Review Cheats—Shameful Author Behaviour

Hey, peeps. I haven’t done a ranty post in a while, but ranty Dionne is back! I find getting this stuff out of my system by writing it down helps, and why not educate readers and other authors while I’m at it. Today’s post is all about the wonderful world of authors scamming the Amazon system to trick unwary readers into buying their books.

I must state right out that I may be 43, but I’m naive, to a degree. Whatever I do, I do it honestly, with passion, and to the best of my ability, so it really comes as a shock to me when I discover people scamming the system. Writing has been my biggest passion of all (aside from my family). Ever since I was maybe nine or ten, I knew I wanted to be an author, and I’ve spent a good part of my 30s up until now trying to improve. There are many writers out there who have that passion to write and know that once the fire is ignited, not even a flood will extinguish it. I can admit that what I discovered hurts all the more because of this, and, hell, I know the people I’m about to talk about haven’t given a second thought to me, or any of the other authors out there who truly care about writing. I should not take this personally, but I do, and I feel ripped off on behalf of my author friends who I know put their heart, soul, time and money into each book they publish. The honest, talented, hardworking authors are missing out on sales because some other authors are getting visibility and sales based on dishonest practices.

It all started a few weeks ago when a certain book—which I won’t name because I’m not here to ‘out’ people, but open people’s eyes so they can be aware when they’re choosing a book to read—appeared on my book’s page as a number one bestseller (those orange tags are hard to miss). Being curious, and always on the lookout for fantasy books to read, I clicked on the book. It was sitting just under #200 overall on Amazon and had quite a few 5 star reviews. Naturally, I read a sample. I. Almost. Died. The prose was basic, and punctuation was non-existent; the poor comma was totally neglected and didn’t appear until paragraph eight. Sentence fragments made an appearance, but not the type that add tension or emphasise something, but ones that didn’t make sense. I couldn’t read on; my editor-type brain was bashing itself against the inside of my skull. Crying seemed like a good option. How could so many people LOVE this book—70+ reviews, 28 five star, 21 four star for a book that was released three weeks ago—when my book was languishing at #200,000 and has received 58 reviews since April 2012. Maybe I didn’t have what it took to write an engaging book; maybe readers really don’t give two craps about good writing, punctuation and error-free books. (I must say that I get not everyone will love your book, but when it comes too easy for some when it’s clear they shouldn’t have hit publish, it can get to a writer who has spent $1000 on their cover and hundreds on editing, until they realise it’s all bullshit).

Reading the legitimate reviews—the one star reviews—I could see their gripe was the same as mine, plus the brave, stubborn readers who had pushed on, despite the horror, pointed out that many words were incorrect, names for the same character had changed throughout the book, basically anything you could do wrong, this book did. It left me scratching my head, so I thought I’d do some research. Where did it lead?

To the conclusion that the five-star reviews were mostly either friends or paid reviews. I went to Fiverr to see what I could see after having heard it’s a place to go when you want to score (a good review). Oh, my, I felt like my rose-coloured glasses hadn’t just been removed, but they’d been ripped off, stomped on, then the broken glass stabbed into my eyeball. It’s like a red-light district on a Saturday night (ahem, not that I would know what one looked like except for what I’ve seen on TV). Dealers are everywhere, money is changing hands out in the open, and the dodgy people thanking the dealers for reviews are just as brazen. Here are some quotes from the dealers on what they can score for you:

Have your book on Amazon or Kindle? I’ll read it and write a detailed, thoughtful, and positive five star review quickly! I’ve written dozens of product and book reviews and would love to make yours stand out from the crowd. —kbroder9

I will write review on Amazon US, UK, FR, etc.. I can write it on my own or you can provide me and i will post it from my account(s). From different location and device. The more reviews, the greater the chance it will be found and used by potential users. Contact me for Bulk Order ! —reviewergal

I will write a 100-word verified review, highlighting the best aspects of your book. I have extensive professional experience in writing, editing, and beta reading. Your review will be thoughtful and well written. Please see my gig extras if you need me to do any of the following: -buy an ebook up to 3.99 for a verified review -repost your review to another site -add 100 words to your review -deliver in 48 hours (I no longer offer a 24 hour option–reviewing too fast increases the chances that Amazon will remove the review) —beccalovesbooks. (Some reviewers ignore this small issue yet Amazon hasn’t removed their reviews).

