy Writing!

    Liked by 3 people


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