I've become just as suspect as anyone about the legitimacy of reviews. With authors paying for reviews, begging for five stars and dressing up as consumers to write inflated reviews of their own books it’s hard to trust all five of those shiny stars. But what happens when those seeming "authors behaving badly" are actually reviewers doing it themselves? Can a gushy, happy, joy-joy 5-star review actually be more detrimental to an author than a 2-star one?
From some personal experience, some fellow author's experiences and a little observation, here are some pitfalls authors may encounter even in honestly obtained reviews.
1. The Facebook Comment As Review
"Omg, my cousin totally wrote this book and it's amazing! I don't read at all, but I think everyone should buy this book because my cousin spent a lot of time and money on this and it's so cool that I'm related an author! 5 stars for Brooke and her awesome accomplishment!"
Ok, fine, if you want to put something like this on your Facebook page, knock yourself out but for the love of literary kittens do not post it on a distributor like Amazon or B&N or a review site like goodreads. It makes the author look like they have been soliciting reviews. I have no doubt the author (poor made up Brooke in this case) did NOT ask for an overzealous cousin to post this, but sadly some excited friends and family members do. Unless you have read the book and have more of an opinion as to why it's good besides knowing the author personally, keep things like this on Facebook, not on review sites.
2. The Skimmer Writes a Review
"This is a great time-travel piece. The characters find a magical creek and drink the water and are transported to the Civil War where they free slaves from an auction. I loved the narrator and her brother was so funny. 5 stars."
Well, that's great, but in the book, they go to the creek AFTER they get tossed back in time because it is the only natural landmark they have to go by. Then they find out they are in 1855 (the Pre-Civil War era) and a vigilante group of abolitionists plots to steal slaves from an auction. And the narrator doesn't have a brother, that guy is just her friend, though the narrator does lie that he's her brother so it doesn't seem so improper they are traveling together for the time period.
See the difference? I've had authors mention people recounting events in their books that never happened or are so skewed they make the story seem, well, stupid. Especially in fantasy, horror, or sci-fi when oversimplification can make even great books sound lame, it is pretty darn important for reviewers to know what they read. I’ve seen many readers at the library claim to “love” books they’ve only skimmed. It happens. But don’t write an incomplete review. It makes the author look like they don’t know how to tell a story and consumers will think the 5-star rating is unjustified.
3. The Stalker
"This was a great book. It was entertaining and the characters were likeable, yet had heroic energy that provided a wonderful escape. 5 stars."
What's so wrong with that, you ask? Well, nothing, the first time around. But when it's posted on Amazon, and B&N, and Smashwords, and Goodreads, and... well, you get it. I had an author friend who had an excited fan who actually created multiple accounts to put the exact same review everywhere the book was sold. I have a hard enough time keeping track of where my books are distributed... but a reader? My friend didn't know what to do because she never asked the guy to put the review up in the first place let alone in ten places. She was worried someone would think she paid a robot to put the review up everywhere. I know I like to look at multiple sites with book reviews and if I saw the same one twice I would be suspicious. The same has happened with excited fans posting multiple promotions for an author's book on all their social media until their friends become annoyed at them and, of no fault to the author, the author as well. Authors love when friends and fans help promote the work, but when done badly it makes the author look egotistic and amateurish.
4. The Silent Anonymous That Loved Your Book
Anonymous. 5 stars. There is no text for this review.
Hey look five stars! Click. No comment. Just a sad blank spot. As an author this can be frustrating. With any extreme review like 5 or 1 stars, the author wants a little feedback… What did I do wrong? What did I do right? I must admit that on goodreads I am guilty of just posting stars and no review. But on say B&N, the anonymous option leaves no feedback whatsoever for authors or consumers. At least goodreads includes a name, profile, and shelves the reviewer put the book on so consumers can tell what demographic the reviewer fits into to give some inkling of why they reviewed book highly in the first place. Anonymous doesn’t. I mean, sure remain anonymous if you want to give a bad review so the author doesn't behave badly and find you on FB or some junk, but a good review? Readers have no way to know why those 5 stars are there. Naturally I'm more suspicious of anonymous 5 stars than anonymous 1 star. (Which may be a good thing, considering so many anonymous 1-star reviews.) Sad but true.
5. The "I Never Should Have Published Short Stories for Free if You Don't Get It" Reviewer
"1 star, this was only like, 20 pages long!"
"I got this book for free and it's not even a book, there's like one chapter! 1 star."
"This book stops after the good part, WTF. 1 star."
"I liked this but it's not very long at all and I'm confused where's the rest lol. 1 star."
"If I open it and its less than 20 pages long, I'm just giving it one star."
All right, so this isn’t a 5-star review, but an unfair review I think can sometimes be because of bad reviewer behavior.
Don’t get me wrong. I hate when an author uses confusing wordage to promote a short story (“A short novelette of epic proportions!”) then charges $2.99 (or more!) for it. If the consumer is made to believe that they are paying for a whole book because the author is greedy then of course they should be mad.
But when the word “short story” is in the description, and on the title page/cover and the story is free… well, then give me another reason for a 1 star rating then the fact that it was just a short story.
I think authors have every right to publish their short stories as ebooks if they are honest about what they are doing, but that’s a whole other blog post.
6. Authors Behaving Badly As Reviewers Making Other Authors Bad In A Terrible Spiral of Bad
In an email: "Hey I totally reviewed your book on my blog 'cuz it was good and indie and stuff. Here's the link to the post so you can share it! Attached is my novella kind of about the same thing you wrote if you want to review it on your blog, just do it by October because I'm promoting the release of my new book "Best Book Ever" then. By the way you rock, let me know when you're next book is out so I can review it!"
This has happened a couple times now that I've been including my email in the back of books/my blog/at the end of short stories. So I click on the link and there's a picture of my book from Amazon and some generalities taken from the sample chapters but when I click to view the whole blog, my post is buried under another 8 posts of other indie books and guess what? They're all amazing and happy and great. But the sad thing is, some of the authors really did share the link and review the attached novella and give it high ratings just because some random author exploited their desire to be reviewed. It’s a sick, sad, un-genuine cycle of reviewing badness and it makes my head hurt.
I understand we indies need to help each other out, but to me this good review in exchange for a good review is dishonest nonsense. It’s one thing if you actually like the book, but if you’re just giving a book 5 stars because the author threw some glittery BS to you in an email then you are doing other indies a great disservice.
Gogive an indie author you really enjoy those 5 stars and a thoughtful review before their anonymous cousin does it for you.