Anyway, you get the picture. After chasing up some of the authors on Amazon and going from one link to the next, from ebooks, to reviews, to reviewers, and back to other books they’ve reviewed, I’ve learnt how to spot some of the dodgy reviews. Because Amazon clearly either doesn’t care, or maybe their toilet is clogged and the disposal of such a huge amount of shit is beyond them, I wanted to give you your own BS detector. When you’re trying to find a book to read, please read the sample to make sure it’s at least been edited, then check the validity of the review by clicking on the reviewer. *Please keep in mind that one or two reviews with the following characteristics may not mean the review is fake (some of the reviews on my book are one or two sentences of just “I enjoyed this”), but if you come across review after review for the one book that meet most of these criteria, you can probably assume the author has garnered fake reviews.

This is what I noticed:

1. The reviewer only posts 5 star reviews

2. The reviewer posts more than one review on any given day

3. Reviewers who have been doing it for a few weeks have a shitload of reviews within a short space of time. Note this reviewer who does multiple reviews in one day, day after day. They must be the fastest reader ever.

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 4.21.24 pm

4. Look for generic reviews that don’t really say anything about the book, except for gush about how bloody awesome it was and how they can’t wait for the next one (yes, some reviews like this are legitimate, but if there are several within a short amount of time, you can bet your cutest, warmest pussy cat on them that they are fake). Here are a couple of doozies I had to share because hey, you gotta laugh, right? (I was led to this book from one of the fake reviewers when I clicked on their reviews to see what other books they’d been so kind as to comment on for money).

Wow, this alarming book has utterly riddled my mind. I’m stunned at the brilliance of the author has she waves this intriguing tale. It twists and turns with action-packed events. The distinctive characters were well fashioned owing to the vivid descriptions. I refused to put this book down. Indeed it moved so fast I could barely keep up. Here goes a book with a riveting tale that will leave you completely astounded as each character’s role is unleashed in a very surprising way. You have got to check this out!—Nita

How’s that for gushing without actually saying anything?

And this from a reviewer who posted three reviews on the same day, all five stars: XXX (book title left out for obvious reasons) is really a book that you should only read if you are prepared to have a few very late night sleeps. Because yes you are right, it is one of THOSE books that keeps you to the edge of your seat from first to last. And No, you will NOT want to put it down until sleep finally overcomes your eyes. I am sure you are looking forward to the next book in the series if you have read this one. You are lucky to find such an author among all the crowd. Its not every author who can take your sleep away (wink)—Yong C. Hudson.

5. If there is only one 5 star review from the reviewer, they may be legitimate, or they are could be a friend, family member, or the author with a fake account. Again, use discretion. I think it’s prudent to look at the complete picture before you judge on this particular type of review, but if things about the other reviews look suss, this review probably is too.

6. When you’re looking at the reviews for a single book that has only come out in the last few weeks, unless it’s a freak success story (which does happen) or you can see the author has a high profile on social media and has prepared well for their launch with legitimate reviewer copies, multiple 4 and 5 star reviews on the same day, day after day, are suspect. Even bestselling books take a while to gather reviews.

I hope I’ve helped people see when authors are gaming the system. Readers, when you’re looking for a book to read, please check out the sample, and try and buy a book from an author who is doing the right thing, and if you like their book, leave an honest review. Discovering this scummy behaviour has made me sceptical of every good review. It’s not fair that as a reader I can’t trust reviews, and it’s not fair that I, or any other honest writer, should feel they are failing because they are not getting 70 great reviews within two weeks of releasing their book—you’re not failing; I’m not failing. I have to believe that good writing, while it may not sell to millions, will sell better than shit writing, and will lead to a loyal fan base of readers who will buy your books and will truly appreciate your work.

