Why Paying For Bogus Reviews Makes You An Idiot

by Rachel Thompson

Last year, the publishing world was abuzz with stories of famous authors sock puppeting or paying for fake reviews to bump up their sales. And it worked – many are now millionaires because of it.

Because of the issue of ethics, many people denounced those authors. However, a new business model popped up: paying someone anywhere from $5 to $30 for either a good review of your own book, or a poor review of a competitor’s book (more below).

This should surprise nobody. We live in a capitalistic society, which focuses on success by any and all means. Add to that an economy that’s in the dump, and people are more desperate than ever to make bank. Listen:

  • It’s not illegal to pay for fake reviews (though highly questionable ethically).
  • Nobody has been killed in the writing of a positive or negative review (so far).
  • Regardless of your or my opinion of this practice, it’s happening.

These authors argued: it’s been done this way for years. How do you think authors get their books reviewed in publication like People or Time? They pay for it.

I myself have NEVER paid for a single review. Ever. And I won’t. Some people have. If you’re an indie author trying to make it in the harsh reality of the publishing world, it can seem an attractive option – lots of positive reviews sell more books. Who cares if someone buys a book based on fake reviews? It’s been happening for years. This is nothing new.

I care. You care.

Here’s why (and before you object to this article and me giving people the tools to buy said reviews, all I did was google it and pages of options pop up, like this article about ResultSource in the WSJ):

1)  Fiverr.com. You can go to this site, and for $5, you can purchase fake good reviews or fake bad reviews. Sounds like a deal, right? Stop right there. Amazon goes into these sites and creates fake books. They pay for fake reviews. Then they run these profiles to see where else these reviewers have left reviews, and then they pull them.

Not only that, YOU’RE on the line for participating in this type of scam. Amazon has every right to ban you for life (as do other sales channels like Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, etc). Do you want to risk that?

2)  Paid Review Sites. In researching this article, I found this site: ProBookReviews.net. They charge $29/positive review and here’s their copy and guarantee:

“If you’re going to break the rules, be smart about it!”

‘This is where our “Book Review Service” comes in. We take special measures so Amazon has no way to track if you purchased reviews or if they are legitimate.

All of our reviews look 100% genuine.

Details
– All reviews are “Amazon Verified Purchased” reviews
– All reviews are posted from different Amazon accounts
– All reviews are posted from unique IP addresses
– All reviews are 100% unique and tailored to your book

We take extreme measures to protect your identity and the integrity of your book. There is absolutely no way Amazon can track if you used our service.

We are here to help you and your book succeed!’

Now, I don’t know about you, but just reading this made me feel so dirty I wanted to take a shower. How can people feel okay doing this?

For that same $30, you can pay the amazing and hard-working Pandora, owner of Orangeberry Book Tours, who will book you into a month’s worth of high-traffic book blogger blogs and guarantee reviews (though not positive – it is a crapshoot). But that’s a wonderfully effective and ethical option! Plus, it helps your Google ranking and overall exposure.

Or: contact the highly respected San Francisco Book Review (disclosure: I write a monthly column for them, but receive no monetary compensation). They offer a 25% discount on advertising (and they have a HUGE readership) to all indie authors.

3)  Cheating. We learn not to cheat on our schoolwork in elementary school. My seven-year-old son knows full well the consequences of cheating. So how can you rationalize that this practice is okay? You can’t.

And no matter how hard you try, someone, somewhere, will find out. And then what? You become the bad guy, you lose sales, and nobody will purchase your next book (or your backlist).

Listen, with this change in publishing comes the scammers who will do anything to make a buck. They are not doing this to help you, your career, or your readers. They are doing it to make money. You are simply the conduit to the money money money.

I love what Amy Edelman of IndieReader.com has come up with: Rabble. She explains the concept in this Huffington Post article and here’s a link to Kickstarter. I fully support this effort and have backed the project.

Bottom line: paying for reviews is breaking the rules and the best way to be ‘smart about it,’ is not to do it at all.

