Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Fake Book Reviews. A Confession.

books (Photo credit: brody4)
I have to confess to being unsurprised at the 'established authors create fake reviews' furore. Authors are not gentlemen.

The latest head to fall, apparently, is crime writer RJ Ellory. The whole thing was started by novelist Stephen Leather, talking on a panel at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. He crowed, idiotically, about the way he creates 'sock puppets' - alternative Internet personae - to big up his books, including creating false reviews and *gasp* tweeting false praise as well as dissing 'rivals'.

What annoys me is the line sniffily taken by mainstream media commentators such as The Independent's Terence Blacker, "You'd expect this from self published writers, but surely not established authors".

Would you now?

As traditional publishing has struggled, and largely failed, to come to terms with the challenges of the Internet Age, publishers have wasted no time in pushing their authors to blog and tweet in promotion of their work. That many authors aren't very astute users of the Internet should come as no surprise - the poor darlings mostly like to sit in sheds and write fantasies, not leap about Twitter dressed in a silver lame thong and squealing 'My book, read my book!'.

I have myself spent much of the preceding decade dealing with the infuriatingly analogue types known as literary agents (only latterly would they accept submissions online and there are still die-hards who won't look at email). A chummy, clubby and massivly analogue industry mired in a business model predicated on massive inefficiency, publishing has struggled to redefine itself, and largely failed. As more focus is drawn to the industry, we start to see more of the underhand, self-serving behaviours of 'big publishing', including authors writing blurbs for unknowns to please powerful editors and agents. A practise little better than sock puppetry, IMHO.

As it happens, not one of my reviews for Olives - A Violent Romance, is me in disguise or any friend or family member I have pressed to write positively. Many reviewers have encountered me online or at a conference of some sort, part of the reason people buy books. Many have been sent my book for review, the clear deal here is you get an independent review of your work. I am very proud of the very many positive reviews Olives has garnered and can see no reason why I should jeopardise that by cheating.

Besides, I'm not even totally sure about the value of reviews. I can trace no discernable impact on e-book sales resulting from any one review of Olives, although I do think there is huge value in a collection of positive - thoughtful - reviews of a book being available to readers. The trouble is now, they can't be entirely sure whether those reviews are the 'real deal'. This is where reputation - as so often it does online - comes in as an important factor. And that reputation has to be earned - it can't be faked for long.

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Gerry said...

a related story you might find interesting: The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy http://nyti.ms/No4HAQ

Kenna said...

I disagree with what Terence Blacker said, in fact, I think it's the other way around.

akisdad said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120826 is interesting on the subject. This thinks it can make a huge difference to sales, but that evolution is in action on it - people don't like being cheated and are good at spotting when it happens.
I'd always thought that gushing reviews (especially of indie books) meant that the author had dragooned family and friends into posting (if not actually reading) about their book. Hence I've always had more time for reviews that said things like, 'it was slow in the middle but finished well' which was, I think, actually a comment made on Goodreads about Jane Eyre. Real reviews give mixed opinions.

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