Many of my friends have told me, and I think/hope they’re right, that the crap books will still lose in the end, that readers won’t come back and buy anymore from these authors once they realise the writing, despite the glowing reviews, sucks. And yes, there are some great books out there with fake reviews, which is still dishonest, but at least you won’t be buying a substandard product (although, I don’t condone this underhanded levelling of the playing field).

Anyway, I’ve decided to brush it off and run my own race, sans performing-enhancing reviews. I’ll keep doing what I love—writing—and take comfort that when that one review every few weeks comes in, it’s from a reader who really did love my book. After all, the drug high only lasts so long, and coming down can be a bitch. To all the honest writers, I’m glad and proud to call you my colleagues, and to all the dishonest ones, I wonder how it feels to have to pay people to love your book? I wonder what else you have to pay for…?

75 Comments

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75 responses to “Review Cheats—Shameful Author Behaviour

  1. timamarialacoba

    Good for you, Dionne. You’ve verbally expressed what a lot of us feel – is it worth playing by the rules? To me the answer is still, yes. At least you’ve maintained your integrity and produced one hell of a good book you’ll never need be ashamed off.

  2. Dionne I am not very good at reviews but I am glad to give you a 5 star rating on all you work and am looking forward to your next book.

    • Thanks, Robert. You’re a genuine reader who kindly spent your time leaving an honest review, and I appreciate it. It’s a shame these authors behaving badly put a tarnish on the whole system.

  3. My friend made a video which collected 300 likes in a month or so on youtube, and another friend made a video which collected 100,000 likes in fifteen days or less.. Baffled me, of course. Then I came across a website, which sold cross platform ‘LIKES’ for a fee.

  4. Brilliant post, Dionne. I am shocked by this Fiverr thing. It’s so much more rewarding to get an honest review of a book every few months than a fake five star one. The sad thing is, many “authors” — and I have put that in speechmarks because I don’t consider them to be real authors — see writing as a business and a way to make money. Most of us know that you don’t make money from fiction writing unless you’re lucky enough to get a book deal from a major publisher. You’re right, they don’t care about the writing, and that’s painful to those of us who do. I love your last sentence… sums it up nicely.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Maria. It made me so angry, angry enough to do a blog post lol. I’m glad other people feel the same way, because it’s disheartening to see scammers get away with it.

    • I agree with some of this, but “real” authors do make money without having a publisher. I was making a decent amount before the end of summer hit, where it seems like many authors are taking a hit right now due to many factors, and I don’t have a publisher. HR Ward is also a good example, as is Pepper Winters, but then again, what each of us see as good/great writing will also vary. The example Dionne gave though, well, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be okay with any real reader.

      • It’s great to hear you’ve made some money from it. I like hearing that because it gives hope that it is possible even without a publisher to earn from writing. What I meant was people who don’t care about the writing but only see it as a means to make money are letting us down. Wishing you continued success. Marketing is very important in self-publishing and I know there are a few who earn a bit of money through legitimate marketing. That Fiverr thing though… 😦

  5. Thanks for this very interesting post. I write few reviews because I choose to only review books I want to shout about. My occasional reviews are therefore all 5-star and also, I hope, valid.

  6. I, too, was disgusted at seeing people selling services to put up reviews in any capacity. I don’t trust reviews at all and never really have. Tastes, especially when it comes to reading, vary so widely I will make sure I read the sample before I dare to purchase a book. I hardly ever pre-order a book: matter of fact, I can’t recall the last time I did. I just won’t until I know I can handle how it’s written, but I’m also a super picky reader.

    As for some people who only have a few reviews, they aren’t all bad. In the back of my romance novels, once the story is ended, I ask people to leave reviews & give them a link to my author page (or even upload a copy once it’s live with the link to actual book page). I’m sure compared to how many books have been bought, the majority haven’t, but I have had some people write their very first (and only) review because I asked them to kindly. They had no idea of it’s importance and they often forget to do so for other books later on. My first novel, which I released August of 2013, has 78 reviews in a little over a year. Some of those were given free in exchange for an honest review, and even more came from a “free” promotion on Amazon. Sometimes, just asking for reviews once they’ve read it is enough 🙂 And if you see the same people posting reviews for every authors book within the first few days every single time, chances are they are advance readers, devoted fans, and beta readers. This seems pretty normal to me, but shouldn’t put people off from checking the book out themselves.

