A way to fight the review buyers and sockpuppetmasters

There’s been a lot of stuff going around the interwebs lately about douchefucks paying for positive reviews, guerrilla reviewing their rivals with one star attacks, sock-puppetry and so forth. I blogged about it a little bit here and a web search will show loads of other people weighing in on the debate. The net result of all this is primarily twofold.

1. People are now distrustful of all positive reviews;

2. The real victims are readers, because now no one knows what or who to trust.

In some respects, this is only a small part of the bigger picture. Most people buy their books on the recommendations of friends, regardless of reviews. They trust certain outside sources, like book bloggers they respect and so on. However, reviews are a significant part of any author’s literary lifeblood. We will always get new readers when someone reviews a book, someone else sees that review and says to themselves, “Well, that sounds like it’s right up my particular stinking alley, I’ll give it a go.”

So we need people to continue reviewing. We need people, once they’ve read a book, to take a moment to leave a review and a star rating on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing or wherever they frequent. We need them to write about it on their blog, mention it on Twitter or Facebook or wherever they hang out socially. These things are easy and it shows great love for your favourite authors, so said authors get to continue squeezing word babies from their fetid brains for your amusement and delectation. It’s a symbiotic relationship and it works well.

That is, until these fuckmuppets and their sockpuppets start devaluing the whole thing for everyone else. (Incidentally, Fuckmuppet & The Sockpuppets is the name of my next band.)

Some people are suggesting that Amazon needs to address the problem. Some are saying they need to only allow reviews from verified purchasers, or only allow reviews from accounts linked to some third party verification. But there are massive problems with that.

The verified purchaser thing is a problem because what if someone borrowed a copy of a book from a friend and really liked it? What if they wanted to review it on Amazon? Or even if they hated it and wanted to review it. They can’t. People borrow books all the time, there’s nothing wrong with that. Or they buy them secondhand. Or they download them illegally. All these things deny the author a royalty, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just how things are. What does matter is that those people can leave reviews which will help that author in the long term. Take away that option and you take away the ability for borrowers to give anything back to the author they enjoyed (or hated) so much.

And it’s not all about good reviews. People will pay much closer attention to a book with a whole range of reviews than to a book with only 5-star reviews. The more variety in the ratings, the more likely a person is to learn about that book and make an informed decision. You can’t please all the people all the time. An honest 2 or 3 star review can actually help to sell a book. What you don’t like might appeal to someone else.

The absolute last thing we need is for places like Amazon to make it harder for people to review books. If that happens, the douchefucks have won. The power is more in the hands of the reading public than it has ever been, and that power only retains its potency while it is easy to apply. Right now you can read a book from any source, then spend literally five minutes or less popping into Amazon and Goodreads and leaving a star rating and a couple of lines of review. You only have to type it once, then copy and paste it elsewhere. Take this review of RealmShift on Amazon from one Cathy Russell:

I liked that this story had believable characters and explored faith (or lack of), it’s origins, etc. It had a lot of deep themes. The characters were well thought out. The plot was engaging, and I liked the whole idea of a superhuman who could kick the devil’s ass. While reading this, I kept thinking it would make a great action movie or comic book too. I’d recommend this.

That’s a fantastic review (Thank you, Cathy) and would have only taken moments to write. She gave it four stars, too, bless her beautiful reading eyes. Now imagine if Amazon had required some particular hoops be jumped through in order to leave that review. She may still have done it, of course. But she may very well have not bothered. That would damage me as a writer and potential future readers.

I don’t think it’s Amazon’s job to police this stuff (beyond the obvious, like removing reviews flagged as hate, etc.) It’s up to us, the readers. BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL, it’s in our hands! We can fight the douchefucks with our minds and tappity typing fingers. I’ve compiled a list below of all the things you can do to help your favourite authors. And you can address authors you’re not so keen on using the exact same list. Because open honesty is what’s required. If we deluge the system with clear and open reviewing, then whatever douchefuckery these other bastards engage in loses its potency with every blow we strike.

