Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Phony Book Reviews

I had a recent conversation with a new author who said a friend posted a phony 5-star review of their book, without even reading it, and the author wasn't sure if they should ask the friend to remove it.

It is true that SOME readers check out reviews to get an idea as to whether or not to buy a certain book. They check the rating, from 1 to 5-stars, considering what others have to say before making a buying decision. Authors need reviews to help them sell books, and we hope that most of the reviews, if not all of them will be favorable (which is rare) - though it is true that you can't please everyone. Realistically, a fair share of the reviews will be less than 5-stars.

What happens when an author has tens or hundreds of reviews that are all 5-stars? Sometimes books are reviewed by paid reviewers, or by author friends and family, or by people who didn't actually read the book but they like the author so they write a positive review as a favor. What that does is set the tone for the book being a very good read, and then when the buyer reads it, they might find that for them it was nothing like all of the rave reviews. The reader might get so frustrated in feeling duped that even if they thought it deserved 3-stars, they could end up giving it 1-star, with a commentary about how they can't figure out what all of the 5-star reviews were about (which isn't right but it does happen - obviously reviews are subjective).

Some write reviews by only paraphrasing the back cover copy, others are generic and complimentary of the author, but give few actual details about the plot, their favorite characters and why they like them, or they don't take time to quote a line from the book, or tell how the book made them feel.

There are some reviewers (solo reviewers, not those who have a group of readers working for them) who read 3+ books a day - these are the speed-readers who review for a living. Some reviewers aren't paid but they request several book copies. Reviews are very important though most authors are noticing that readers aren't posting reviews as often as they did before ebooks, so they are being more creative in finding ways to get reviews, some offering book giveaways with the only stipulation being that the reader posts a review, though most don't.

I don't think fake reviews help anyone, the author or the prospective reader. Having one review or one-hundred, it's better to have honest and real feedback as opposed to false impressions, right? We'd at least know that 2 people out of 10 shared honestly that they didn't particularly enjoy our work, rather than having 10 out of 10 5-star reviews yet knowing two of them were fake.

What's your opinion on fake reviews? Have you noticed more or fewer reviews of your books overall? Have you noticed a title lately where you thought to yourself that the reviews were probably fake?

Write on!


Charles Gramlich said...

I've had family member who have read my books and reviewed them. I don't ask them too. I have asked people who I know have read one of my works to review them, and generally I know that they are going to review positively, but I don't give them any guidelines or tell them anything to say. I get asked for a lot of reviews too and on occassion have had people ask me, "well have you reviewed it yet?" I always say, I'll review it the moment I'm done reading it. I've never written a review of something I haven't read through, although it is tempting at times when the pressure is on from writers. So far I've held the line.

Shauna Roberts said...

Like Charles, I always read a book before I review it.

When I ask friends to review my stuff, I generally say that I'd be happy with three stars or more, because some people feel obligated to give a friend's book five stars.

I have often noticed, particularly for self-published ebooks, vague reviews that I suspect are by friends and family.

I tend to trust only reviews that give a specific breakdown of likes and dislikes or that give specific comments that sound sensible.

Reviews by the author's friends and family can be useful if one reads between the lines for what isn't mentioned. For example, if every reviewer praises the depth and well-roundedness of the characters but no one mentions the plot or any other important component of a book, I wonder whether the characters are the only thing the author did well.

Liane Spicer said...

I've never reviewed a book I didn't read, and I've had a policy that goes back to when I started my blog in 2007 that I'd never review friends' books because I didn't trust myself to be objective. I've written one review for an author who later became my friend; didn't have a clue who she was when I wrote it.

The world of book reviewing is full of trickery, but savvy readers can usually spot the fakes. One easy way is to check out what else the masses of reviewers leaving 5 star reviews have reviewed. If most or all of them have no other reviews on the site it's a dead giveaway that the reviews are bogus.

Glenda A Bixler Reviews said...

I try to read as many of this type of article as I can and find that most individuals would like to see the review process become more effective. Me too!

Those of us who do reviews will never publish anything until we have read the book. Effective reviews will tell enough about the story that readers should feel that they have a fair idea of the plot as most of us buy books based upon the story.

I would expect to see friends and family support a writer Once That Individual Read the Book...As mentioned before, it doesn't help anybody to fake a review.

Once in a while, I've been accused of being a high ranker, mainly because I don't believe you can "rank" a book for apples against your oranges is just not meaningful. If I like a genre and you don't, then fine, explain that in your review or don't review the book if you accidentally bought a book in a genre you didn't like.

For myself, I do not read books where I realize that I will not read the entire book...those that would get a low ranking. Why should I? If I don't read the entire book, I don't think I should write a review. There are all sorts of reason how and why reviewers do what they do--thus numbered ranking does not work. But it is still important to share your positive thoughts, for many reasons. Try to be as objective and professional as possible...

And when you question the validity of a review online...don't be afraid or hesitant to voice your comments or questions...

Keep writing and we'll keep reading!

Best, Glenda

Francis Hamit said...

I encourage people to put up reviews as part of the conversation and I send review copies to professional reviewers. Beyond that, I don't try to influence of guide to result. So far, most of my reviews are five star and the rest four star, so this works for me.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, book reviews (and film reviews for that matter) are a complete waste of time. In particular, Amazon reviews are just a load of BS, as people simply "game" them. Trust your own opinions, I say.

gary ockunzzi said...

Personally I feel that every reader that reads (READS) a book, has a right to post a review online or elsewhere. However, I have suspicions of people that hide behind the internet (which is easy to do) and remain "anonymous." There was a large article online written by an ethical Texas real estate broker's about agent's "gaming" their reviews/recommendations, on Zillow." Again, those "reviews" or "recommendations" can be from anyone (the agent, his buddies, etc.). "ditto" with book reviews. My opinion is....sign off on it. Put your name down and stand behind it "don't hide behind anonymity." That's just being honest and straightforward.

Liane Spicer said...

Gary, maybe it's wishful thinking but I think the time is coming when it won't be possible to use the Internet without one's ID 'stamp' accompanying anything we post. But people being what they are, they'll probably find a way to 'game' that too.