    So I’d say the best advice to anyone is take reviews with a grain of salt, even the bad ones because people LOVE to troll I’ve found out, and READ A SAMPLE of the story before purchasing!

    Thanks for posting this though. It truly is ridiculous what some people will do to get their book noticed, even if it’s not good at all.

    • Hi CS. When I said ‘real’ authors, I meant any writer, traditional or self published, who cares about their work and who takes it seriously. I’m self published and advocate for it. All authors lose out when some do the wrong thing, although self-published authors stand to lose the most as most of the dodgy authors are not linked to publishing houses and therefore give the rest of us a bad name. And I know that some one-review readers are legitimate, that’s why I qualified my statement. I think you need to look at the overall tone, amount of reviews in what space of time, and the quality of the book to judge whether the reviews are legitimate or not. It soon becomes clear who is cheating the system and who isn’t. 🙂

      • Oh, I agree with you and completely understood what you meant. Sometimes what I mean to say doesn’t come out the way I intend. 🙂 Either way, the great news is the book community is fantastic, and I’m glad to be a part of it. 🙂

      • LOL! Not a prob, and I appreciate you commenting too. The majority of authors are doing the right thing and also help each other and I wouldn’t have sold one book if I hadn’t had other authors’ support when it came to navigating my way around self publishing :).

  7. Hi Dionne. I have heard rumours about this type of thing going on, but I’ve never gone to investigate myself. In just about every corner of the internet, you’ll find those who will do almost anything to try to make a dishonest buck. They are cheats and frauds, and it shows. I’m not sure I’d get upset about thee kinds of people; they are just scavengers at the bottom of the food chain. I get what you are saying though about the rankings.

    • You’re right, they are the bottom of the food chain. Unfortunately it destabilises things for everyone. But I feel better now that I’ve gotten it off my chest lol.

  8. Thanks for opening my eyes. Can I share this with my writers group please? Vix

  9. You know, I’ve wondered about this before, but never had the drive to investigate like you did. This was VERY helpful. Because man it ticks me off when I buy a book with amazing reviews, only to read something I could have written in fifth grade. I have come to be most suspect of books with five star reviews, but with lots of one and two stars that are like, ‘what are these other people talking about? this book sucked!’ Good job on your investigative work 🙂

  10. Shirley Wine

    Dionne
    It is too much to expect Amazon to take any action … they can go in and remove thousands of legitimate reviews and yet do nothing about this bullshit crap. Thank you for bringing this to light.

    • Exactly, Shirley! I have had many friends who have had reviews removed (both authors receiving reviews and readers giving them), and they did nothing wrong, so that makes it that much worse.

  11. Good blog I totally agree and could relate to everything you said. Nice to know I am not alone in feeling like this. I have noticed that reviews on Goodreads seem to be a lot more genuine than on Amazon.

    • Glad to see more people than I thought felt the same :). Goodreads has its problems too, like the fake 1 star bandits, so it can be the opposite problem, but while I think there are less fake reviews there, they still exist. Some of the Fiverr ‘reviewers’ offer to post the review to more than one site, so I imagine they post them there too, but it’s not as common.

  12. Reviews and reviewing have, sadly become dirty words with me. Thanks to Amazon, the whole notion of honest reviews have been trashed. Many people I talk to are now wary of any reviews because they often don’t believe them or they will ignore them. For us as authors, it is a bad thing because we are made or broken on those reviews. I don’t know what the future of reviews even is anymore.

    I really appreciate your thoughts on the subject Dionne.

    • Thanks, Dean. It is a bad thing. We could even take it one step further, too. We could all buy good reviews for our own books, buy bad reviews for our competitors and then we could just scrap the whole thing lol. I think it will come down to friends recommending books or getting recommendations from book bloggers you trust because you have liked other things they’ve recommended. I don’t really know the answer, though, all I know is that the whole thing is a mess.

