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.