I've seen a lot of writers upset because their friends and family aren't leaving reviews or buying their books. They don't feel they are being supported because their loved ones don't value what they are doing enough to write a few words on Amazon … and I can get that the silence may be a little hard. After all, if our friends and family don't think our books are worth their time, how can we expect strangers to like them?
However, there are many, many, many reasons why you shouldn't count on your friends to review your books … and to some extent some reasons why you might want to consider outright discouraging them from doing so. I'm going to ramble off a few of those and then end by suggesting a few things friends and family might be able to do instead of reviewing that could help you out.
So why shouldn't you beg and plead for your friends to review your books?
- Amazon doesn't want them to. The exact wording on Amazon's terms of service is that “close friends and family” shouldn't review. There is a lot of wiggle room, however, as far as what the word “close” actually means. You can probably get away with reviews from people who know you or who you're Facebook buddies with, but every so often Amazon does a sweep to try and root out reviews where the people “know” the author. Unfortunately, a lot of legitimate reviews end up being deleted by Amazon because the reader might be following and interacting with the author on social media. The reason these sweeps happen, however, is because the stigma related to “friends and family” reviews is causing people to doubt the authenticity of reviews in general, leading Amazon to crack down on anything even slightly suspicious.
- There is an unspoken social obligation for them to be “positive.” This is not universal. I'm sure we all have that one “tell it like it is” friend who is annoyingly honest, but with something as subjective as writing (which a lot of people don't even feel qualified to judge.) most friends aren't going to want to say anything but praise for fear of causing a rift or harming the friendship. Similarly to how if you invite a friend over for dinner but serve something they really don't like, most are not going to burst out with, “Dang, Bob, you just can't make soup, can you?” If someone's mom or best friend tells me that their book is the best thing ever, I'm prone to be skeptical.
- It's just annoying. A while ago I had a “friend” on Facebook who was hosting some stupid “get all your friends to buy things” party. I can't remember what it was (and for the record, I don't think these sorts of Scentsy/Jamberry/Tupperware/Home-Business-of-the-Month things are all evil. I've bought a few wax warmers in my time), but after a few days of apparently not selling very much of whatever it was she was trying to sell, she posted a rant about how she was always so supportive and helpful to her friends and it was rude that none of them were buying her products. I unfriended her, not because she was addressing me directly, but the attitude was just annoying to me. Your friends don't owe you financial support. I have plenty of dear friends who sell those adhesive nail stickers, but I simply don't wear adhesive nail stickers. Honestly, the only thing I really want to do with my nails is replace them with retractable claws (if you have a product that can do this, leave a comment with your contact information, please). I don't buy their nail stickers. They don't need to buy my books UNLESS they like dragon themed fantasy. Then I will say all day, “Hey! I have dragon themed fantasy! You can buy mine!” Same as if I'm in the market for wax warmers, I'll buy a few Scentsy items from a friend's party. But that's because I want to. Not because I'm obligated.
- Depending on friends and family is not a sustainable business model. Unless you are writing a memoir or something locally targeted, friends and family are not your intended audience. Even if you're part of some sort of insanely close knit but extremely large clan, chances are, you are going to need to branch out from “Friends and Family” as your customer base sooner rather than later. So don't market to friends and family. Market to readers of your genre. Market to strangers. Get out of your comfort zone and find your readers, not your friends.
- It enforces a stereotype about self-publishers. I recounted in my “annoying things to say to an indie writer” post how one person messaged me saying, “You have a lot of positive reviews. Large family?” No, actually, I wrote a book a decent amount of people very much enjoyed, gave away a ton of free copies, often targeting bloggers who I knew read and enjoyed my genre/sub-genre, and generally worked my butt off to get those reviews, but thanks for asking. Seriously, do it the right way. The rest of us have to live with the stigma created by people using “cheats” to get ahead. Just don't be that guy.
So if your family does want to help you out but you don't want the stigma of “friends and family” reviews, what can they do?
- They can ask for your book to be stocked at their local libraries or book stores. A lot of these places make the decision on what to shelf based on customer requests.
- If they are avid readers and you trust them to give honest input, not trying to spare your feelings, having some trusted friends as beta readers can be quite helpful.
- They can talk about your books, mention you on social media, and otherwise let people know that you are out there.
There are ways to find legitimate reviews, and if you just write a book people want to talk about, reviews will come in, slowly but surely.