  13. Dody

    Eyes were open, Dionne – and thanks to your gutsy post, more open than ever. Thanks for going out on that shaky limb for the rest of us. My rose-colored glasses came off a while back (got a few years on you!), though sometimes I’ve inadvertently put them on again. It’s hard to fathom that there are those who pay for a good review. Can’t help but think it’s another form of prostitution.

    • My pleasure, Dody. I hate being negative but I also hate pretending something’s not happening when it clearly is, and it’s clearly wrong and bad for the whole industry. Unfortunately, there is no way of getting rid of dishonesty in the world, but if we’re aware of what’s going on, at least readers can put more thought into how they choose their books :).

  14. Thank you for posting this. I drafted a rant the other day about something similar, but haven’t posted yet. It wasn’t paid reviews that ticked me off at the time, but authors exchanging them. “If I like your cover and blurb, I’ll give you 5 stars if you’ll do the same for me” isn’t a legitimate review. Neither is one you pay some guy on fiverr for.

    People will always cheat the system, but hopefully the well-written stuff will float to the top in the end.

    This is why I rely on samples and not reviews when I’m looking to buy a book. They can still be somewhat deceptive, but I find they’re much more reliable.

    • Thanks Kate, and good point. My author friends and I don’t do this. If I read a book I like, I’ll review it, and if I don’t, I won’t. I tend not to ask author friends if they’ve read my book because then they feel obliged to write a review and I figure if they didn’t like it, I’ve put them on the spot, and if they did like it, they can decide whether they want to write a review or not. I’m also an editor and I never ever review or put star ratings on anything I’ve edited. It’s different if you promise to read a fellow author’s book and be honest, but giving it a glowing review if you didn’t think it deserved it, is just wrong.

  15. Good for you, Dionne.
    I stress being yourself and being honest about who you are when writing.
    The author is the only one that can write their story their way.
    Keep writing it your way. The audience will find you.

    • Thanks, Robert, and you’re right, if you work hard enough and hang around long enough, the right readers will find you, and they won’t be led to you by false praise.

  16. It’s not just author’s, I’ve seen it in the automotive industry too, with sites like True Local, It’s infuriating 😦 makes it really hard 😦 😦

    • That’s a good point, Sarah. Another friend was telling me how this kind of behaviour, posting false positive and negative comments on product forums have stopped her from bothering to check on products on the internet.

  17. markrhunter

    Well, that went a long way toward explaining why my Amazon ranking doesn’t get very high …

    • Yes, some authors also buy copies to gift to people, which is another way they up their rankings, but that’s a whole other blog post lol. And of course, some use the two strategies together. I’m thinking Amazon should just ditch reviews altogether.

  18. Thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing… Best wishes.

  19. I’d go as far to say anyone so delirious for money, and not their self-respect, will lose out in the end.

  20. I always discount the 5* and 1* reviews anyway because even if they’re not fake, they’re emotional. Strong love and strong hate can be biased opinion, so the middle ground would be most telling (more 4s than 2s, for instance). Nowadays I don’t even look at reviews – I look at the cover, read the blurb and read a sample, but that’s because my rose-coloured glasses were ripped off a while ago too.

    • That’s great advice. If the cover is atrocious, you can bet they didn’t spend money or time on editing either. And the blurb can a ways to showing their skill, or lack thereof, at writing.

  21. As a professional reviewer with an online magazine, I think paying for reviews is unethical. My magazine nor any of its reviewers receive recompense for our reviews. If a reviewer wants to build a business and make money doing it, they are going to wax poetic in order to have repeat business. That is not what a review is about. A review should honestly disclose what the reader liked and did not like about the book without revealing the entire story or disclosing surprises, culprits, twists, turns, etc. It should also point out “issues” (i.e.editing, etc.) in a constructive way without putting the author down.
    On the other end of the spectrum, the discrediting review practice is just as unethical.
    Why Amazon hasn’t caught these reviewers is beyond me. They remove honest reviews because the reviewer is an author and yet, leave these purchased reviews. These reviewers would be easy for them to catch because of the frequency, quantity of reviews, and constant 5 stars that are left.
    Terrific post. I love your insight into these “cheats”.

