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Monday, September 10, 2012

Scandalous

Several people have asked for my opinion about the whole "fake review" scandals that are buzzing around lately. So I decided that I'd share my thoughts on it, and you can make of it what you will.


If you're unfamiliar about what I'm referring to, it's really two separate things. There's authors paying for reviews of their books (John Locke being one of the more prominent names thrown about), and then there's RJ Ellory and faking reviews on Amazon. (Here's a link about paid reviews: here, and here's a link about the Ellory scandel: here

They're really two separate issues, so I'll start with the paying for reviews. I have personally never paid for a review, and as far as I know, none of the authors I associate with have paid for reviews either.

I have and continue to send out Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of books for review. If you're unfamiliar what an ARC is, it's an uncorrected proof of a book usually sent out before it's release so reviews and buzz will be ready at the time of a publication. (If you're still curious, here's a link to The Story Siren where she really breaks down what is an ARC is: here.)

When self-publishing, I pay for the production of ARCs myself, and with a publisher, they pay for them, but that kinda comes out of my royalties. Well, not literally, but ARCs are part of the reason why my royalty rate is what it is and not like 90%.

Anyway, I do send out ARCs, and most of the time, the reviewer has a disclaimer that say they did receive the book as an ARC.

There is a difference in paying a reviewer and sending out an ARC, though. When you write a review based on an ARC, you're payment for the review was the book itself, so if you think it's a crappy book, then it was kind of a crappy payment. So you're more likely to be honest, because you're not really losing anything. (And I have gotten negative reviews on ARCs, and that's as it should be).

But when you get paid to write a review, it makes it harder. I try to think of myself as an honest person, but if I pay you $50 to write something about my book, and you give me a scathing 1-star review, I'm probably not going come back to you and have you write another review. Not out of anger, but because I don't see the point. If you hated the first book, you'll probably hate the second one, and why would I pay $50 for that? So then you're out of a job.

To keep me coming back, you'd have to write at least a 3-star review, and for some authors, it'd probably have to be a 4 or 5-star review to get repeat business. So to play it safe, and keep yourself working, most of your reviews would probably have to be 4 or 5 star.

Also, as I said earlier, I've never paid for a review, and I know of many other authors who have never paid for reviews and are doing well. So even from an objective marketing plan, I don't really think it's worth it. It's more time consuming, but I think it's better to give out ARCs and build a relationship with readers. People who genuinely love your books will do much more for them than people who are paid to love them.


I do think that "paid review services" will be far more likely to hurt writers than readers, though. Readers are generally pretty good at figuring out what they'll like and what they won't, and readers usually by books based on the recommendations of friends or people they know. Readers tend to be a savvy bunch.

But newbie writers, who just want to get their foot in the door, and think they have a good book and are pulling their hair out to get noticed, they'll see it and think, "I just need to get a few good reviews so people will take a chance on me, and I'll get picked up by Amazon algorithms. If I can pay for 5 reviews, and get my name out just a little, then my book will pick up and it'll take off from them there."

The sad truth is that, sorry, probably not. It may work for some, yes, but the fact remains that only a few books become best-sellers. Every book cannot be a best-seller. That's just a fact. And many other newbie authors out there are paying for the same paid-review service you are, becoming the same white noise you are. So you're shelling out $50, $100, even $1000 or more for reviews that aren't going to generate enough sales to earn back what you paid for the reviews themselves. (I'm not going to go into my suggestions for marketing, because that's much too long for me to get into here. But maybe I will another day.)

Also, I never trust a book that only has 5-star reviews. If I see a book that has like ten 5-star reviews, and that's it, I assume all the reviews are fake. (No matter how great a book is, somebody hates it.) So then I'm annoyed that someone is faking things, and I won't buy the book.

So what I'm saying is that in the end, paid reviews might work for a few people, but it won't work for most. And if you're exposed as paying for reviews, you can turn off readers and lose fans forever. I don't think it's worth the cost or the risk, and I don't think it's honest, no matter how hard the paid-reviewers try to be honest.

