No fake reviews here

Recently an author friend told me that some authors are asking other authors to swap 5 star reviews with them. You aren’t asked to read the book, just write a rave and give it 5 stars. Even if you do read it and don’t think it very good, you’re still expected to give it 5 stars. The idea being that if you do it for them, they will do the same for you.  (added note – I ‘m talking about authors in general here, not Indie Authors.)

Agghhhh! That’s a major scream, in case you didn’t get it. This kind of thing isn’t just unprofessional and morally wrong (it’s lying), it’s stupid as well. If you’ve done this, or are thinking of doing it, think again. Do you really think readers are that stupid that they won’t notice that the book they just read didn’t merit those 5 stars reviews? Well, they do notice, and it pisses them off big time. Authors who do this clearly haven’t thought through the consequences of their actions, so I’ll do it for them.

The results of having fake 5 star reviews for books that don’t deserve them is that readers will

  • become suspicious of all 5 star reviews, so that even books that deserve 5 stars & have no fake reviews will be accused of using this scam by anyone who doesn’t agree with the rating. (I’ve seen this already and of a fabulous book by an author that would never resort to such tactics.)
  • put less emphasis on the rating. If the practice becomes too widespread, the ratings will become meaningless, thus cutting out a whole method of getting the word out to readers about the quality of your book.
  • be more disappointed in books that don’t live up to the reviews than they otherwise would, leaving them with a more negative impression and making them more likely to write an angry negative review. (This is how it comes back to bite you.)
  • suspect foul play and complain to Amazon and other places where reviews are displayed.

As a result  Amazon (etc) may

    • remove suspicious reviews, which may include genuine reviews that an author has worked hard to get.
    • stop anyone who hasn’t bought the book on Amazon from writing a review. That will mean that you can’t give your reviewers free copies, you’ll have to gift them to them via Amazon and pay the price, and if they happen to use a Sony, Kobo or Nook, the review won’t appear on Amazon.

I have the feeling that any author playing this game isn’t very sure of the quality of their book. If you’re sure of your work, you don’t need to ask for a 5 star review, you just ask for a review. As authors, we need to accept that not everyone will like our work, but misleading our readers won’t help us in the long term, instead, it will do us and the whole business a lot of harm. Authors need readers goodwill and trying to pull the wool over their eyes won’t endear them to us at all. Everyone will lose out if this behavior continues.

Fake reviews won’t help you as a writer either. I’m always keen to see what other writers have to say and I trust that those I have asked will tell the truth. If you ask me for a review, I’ll give you the truth, and I expect no less in return.

This raises the question of whether or not we should publish negative reviews, and I’ll deal with that in the next post. For now, though, let me make it clear that the Awesome Indies reviews are completely honest. Also, no one is added to this list just because they are friends with someone else. The interactions I’ve had with authors listed on this site show me that they are all far too concerned with maintaining the standard to even consider that course of action.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you come across it? How widespread is it? Has anyone asked you to do this? If so, how did you respond?

20 comments… add one

  • Sammie Spencer August 10, 2012, 1:18 am

    Great post…as an indie writer, I’m so happy to say that I’ve never come across this. The writers whose books I’ve read (and who have read my book) would never think to ask for a 5-star review…they want genuine opinions on their work and give their own sincere opinions on other writers’ work. I’d much rather have a bad but honest review than a fantastic fake one.

  • kvictoriasmith August 10, 2012, 1:21 am

    I have lived my non-writing professional career–yes including a decade on Wall Street in the age of Gordon Gecko– living and teaching that at the end of the day you have to look yourself in the mirror. I will reciprocate with a review if asked but I make it clear that the chips will fall where they may. We owe it to the Indie market to do right and do better. I also do developmental editing so my honest assessment is critical to that part of my writing/publishing career. I advise authors that is I cannot give at least 3 stars they will receive private feedback from me (no charge).

  • Amelia J. Byrnes August 10, 2012, 2:11 am

    This drives me nuts! Why would anyone want a review they didn’t deserve? I want to work hard and earn that five star review. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything!

  • Tahlia Newland August 10, 2012, 3:15 am

    I’m pleased to hear these comments. We all need to do our bit to get the message out that this practice is not OK. At the same time, if it is only a small issue, then we don’t want to beat it our of proportion. I hope it isn’t widespread.

  • journeyofjordannaeast August 10, 2012, 3:22 am

    This is an atrocious practice. Another way for Indies writers to give us all a bad name.

    • Tahlia Newland August 10, 2012, 3:50 am

      What makes you think it’s Indie writers doing this? There’s no division in Indie or non-indie in this behaviour. I hear that some traditionally published authors write 1 star reviews of Indies they see as a threat to their sales.

      • journeyofjordannaeast August 10, 2012, 4:43 pm

        Wow, you’re absolutely right. That was my fault for assuming that since “Awesome Indies” posted the information it was referring to indie authors, when in fact after I reread it, the post doesn’t specify. My apologies.

        The 1-star reviews thing is appalling as well. People should really be ashamed of themselves.

        • Tahlia Newland August 11, 2012, 1:24 am

          No problems, it just shows how easy it is to make assumptions.

  • journeyofjordannaeast August 10, 2012, 3:24 am

    Reblogged this on journeyofjordannaeast and commented:
    Another way for Indie writers to give us all a bad name. Tsk, tsk.

