I sometimes wonder what God would say if He were to release new commandments to writers. I think that the first commandment might be something like this:
THOU SHALT NOT POST FAKE REVIEWS OF NOVELS THAT THOU HAST NOT READ
The problem has become very widespread. Here are some examples:
1. Hiding Behind Anonymity
A few years ago, Amazon.com used to hide the identities of reviewers, and then one day the real names showed up only in Canada. One person noted that an author had reviewed hundreds of books, panning them, and then slyly pointed out that if they wanted a really good book, they should go purchase his. What a scummy practice.
Well, the fans found out, and I do hope that hundreds of authors took the opportunity to give one-star reviews to this rat’s life effort.
2. Taking Out the Competition
Some people give one-star reviews to books just to weaken their competitors. Others do it because they don’t like the religious affiliation, political beliefs, or personality of an author. Sometimes people pan books just to give themselves a sense of empowerment.
I’ve encountered women who won’t give a good review to a romance written by a man, and I recently saw a gay reviewer dock a book for having a protagonist who was too straight for his tastes.
3. Ganging Up
In some cases, negative reviews come in waves as a concerted attack on an author. I mentioned earlier this week that Rachel Ann Nunes discovered that a woman was plagiarizing her work. When Rachel asked reviewers about it, the plagiarist and her friends retaliated, hit Amazon.com and Goodreads, and plastered the sites with one-star reviews for Rachel’s novels. This crosses the line from being just nasty to committing libel, and so I started a fundraiser so that we can discover the identities of those involved and look at suing them in civil court for their actions. This will take a good amount of money, but I think that if we’re going to clean up the industry, we have to begin doing things like this. You can support this effort by going to GoFundMe.
4. The Bargain
But not all fake reviews are negative. I was online two weeks ago, looking at a newly released novel on Facebook. An author came on and said, “Hey, I’ll post a rave review about your novel if you post a rave review about mine.” The author of the new release said, “Sure.” So I made sure not to buy either novel.
5. Buying a Review
A couple of years ago, there were sites on Facebook advertising that you could “buy” rave reviews. Some authors did just that, and were able to turn their questionable books into bestsellers. One author bought a package of rave reviews, something like a thousand of them, and sold hundreds of thousands of his book.
Even as the company that sold the fake reviews was being shut down, and the owner thrust into prison, Facebook sent me a new ad offering these same services.
6. The Sock Puppet
Other authors use sock puppets, creating fake online identities so that they can tout their own works on multiple sites. Thus, an author can have a dozen blogs under different names, all existing to push just one work.
Sometimes the sock puppet really is another person. So they get blogs from their friends and act as one another’s publicity agents.
Between the sock puppets, the purchased raves, the traded raves, the fake negative reviews, and so on, the result has become that you can no longer trust indie reviews. The waters are too muddy.
Holding Out for a Professional
I now look for reviews only from professional reviewers or from people that I know and trust. In fact, it has gotten so bad, that I recently came to a decision: I will no longer buy an indie novel unless I personally know that the writer is good or have seen positive reviews from trusted sources.
That saddens me, because I know of so many talented writers who are just on the cusp of breaking out—talented authors who have interesting and quirky novels. I’d love to see them publish as indies and get the respect that they deserve, but in this environment, they just can’t.
We need to have a review source for books both online and in print that is unbiased.
This Saturday on Apex…
As Dave Butler, he writes adventure books for kids, including, “The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie”. As D.J. Butler, he writes adventure stories for older readers, including, “Witchy Eye” and “City of the Saints”. D.J. will be talking about, “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts: 15 writing lessons your novel should learn from one Bob Dylan song.”