That brings me to the RJ Ellory thing. While paid reviews could be construed as fraud, what RJ Ellory did and sock puppets do is malicious. From the article on the link: "Ellory writes 5-star reviews of his own work on Amazon. Long, purple tributes to his own magnificent genius," Duns tweeted. "RJ Ellory also writes shoddy, sh***y sniping reviews of others authors' work on Amazon, under an assumed identity." 

Here's my thoughts on that: NEVER EVER EVER DO THAT.

It is NEVER okay. If you hate a book, that's fine. You can even talk about how much hate a book. Write as many reviews as you want. But write them UNDER YOUR NAME. If you are unwilling to publicly say it with your picture next to it, then don't publicly say it at all.

And the fact that an established, critically acclaimed author would write reviews of his own book like that? It's gross. That's the only way I can describe it. The first thing I said when I read the article was, "Gross."

Ellory isn't the first person to do it. I don't track it as closely as some of my other author friends, but I know they keep tabs and have lists compiled of various sock puppets. But what irritates me the most about Ellory is because he should know better. He's been at this long enough that he should know what he's doing is wrong and cruel and pointless. 

Here's the thing, people. If you do these things, and you have any amount of notoriety to your name and books (which I assume is what your goal is when writing fake reviews), someone WILL find out. You will be exposed, and people will publicly call you a jackass and boycott you.

And it's a total waste of time and energy. I'd rather be working on my own books than talking about how shitty I think someone else's book is. What a waste of energy and emotion. Seriously. I have absolutely no time for bitterness or jealousy or entitlement. It's just a total waste of life.

So in conclusion: Fake reviews aren't good for writers or readers. If you want to sell more books, write more books and interact with readers.

39 comments:

  1. "Fake reviews aren't good for writers or readers. If you want to sell more books, write more books and interact with readers." Well I think that pretty much says it all. Persistence is the key.

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  2. I think this is the most balanced and sensible post I've read on the issue - and it's been a difficult topic to avoid recently :o)

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  3. I completely agree with everything you said. I saw a blog that was charging about $95 for a review and I was thinking that was completely greedy. If someone sends you a book to review and you hated it but now you're paid so much money for it, you're obviously going to take the money and lie, saying you actually enjoyed the book when you DIDN'T.

    And as for authors writing nasty reviews on other books and writing amazing reviews for their books under pseudonym is just wrong, completely and utterly WRONG.

    I found an interesting post where this author was treated by such disrespect by a blogger who charges money for books. If you want to read it here is the link: http://michelegormanwriter.blogspot.com/2012/07/should-bloggers-charge-for-reviews.html

    Its quite sad to think how even in the book blogging community you find greedy, rude people. :(

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  4. Fake reviews aside, what about professional book reviewers, like Michiko Kakutani and the reviewers that work for newspapers, magazines, and online sites? What do you see as the value of those reviews? They're seldom all 5-star reviews from the same author on different books and the reviewers are paid a salary for their books reviews. Newspapers and magazines once paid for reviews from freelance writers; are their reviews also suspect?

    I think there has to be a line drawn between the professional reviewer and the fake reviewers and those paid specifically to write a favorable review. There are services like Book Rooster where authors have to pay them for their service, but the pay for the reviewer is a free copy of the book, rather like an ARC.

    As a professional reviewer working for Authorlink, I've reviewed some of the most prominent authors in publishing in every genre, from Ted Dekker to Jon Land and Dan Chaon to Christopher Paolini, and many authors in between. I've worked for Authorlink for 9 years now, and been paid for my reviews. No one ever gets a fake review from me, as many can attest, but they get an honest review. So, does that make my reviews less important or less worth it than a reader's review? Don't my years of experience as a writer, editor, and reader count for something?

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    1. There is a big difference between a professional critic & a pay-per-review service. A professional critic is paid by a newspaper, magazine, library, website, or what have you & NOT the author. That's where the conflict of interest lies.

      Take Roger Ebert for example. His entire career & income comes from his reclviews of movies. Thaf'a what he gets paid to do. I don't find his reviews suspect, tho, because he's paid by the Chicago Sun Times & advertising revenue from his website.

