A Writer’s Pledge

Writers Code of Honor

I, as a professional writer who values my integrity, do solemnly swear that I shall

  1. Never write my own reviews, nor will I use sock puppets or other methods to falsely present my books as being of superior quality or to promote them over that of others.
  2. Never ask others to like/tag/review my book without reading it simply to ‘support other writers.’
  3. Never ask others to vote for my book without reading it in order to get a positive review or vote in order to have my book selected by an agent or publisher over that of other qualified writers.
  4. Never ask others to give another writer bad reviews in order to make my book appear better than that writer.
  5. Never attack a reviewer over a review for any reason. Negative reviews happen.
  6. Never use another’s post in order to promote my own book.
  7. Not advertise my books on sites that do not allow it, nor will I spam (advertise) endlessly. One post per day per site should be enough.
  8. Always read the rules on every site, and respect those rules as they have been laid out, without looking for loopholes.
  9. Agree to always treat other authors with respect and act in a professional manner.
    Mary Ann Peden-Coviello

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My own comment here: It’s rather a shame that other writers and I feel the need to state this so baldly. Every one of these points –- and every one is important – should be self-evident, fundamental, and not up for discussion.

But here it is. I think it’s a thoughtful pledge, not burdensome, not difficult to fulfill, not self-righteous. It could be summed up in the words said long ago and more honoured in the breach than in the observance since then: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


All right. Let’s say, just for argument, that Polly Prolific has written a novel. She thinks it’s a marvelous piece of literature, for sure. Now Polly could send out a query letter—or seventy-three queries—and contact agents and publishers, or she could go indie and self-publish.

This being today and not, say, 2006, Polly decides to go the indie route. She works up a cover, maybe hires a freelance editor, formats her book, and publishes on Kindle. So far so good.

Then she starts the marketing and promotions. She arm-twists her mother and sister-in-law into downloading a copy. She persuades her preacher’s wife and her next-door neighbour.

Finally she picks up a few reviews on Amazon. Five stars (and she’s thrilled!), four stars (and she’s happy), three stars (and, instead of being pleased, she’s annoyed but can’t quite figure out why). And then, of course, it happens. The blasting, flaming, scorching, “I hated this book and everything about it right down to the punctuation!” review.

Now, how is Polly going to react?

Every writer gets those reviews, even the greatest.

Lately, I’ve seen a few writers, mostly indies, administering a smackdown to those whom they feel have “wronged” them in their reviews. Right there in the comments.  Telling the reviewers that their opinions weren’t valid, that the points they made were wrong, that – in the words of one I’m thinking of now, “giving this book a two-star rating is just wrong!” Well . . . I have a bit of a problem with that. The review is that person’s opinion. See that word: OPINION. It’s not gospel. It’s not going to ruin your book if someone doesn’t like it.

I know, you put hours—weeks—even years into writing this book. But calling out reviewers who don’t happen to care for it isn’t mature, isn’t wise, and in the long run isn’t going to win you any fans.

Grit your teeth. Take a deep breath. Ignore the living daylights out of a bad review.

Unless, of course, the reviewer has bothered to mention something you might need to take note of. When I write a less-than-happy review, I always give my reasons: bad grammar, shifting point-of-view, errors in punctuation. These things need to be fixed, not fumed over.

Sometimes a bad review can actually intrigue a reader anyway. I have picked up a couple of non-fiction books precisely because a reviewer went off on such a clearly biased rant that I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Sour grapes? Or an Opportunity to be Seized?

I’ve read more and more often about writers who, upon receiving a less-than-stellar review, have what I can only call a baby tantrum.

They either demand that the reviewer retract the review, change the review, reread the book because obviously he couldn’t have read the masterpiece she wrote if he gave it a 2-star rating, or whatever. Sometimes the offended writer will threaten the reviewer with retaliatory bad reviews if the reviewer is also a writer.

Please, people. Grow the heck up. And I’m not talking to the reviewers here. I’m a writer and a reviewer. I know the pain of sending out work and having those precious words smacked down because they didn’t appeal of the readers. I also have an editor who, bless her heart, does not know the meaning of the words “false praise.” When I write stuff that sucks, she tells me in words I have no difficulty in understanding. Do I love her? You bet your bottom dollar I do. Every writer needs an editor like that. (Disclaimer: I provide the same tough love for her when she writes.)

So you got a bad (by your lights) review. What are you supposed to do?

First, look at the context. Are most of the reviews you’ve gotten positive? (If all those positive reviews are from your mother and your Aunt Susie and your boyfriend, get out the saltshaker and discount the stars by at least a quarter. You know those people are going to give you the benefit of the doubt even when there is no doubt to give.) If you’ve gotten mostly positive reviews and then out of the blue someone gives you a bad one, suck it up, grit your teeth, and move on. Lashing out at the reviewer makes you look like a tantrum-throwing baby. This is not a good image for a writer.

Then look at the reviewer’s record. If she’s a tough reviewer who never gives a rave review, that might put your okay-but-not-stellar review into a different light. If she is normally a creampuff who praises everything she reads and she panned your book mercilessly, ignore it. Again, getting into an internet epithet-hurling spat won’t make either of you look like mature adults. And the internet never forgets. Even if you delete everything, someone somewhere will have a screencap. You know they will. Better to just take a deep breath and let it go.

If more than one reviewer makes the same point, make a note. If the review is mostly positive but the reviewer notices some bad word choices or misspellings, make a note. This is one way to improve your writing so the next set of reviews will all be better.

And, really, isn’t better writing always a good thing? Or is that just me?