  • K. P. Vorenberg August 10, 2012, 6:26 am

    I cherish all my reviews and would be saddened to think anyone had written a review with the expectation of a fake review in return. There is nothing to be gained in that sort of practice . . . .

  • Linda Gillard August 10, 2012, 7:06 am

    It certainly isn’t just indies doing this. I know of publishers who have posted bogus 5-star reviews for their authors! I think Amazon reviews at both ends of the scale have become suspect. We have 1-star troll reviews and the fake 5-stars. I think readers aren’t stupid and can probably detect the fakes. The good news is trusted gatekeeper sites like this one, based on reviewer integrity, will become more & more important to readers looking for good books.

  • Wendy Unsworth - Author of The Palaver Tree August 10, 2012, 12:27 pm

    Great article! This kind of tactical reviewing is no good to anyone – full stop! As you say, a book with a 5 star glowing review will soon be ‘found out’ when others honestly read and evaluate it. As writers we all covet the wonderful acknowledgement from a reader who thinks our work is 5 star material, it gives us confidence to carry on and try to always attain high standards. But unless a review is genuine it is pointless both as guidance to the quality/enjoyability of our work and as a vehicle to increase sales. Also – fake reviews are just wrong – those seekig them will never improve their craft.

  • David Biddle August 10, 2012, 1:10 pm

    “Tactical reviewing!” I love it! Yes, it’s all over the Kindle boards and the reading social networking world. Discussion group topics read “Trading Reviews” or “Looking for Reviews” or something like that. In some cases this may be legitimate, but in others, it’s at least a tacit “I’ll wash your back if you wash mine.” (Or something far more kinky…). There is the complicating problem too of having someone give you a 5-Star rating before you’ve had a chance to give them the 2-Star (or even the 4-Star) that you wanted to give.

    I’ve loved Amazon since its inception because of its review function for readers. What a powerful thing to let readers speak their minds right at the point of purchase! It’s even more important now with this influx of Indie writers. And, yes, of course, we’ve been watching this tactical review phenomenon from the beginning of that for traditionally published and self-published writers. There’s the other problem too of family and friends putting in their two-cents worth. Book bloggers are still the best bet for all of us and those who blog AND post their reviews to Goodreads, Amazon, etc. are so important.

    The real problem now for all writers is that getting book bloggers to do a review is not easy. The competition for bloggers and their long TBR lists means a waiting time of months. Many of the best bloggers are so inundated they’ve had to stop accepting submissions. Most serious/professional writers deal with this as best they can. Others, though, are desperate. And, obviously, those of the less professional ilk are super desperate. Reviews in any guise are one of the most important elements of any marketing plan.

    There’s no easy answer here accept for writers everywhere to understand professionalism and to self-police for standards. Readers need to be part of the equation too. I tend to discount short one and two paragraph reviews on blogs and at Amazon. Longer, structured and multi-faceted commentary can be found that’s usually more meaningful and defining.

    One thing that readers need to do more of when they buy a book based on 5-star reviews and find it less than deserving is to counter with an honest evaluation. We’re seeing this already, but it probably needs to be more definitive. I’d say it will be over time, especially for books priced above $4.99 that just don’t cut the muster.

    For me, I want real reviews by intelligent readers. I’ll take my lumps if someone hates my work somehow. It’s so important to know where you stand. No one reader, though, and no one review, really means much at all. It’s the sum of reviews that counts. In fact, if you’re really good at what you do, you have to know that some people are going to hate your work while others will enjoy it.

    • Tahlia Newland August 11, 2012, 1:28 am

      Asking book bloggers for reviews is just a process that every author (whether indie or otherwise) has to go through. It takes a lot of time, but you end up with genuine reviews. As for family and friends. My daughter gave one of my short stories 3 stars because that’s how she felt about it. I asked her to be honest, I always do, so just because they’re friends doesn’t mean that their reviews will be fake. I have a very critical family.

  • lindyloumacinitaly August 10, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I have just made the same comment on Facebook but thought it was ok to share here, as an amateur reviewer who loves reading and just started her blog and writing reviews for Amazon etc, as a way of keeping my brain active and remembering the books I have read, I am getting rather upset by all the sort of behaviour that is going on!

    ‘ I suddenly feel I hate the whole star system! I just write what I think about the book without trying to spoil it for other readers, which is one reason I started to include Author Profiles on my blog, to make the posts I hope slightly more interesting. I am aiming to tempt readers into trying an authors work themselves, not particularly ram my personal opinion down their throats with stars or not!’

  • lindyloumacinitaly August 10, 2012, 3:39 pm

    Sorry me again as I forgot to tick the box to notify me of follow up comments :)

  • shiftersseries August 10, 2012, 4:01 pm

    I think that I have seen this in action, though without admission it’s hard to be certain. I have had a hell of a time getting folks to post reviews of my books, but still this has never even occurred to me as a possible solution. I want honest reviews that I can use to become better at my craft. I know that reviews can help sell my books, but in the end, dishonest reviews might sell one book but honest reviews (which help make me a better writer) will sell this book and the next one and the next one. So, for right now, I concentrate on encouraging my readers to post their reviews, good, bad, and ugly.

  • Tahlia Newland August 11, 2012, 1:36 am

    Ollin wrote a post related to this topic. It’s about how to spot a bad critic.

  • TrueJDK August 12, 2012, 2:10 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the comments here, and I’ve posted about it a few times myself. Fake reviews help no one, neither in the short nor long-term.


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