Among all of the things I do, a decent chunk of my time is spent reading and reviewing books for a small book review service. They're not in the business of writing vanity reviews (or so I'm told,) but in their sponsored review program, they tend to want their reviews skewed positively, focusing more on the good aspects of any given book and forming any criticisms constructively.
This past week, I ran into an author who, even though I gave him a 5-star review, he wanted to change some of the wording in my review to make it reflect more favorably on him as an author. In his book, his characters were overwhelmingly male, and he took issue with the fact that I pointed this out at all. Even though one of the women in the book was a nagging hen and the other was trotted out as a prize/motivation for the protagonist to improve himself at the end, the other two were real badasses. But I digress.
When I told him I wouldn't change my review for him, he tried to argue that what I said was "factually inaccurate." How can an objective criticism be factually inaccurate?
Rewording what I initially said about his book would have reframed my opinion into something I did not mean to say. I would have been attaching my name to words I didn't really believe in. It would have been a disingenuous, unauthentic glance at his work, rather than an honest one.
I've been reviewing books for about 10 years now, and I feel like this whole situation just opens the many different conversations authors should be having about how they should conduct themselves with professional reviewers and with their other author friends. There's a small pocket of authors out there who are ridiculously pretentious, have terrible egos and who bristle at the slightest criticism of their work. This behavior is compounded when they're self-published because all of their marketing and social media presence is up to them and not an agent or publishing house. Suzanne Collins wouldn't sit on Amazon for hours, arguing with her detractors. Robin Hobb doesn't give a flying fig about 3-star reviews (she's said so on Twitter.) Their work has been verified as good by the publishing houses that published it.
Purchasing a review isn't a slimy practice, in general, if you're paying for someone to be honest and you're open to constructive criticism from an objective source. It becomes slimy when you write a note to your reviewer asking them to reconsider their rating, or argue with Amazon reviewers over what they said about your precious life's work.
The thankless task of criticizing literature is slimy when authors rely on their network of author friends to boost their Amazon ratings. I'm going to read a book because the synopsis sounds good or your book cover is pretty or because a friend recommended it, not because your author friends all gave it 5 stars.
Criticism of your work is something you can take or leave. You can say, "Well it's clear this person didn't read my book, or they wouldn't have said XYZ." But it's telling when multiple reviewers (NOT your friends) start having the same criticisms of your book. Maybe you shouldn't dismiss them. Maybe you should take these things to heart and work on them for your next masterpiece that your friends and family will undoubtedly love. Strangers on the internet aren't going to hold your hand and stroke your hair and tell you you're the next George R. R. Martin. But they've taken the time to read your book. Maybe you should listen to them.