*****************************************************************************

Rachel Thompson aka RachelintheOC is a published author and social media consultant/founder of BadRedheadMedia. Her three books, A Walk In The Snark, The Mancode: Exposed and Broken Pieces are all #1 Kindle bestsellers! When not writing, she helps authors and other professionals with branding and social media for her company, BadRedhead Media. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut.

42 replies
  1. Megan Denby
    Megan Denby says:

    Thank you for a refreshing take on the issue of ethics. For me as an indie author, there is nothing more rewarding than a genuine review from someone who has received nothing from me but a story worth reading.

    Reply
  2. RachelintheOC
    RachelintheOC says:

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Megan.

    I couldn’t agree more. I was on a chat with some authors the other day and one mentioned what angers her the most is when trolls leave messages such as ‘All the 5-stars must be from their family and friends,’ which if you’re an author, you know how difficult it is to get family and friends to read anything we write!

    I welcome all reviews, even the 1-stars, for one simple reason: at least they read it. Even if they hated it and leave a poor review, that’s out of my control and I cannot take that personally.

    If everyone all liked the same things, life would be so boring.

    Reply
  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    I saw a book quickly rise to the top rankings on B&N last year. It had a great cover, AMAZING reviews and a great pitch. It turned out to be the most poorly written book I’ve EVER read. I got scammed and I’m pissed. It shouldn’t happen and good for you for voicing your opinion about it. I’m with you 100%.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Reviews are a funny thing. Sometimes a book just HITS and people love (or hate) it and it gets out there — usually through much elbow grease on the part of the author themselves. But it starts always with a great product: the best possible writing and work. Without that, why bother?

      It is such a disappointment, though, when the book turns out to be poorly written drivel. We as consumers (not only authors) have the right to a refund, in my opinion. Amazon allows refunds, I know B&N does as well. Hopefully you got your money back!

      Reply
  4. Robert
    Robert says:

    Excellent article. After the “scandal” hit a lot of lost legit reviews when Amazon started going through and striking reviews and apparently struck some with no basis. I lost a number and have never paid for a review and never will.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Good point, Robert. Amazon’s review policy leaves much to be desired. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s what we have to work with.

      That could be another article, entirely!

      Reply
  5. Justin Bog
    Justin Bog says:

    All the reviewing scandals of the past couple years are probably the tip of the iceberg. I like reviewing the good books I read. Because I’m a slow reader I try to choose books/writing/authors I can trust to entertain me. A lot of classics on my kindle right now, and some very very good indie authors too. Publishing of all kinds is interesting.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Justin.

      I agree, there were so many sites I could’ve referenced for this article, but kept it at the two most egregious. Plenty of people must be using them, though, right? Or they wouldn’t still be around.

      Sad.

      Reply
  6. Juan Rader Bas
    Juan Rader Bas says:

    Good piece. It’s crazy paying for guaranteed good reviews. I’ve often thought of trying Kirkus Indie or BlueInk but they’re not guaranteeing a good review. Crazier still, though, is paying to have another book reviewed badly. Thar’s just madness. Everyone’s purses are tight so their disposable cash to buy indulgences, like books, are limited but for one author to sabotage another author’s work in the hope that the consumer will buy the first author’s book is just mean, unethical and evil. And, really, by sabotaging someone else’s book is discounting one’s own work. By doing that because the author is conceding that his work won’t hold up as a worthy, honest effort in writing and as a solid piece of literature and it insults and devalues the honest writing efforts that us honest writers put in and the writing process as a whole.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      I agree completely, Juan. It’s a sad and pathetic practice, all the way around.

      What’s shocking is how many sites have popped up to purchase 5-stars. There are wonderful legit sites (for example, the ones you mentioned as well as the San Francisco Book Review — who offers 25% off to indie authors — but does not guarantee a positive review). If you go that route, you must be prepared to learn the result.

      And that’s okay. If it’s not good enough, we learn from that. If one can afford to pay legit sites, I recommend it. If not, there are plenty of ways to garner book interest outside of reviews, which are just one small part of the equation.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  7. Aimlesswriter
    Aimlesswriter says:

    I’ve spent the last week looking into book bloggers and those sites that send your book out in blasts to their email lists, but never thought to pay for a review. I think if I get a review that wasn’t real it would feel like I was lying. I hope my writing is good enough to stand on it’s own. A bogus review would leave me feeling empty.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      I agree. It’s also frustrating when 1-stars show up that are one line “I didn’t read it but didn’t like it.’

