Manufactured Reviews

Monday, November 9, 2015

Growing up, I revered books so much that I was in graduate school before I gave myself permission to quit reading one before I had finished it. Now I revere them so much that I refuse to finish a book that is badly written or boring or even not my taste. There are too many good books out there to waste my leisure time on ones I can’t enjoy.

I don’t want to waste my money on them, either. That’s why I like the “Look Inside” feature and the reviews on Amazon, and I use them both when I’m buying a book by an author I’m not familiar with.

We all know that some reviews come from friends and relatives who aren’t providing neutral comments. That’s why I put more weight on the ones that come from “verified purchasers.” That isn’t to say that all of the others are biased. I sell some copies of my book directly, and those purchasers don’t show up as verified since they didn’t buy the book through Amazon. But the “verified purchaser” label tells me that those reviewers are more likely to be more impartial.

It also helps when a reviewer includes enough information to show what his or her opinion is based on. But even if it was just “excellent book,” I always assumed the reviewer had read it. That changed several weeks ago.

I was participating in a mass book signing, and one of the other participants was trying to increase the number of his Amazon reviews since there are perks to achieving certain levels. He offered to review one of my books on Amazon if I would review his. Although I had already bought his book, he did not have mine and did not intent to read it, so I politely declined.

The photo at the head of this post is obviously manufactured to imply that my books have earned lots of stars. (I won’t say it was “photoshopped” because I didn’t use the Adobe software and I have too much respect for trademarks to use the word generically.) The image isn’t misleading because its nature is obvious. And in case anybody needs more, I’ll be right up front. No, I didn’t toss my books into the air on a starry night and have the unbelievable luck to snap a picture while they were both facing forward. I superimposed my book covers on a photo taken by NASA.

The problem with manufactured reviews is that their nature isn’t obvious and they can mislead potential buyers. I don’t want to be a victim, and I refuse to be a perpetrator.

Honest reviews are helpful, and I should write more reviews for the books I read. But now I’ll be suspicious of every author who has a number of “excellent book” or “great story” reviews from unverified purchasers. Even if the book is excellent, I don’t want to reward an author who tries to mislead people into buying it.

So if you want me to buy your book, stay away from manufactured reviews.

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