    • Thanks Janna. I agree with your summation of what a good review should do, and I think more and more readers will have to find review sites or bloggers they trust to recommend them books. I think Amazon should scrap the whole review system as it’s a total shambles. It makes me sad because there are still a lot of readers and reviewers out there who do give an honest opinion, and as someone who does occasionally review a book, I’m disappointed that it’s lost its authority to inform, at least where sales sites like Amazon are concerned.

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  23. Because I know this has been an ongoing issue, I always go to the bad reviews first, and then read a little sample. Then I choose whether my money is well spent or not. Keep pushing on. Eventually the system will change, and the cream will rise to the top,

  24. Thanks for the eye-opener. This horrifies me not just as a writer, but also as a reader. This will make finding the works of good self-published authors even more difficult to find. Re-posting this ASAP.

    • Thanks so much. I know, it’s sad. I hate that people like this are ripping off readers with their fake claims. I think it’s so important to read a sample before buying a book.

  25. Reblogged this on Kwesi Woode and commented:
    Watch out for this scam. I hope Amazon & Co. find some way to block spam-reviewers.

  26. marcjamesauthor

    Reblogged this on marcjamesauthor and commented:
    Just came across a very interesting blog by Dionne Lister, I never actually knew that this went on.

  27. marcjamesauthor

    I must admit, having only recently published my books, I had no idea that this went on. I have reblogged it, very interesting.
    Thanks 🙂

  28. Dionne-Thank you for exposing this. As an author, I’ve been dismayed by this unethical activity for a long time. Unfortunately, agents and publishers ignore it and consider the amazon ranking a sacred number. So much b.s.! Thanks again!

    • My pleasure, Charles. Yes, unfortunately there is a lot of BS going around these days. But I’m glad there are still many honest authors, such as yourself, who are as disgusted as I am :).

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  30. Grr! I’m with you, Dionne. I know of brilliant books that aren’t getting the love (or reviews) they deserve, while pieces of crap (there really is no other word for it… well, actually, there are a lot of different words but I swear only on my own blog :D) that are flying up the Amazon ‘charts’ because of paid reviews. It’s a scam on the potential reader, and I really don’t understand that as an author, any of this would feel good or make you feel accomplished. But that’s just me.

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  32. Thank you Dionne, for your timely and wonderful rave! I’ve noticed how some new authors seem to get massive numbers of fantastic reviews and wondered how they did it. This ugly truth is a slap in the face for eBook authors with genuine reviews. It’s the literary equivalent of athlete doping but in this case, no one’s performance is improved.
    It’s an excellent piece of detective work on your part, though. Well done.
    As everyone else has said, this fraudulent behaviour is not a good look for self-publishers and the eBook industry. Amazon really should weed these shysters out and relegate both reviewers and authors to some cyber-compost- heap where they can all suppurate together.
    I’ve included a link to your thread on my blog, which has another angle on the whole issue. I hope you don’t mind – I’m new at this whole business!
    Ingrid Banwell
    http://www.ingridbanwell.com

  33. I follow and enjoy Patty Jansen, I have arrived here off her blog. I am a UK writer with no reputation, no following, no list and currently only 7 fiction ebooks on the larger digital platforms(I have another 15 to publish yet) I am recursive with my writing, I edit about 7 times before it reaches the proofing stage when another pair of eyes scrutinises my efforts. I have been disgusted by this fakery, I could rant, however I stand by my principles which long term will win out. I create solid consistent psychological mystery suspense.
    It is and will remain an issue with Amazon especially and the main trad-publishers who are also complicit in this matter. Like you I have followed some reviews back to their source and found the same situation. I rarely get a chance to leave comments, I hope everything is in fine fettle. Back to the Davis Cup and editing! Keep honest and honourable 🙂
    H A Dawson “thrillers that brim with heart and soul”
    http://www.honadawson.com

    • Hi, HonA Dawson. It’s always wonderful to meet another author who takes writing seriously, professionally and is an honest person. Thanks for commenting. And enjoy the Davis Cup and the editing ;).

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  35. Pingback: Buying Fake Book Reviews: Are you a respectable writer or a con-artist? - Terri K. Jones

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