      If he started charging indie filmmakers $100 a pop to review movies, I'm not sure I would trust that. It would leave a very bad taste in my mouth, even though Ebert already has a long-standing professional career of honest reviews.


      So no, of course I'm not saying that professionals who make their careers as reviewers are less than honest. The reason being that you keep your job based solely on the quality of your writing, not on the rating of the review.

      As soon as a reviewer takes money directly from the author in exchange for a review, his impartiality is gone. Or at least, the rec

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    2. Sorry writing on my iPhone & it got screwed up.

      As I was saying - even if the reviewer can remain entirely objective when paid directly by the author, the public will view it as suspect. It is an area that becomes too easy to corrupt & manipulate.

      So I am sorry I didn't make the distinction in my post between a professional reviewer & a pay-per-review service, but WHO pays the reviewer makes all the difference.

      The reason being that a professional reviewer will continue to receive books to review & compensation regardless of what rating they give books. A pay-per-reviewer will be much less likely to decide books & compensation based on the rating they give a book, so there is instantly a basis in place.

      Also some writers are paying specifically FOR good reviews. They're not asking for honest ones - just good ones. I assume that most professional reviewers do not get that same request from the newspapers or websites employ them.

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    3. I hate writing long passages on the iPhone because I can't correct mistakes.

      That should've said "receive" & not "decide" and "bias" and not "basis." I'll try to correct things later when I'm on my laptop. Stupid phone.

      Delete
    4. I agree and Roger Ebert came immediately to mind when I was writing my comment. I think there needs to be a distinction between sock puppetry and shilling (paying reviewers directly for reviews) and the professional reviewer. All good points.

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  5. Gross is right. I just don't get why some authors do these things. Just put in the work and get your book out there. When you try the quick or wrong way you only hurt yourself. Thank you for this post Amanda. As someone planning to release their first novel by self pub this fall, you've reminded me of what not to do.

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  6. Years ago while still working as a university librarian, I wrote book reviews for a city newspaper. I was not paid for my reviews -- my payment was a copy of the book which was often a ARC. I had no problem in stating my honest opinion -- good, bad or indifferent.

    Now that I work as a narrator, I've seen some really vicious 1 star reviews on Audible that are up before the buyer could possibly have had time to listen to the entire book from the time the book was posted for sale. The same thing has happened with sudden 5 star reviews, too. Fake reviews at either end of the spectrum help no one. Unless a reviewer is with a publication where they are paid on a salaried basis, I think I'd prefer to stick with those who blog or have review websites where the payment is the book itself.

    Thank you for this post. This topic is discussed frequently among audiobook narrators since our work is also critiqued.

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  7. I tried a paid reviews company once. Learned my lesson though. The company I went with sent a crappy format to the readers and I am now the owner of two scathing reviews on one of my books. But that's okay, I keep them as a reminder that I will never do something like that again.

    It's better to just wait reviews.

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  8. Just seems to me that honesty is the best policy. I agree that most readers will decide for themselves if they like a book and truth be told, I don't even read reviews. I just read the book jacket of the back of the book for the synopsis, if I like that, then I will try out the book. If not... it's not the book for me. The good thing is that everyone has different tastes. My husband would rather puke than read a book that I liked. He thinks reading shouldn't be used for enjoyment but for learning. But anyway, bad idea to pay for reviews!!!

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  9. honestly this review is batter than other reviews. Books are give us some lesson.

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  10. Some good commonsense points in this post and in the comments. Many times I find simply by reading a review it is possible to detect whether is a genuine and impartial view or skewed (either positive or negative). The level of thought displayed and detail the reviewer goes into are the main clues. Also insightful, if possible, is to check the background of the reviewer or their previous reviews, as can be done on Amazon.

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  11. Brilliant writeup on the two very different topics. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as they're spot on about how the interwebs crowd should react.

