It is against site policy, on Goodreads, for authors to send people recommendations for their own books. That’s spam, as much as a sizable population of authors wishes it weren’t. However, there are ways around this – to try and circumvent the system. The most obvious one is when an author creates fake profiles. They pretend to be a good netizen passing out reading recommendations from the goodness of their heart. This is time heavy for little reward. Not many Goodreaders will trust the recommendation of a random stranger on the net. And thus we come to the other, sneakier way of recommending your book on Goodreaders: Get bloggers to do it for you.
Last week, I received no less than four recommendations for the same book in a matter of days – another person said they’d had 13. I went to report the accounts for spam when I realized they were bloggers – legitimate Goodreads users and even friends. Each one had a blog link, and even if I didn’t know them all, I generally trust bloggers. Thus my natural reaction was that this must be legit. FINE. I’ll read the book if so many bloggers are talking about it! Must be the latest new thing like Angelfall and Obsidian were.
Turns out I was wrong. Tricked again! According to other users, the author had contacted people who read the book and offered them entrance into a giveaway if they recommended the book to others on Goodreads. This probably isn’t a new new development. I’m sure it’s been happening for a while, but I’m kind of slow. Like, slowpoke slow and I only just realized it was happening.
Not even then next day I received a mass email from an author after doing her cover reveal. Thus we’d automatically been submitted as part of her street team to create buzz and entered into a giveaway for the book. Even better? We could earn extra points in the giveaway if we promoted the book more. WE COULD WIN A SHIRT, PEOPLE!
The list of ways to get extra points was exhaustive, but I’ll name a few ways to earn points:
Recommend the book on Goodreads to your friends
Vote for the book on lists
Tweet the book with a Goodreads link
Post a promotional button on your blog
Recommend the book on Google+
Buy the book
A new email came not long after. Wouldn’t you know? Hundreds of people had added that book to their TBR. The book had moved up on Goodreads lists placing just under very popular titles. A tour site offered us a $5 giftcard for every tour we hosted (I know, right? A whole five bucks?! Hold me back!). Another tour site offered placements in giveaways for any tour we decided to participate in. Clearly this isn’t a little thing. It is becoming an increasingly common feature of online marketing.
You know me. I’m not one to go lecturing at bloggers on what they should and shouldn’t do. I am not shaking my finger at anyone here. Not the authors, publishers, tour hosts or bloggers participating in this. You know what? For a little blogger, five bucks makes a difference in covering site fees. Some of those bloggers might not have needed any incentive to promote that book. Hell I’ve promoted the hell out of books I believed in and nobody needed to give me a thing. They probably saw it a perk or reward for something they already had every intention of doing. And to many of these authors, this is just a way to say thank you for supporting them and their book. People aren’t bad guys here.
But there’s another point to consider here. I felt tricked. Jipped. Taken for a ride. Bamboozled. Beguiled. Drunk. No, wait, that last one had nothing to do with any of this. Even though I did, at the time, feel very, very drunk.
I thought these were genuine referrals. I thought that level of buzz was legitimate based on unmotivated passion, and you can’t argue that I’d be the only one. How many people are aware of what marketing strategies are employed for each and every book? How can they discern whether that recommendation was real or fake? Motivated by promises of prizes and rewards, or simply genuine enthusiasm with no strings attached?
Well, they used to do that by judging whether they knew the recommendee. And if they’re anything like me, then the fact that they were a blogger often helped, maybe even tipped the scale between read or ignore. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the fake Amazon review scandals hadn’t been plaguing us. How often do you hear people say that they no longer trust random Amazon or Goodreads reviews? That they mainly trust their friends and other bloggers because then at least they’ll know the reviewer is legit.
The heart of the issue isn’t that bloggers shouldn’t participate in pre-book buzz – whether there is monetary/gift benefits or not. The issue is transparency. When we review an ARC, we’re required to state that it was provided to us for the purpose of the review. That we received it for free as an incentive from the publisher to help promote it. Advertisements are required to be labeled as such on the website. When bloggers tweet about giveaway posts, usually they mention that it’s a giveaway and people then know that it’s a form of marketing.
Right now, with many of these viral buzz methods, there is no transparency. When a reader comes upon a list of books, they don’t know if one has been voted to the top based on quality/read reactions, or because there was incentive to do so. A random tweet about how much you’re excited for a book doesn’t tell your followers that you’re getting benefits from that. Adding it to your shelf doesn’t tell your followers and friends that you did it just for swag. People are going to assume you did it because you wanted to. And if they find out otherwise, there is a chance that you will lose credibility.
There are ways around this, of course. You could tell people in your recs that you’re recommending it as part of a giveaway. You could mention in the review space that you’ve added the book to your TBR list to get points. When you tweet about the book, you could mention it’s part of the promotion. There are definitely ways to participate without resulting in others feeling like they’re being swindled.
It’s at least something to think about while we’re dancing together between the stars on our besparkled steads. Something to consider as we sweep across the cosmos in a blaze of glory. Mostly because I don’t want to have to be yelling at people to get off my lawn. I’d like to wait a little longer before I get even more cynical and stop trusting everyone but a very select few bloggers. Mostly, I’d just like to feel like the community I love so much, isn’t easily bought.