Avoiding The Review Swap Trap | Roxanna C Revell

Roxanna C Revell is a British Indie Author who released her debut novel, Because of Hattie in 2020, and will be releasing her second novel, The Beneath; the first book in the Behind the Wall, dystopian series, 30th April 2021.

What’s the best way for authors to support each other?

Reading and reviewing each other’s books, right? Yes. That’s right. It’s really hard to get reviews in the early days and I completely agree with supporting other authors. Personally, I only read books by indie authors. I’m always on the hunt for more to read and I always write a review.

So, what’s my issue with review swapping?

Review swapping usually happens when one author contacts another and suggests that they read each other’s books. It may not ever be said outright, but the idea is that both books are then left a five-star review. Again, I hear you asking, Why this is a problem? If authors need reviews (especially good reviews) then why not support each other in this way?

Surely, it’s harmless?

Actually, no. For starters, you need to be aware that if Amazon suspects that your reviews aren’t legitimate, they will strip you of them. All of them. Reviews are hard to come by, since not everyone writes them – even for something that they loved.

This isn’t the only problem though. For me, as a reader, if I see a book review for an indie book pop up on my Instagram feed, I go straight to Goodreads to check the book out. Goodreads reviews tend to be more trusted because it’s a reading community, and I like to see if it’s something that is of interest to me, and what the other reviewers have to say.

Right now, I’m finding the same names attached to the five-star reviews, and I know that they’re all indie authors. So, I click on their books too and see all those same names again, and it makes me ask the question: Were these all done as part of a review swap?

Does that mean that I won’t read the book myself? Not always, no. If I like the look of the description, I’ll still give it a go. I’m actually quite a forgiving reader – I know some that will put a book in the ‘did not finish’ pile because there are too many typos in the first chapter. I can overlook many things if the story or writing interests me. However, I don’t give five stars to books that don’t warrant them. Instead, I give what I believe to be an accurate star rating and leave a review detailing why I felt that way in an attempt to be constructive.

Don’t forget, I DO support indie authors

Just in case the comments above have made you forget it – I do support indie authors. I am a beta reader for one indie author, I have read multiple advanced copies that have been sent to me for review, and I promote other people’s work. I’ve even been named as the President of one indie authors ‘fan club’ (it’s an unofficial role) because I have beat the drum about her books for months, because she is that good.

I know at least two other people that have gone on to read her books on my recommendation and loved them. Both happen to be the less forgiving type of reader, and yet, they’ve loved these books. Why? Because I wasn’t blowing smoke, I wasn’t overexaggerating and I wasn’t exchanging favours.

Problems down the line

I know the indie authors giving each other great reviews mean well. They want to give people attention and recognition because it’s the only way to be seen. Still, I maintain that unwarranted five-star reviews do more harm than good in the long term.

If I was to read a book that really fell short of the mark, give it a five-star review and not have a constructive conversation with the author, am I really doing them a favour? No, I’m not. I would simply be pushing a book towards a wider audience, which will contain some very unforgiving readers, and then that author is going to get a nasty shock.

Surely, it’s better to be honest and constructive? The great thing about self-publishing is that you can re-upload your documents whenever you want to. You can edit to your heart’s content. You can address the issues in the early days of release, but you’ve got to know that they’re there first.

Not every reader will tolerate mistakes. If you’re asking someone to part with their hard-earned cash, then they are going to have a level of expectation. This is why I strongly believe that you are a better supporter to your fellow indie author if you highlight issues, or areas that can be improved, before their book hits that wider market.

It’s OK not to get it right the first time

Let me now put my hand up and say that I’m not perfect. I know this. I have amended my copies multiple times. I noticed the most ridiculous typos and literally kicked myself for not picking them up. It happens, but we can fix them.

When I sent my first draft of The Beneath (my second novel) to my alpha readers, I got some really constructive feedback from a fellow author and friend. She told me that my book had “five-star potential written all over it,” (Angela Mack). The key word was potential. It wasn’t quite there. There was room for improvement. 

She could have just told me that it was great. That’s the easy route to take and it prevents the risk of causing offense. However, if my alpha, and then beta readers hadn’t been honest with me and pushed me to do better, then I would have been left with a manuscript that had potential to be more than what it was.

Of course, you will never be able to please everyone. Everyone has different tastes, and what rocks the world of one reader will be a bit meh, for another. You could therefore suggest that those five-star reviews that I’m seeing are legitimate.

You are your brand

Unless you have the funds to hire a brand manager, you are responsible for your brand. You’re responsible for what you put out there and for how people perceive you. If your followers pick up a book based on your recommendation and feel let down, they are then going to question all the other reviews that you’ve posted. They’re going to lose faith in you and, if they’ve not yet read your work, they may form opinions on it based on the glowing reviews that you’ve given to books that disappointed them.

Do you see how your integrity and ability might come into question?

Supporting indie authors is important, and I applaud those who do their bit. It’s an amazing community to be part of and I love being actively involved in it. It feels fantastic to be part of someone else’s journey from concept to published book. I love reading other indie authors and screaming my head off about the great ones. I absolutely encourage the support, it’s just that I think true and meaningful support comes in better forms than reviews that gloss over flaws and prevent a writer from meeting their full potential.

Roxanna C Revell is a British Indie Author who released her debut novel, Because of Hattie in 2020, and will be releasing her second novel, The Beneath; the first book in the Behind the Wall, dystopian series, 30th April 2021.

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