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  14. I agree. I do not think it is a good idea to pay for reviews. Although, there are some people out there that do it and if they choose to go in that route, then so be it. If an author really wants reviews, they should gather a buzz about the book. The bigger the buzz, more people are bound to find out about the book and read it. 30% of those people may or may not actually leave a review, but the rest might. I just recently published a book and I have no reviews on Amazon yet, but I can't see myself paying for reviews. I would rather go about it the traditional way.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.
    http://brittneycanna.blogspot.com/

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  15. I completely agree. I've never paid for reviews, though I have given out copies in exchange for a review. Like you said, if someone hates it, they hate it, but at least they'll be honest about it. I know many authors who have 30+ 5 star reviews and in general, it's because they either paid for the reviews or they asked all of their friends to review it.

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  16. how do I become one of your book review people you don't have to pussy me I just want to reef everything I can put my hands on.. wink smile

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  17. how do I become one of your book review people you don't have to pussy me I just want to reef everything I can put my hands on.. wink smile

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  18. As an author who has 21 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, I'm a little saddened to learn that you view this as suspicious/fake and won't even give a book like mine a chance. When I see readers leaving comments on Amazon like "I couldn't put it down" and "I can't wait for the sequel", this explains the consistent 5-star ratings my book receives. I was actually very happy to get the one 4-star review I have, because I agree, all 5-star reviews could come across as a little sketchy. But that's why you're supposed to read the reviews and judge for yourself. I'm disgusted that there are writers who would pay for reviews in the first place, when all it takes is some damn leg work to approach reviewers and mail them a copy if they're interested. I've put in a lot of time and effort to get to where I am now, and it's a shame to think that people would write my reviews off as fake, but perhaps my idealistic side is showing through. ;) I'm certainly open to getting more 4-star ratings, and even some 3-star ones...if only I could get more readers to give them to me.

    Emigh Cannaday, author of Balkan Magic
    www.emighcannaday.com

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  19. I'm glad I saw this post. I was planning to use Kirkus Reviews for my first book on Amazon Kindle, but now I'm not so sure. But getting people to review a book is a rather frustrating waiting game. I recently posted it on Smashwords for a free promotion in July, got fifty downloads, and not a single review! Even a negative one would be welcome. At least I could get some constructive criticism that way.

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  20. A few weeks back I had been invited to join an Author group on Facebook. I accepted the invite and didn't think anything of it until people began posting about doing "author exchange reviews". Basically I'll write a review for your book if you write a review for my book. And of course this was all predicated on neither person having actually read the book written by the other. And of course this was also predicated on a mutual understanding that only glowing 5-star reviews were to be left for one another.

    I know some people were all too eager to participate in this process. Myself however....that concept violated my code of ethics as both a writer and a businessman.

    But then again...I tend to write things that some people will just flat out...not like! And that doesn't bother me one bit.

    Needless to say, I left this group on Facebook upon finding this information out.

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  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  22. I definitely agree with this post. I am myself a author, and I wrote series called Moonlight Witches. This is my only first book, and I have to realized you going to get a bad review anyway even if you're popular or bestseller, but some bad review helps you can learn from.

    For example, my ebook got two review and both of them gave me two star, and it wasn't because they hated it. Check out their reviews here, Moonlight Witches' Reviews. You see what i mean.

    Even though it two stars, it didn't stop me from writing my second one (I wrote four book altogether for this series) Those review i received were honest and it didn't gave bad review about it because they said i have potential to become good writer or maybe great (I didn't intend to sound like i have big ego) so i agree, i rather have a honest way to get review than pay someone to review it.

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    1. It just all seems so pointless to me. I actually find myself drawn to 1 and 2star reviews and a lot of the time am interested to see for myself if the book was so bad. If I get bad reviews for my own books, sometimes they turn out to be good reviews - in the sense I learn something or the feedback is constructive. I would never pay for a review either, I prefer to know what readers honestly think. There is no sense of accomplishment for phony praise....

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  23. I agree with your post too. i think paying for a review is dishonest and in the end people that are fooled into buying your book by a fake review may give a bad review and not buy future books. Have you ever put a book on amazon for free and what was your experience ? I put a kindle book on amazon for free for 1 day and 700 people downloaded it but zero reviews.

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