Ethics Of The Written Word

Ethics Of The Written Word

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I am an author. I am a reader. I get reviews, I write reviews. This is called Freedom of Speech. I can say whatever I want about a book; I can also write whatever I want in own my books (as long as it’s not plagiarism).


With all the hoopla this past week about paying for reviews (John Locke), creating sock puppet accounts to praise their own books and create poor reviews for competitors (Ellory and Leather), the validity of reviews – and book marketing itself – is being called into question.


UPDATE: See David Vinjamuri’s latest Forbes article (in which he quotes me here on this article), for his quite interesting view. 


(How is what they did different than what legacy publishing has done for years to get their books in large publications like People, Time, Rolling Stone, or the New York Times?)


Let’s discuss.




Write book. Collect royalties. Don’t go to jail.


Konrath wrote this week about how giving other authors 1-star reviews is ‘a shitty thing to do,” and I agree. I personally have never, nor will ever, give any author a 1-star review. He also says those authors above worked a flawed system, as was their right to do.


Liking books is such a personal thing – what I may love another may hate. That’s why art, in and of itself, is such a nebulous (and fascinating) subject.


However, I am somewhat of a champion of the 1-star. This sounds crazy, but stay with me. My two books (A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed) are bestsellers on Amazon; books people either love or hate (or love to hate). And that rocks. Here are my stats for Mancode: Exposed:


Customer Reviews

The Mancode: Exposed (A Humor Collection)


82 Reviews

5 star:


4 star:


3 star:


2 star:


1 star:


Average Customer Review3.8 out of 5 stars (82 customer reviews)Share your thoughts with other customers
  • So let’s look at this objectively. Of the 82 reviews I’ve received, 20% are 1-star. Does this mean my book sucks? Obviously, for some it did. For me, I believe this gives my work validity. This shows that, despite conjecture to the contrary, I don’t have 50 or 60 friends in my pocket writing glowing reviews (mostly cause I don’t have pockets, but whatever).


I welcome the 1 and 2 star reviews simply because I believe in readers. Because I am one.


  • Readers are smart. If I really want a book because my sisters told me it rocks, I don’t even bother with the reviews. (Heck, would Fifty Shades have sold millions upon millions of copies if everyone made buying decisions based solely on reviews? No way.)


I get a fair number of negative reviews and I see that as a win. The people who hate my books felt something: anger, frustration, disappointment, etc. – and that means I’ve elicited some type of emotion in them. Yay me.  I’m not upset that someone called me a ‘trustafarian dewdrop,’ because a) I had to look it up and b) I don’t take any reviews personally.


Definition of PROPAGANDA

1.     The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person

2.     Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also: a public action having such an effect


  • We as authors need to just focus on writing with our vision, getting feedback from those we honor and respect, putting out the best quality product we possibly can, market the hell out of it, and move on to the next work.


  • But wait. I put that definition of propaganda up there for a reason. Is there really that much difference between presenting our work in the best light (blurbs, reviews, tweets, messages, blog posts, etc.) and propaganda? We are, of course, biased, because we believe in our vision and hope others will, too. We are artists – which means we are insecure and need feedback that we’ve done something good. Do we wield that much influence with reviewers? No. Especially on Amazon, where it’s open season.




This is my warning to all authors: keep writing. How much time have you spent this week debating with self-righteous fury that what these authors did was wrong, when you could have been working on your own art? How many hours have passed since you put the issue to bed and wrote a few thousand words on your latest work?


I agree that there are ethical questions to discuss. But don’t let that detract from what drives you. The system is flawed. People sell books. Isn’t that kinda the point?

  • Book royalties pay bills and allow us to keep creating art. I see the argument that these guys (why is it always men, by the way? #Mancode.) usurped the ‘fair’ way of getting those royalties, but guess what? Whoever said life is fair? Should they offer refunds to every person who loved their books? These guys sold a vision of their vision. They propagandized their message.


Is that against the law? Nope.






