Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review Scammers: Making it harder for Indie writers to be taken seriously.

Okay, to start this off on a happier note, Dragon's Debt  is on a countdown deal for 99 cents today. Click the link on the bottom of this post to purchase.

Now to business: if you are an indie writer . . . or any writer, really, this happens in trade circles too, reviews are extremely important. When you  are getting started, it is tempting to watch them like a hawk, to beg for them, to do a little dance when you get a good one, etc. You'll probably be in the business of handing out free books like candy, hopefully in return for an honest review, but online you're going to find abuses of the system. It's a good thing to familiarize yourself with Amazon's (which is the major review hub) policies on reviews.

Here is the page with their official guidelines. An important thing to note is the line about promotional content, how you aren't allowed to exchange anything other than a free product (or book)  for a review. There's a link here that expands on what sorts of things you cannot receive in return for your review.

This post is going to be majorly about THIS item:
An artist posts a positive review on a peer's album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them.

Pretty straight forward, right? However, a lot of author's thoughts on this are "what's the harm?" There is some "wiggle room" in that it says "positive" review. If you ask for an "honest" review in return, you slip into a gray area where as long as you don't let what they said about your book color your review of their book it is not technically against policy. However, this is really hard to do, honestly, and a lot of people get upset and may even change the star rating on your book retroactively if your review of their book isn't as glowing as their review of yours.

And yes, I do read and review books my writer friends have written from time to time and my writer friends have reviewed me, but that isn't by arrangement.

Now, this is an actual conversation that came to me via my personal (not my author) facebook page. I'm not friends with this individual, and I chose to take the high road and delete her name and face, but the exchange speaks for itself.

  • E
    Hi Heidi, are you interested in .99 review exchanges? please let me know. thank you so much!
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    I don't do review exchanges. Too much chance of hard feelings. I also think they are technically against Amazon's policies, so you might want to be careful about that.

  • E
    hhmm, thanks for your compliment but amazon allows to exchange reviews.. please read amazon forum
    thans!
    thank!
    it would be fine if you can send me your pre-written review so that I can just post it
    you'll be having a safe side, right?
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    That's REALLY against Amazon's policies and can get your account banned. Don't do that.

  • E
    owh..
    so sorry.. been doing this for almost 1 year honey
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    if someone reports you, Amazon will ban your account and delete your reviews

  • E
    hhmm, well.. if you were scared.. then its up to you.
    thanks by the way!
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    I wish you luck, but please don't contact me again. Review trading and posting pre-written reviews is dishonest and I don't do that sort of thing.

  • E
    okay honey.. will keep it noted

You notice when I declined her offer, she offered to let ME write the review of my book. So basically, she would just be a puppet account parroting whatever I wanted readers to hear about my book. Now, by 99 cent review exchanges, I don't think she means I would pay her for the review but rather that we'd swap reviews by buying each other's 99 cent books (she never linked hers, but her facebook page, which I clicked on to see if I could track her back to a specific Amazon account and maybe report her. had links to multiple 99 cent bargain books by multiple authors, mostly on herbal medicine and other self-help topics. )

This individual insists she does this all the time and that it is NOT against Amazon's policies (maybe depending on that "honest not positive" loop hole I mentioned); however, if she is actually allowing authors to write the reviews she posts, this is nothing more than semantics. There is no way a writer is going to bash their own book, no matter how bad it is (though I once had this idea that if I told everyone my book says something truly awful, like condones puppy killing or something, I could get a lot of curiosity purchases. . .just a thought. Any time a book is berated in a public forum for this sort of thing, it gets a sales burst from gawkers, or so I've been told). 

Because of people who do this sort of things, it becomes even harder for new authors to be taken seriously. Now even if they finally get their positive Amazon reviews there's a question of "but are they REAL reviews?" 

How do you combat this? 

  • If you're a writer, try to be completely above reproof as far as your review activity goes. Avoid even the appearance of evil.
  •  Only leave honest reviews of books you've actually read, even if you really want to help a friend out. If you don't have time to read their book at that moment, resist the urge to review and instead share a few links on twitter or facebook, or buy a copy for a friend who reads that genre.
  • Don't review author friends who react badly to bad reviews, even if they say they won't this time. If when you are writing the review, your thought at any point is "this is really what I think, but I'm afraid it will make him/hermad" it is probably a good idea to just stop.
  • Pursue legitimate review sources. Giving out ARCs or free review copies is allowed by Amazon. Choose reviewers with a good reputation who leave thoughtful reviews with a mix of  negative and positive.
  • Just say no. It is easier to say no in a case like mine where this is some random spammer probably contacting dozens of people at once. It's a little harder when you know the author personally. 
A lot of people do get offended when you turn down review exchange requests. Some will assume you are accusing them of planning to be dishonest when they are in fact quite innocently wanting an honest review of their book.  However, you want to  avoid even the APPEARANCE of impropriety. 

With so many people cheating the system, you have to work even harder to stand out. So basically, say no to review scams. Pretty please. 



If you want to leave an honest review of Dragon's Debt you'll have to buy it first. To do that click this link.

It's 99 cents until Friday!

4 comments:

  1. Yowza. This is a serious problem with the system. And yeah, there are lots of authors with tons of five star reviews that are not legitimate, which makes it difficult for books with authentic good reviews to get seen. :(

    As far as reviewing, what really works for me is that if I read a book and I can't give it a positive review, I pass on reviewing it altogether. I can be really critical, and I don't want to go out there and bash peoples' hard work. However, even in positive reviews I try to be honest and provide a rounded picture of the book.

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    1. Yeah, I try to do the same. I don't review books that I didn't finish for one thing and generally I can't get through a book I'd give less than a 3 star rating to. I have one sitting on my nightstand that if I stopped now, I'd probably have to 2 star rate it because it has a ton of info dumping and exposition, but instead of doing that, I'm probably just going to donate it unfinished and maybe it'll find a reader who isn't quite so picky about that sort of thing.
      I usually try to frame my reviews towards the reader, not the author, which can make it easier.

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  2. Wow, this is horrible! We did a review exchange early on and I found I couldn't in good conscious recommend the book, then contacting the author to tell them that put so much unneeded stress in my life that I decided we would no longer accept review requests. We post reviews for books we have read and love and leave it at that. Great response and it is awesome you are sharing this. Stopping by on CreateWithJoy's Inspire Me Monday.
    Cool Mom for
    The Stanley & Katrina Gang

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by.
      A lot of this sort of thing happens pretty innocently. The same day (yesterday) that I posted this, another writer and I were having a non-related conversation about genres in an online writers forum and when she found out we wrote the same genre she wanted to trade books so we could review each other. As I said in my piece, I don't think this is technically wrong, and I have no idea if her book is good or not (for all I know she could dislike my book and I love hers), but the potential for awkwardness is too high.

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