By now most everyone and their mother has heard about the foofaraw which someone has probably dubbed Reviewgate. I even fretted about it myself a bit yesterday, though mostly as an excuse to link to the hilarious and sometimes all too close to home Hey Author tumblr.

The whole problem is this brave new world we live in, wherein an author’s ability to get notices has become linked to the number of online reviews at sites like Amazon. Though of course there are a whole range of feelings and opinions about our goals as writers, for a lot of us it goes something like this:

We have a story to tell -> we write said story -> we share it with the world -> we hope people read it -> repeat

Sure, there are other possible elements to the cycle, such as the desire for wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, for groupies who peel our grapes, and wanting drive super fast in our super cars whilst escaping ravening paparazzi. But for most of us, the bottom line is we have stories to tell and a desire for others to want to read them.

And, like it or not, online reviews play a role in getting noticed. At its best, this fact is unseemly, and at its worst it produces behaviors designed to game the system. Ideally the best stories find the largest audience, but even discounting the fact that “best” is subjective, the system is such that random chance and underhanded scheming play a bigger role in books finding an audience than many of us would like.

Most of the response to Reviewgate has been negative. “The dastardly curs have tricked readers!” I fall into this camp, though mildly. I’m something of a cynic, so the knowledge that people will behave unethically to gain any edge is unsurprising to me. And in any case, based on his appearances in my own Twitterstream I’d already concluded John Locke was something of a dodgy narcissist.

Still, reviews help. At least, we think they do. Evidence suggests they do, though as with the secret Google Algorithm so-called “SEO gurus” are always trying divine, I’ve no doubt Amazon and other online sites are constantly tinkering with The Rules behind the scenes. Today’s successful scam is no doubt tomorrow’s wasted breath. Still, for now, those reviews help.

So how do we get them?

To date, my own method has mostly been to wish on a star. Evidence suggests this is not the way to success.

Another option is to ask for reviews. I’ve actually done this myself too, though not often. My brain gets the weirdies when I ask for favors like this, but that’s me.

So just now I saw the follow two tweets from the thoughtful and talented and all around great guy Sean Chercover:

I was going to reply on Twitter, but then I realized I had a long, meandering response, so we end up here. Oh bother. My apologies, Sean. You deserve better than this.

My thoughts, important as they are? I think it’s fine to ask. Sean’s second point is particularly important. Requesting a review with no expectations is fine. We need them, our readers have the chance to provide them. Why not? It’s cool if they say no (or, simply ignore the request). It’s cool if they post a review but don’t like the book. It’s cool if they post a review and do like the book.

Where it gets weird for me is when I see author’s begging. And boy, do some beg. I mean, with the “Please LIKE my Facebook page” and “Here’s my Amazon link; would love a review” and so forth. Some folks flood their Twitterstreams and Facebook Whatever They’re Calling It Now—Timeline, I Guess? with the pleading. They send DMs and private messages and who knows what?

That’s not cool. I don’t know who’s writing these Be Freaking Annoying As Hell On Social Media To Sell Books guides, but they really need to stop.

Doesn’t mean I think people shouldn’t share information and news about their work. I follow writers myself because I like their work and I want to know about it. I want to cheer for their success and pass it along to others. And I hope people who follow me feel the same. Post a link to a good review, share a new deal or a new release. We DO want to know.

But if the only thing you ever do is link to your Amazon page and beg for LIKES, well, no thanks. It’s a matter of scale and saturation. I get that we need those reviews to win the Amazon game. But I also believe we don’t need to be dicks about it.

Before I shut up, I want to say one last thing. Read Sean. He’s great. Five stars, and then some.