Bogus Reviews Betray Readers

Shelf of colourful books - photo by Pete Copeland
Category: Reading

It seems that the idea of fair play in the book community is being hijacked by some who have a profit-at-all-costs mentality.

A few months ago I had a run-in with a business purporting to be a book review site. For $95, they told me in a very flattering email, they could guarantee me a “favourable/good or even excellent review”. That’s some promise, considering they’d not read a single word of the book they guaranteed to love. When I exposed them for their sleazy practices, they threatened me. The whole sorry saga is here and they ultimately shut down, but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth, because I quickly realised that they weren’t alone in offering positive reviews for money. Tales of dishonest dealings by writers have come thick and fast.

The idea that writers are manipulating readers into buying their books is abhorrent. Not only does it denigrate my profession and cast doubt on the vast majority of book reviewers who are honest, it makes suckers out of readers. And that’s what really gets my goat.

I write the best books I can and let the readers decide whether they like them. Many do, some don’t. I’ve had some real stinkers for reviews, and they hurt. But to respond to them or to counteract them with favourable reviews is unprofessional. And I am a professional writer. So when my next book publishes in October, it’ll live or die based on its quality. And that’s the way it should be.

I love the reader-writer relationship. And, as in any relationship, we have obligations to one another. Writers have an obligation to write the best books we can, to be gracious about criticism and use it to build our skills, and to be honest in our dealings with readers. And readers have an obligation to treat writers fairly, to buy their books instead of stealing them, and to write honest reviews that don’t personally attack.

When I see writers behaving badly, responding to negative reviews, paying for praise or rubbishing each other’s work, I’m sad. These same people would probably judge harshly someone who falsified his annual review at work, or spread vicious rumours to get a colleague fired, or made a habit of stealing from her local shopkeepers or friends. So how could that behaviour ever be okay in the book community? 

It can’t be justified. But luckily these dishonest, unprofessional writers are just a tiny minority of the writing community. And for every pirated copy of my books, there are hundreds of readers who not only value them enough to pay for them, but take the time to tell others what they thought. Many even go a step further, contacting me to say thanks. And every time I get one of those emails, tweets, or Facebook messages, I’m reminded of why I write. I want to be part of this community, and I won’t let a few sock puppeting writers, pay-to-play reviewers or piraters spoil such a wonderful place for everyone. We are the book community, and we can keep it a lovely place to be.

 

How do you spot fake reviews? Listen to your mother. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

  1. Are there many reviews (50+) on Amazon, the vast majority of which are 4* or 5*? It may be a terrific book, but do check www.goodreads.comThe mistake these sock puppeteers make is that they focus on Amazon. Goodreads is very, very hard to control (thankfully), and you’ll see a wider range of reviews there. [Ed’s note: Also check www.welovethisbook.com]
  2. Have most of the reviews come from people who’ve only reviewed that book? Well, it’s possible that they were so blown away by its quality that it prompted them to write their first review, but if the majority of good reviews are from first-timers, be suspicious. 
  3. Have the good reviews all posted within a few days of each other? As writers we do send review copies out to readers (I’ve sent The Twelve Days to Christmas to 25 readers, for instance), so the first reviews will tend to concentrate around a short-ish period of time. But if they are also all 5* reviews, then check goodreads because the fact is, not everyone will love your books, even if they are fans, and if you’ve asked for an honest review, readers will be more than happy to do that.

Michele Gorman

Michele Gorman is the best-selling writer of Single in the City and Misfortune Cookie. She also writes upmarket commercial fiction under the pen name Jamie Scott. Her novella, The Twelve Days to Christmas, publishes globally on October 11th 2012.