Last year I came across an interesting book as I was browsing through Amazon looking for an e-book to load on my Kindle. An intriguing title in historical fiction, which is one of my favorite genres, sounded like might be worth a read, and the fact it was free at the time was an added attraction.
As is my habit, I will read through the reviews, although I wouldn’t necessarily say they have much to do with whether I will choose a book or not. I find other people’s opinions interesting, sometimes insightful and generally entertaining.
This particular book had five reviews, all 5 stars. As I read through them, I realized there was a striking similarity in the reviews. In fact three of them used the exact same phrasing in several of the sentences. I probed further and checked out the reviewers’ profiles: not too much creativity there, either. All five had only reviewed the self-published author’s two books, the reviewers listed a similar first name and all came from the same part of the U.S. It was obvious: the author had written her own reviews. I chalked it up to a desperate author who wanted to sell her books and moved on.
Unfortunately, we found out that authors can go beyond writing their own book reviews under aliases. Novelist RJ Ellory was outed recently as not only writing reviews under pseudonyms but attacking competing authors under those same pseudonyms.
Why not take a bigger step into murky waters and hire out fake reviews? John Locke left this out of the strategy he shared with readers in How I Sold One Million E-Books, but admitted he bought fake book reviews to make his books more popular.
Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke? by Porter Anderson
And in a scandal that recalls James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, there’s Jonah Lehrer, a writer hired at The New Yorker, who fabricated material in his popular book published this year Imagine: How Creativity Works.
Maybe it’s my recovering pessimist raising her suspicious eyebrow, but I’m not that surprised.
You can buy fake Twitter followers to make you and your brand look more popular than you really are. Fake strength (steroids), fake boobs, fake butt, fake tan. Cheating politicians, cheating students and cheating spouses. Scripted ‘reality’ shows.
‘Everybody’s doing it’. Are they?
Some people suggest that it’s that evil corporate behemoth Amazon’s fault, and they should be doing more to stop fake reviews. Just want we need – book review police. How about people taking responsibility for their own integrity? Novel idea, I know.
I think what’s happening in publishing is just a symptom of what’s happening in our culture. When the borders of integrity have been penciled in, it’s easy to blur the line or erase it altogether when the possibility of fame or money comes into play. Integrity boundaries need to be written in ink when it doesn’t matter so they stay intact when it does matter.
Reminds me of an ancient saying:
What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?