The Labyrinthian World of (Fake) Book Reviews

I must admit that, as an author with nine books and two novellas under my belt, sometimes I feel like one of those poor souls, standing on the side of the road, holding up a sign that reads: Will Write for Reviews.

And just like in that scenario, most people just stare ahead, not wanting to make eye contact, as they wait for the light to change. I think that is the way it feels for many writers, pleading with their readers to just spare a minute of their time to give a review, but why is it so damn important?

Well, here is a shining example:


What you are looking at is ‘legalized’ cheating. This is just one of the many sites that will ‘help’ authors quickly obtain an unearned bestseller status for the right price.

To break it down: If you are a writer, with a bunch of disposable cash, you can legitimately buy your way onto the Amazon bestseller list. Admittedly, this is a pretty shady way of doing business, and something that is ‘frowned upon’ by Amazon, but it is technically not a violation of their policies. Ironically, they will allow authors to ‘buy reviews’ from strangers, but an earnest review left by someone they deem to be a family member will be immediately purged. Go figure.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that many self-published authors who have that kind of money lying around, so those looking to utilize this method are generally already successful enough to justify this expenditure or have a publisher willing to aggressively push a product.

Consider for a moment this little scenario:


I, like most authors I know, would kill for those numbers, but let’s dig a little deeper here for a moment. The author attributed to this amazing rank status has just ONE previously published book under their belt and that novel has clocked in exactly 39 reviews. However, their second book, which is the one represented in all those coveted #1 and #2 spots, has racked up an amazing 323 reviews, but it hasn’t even been released yet. Yes, you read that correctly; the author’s second book, which has taken the top spots on several lists, is not even available yet.  You do the math and see how that adds up.

I’d like to say this is an aberration, but it is not. Getting onto any bestseller list, especially if it is the New York Times or USA Today, is the goal of all authors. It is the literary world’s equivalent of the Super Bowl or World Series, but it is unfortunately very, very skewed and can be manipulated.

Take for instance the curious case of: Handbook for Mortals, written by Lani Sarem. This debut book emerged in early August 2017 and that very same month shot to #1 on the NYT Bestseller List, knocking off a well-established book that had previously held that spot. To say this was a considerable feat would be a gross understatement; especially considering this was not only Ms. Sarem’s first novel, but it was also the first novel from her publisher; which is exactly why it raised so many eyebrows.

So how did this happen?

Well, they apparently identified and exploited a weak link. According to the folks within the Young Adult genre, who immediately began investigating this issue, they found some serious inconsistences / anomalies within the book sales. After speaking to representatives from book stores, they concluded that someone had pre-arranged for large purchases of the book through various sellers they knew reported sales to the NYT.  Effectively, they purchased their way onto the NYT Best Seller List. The author / publisher denied this, but the NYT subsequently pulled the book from their list. Unfortunately, traditional publishing houses have been doing this for a very long time.

Sadly, this is the world that authors live in. For those of us who believe in the sanctity of the review process, we are faced with those who see no problem in fast-tracking their way to the top. Often we are told that other authors are not our competition, but the reality is that this is a naïve belief. Authors ARE in competition with one another for the readers in each genre, but it is a game that is made exponentially harder when the system is manipulated. That is why it is truly so important, for those of us who actually play by the rules, that our readers support our efforts.

A book review only takes a minute, but for that struggling, self-published author, it is like handing them a piece of gold. For those of us who still choose to do things the right way, instead of the easy way, it is probably the only recognition we will get, but maybe, just maybe, your review will be the one that propels our book to critical acclaim.

So what do you say? Roll the dice and reward your favorite author with a review!

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