My good friend, Dionne Lister, and I recently had an interesting discussion about authors cheating the system on Amazon by paying for favourable reviews. It turned into one of the best blog posts I've read on the subject. I've re-blogged it here.
Hey, peeps. I haven’t done a ranty post in a while, but ranty Dionne is back! I find getting this stuff out of my system by writing it down helps, and why not educate readers and other authors while I’m at it. Today’s post is all about the wonderful world of authors scamming the Amazon system to trick unwary readers into buying their books.
I must state right out that I may be 43, but I’m naive, to a degree. Whatever I do, I do it honestly, with passion, and to the best of my ability, so it really comes as a shock to me when I discover people scamming the system. Writing has been my biggest passion of all (aside from my family). Ever since I was maybe nine or ten, I knew I wanted to be an author, and I’ve spend a good part of my 30s up until now trying to improve. There are many writers out there who have that passion to write and know that once the fire is ignited, not even a flood will extinguish it. I can admit that what I discovered hurts all the more because of this, and, hell, I know the people I’m about to talk about haven’t given a second thought to me, or any of the other authors out there who truly care about writing. I should not take this personally, but I do, and I feel ripped off on behalf of my author friends who I know put their heart, soul, time and money into each book they publish. The honest, talented, hardworking authors are missing out on sales because some other authors are getting visibility and sales based on dishonest practices.
It all started a few weeks ago when a certain book—which I won’t name because I’m not here to ‘out’ people, but open people’s eyes so they can be aware when they’re choosing a book to read—appeared on my book’s page as a number one bestseller (those orange tags are hard to miss). Being curious, and always on the lookout for fantasy books to read, I clicked on the book. It was sitting just under #200 overall on Amazon and had quite a few 5 star reviews. Naturally, I read a sample. I. Almost. Died. The prose was basic, and punctuation was non-existent; the poor comma was totally neglected and didn’t appear until paragraph eight. Sentence fragments made an appearance, but not the type that add tension or emphasise something, but ones that didn’t make sense. I couldn’t read on; my editor-type brain was bashing itself against the inside of my skull. Crying seemed like a good option. How could so many people LOVE this book—70+ reviews, 28 five star, 21 four star for a book that was release three weeks ago—when my book was languishing at #200,000 and has received 58 reviews since April 2012. Maybe I didn’t have what it took to write an engaging book; maybe readers really don’t give two craps about good writing, punctuation and error-free books. (I must say that I get not everyone will love your book, but when it comes too easy for some when it’s clear they shouldn’t have hit publish, it can get to a writer who has spent $1000 on their cover and hundreds on editing, until they realise it’s all bullshit).
Reading the legitimate reviews—the one star reviews—I could see their gripe was the same as mine, plus the brave, stubborn readers who had pushed on, despite the horror, pointed out that many words were incorrect, names for the same character had changed throughout the book, basically anything you could do wrong, this book did. It left me scratching my head, so I thought I’d do some research. Where did it lead?
To the conclusion that the five-star reviews were mostly either friends or paid reviews. I went to Fiverr to see what I could see after having heard it’s a place to go when you want to score (a good review). Oh, my, I felt like my rose-coloured glasses hadn’t just been removed, but they’d been ripped off, stomped on, then the broken glass stabbed into my eyeball. It’s like a red-light district on a Saturday night (ahem, not that I would know what one looked like except for what I’ve seen on TV). Dealers are everywhere, money is changing hands out in the open, and the dodgy people thanking the dealers for reviews are just as brazen. Here are some quotes from the dealers on what they can score for you:
Have your book on Amazon or Kindle? I’ll read it and write a detailed, thoughtful, and positive five star review quickly! I’ve written dozens of product and book reviews and would love to make yours stand out from the crowd. —kbroder9
I will write review on Amazon US, UK, FR, etc.. I can write it on my own or you can provide me and i will post it from my account(s). From different location and device. The more reviews, the greater the chance it will be found and used by potential users. Contact me for Bulk Order ! —reviewergal
I will write a 100-word verified review, highlighting the best aspects of your book. I have extensive professional experience in writing, editing, and beta reading. Your review will be thoughtful and well written. Please see my gig extras if you need me to do any of the following: -buy an ebook up to 3.99 for a verified review -repost your review to another site -add 100 words to your review -deliver in 48 hours (I no longer offer a 24 hour option–reviewing too fast increases the chances that Amazon will remove the review) —beccalovesbooks. (Some reviewers ignore this small issue yet Amazon hasn’t removed their reviews).