      How is that even a review?

      We can only sit back and watch at this point, and know that we’re making the best decision with embracing ALL reviews, positive or not, bogus or not, since there seems to be no enforced controls.

      Just keep writing!

      Reply
  8. G-readerBlues
    G-readerBlues says:

    I see bloggers with pictures of the books they received free in the mail from publishers for review. These are worth ten bucks each, plus about five bucks shipping per book. Getting fifteen bucks free to write a review from a publisher (plus all the books they get and don’t review) is no different than an indie paying for a review.

    Bottom line. A modern book is just a product sold to entertain us. No matter how many great reviews a book gets it is the bad ones that tell the tale. A book with a million fake five star reviews and only three one star star reviews is a great book because if it was a bad book or a rip off there would be a bunch of disappointed reviews. The simple fact is no matter what an amazon “product review” says about a product, the words in a book don’t get better because the reviews do. The TV tells us this truck is better than that one, or that “4 out of 5 doctors approve.” Or that these shoes make you jump better, or that this movie will scare you to death.

    As long as the review isn’t a flat out lie I don’t care if it was paid for. As a reader I rarely choose a major published book based on its five star reviews because they all came from Time Magazine, and Playboy, and Maxim, and People, who have accepted copies and/or money. Allowing the publishers to buy blurbs while saying it isn’t cool for indie is about as uncool as anything I’ve ever head of.

    The double standard in literature is the biggest farce online today.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      It’s interesting when you look at it that way. Thanks for your comments.

      Publishers and authors have shared books with reviewers for eons. Reviewers are generally educated on the fine art of reviewing — and there are guidelines — which many readers are completely unaware.

      The issue with real reviewers (and many purchase the books themselves), is that it’s a crap shoot — there’s NO guarantee that it will be positive.

      Reply
  9. Carrie Bailey
    Carrie Bailey says:

    I have all five star reviews. When I can influence someone who is writing a review of my work, I beg them to not give me a high review, because I’m afraid of looking like I paid for them. I think I might want to book a blog review tour just to find more critical voices.

    (by the way – thanks for the tips – great article)

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Thanks for the comments, Carrie!

      I always laugh when someone says ‘all the 5-stars must be from friends and family’ which, as any author will tell you, is impossible. Most of our family doesn’t read our work and if they do, rarely take the time to review.

      But people will believe what they want to believe. I just hope that the majority of people’s reviews are the real deal.

      Reply
  10. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    I am new to writing and publishing and had no idea this was going on. I can’t believe you can pay for good or bad reviews. I think that is horrible. All but one review of mine is genuine. I paid one company for an honest un-baised review. I wasn’t guaranteed a good review, and it was a bit nerve racking waiting to see what they would say. It turned out to be fairly positive. All the comments they made as far as issues they had were legitimate and I agreed with them and took to heart what they said. I don’t want to have to pay for reviews, but like you commented, getting friends and family to read it is harder than you think. Getting them to write a review is almost impossible!

    Thank you for the article, it has been a real eye opener.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Quite welcome. I suspected there were companies out there doing this type of stuff, but it wasn’t until I researched it that I found out how sickeningly easy it is.

      Shameful. But hey, there will be people who have no issues with it, and that’s their option.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  11. Edmund de Wight
    Edmund de Wight says:

    I had a nice gentleman contact me and offered me a free copy of his book via Amazon provided I would give him a fair and honest review afterward. I promised nothing either good or bad, just my honest opinion. (Lucky for us it was a great book). Frankly that’s an HONEST way to do this. The paid review thing is like the Dark Side, it lures you in with its ease and potential for quick results but in the end I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that if I made it, I did it using honesty. Plus, paid reviews do not provide TRUE word of mouth push to your book of the reviewer telling his friends and neighbors, so they’re only so good. Won’t ever do it!

