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I recently purchased the book Writing Fight Scenes by Rayne Hall. As you may have surmised from the title, Writing Fight Scenes, is a craft book dedicated to helping the reader compose higher quality fight scenes in their own work, whether they be gritty, realistic melees or grand Hollywood type battles. What drew me to the book was the information it offered about various types of weapons. What I gleaned from those sections made the title a worthy purchase, yet I am not blogging about the book because of the quality of its content. I am blogging about this particular title because the author did something that I feel is both extremely underhanded and brilliant all the same.

I, like many consumers, take review scores on Amazon and other services such as Goodreads into consideration when making a purchase. This is particularly true when it comes to a reference book such as this. Let’s be honest, who in their right mind is going to purchase a reference book with a 2 out of 5 rating? Nobody. Being an aspiring author myself I have read numerous books about how to improve one’s craft, and this was, without question, the weakest of the bunch, yet it had received stronger reviews than numerous titles I felt superior. That’s hardly worth crying about right? It’s just a simple difference of opinion with other readers– right? Turns out there may be more to it than that.

In a section under the heading “Dear Reader,” the author attempts to make a bargain with the reader. For the sake of not coloring the proposal with the bias of my interpretation it is presented below in unaltered form:

“I hope you’ve enjoyed this book and gained many practical ideas for your writing. If you found it helpful, I’ll be thrilled if you post a review on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, GoodReads, or wherever you purchased it or are a member.

If you email me the URL to your review, I’ll send you a review copy of one of my other Writer’s Craft books: Writing Scary Scenes, Writing about Magic, The Word-Loss Diet, Writing about Villains, Writing About Magic, Writing Dark Stories.”

The first paragraph I have no problem with. Asking for people who enjoyed your book to give it a good score is harmless and, in this age of electronic reading devices, something that will likely happen anyway, but when the author offered something in exchange for a review, in this case a free book, I believe an ethical boundary was crossed. The ethical boundary being that she is essentially corrupting the review process. While Rayne Hall did not specify that a good review was required to get the free book, I think it goes without saying that readers will feel inclined to give the book a higher mark if only to avoid the awkward situation of sending her a link to their negative review while asking for a freebie. I think only the most audacious individuals, or insensitive trolls, would do such a thing.

The marketer inside of me says this is a brilliant maneuver. Manipulating your review scores in a way that helps your product is obviously a good financial decision for the author. No doubt the higher average rating this program has, in all probability, led to has helped to sell a few extra copies of her book. Especially to people who place heavy consideration on review scores on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads. What makes this move so brilliant is that even in a situation where the author is called out for this practice, such as this very blog post, if by some one-in-a-million chance this blog post goes viral, the ensuing controversy would only create more sales. It’s a calculated move designed to sell more books. At the same time the corruption of the review process is, as a reader, disheartening. I’ve come to expect such treachery in other mediums, but not from book reviews. This incident proved to be a sobering reminder that even something conceptually as innocent as reader reviews cannot be trusted completely.

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I kid, I kid. I kid because I love.