  • 1-star reviews give our work validation. Get over yourself if they upset you. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: none of us is perfect, not everyone will like our books, and in the end, many people will read them anyway because readers are smart.


  • Authors behaving badly give us all a bad name – no matter if you’re indie or traditional. I always tell my kids: you get what you give, and you give what you get. Karma, baby. If you think your work is the best ever, get lots of opinions from people you trust before publishing. Betareaders, critique partners, editor, proofreader, etc., people who are qualified to help you.



Bottom line: I personally love all this heated battle about books. BOOKS! In this age of digital, electronic everything, we’re fighting over the ethics of the written word.


Yay us!


That’s my opinion anyway. I’d love to hear yours!




About Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released Broken Places and the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. Rachel is published and represented by Booktrope where she directs the Gravity imprint helping authors share their stories of trauma and recovery. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. For affordable group sessions check out Author Social Media Boot Camp, monthly sessions to help all authors! Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…),,,, and Self-Publishers Monthly.

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live Twitter chat, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish.

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.


  1. Ethics Of The Written Word @RachelintheOC

  2. Great piece, Rach. (and thanks for the pingback–my little social media minibook keeps getting great sales, and getting our names out there!) Also you are in touch with one of my close friends, Dr. Heather Wittenberg–she asked about you, and I said what a role model you are, a true pioneer!
    All that aside, I am a one-star hater and I’ve got some. My books don’t elicit the same visceral reactions yours do, but for some they do “just another rape serial killer book” or, misunderstanding my use of vernacular “couldn’t understand what the characters were saying” and I’m learning I can’t please everyone and have to take my licks with people who jump to conclusions just like everyone else.
    Personally, I won’t leave less than a 3 star review because I know how damaging they are, and if it’s a friend’s book I don’t like, I send email feedback or refuse to review. That’s how I’ve chosen to roll, I think it’s better to be a constructive friend than a brutally honest one star reviewer. No point in it, to my mind, and bad karma.
    Much aloha and friendship,
    Toby Neal

    • Awesome, thank you Toby for the rec to Dr. Heather! It’s funny — I know two Dr. Heathers from Hawaii now.

      I agree completely, that most one-stars don’t get what we’re going after or bring with them some sort of personal bias. Which I why I let it roll off. I too would NEVER leave anyone a 1-star (and believe me, I’ve read those books). But as authors, we know the dedication and work that goes into our art. Crit partners are great for constructive criticism, and having an editor who will cut and chop our baby into the perfect child is all about trust and letting go. Many authors don’t bother with having others take a look, and that’s a huge mistake, in my opinion.

      Lovely to see you here and always appreciate your comments and support, Toby. And the minibook…woot!

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  28. Nope Missy T, can’t feel guilty for the recent 1 star review I gave. It wasn’t so much the story as the translation from Italian that killed it for me. The books are also an Italian TV series shown on the BBC, which I love

    • My intent isn’t to create guilt in anyone (surprising, I know, since I’m a chick); however, if you felt strongly enough to leave a valid 1-star, good for you. I have felt that stinging disappointment myself (don’t get me started on The Time-Traveler’s Wife — awesome book, horrible movie).

      For those of us that want to let others know our hatred of something, cool. If you’re passionate enough to share your opinion with others, do it. I meant to address those who leave fake reviews, use pen names, or belong to ‘author-bullying’ group. Nuts.

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  43. Larry Crane says:

    There’s all this talk about the need to have the average of all of your reviews come in at a above 4.0. It takes some guts to be accepting of the 1.0 reviews when they drag you below the bar. Seems to me, a 2.0 review leaves plenty of room for venting the spleen. A 1.0 is really just a rant and a nasty one at that.

    • You’re right, Larry. This IS talk but you know what? Both my books are controversial and have averages just below 4 and they’re both still highly ranked. selling well and book reviewers and critics love em… So…I suppose it’s not just ONE thing that contributes to sales. But yes, from a metadata perspective, some people will only look at reviews/review averages and make their buying decision based on that. We can only hope they’ll explore further.

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