Do you believe all’s fair in love and publishing?

If you’re an author, you’ve probably been reading about the NY Times “book reviewers for hire” article by David Streitfeld. If not, it’s the first link listed below this post. In that article he talks about a man named Todd Jason Rutherford, who ran a lucrative business selling enthusiastically positive, but fake, book reviews. He ran ads on Craigslist to hire reviewers, who soon realized they could write more reviews—and make more money—by not actually reading the books, but just skimming the text or Googling  to learn enough about the book to fake it.

Streitfeld also reveals that John Locke, the author who became the first self-published writer to sell a million Kindle ebooks through Amazon, bought 300 of those reviews. In addition, Locke requested that those reviewers purchase their copy from Amazon, so the reviews would have the “Verified Amazon Purchase” tag to add credibility.

That’s three hundred five-star reviews! Think about that. How much do you think 300 glowing 5-star reviews would increase sales? I have some great reviews and ratings, and though a few of the early ones were from family members and friends, the rest are not—and I didn’t pay a cent for any of them.

Yes, I know publishing is a business. Locke and others like him are undoubtedly smart businessmen. But as much as I’d like to make money, I’m conflicted and can’t look at my writing strictly as a profit-making product. I can’t subscribe to the all’s fair in love and publishing mindset. I’m proud of my writing. I think it’s worth reading. I want the opinions of readers to be genuine. I don’t want someone buying one of my books based on misleading reviews. I don’t want to deceive readers to make a dollar.

In reading about this issue, I realized this is another black mark against self-published books. Those of us who’ve chosen that path have already faced prejudice, mostly from other publishers and authors who consider self-published work synonymous with poor quality. Now, if readers think they can’t trust reviews of our books, we’re even more disadvantaged.

I also learned certain groups of self-publishers (and small presses?) trade positive reviews of books they haven’t read, as in, I’ll give your book 5-stars, if you give mine the same. Some time ago, I got caught up in the “marketing ploy” of trading clicks on descriptive tags on Amazon. Though tags only help readers searching for books, not influence their buying, it felt dishonest, and I took my book off the list the next day. I know we self-publishers are at a great disadvantage in getting our books noticed, but I would rather mine get noticed honestly and for the right reasons.

If you’d care to read more about this issue, follow the links below, but I have two questions for you. Do you read reviews or, at least, consider the rating before buying a book? And do you think it’s unethical for authors/publishers to pay people to write positive book reviews?

45 thoughts on “Do you believe all’s fair in love and publishing?

  1. Oh, wow. Like you, I’d prefer everything I earn to be honest and true, and I’d feel like crap if I knew people were buying my book because of fake and purchased reviews. I think in some cases it can work, if it’s a paid review service where they actually read the book and they are respected in the industry. I do read reviews on books before buying them, but they rarely influence whether I buy or not. I’m just curious as to what other people thought. I want to form my own opinions. But I don’t review books unless it’s a blurb for a book about to be published, or a recommendation I give in my newsletter or on my blog. If I review a book, it’s not under my name. I have an anonymous profile on Goodreads to do that because I ran into too many issues otherwise, and for me, personally, it felt unprofessional. It’s different for everyone.

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    1. Michelle, I don’t have the budget to use a legitimate paid review service even if I wanted to, but if it’s a service where reviewers actually read the book and write an honest review, that’s totally different from the scam reviewers the NY Times article referred to.

      I always look at the averaged star rating, but don’t like to read many reviews before I read the book because I don’t want to be influenced by others specific opinions. I always read the blurb and sample pages though. And after I read the book, I do go back and read reviews to see if my opinion matches many others.

      I wish I had thought ahead before I set up my Goodreads account.

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      1. You can always create another account. The one I have is a name only I know, and I don’t have any friends on it. It has been very freeing to create an account where nobody I know can see what I am reading and want to read.

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        1. Do have no books read listed on your author name account? I like the idea of that and I don’t. I like the compare feature at Goodreads, which I often use to see whether my reading tastes are the same as someone who really liked a book I’m considering reading. I also compare books with authors I’m not familiar with because I think that might indicate whether I’ll like their writing.

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          1. No, I do not list any books on my author name account. I deleted all of those books long, long ago. But I can still use the compare feature on my other profile, where I’ve re-listed all of my books read, to-read, and am-reading. That took awhile. I think it was worth it because it felt like a fresh start for some reason. Reading is such a personal, private thing for me. I don’t like other people sifting through my bookshelves. 🙂

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          2. Yes, many, and yes, they were all lost. And yes, I had reviewed friends’ books at that point. A few intense and emotional situations made me realize that just wasn’t a good thing for me to do anymore.

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  2. You’ve sparked a very interseting thread here, LInda.
    In response to your questions. I’ll read a review if I have the time–more often than not I don’t. So often I just don’t agree with reviewers that I really don’t have much faith in them. I read blurbs and samples before I’ll read reviews.
    Also, if I see that a review is from a paid reviewer I won’t trust it at all–good or bad. I think the reason to this is because I know they’ve read the book as a job. It changes the experience, takes away from the intimacy of the read. I’m sure it’s not always the case but I still tend to pay no attention to it whatsoever. And if I’m completely honest, it leaves me wondering if the author has so little belief in his/her book that there is the need to pay someone to read it. This post though has made me realize that for some writers it may seem like one of the few options they have open to them.

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      1. There are many reviews that say something along the lines of: this is a paid review, or, I am reviewing this book for payment, some such thing, you must see those often as well?
        There are also those that state they were given a copy of the book in exchange for a review.

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