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Couldn’t agree more!

      I’m honored by every HONEST review, even if someone hated it. It’s worth learning what resonates and what doesn’t.

      It’s the bogus 1-stars ‘I didn’t read it but I didn’t like it,’ that drives me nuts. How is that a review? LOL.

      Reply
  12. Barbara Winkes
    Barbara Winkes says:

    No matter the outcome, paying for a review just doesn’t feel right. As a reader, I’m a bit extreme–I don’t care about reviews. I go by genre, summaries, links that show up on twitter, sometimes books of authors I happened to meet on social media. If I buy a toaster or a TV, those things have to work. There’s no room for negotiation–if it does what it says, it’s fine. It isn’t that easy with books, or any kind of art. No matter how much anyone tells me how good or bad a certain book is, it has little to no impact on my decision to buy. I will read it if I feel like it.
    As an author, I have to acknowledge that not all readers are the same, and some do pay attention ( more to the average scores than the numbers of 1 or 5 stars, as I’ve learned).
    Like with everything else in the publishing/marketing process, you have to invest time. What seems like a nice shortcut, most of the time, isn’t.

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Such a good point!

      There really are no shortcuts, and something like this is not worth the investment. Invest instead in what you mention: social media, blogging, connecting with readers in other places, and writing more books!

      Reply
  13. Crystal Jigsaw
    Crystal Jigsaw says:

    I admit to being quite naive about this very subject and only discovered the practice that fake reviews goes on recently. After trawling Amazon for some new reads I came across a few books with in excess of 700 reviews. My first thought was “wow, that must be an amazing book.” Then I looked at other books by the author which again had excessive amounts of reviews. I mentioned it on a writer’s forum and was told how authors can pay for a review. I’ve only published two books, one has 53 reviews, the other has 28, all are genuine. I think paying for a review smacks of desperation and personally I’d rather someone read my book and (hopefully) enjoyed it before they left a review. None of us like the 1stars but they will always come and I’m grateful for the ones I’ve had. At least I didn’t pay someone to tell the world they didn’t like my book!

    CJ

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      agreed. there’s just no way ANY author can have that kind of reviews without paying UNLESS they have hit the big time.

      However, it’s possible an author can do a blog ‘review’ tour (no guarantee of positive reviews) and can get up to a review per day for a month or two… which, if they did that for every single day of the year, would be 365 reviews. So obviously, not gonna happen. 🙂

      My latest book (Broken Pieces) has 100 reviews in 4 months. I did a month-long blog tour and had about 30 betareaders (of which maybe half wrote reviews). I’m thrilled people are reading and reviewing it! That’s definitely the way to go –organically.

      Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      I’d have to argue in the case of Howey — his book created an underground swell of support and attention. We readers went out of our way to review his books because of his talent.

      This is one of those rare situations where I (perhaps idealistically) believe all the reviews are true and organic.

      Call me crazy. 🙂

      Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      Kirkus makes no promises the review will be positive. The payment you give them is for the time and effort taken to review the book, NOT to guarantee a positive review.

      Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

      Reply
      • Claude Nougat
        Claude Nougat says:

        I love your post and completely agree with everything you say. But I have a serious issue with Kirkus: I used them once and they demonstrably did a poor non-professional review. It did not cover the expected ground, i.e. an evaluation of character, plot structure and writing style, corroborated by references to the book to sustain the points made.

        In short, what I expected was to get a review the way it’s done in a NYT book review which can go on for several pages, as needed to do justice to a book. Instead it was just one paragraph long – no more than 7 or 8 lines – and, surprisingly, contained several factual mistakes. Now if the NYT can obtain from its contributors thorough professional reviews, why can’t Kirkus ? Surely the sizable amount of money they ask for would pay for double checking by their staff in cases that exhibit serious shortcomings? Also, they should issue guidelines to their reviewers to ensure that all points necessary to a quality review are covered – as far as I know, they don’t.

        All of which reinforces your message: one should NOT ever, ever pay for a review!