Anyway, you get the picture. After chasing up some of the authors on Amazon and going from one link to the next, from ebooks, to reviews, to reviewers, and back to other books they’ve reviewed, I’ve learnt how to spot some of the dodgy reviews. Because Amazon clearly either doesn’t care, or maybe their toilet is clogged and the disposal of such a huge amount of shit is beyond them, I wanted to give you your own BS detector. When you’re trying to find a book to read, please read the sample to make sure it’s at least been edited, then check the validity of the review by clicking on the reviewer. *Please keep in mind that one or two reviews with the following characteristics may not mean the review is fake (some of the reviews on my book are one or two sentences of just “I enjoyed this”), but if you come across review after review for the one book that meet most of these criteria, you can probably assume the author has garnered fake reviews.
This is what I noticed:
1. The reviewer only posts 5 star reviews
2. The reviewer posts more than one review on any given day
3. Reviewers who have been doing it for a few weeks have a shitload of reviews within a short space of time. Note this reviewer who does multiple reviews in one day, day after day. They must be the fastest reader ever.
4. Look for generic reviews that don’t really say anything about the book, except for gush about how bloody awesome it was and how they can’t wait for the next one (yes, some reviews like this are legitimate, but if there are several within a short amount of time, you can bet your cutest, warmest pussy cat on them that they are fake). Here are a couple of doozies I had to share because hey, you gotta laugh, right? (I was led to this book from one of the fake reviewers when I clicked on their reviews to see what other books they’d been so kind as to comment on for money).
Wow, this alarming book has utterly riddled my mind. I’m stunned at the brilliance of the author has she waves this intriguing tale. It twists and turns with action-packed events. The distinctive characters were well fashioned owing to the vivid descriptions. I refused to put this book down. Indeed it moved so fast I could barely keep up. Here goes a book with a riveting tale that will leave you completely astounded as each character’s role is unleashed in a very surprising way. You have got to check this out!—Nita
How’s that for gushing without actually saying anything?
And this from a reviewer who posted three reviews on the same day, all five stars: XXX (book title left out for obvious reasons) is really a book that you should only read if you are prepared to have a few very late night sleeps. Because yes you are right, it is one of THOSE books that keeps you to the edge of your seat from first to last. And No, you will NOT want to put it down until sleep finally overcomes your eyes. I am sure you are looking forward to the next book in the series if you have read this one. You are lucky to find such an author among all the crowd. Its not every author who can take your sleep away (wink)—Yong C. Hudson.
5. If there is only one 5 star review from the reviewer, they may be legitimate, or they are could be a friend, family member, or the author with a fake account. Again, use discretion. I think it’s prudent to look at the complete picture before you judge on this particular type of review, but if things about the other reviews look suss, this review probably is too.
6. When you’re looking at the reviews for a single book that has only come out in the last few weeks, unless it’s a freak success story (which does happen) or you can see the author has a high profile on social media and has prepared well for their launch with legitimate reviewer copies, multiple 4 and 5 star reviews on the same day, day after day, are suspect. Even bestselling books take a while to gather reviews.
I hope I’ve helped people see when authors are gaming the system. Readers, when you’re looking for a book to read, please check out the sample, and try and buy a book from an author who is doing the right thing, and if you like their book, leave an honest review. Discovering this scummy behaviour has made me sceptical of every good review. It’s not fair that as a reader I can’t trust reviews, and it’s not fair that I, or any other honest writer, should feel they are failing because they are not getting 70 great reviews within two weeks of releasing their book—you’re not failing; I’m not failing. I have to believe that good writing, while it may not sell to millions, will sell better than shit writing, and will lead to a loyal fan base of readers who will buy your books and will truly appreciate your work.
Many of my friends have told me, and I think/hope they’re right, that the crap books will still lose in the end, that readers won’t come back and buy anymore from these authors once they realise the writing, despite the glowing reviews, sucks. And yes, there are some great books out there with fake reviews, which is still dishonest, but at least you won’t be buying a substandard product (although, I don’t condone this underhanded levelling of the playing field).
Anyway, I’ve decided to brush it off and run my own race, sans performing-enhancing reviews. I’ll keep doing what I love—writing—and take comfort that when that one review every few weeks comes in, it’s from a reader who really did love my book. After all, the drug high only lasts so long, and coming down can be a bitch. To all the honest writers, I’m glad and proud to call you my colleagues, and to all the dishonest ones, I wonder how it feels to have to pay people to love your book? I wonder what else you have to pay for…?