Friday, 27 September 2013

Lies, Damned Lies and Book Reviews

It's competition time !  Read to the end of the post to find out how to win a copy of 'How To Write a Novel.'

This week I've gone a bit Oscar Wilde, not in the Reading Gaol sense of the word, but in questioning the reliability of information ...

Imagine you’re going for a job interview.  You've put lots of effort into preparing for it; bought yourself a suit to impress your new boss and written a CV that would astound even God.  Nothing is going to get in your way, not the fact that you've never done this job before, or that the other person waiting to go in front of the board is younger/cleverer/prettier than you.  No, because you've got something they haven’t got, you've got some rockin’ references.  One is from Charles Dickens, the other from J K Rowling and the other one is from Father Christmas.  They all say that you’re very clever/good/funny and that you should get the job.  That should do it, either that or offer to sleep with the boss.

What, me?  Of course the references are real, how very dare you!  So what if one of them is dead and the other doesn't exist – that’s Santa you numskulls, not the author of Harry Potter – every word is truer than The Da Vinci Code, now give me my job!

We know that these references are false, they are lies, some might use the words complete bollocks.  Getting a job with false references will get you sacked quicker than you can say ‘disciplinary hearing’ and we all know that eventually, you’ll get caught out and it’ll be home-time for you.

So why do some authors think it is okay to buy in false reviews on Amazon?  I've read some quite damning blog posts recently about this practice and, always one of the last people to jump on the band wagon as it’s leaving town, I decided to look for myself.  I found this article in The New York Times and it appears that the famous the indie author, who was the first to sell 1 million ebooks on Amazon and rhymes with ‘Lohn Jocke,’ bought in a lot of his reviews from a company who would write blocks of reviews on demand, for a price.  They would even ensure that the books were bought first, in order to gain the much needed Amazon ‘Verified Purchase’ tag, so that potential buyers would think that the reviews were genuine.  A double whammy, he’s paid for people to review his novels and to buy them as well – which is going to put the Amazon algorithms into pushing that book up the charts even more.

I’m sure he’s not the only one.  The fact is that buying reviews in order to buy more readers is fraudulent.  ARC copies, advanced reader copies, is completely understandable.  Giving someone a free copy of your book in exchange for an honest review is standard practice for all products, but buying in blocks of false reviews?  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

There’s just too much jiggery pokery going on with Amazon reviews and I would appreciate a review, excuse the pun, of the review system on the world’s largest ebook retailer.  Those indie success stories are something that I have trouble trusting now but it does give me confidence as well.  I always thought that the reason I wasn't swanning around in a Mercedes on the proceeds of my royalties was because I wasn't good enough as a writer but now I don’t believe that’s true.  I've put just as much work into my books as the bestsellers but the reviews on my Amazon profile are genuine.  Yes, those 1* reviews I've got are from people who genuinely dislike me!  Get in!  But those 5* reviews are the real deal as well, so booyakasha to that.

It's competition time and there's a copy of  the Writers' & Artists's Guide to 'How To Write' by Harry Bingham to give away.  To enter, click like on my facebook page and say why you'd like a copy.  Funniest comment wins.


  1. L K Jay - For what it is worth I completely agree with you. We need far greater honesty in reviews and/or a different system. Not only are people/publishers 'buying' reviews, there is also active manipulation of the 'star' rating system on sites like Amazon.
    Every reader will have their own likes and dislikes. Taking an extreme example, if , as a history writer, were to comment on Mills and Boon books, what value to a person that likes that sort of thing? Likewise someone who reads that genre commenting on my military history/battle tactic analysis of an infantry battalion on the Somme in 1916.
    Far better a review that shows a real interest/understanding of the subject that is honest.

  2. I always feel I know which reviews are from friends and family and which are the 'real deal' to start with if you are handing out a five star to every book you've read then it is saying every book is brilliant then there is no 'x factor' I only give out 5 star review if the book as moved, excited or amazed me it has the wow factor. Four star is the highest I will give, which to my way of think is saying the book is brilliant in its own right, but hasn't quite got the x factor. If I review a book I will have read it from cover to cover. If someone is genuinely excited by a book they will say what they liked about it... In the same way someone who is disappointed by it to will say what they didn't like about it, which in both case they've read it cover to cover. These I see as being genuine reviews. Just giving a five star and saying 'I love it' or one star and 'I hate it' mean nothing to me. They probably never read the book anyway.

  3. I agree that it might be time for an overhaul of the Amazon review system, LK. Too many fake reviews, too much disinformation - for my part, I long ago stopped looking at Amazon reviews, and have started paying more attention to Goodreads and other sources, where people are altogether less likely (hopefully) to try to game the system.

    Having said that, this is perhaps an extension of the sort of hype-based marketing that has (by most accounts) been going on in traditional publishing for years, so I'm not sure that the indie world is necessarily more corrupt than its legacy rival. But then again, I've begun to think that indies are at their best when they're thinking outside the box, not just aping the traditional industry, and all of the deception does leave something of a sour taste.