Don’t you hate that sinking feeling you get when you find out you’re wearing Goochi loafers and a Rolodex watch? Your Mona Lisa is signed by Leonard DaVinci. All that money in your wallet has Art Linkletter’s picture on it. You have a gold American Espresso Card. Worst of all, you are driving a Limburgergini.

In Hise We Trust

People don’t hate fake things. Oh, they’d rather have real thingsโ€”real teeth, real hair, real tomato ketchup. But as long as it’s a conscious and informed choice, people are fine with it. What they hate is being duped into thinking something fake is real. Then they get angry.

Hence, the uproar over the recent discovery of the posting of fake book reviews. Like most controversies suddenly “discovered” by the media, this has actually been going on for a while. In fact, I’ve touched on this in some previous articles. I won’t bother with a link because I’m not trying to set myself up as some sort of fake Nostradamus.

Posting or facilitating the posting of fake reviews is unethical. There is no way around that. You can engage in moral equivalency all you like, but it is simply wrong and people know it is wrong. It is intentional deception.

From what I can tell by examining the facts as reported, there are three types of fake reviews:

An author sets up multiple accounts to post glowing reviews of his/her own book under other identities to give the impression the book is popular and well-written.

Bought Bulk Reviews
There are outfits that will sell authors bundles of good reviews. Again, the purpose is to mislead the prospective buyer about the popularity of the book.

Tactical Assault Reviews
These are negative reviews of another author’s book designed to tank a perceived competitor’s ranking or standing, driving the perpetrator’s book up in comparison.

All of these strategies are forms of astroturfing, which is nothing more than trying to influence public opinion with faked or manipulated data. This practice is in wide use in marketing and politics. It is seedy. It is unethical. Nevertheless one must assume it provides results or it would not be in such wide use.

Whether they wish to admit it or not, people are influenced by representations of the popularity of a product. This is why you know that four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.

I tend to be very circumspect about data and particularly pronouncements that profess to be based on data. It is too easy to cherry-pick to get the results you want.

If your book about dragons has twelve 5-star ratings and is presented next to another book about dragons with one hundred 5-star ratings, the chances a prospective buyer will select your book will be diminished.

If you discover a considerable portion or all of those hundred 5-star ratings are actually fake, you are going to suffer a bout of self-righteous indignation. You played by the rules and suffered for it. The cheater got ahead and is crying crocodile tears all the way to the bank while you still labor in obscurity.

Have a good pout and then put your big kid pants on because I have a news flash for you: Life is not fair. Expecting life to treat you fair because you are a good person is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian. There are some bad actors out there, but the real problem is that the system is flawed.

Book reviews have become a commodity. Like all commodities, where there is a demand, there will be someone and some means to meet it. We might be able to agree that purchasing a bundle of good reviews is dead wrong. Perhaps more accurately it is at the darker end of a broad band of an ethically gray area.

Have you ever asked friends or relatives to post a review for you? Do you really think those reviews are completely unbiased? Have you perhaps traded reviews with another author? Can you say without even a modicum of doubt that your review of their book was not tinted even an iota by their review of yours?

There are many shades of grayโ€”fifty, I’m told. Buying reviews or maliciously posting negative reviews of another author is not something I have ever done or ever will do, but I do know this is a rough game. Follow the dictates of your own conscience in these regards and let others do as they will. As my boys used to say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

25 thoughts on “Fake-Out”

      1. I considered using some terms from your prior post about what reviewers really mean, but then realized I was too lazy and got some food instead :).

  1. Right on, Stephen, right on! At times this game does suck and we want to hate because of all the negativity, but in order to succeed, in our own mind at least, we must move past all this and as you say, ‘Follow the dictates of your own conscience in these regards and let others do as they will.’ And always be professional, no matter what.

  2. Great post, Stephen. Guess most of us are guilty of at least one of those 50 shades of grey. My first two reviews were by friends, though one of them was a 4-star. Some friend (:

  3. That’s my take, pretty much, as well. I do not even swap reviews and have only asked a handful of people who already told me they loved my books to post a review. Maybe three did. The rest …. That’s life.
    I have asked one reviewer to review my books, but at no time did I expect a dishonest one. It was a risk I was willing to take.
    I have to live with myself. My standards are, I’m told, extraordinarily high. So be it. I can look myself in the mirror and approve of what I see.
    I’ll never be rich and famous, but I always knew that, even before I began to write.

  4. I have enough room in my blackened heart to hate the game as well as the players who cheat at it. If they aren’t subject to – at a minimum – public ridicule, then there really is no downside to the behavior apart from having to “answer to themselves.” And if that was an issue, they wouldn’t have been doing the dirt in the first place.

    1. I agree they have it coming and knew their behavior was unethical, or they would not have taken pains to obscure their methods. So, I understand your point. Great comment. Thanks, Ed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Worth remembering, of course, that indies are not the only culprits here. An imprint of Macmillan recently released a book to significant fanfare – complete with scores of fake Amazon reviews. Yes, fake. Confirmed twitter IDs talking about just having received the book, and then a glowing five star Amazon review twenty minutes later. Stuff like that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The major publishers are doing these sorts of activities as much, if not more, than indies.

  6. Yes, there are many shades of gray here. I’m not above trading reviews with a fellow indie author, but I won’t tell any falsehoods about a book I review, and will only review a book if I find it has merit. What I won’t do is take money to review a book or write a good review of an unworthy book or an unfavorable review of a good book. Everyone has his or her own ideas of what constitutes good story telling so my evaluations may be different from someone elses, but what I write is my honest opinion.

    1. I think a lot of folks feel that way. The problem with trading reviews is that it has the appearance of impropriety. Even if both authors really are being honest, it can appear from outside that some sort of trade-off has occurred. Great comment. Thanks.

  7. Steve, I have two published novels with a combined total of 3 reviews, one of which is just really a promise to read the book based on a short story they read of mine. So, I’ll take the 2 legit reviews over a thousand pandered ones. Only honest reviews let you know exactly what your readers (if any) are truly thinking. Perhaps I’m cutting my own throat in the sales department this way…but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

    On the other side, if I do review a book, I give an honest opinion, trying to tastefull critical without being denegrating to the person’s work.

    1. I agree, Thomas. All we can do is what we know in our hearts to be right. My only point is that this varies somewhat from person to person and the slope is long and slippery. These incidents are useful as wake-up calls and an opportunity to re-examine our own behaviors.

  8. I haven’t read much about this but I’m disheartened at the thought that writing can be such a dirty ‘business’ for these people. Haven’t we just emancipated ourselves from the straight jacket of big business? This all just seems like business as usual. ๐Ÿ™

    1. Right you are, AC, but these few cases do not mean the behavior is pervasive and certainly not representative of the indies movement. Hold your head up high and keep moving forward.

  9. Great post EM. My best friend has NEVER given me a 5 star review on any book she’s read. You know what? I still love her to bits! She’s honest and lets me know where I could have fixed something- and even today I got an email from her telling me I had a boo-boo in a manuscript. Thank God for folks like her. She’s truly watching my back and wants me to succeed. Besides my editor, there’s no other person I’d want in my corner. Good friends like that are hard to come by and are worth keeping.

    1. I don’t really think there is anything brazenly unethical with a friend or family member giving and author a review. After all, if you were running for public office, you’d want and expect your friends and family to vote for you, but it is undeniable that there is a possibility of some favoritism in such reviews. That’s why reviews by actual book reviewers are (or ought to be) so much more valuable. Thanks for the comment, Kathy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Great post. I get frustrated with all the friends and family that haven’t posted a review! What’s wrong with them? Don’t they know I’m a struggling writer.

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