How do you decide what you are going to read next? Do you reach for the latest novel by one of your favorite authors, select a recommendation from a friend, colleague or literary critic, browse the local bookstore or online site until something takes your fancy….or do you look at online reviews for titles that you may have heard of but don’t know much about?
By all accounts, the latter option has now become one of the primary driving forces behind sales of books. Get lots of good reviews and not only will sales increase, but also the amount of promotion you get online from the site promoter via ‘similar items you might like’ or ‘items other customers have viewed’ sidebars on other book pages.
Unfortunately, while this looks like a fair system – why shouldn’t book buyers be able to publicly express opinions on what is good and bad as well as the critics - like many others it appears to have been corrupted. According to a recent report in The New York Times many self-published authors are garnering good reviews by either submitting multiple reviews themselves under pseudonyms or by buying reviews from companies which offer a glowing review for a fixed price without necessarily requiring the reviewer to read the book first. The giveaway, of course, is the little known author who has masses of reviews, all five star, the majority of which are by reviewers who have not reviewed anything else or have plot summaries that read like the book description. As they say, you can’t please all the people all the time, so it would make sense that any widely reviewed book would have some detractors.
One of the arguments used to justify this duplicity is that authors published traditionally have publishers who can arrange reviews for them or get other well-known authors within the publishing group to give glowing blurbs to promote a particular book – when did you last pick up a novel that didn’t have such a blurb, no matter how well known the author? For debut novelists, what better way to raise your visibility than to have such a comment from a bestselling author on your cover, but for the majority of self-published authors this is not an option so the pressure is on from day one to get those good reviews in.
While initially any unknown writer is reliant on word-of-mouth promotion and some good reviews from friends, family and colleagues, the idea that they are competing against writers who are creating or buying dozens of fake good reviews leaves them in a situation where they either have to join in or risk being ignored. (There are reputable, unbiased review services available, including Kirkus Indie and PW Select, but at a cost which would deter most authors from seeking more than one or two for any given novel.)
I love to write and, yes, I’d like to make a living from my writing, but if it means lowering myself to paying someone to write fake good reviews then it would be soul destroying. How do you take pride in an achievement based on deceit? Instead of an act of pleasurable creativity, writing would become purely a business venture where money matters more than the written word, a situation which seems increasingly to be the case in traditional publishing where the ‘next sure bestseller’ seems to be more important than taking a risk with an unknown author and, ironically, is often the reason that drives many authors to self-publish in the first place.