The best writings, like the best men, tell the truth.” (Sophie Perinot, The Sister Queens)

This past weekend I read this article in the New York Times about the increasingly prevalent practice of “buying” good reviews in on-line venues to boost salesThis is a despicable practice (and I do not use words like despicable lightly because, as a writer, I know the power of language).

The idea of offering someone a quid pro quo (whether cold hard cash, savings, or swag) to say something good about you is dishonest and demeaning.  I know in the current economic climate competition – whether you are hotelier or a novelist – is fierce, but cheating is still cheating.  I wouldn’t want to win a race because I put pebbles in someone else’s shoes, and, likewise, I wouldn’t want to trick anyone into buying my debut novel.

One of the idiot businesses in the New York Times article claims they are only soliciting honest positive reviews and then rewarding those “loyal” customers with discounts on return visits, but PLEASE—pecuniary interest and honest judgment have never been comfortable bedfellows.  Does it matter that this hotel truly believes it is an excellent place to stay?  Does it matter that the authors who purchase 5-star reviews for their books on Amazon likewise believe what they’ve produced is 5-star worthy writing? No.  The truth of the matter is buying reviews is NOT the same as earning them—no matter how well deserved those stars might be.

We don’t always get what we deserve.  The best man doesn’t always win, nor does the best novel.  But the minute we start to think that we are just “leveling the playing field” or we make other excuses for disguising promotional materials as impartial reviews we diminish ourselves as persons of honor and integrity.  As far as I am concerned honor and integrity are more important than sales.

What about the folks who write these reviews?  Many of them are being hired to do so.  It’s just a job, right?  Surely they are less culpable.  Hm.  Maybe I live in the past (an occupational hazard when writing historical fiction) but what happened to the idea that a man’s word (or a woman’s word) is his bond?  What is an individual’s betrayal of his own word worth?  Surely more than the $5 or $10 dollars per review that he is being paid to prostitute his honor?  As I the bard said, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” (William Shakespeare, All’s Well that Ends Well, Act 3 scene 5) Continue reading »