Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fake Reviews--Are they really a problem? Yes, Here's Proof.

Not all sock puppets are funny. 
I woke up with morning with an e-mail from the good folks over at Freebooksy letting me know they are promoting my free ebook (today and tomorrow only) Zack & Zoey's Alien Invasion.

Cool, I promptly sent them a short thank you and then checked out the link. Wow, only four books listed, I guess I was lucky to make the cut.

One of the books had a nice looking cover so I checked it out. Only 17 pages, not for me, but I noticed it has five-5-star reviews. Hmmm, maybe I can find a new kidlit reviewer, so I checked out the reviews.

Wait a second, I thought, something isn't right here: Every one of those 5-star reviews is by a reviewer who has only reviewed other books by this same author. Every single one! And none of them have reviewed anything else, by anyone else.

Now, I'm interested. I moved on to the next book. The reviews looked real here--oh, wait, the author has reviewed his own book, never mentioning he wrote it, and in the third person as if it's a real review. Geez.

One more book to go, do I even dare check it out? Of course I did. This one had a terrible cover and eight glowing 5-star reviews. But were they real? Well, seven of the eight haven't reviewed anything but this one book. The other one has reviewed one other item in 2004 and lives in the same state as the author. Is it possible that he happened to get 7 random reviews from people who loved his book so much that for the first time ever, they decided to leave reviews? Yes.

Is it likely? I'll leave that one to you.

Now, you may be saying, I didn't realize this is so persuasive, but why do you care? After all your book was listed. Yes, this time, but not the last time when Zack & Zoey only had one solitary review. Was it bumped by books with fake (or really suspicious) reviews? What other struggling author was bumped this week in favor a books bloated with fake suspicious reviews?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think Freebooksy did anything wrong--they are doing a great service by listing books for struggling writers like myself. And I don't know which of these reviews are fake, but some of them are, you can judge for yourself. 

I gave 400 books out to get my two reviews for Zack and Zoey. Legit reviews take a lot of work and every author has to determine where they draw the line on reviews. For example, one of my two reviewers sent me the review ahead of time to "check out." I politely declined, but asked them to post it "as is." Yet, I did glance make sure it was positive. If they panned my book, let's be honest, I probably would have told them they didn't need to post it.

I've asked my family not to post reviews of my books. But I think there are a couple from relatives, should I track down the owners and make them remove them? I haven't. Perhaps this is why we are so reluctant to call this sort of thing out (you'll notice I didn't post an author or book names); we all own a piece of this.

As you can see, there's lots of shades of gray here. But one thing is for sure, the problem of fake reviews is greater (see The Telegraph and JA Konrath's take) than any of us would like to admit (don't get me started about big publishers sending out ARC's to blogs that only leave 5-star reviews on Amazon) and it's not going away anytime soon.

Update: A reader notes that fake and illegitimate reviews aren't the same thing. Reviews left by friends aren't fake, just illegitimate. I've marked all my additions in blue.
Additionally, some of the reviews have already been removed since I posted this. I think they've been reported to Amazon (not by me, though).


  1. Thank you....I figure it's better to post an honest review, even if I got an ARC for free and didn't love (or even like) the book than to feel obligated to post a 5-star review (whether or not I enjoyed it). But it helps to hear that from a published author, as well.

    1. Thanks Beth.
      I've taken a little heat from authors who thought I shouldn't have posted this because, even though I don't name the books, it's not hard to figure them out.
      Plus, Amazon is already starting to remove some of the reviews, so in a week or two I bet they'll all be clean.

      It's nice to hear that someone found the post informative.
      Thanks again!

  2. Mike,

    Good post. I am aware how hard it is to get anyone to review your book. I just finished Zack and Zoey and I'm wondering is the check in the mail. LOL! I pride myself on reading what I review and writing what I think. I would hope that people would show my books the same courtesy. Again, good, thoughtful post.