At the same time, if you are one of those douchefucks who buys positive reviews, uses sockpuppets, sabotages your fellow authors with 1-star attacks or anything else, just fucking stop it already. You’re a scumbag and you make the world a worse place. Don’t game the system for your own selfish ends. Let the system work. If recent news is anything to go by, you’ll be found out in the end anyway. You’re just pissing in the shared flagon in the meantime, and that’s not on.

So, here’s that list I was talking about.

Whenever you read a book, take a moment to do the following:

  • Talk about the book, online and IRL. Tell people you read it and what you thought.
  • Tweet, Facebook, Google+, etc. a quick comment about it, like “I just really enjoyed/hated reading This Book by An Author.”
  • Go to Amazon, Goodreads or any other bookish place you frequent and click a star-rating.
  • If you have time while you’re there, jot down a few lines quickly about why you rated the book the way you did. You don’t have to be super eloquent or anything. Just honest.
  • If you have time, spend a bit longer on a more thoughtful review.
  • If you have a blog, maybe write a blog post about the book.
  • If you enjoyed the book, buy it for a friend, family member or colleague for their birthday or anniversary or just because you’re a hoopy frood.
  • If you hated the book, buy it for an enemy, because you’re cold like that, you mean sonofabitch.
  • If you’re part of a book group, suggest the book as a future read for your group.
  • Talk about the book, online and IRL.

You may have noticed that my list is in increasing order of time and effort. If you only do the first thing, that’s great. It’s better than doing nothing (which is why it’s repeated at the end). The more of those things you do, the better it is for everyone and the less of an impact the dishonest douchefucks will have.

So, take it away. And please comment with your thoughts on the subject and any suggestions you have for doing the right thing by authors and readers. Feel free to suggest additions to my list.

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5 thoughts on “A way to fight the review buyers and sockpuppetmasters

  1. Great post. My company routinely gets emails from people who claim they can get us X amount of “Likes” on Facebook for X amount of dollars. I’d never do such a thing, but the pull to the dark side is strong.
    I’m Tim Mayer and I approve this ad.

  2. Yeah, I regularly get spam tweets from people saying, “Get 30,000 followers in two weeks!” Funny thing is, the tweet is from someone with about 60 followers. There are douchefucks everywhere.

  3. I have a few comments to make in response:
    1) I don’t pay for most of the books I read (one of the perks of reviewing), and when I do pay it’s usually not through Amazon. Thus if Amazon only allows reviews from buyers, you’re losing a lot of potential reviewers *and* giving more power to Amazon. So yeah, I’m with you there.
    2) I hate hate hate giving star ratings to books. I really loathe and detest it. I try to give genuine info to readers so that they can decide whether they’ll enjoy a book, so it’s better to read my words than look at the pretty stars. I don’t like giving books 5 star ratings. When I have given 5 stars, I tend to look back later and think that the book didn’t really deserve 5 stars [cringe]. I ask myself what is the difference between 3 and 4 stars? If I rate a book like Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart as 4 stars, then read her second book and think it’s not quite as good but it’s still a good YA paranormal romance, 3 stars is average but it’s worth more than 3 stars but it’s not as good as her 4 star book [talks faster and faster until hyperventilates and collapses, exhausted and stressed].

    Reviewing is a big responsibility. I feel really bad sometimes because I haven’t figured it out yet, but I am engaging with the issues. Authors have writers groups to help develop their novels. I want a reviewers’ group so I can discuss my concerns, have different people give conflicting answers and work my way through the maze of issues.

  4. Personally I much prefer a 10 star rating (or out of ten rating) to a 5 star rating. There’s a lot of difference between 6/10, 7/10 and 8/10. But it’s hard to make that distinction when you’ve only got 3* or 4*. Equally, not much would score a 10/10, but some books would be a solid 9/10. 4* and 5* don’t allow for that.

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