        Reply
        • RachelintheOC
          RachelintheOC says:

          Thanks for sharing that, Claude. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that about Kirkus and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

          My understanding is that they do have guidelines for reviewers but unfortunately, they don’t enforce that…it’s a guidelines, not a rule.

          Word of mouth is still the best way to get the word out (latest Pew research) so visibility and exposure still count — just not the ‘hard sell.’ That just pisses people off.

          Reply
  14. Marco
    Marco says:

    Nice political jibe against capitalism. Yet don’t all you writers and artists depend on the free market so you can buy your fantasy house in the South of France?

    Reply
    • RachelintheOC
      RachelintheOC says:

      One would think, and perhaps at the surface it seems that way.

      I’m personally not against capitalism. I’m against ethically questionable practices. Some would say they’re one in the same but I beg to differ.

      Paying for reviews in this manner is unethical. Paying for reviews from Kirkus or other sites where they do not promise a positive review is a crapshoot but ethical option.

      I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

      Reply
    • Naomi Blackburn
      Naomi Blackburn says:

      Marco,

      I am a free market girl. Contrary to Rachel’s statement, where does the free market call for unethical practices? These sites that Rachel has mentioned GUARANTEE positive reviews and/or negative reviews of competitors work (FIVRR). Consider it to be false advertising. Second, the free market stands for hard work, ingenuity and elbow grease. Again, the antithesis of paying for reviews and taking the fast way out. With hard work, authors can obtain honest and ethical reviews for FREE! Third, if you want to talk about Capitalism, it is about ROI. Paying for a review when any observant reader/reviewer can spot a sock puppet, bought and paid for review from 10 paces and think nothing of calling an author on it, doesn’t demonstrate a ROI. We have articles appearing constantly at this time re: authors offering reviews of another authors work for cash.

      As for Kirkus? Nowhere does Kirkus say that it promises a nice, positive review. What Kirkus does say is that it will review your book and you do whatever you want with the review.

      Naomi Blackburn
      authorceo.com

      Reply
  15. John Abramowitz
    John Abramowitz says:

    Hi Rachel-
    First, thanks so much for the great column. It’s discouraging to see how much effort goes into gaming the system.

    Question: Do you know how much, if any, flexibility the San Francisco Book Review offers on their “published in the last 90 days” policy?

    Thanks,

    John Abramowitz

    Reply
  16. Geovani Salazar
    Geovani Salazar says:

    In all i have seen people with a good business brought down by competitors putting bad reviews on there site, business is dog eat dog, people review first and then proceed to purchase. I am all for making a living, at all costs, even at $5-30 for a review. The author does not know or has ever ran a good business.

    Reply
  17. illuminarch
    illuminarch says:

    Kirkus charges for reviews, Foreward/Clarion charges for reviews, and pretty much every major reviewer either charges for all reviews or for the author to have a reasonable chance of actually receiving a review in some period of time shorter than several years. All the big publishers pay various book review outlets for the privilege of getting a review (but not necessarily a good one). Amazon even sells reviews directly through Createspace. Is that also cheating?

    Reply
  18. David Hearne
    David Hearne says:

    My experience with the San Francisco Book Review was negative. As authors we want reviews and of course we’d love them to be positive but even more important we want the reviewer to actually read our book. We also have to pray that we are not stuck with a bigoted, or biased reviewer who will not be able to get pass their own prejudices – if your characters’ views conflict with theirs.

    The short version of my complaint is that the person assigned to review my book, “The Christmas Special,” wrote a review that was full of inaccuracies. They did not even know who was telling the story or the correct names of two of its main characters.

    The reviewer wrote:

    “The story itself is mostly framed as a collection of documents that the FBI has gathered to recreate the events leading up to the plot.”

    When I complained to Heidi Komlofske one of the owners of San Francisco Book Review of the inaccuracies in the review she referred my concerns to the actual reviewer who replied back to her with the following response.

    I will grant that I did mix up the father and brother’s names. That’s a quick fix. Same thing with Roberto Roma. Considering he’s only mentioned briefly in the half-page Chapter 3 (page 19), it’s understandable why I didn’t remember it 669 pages later..

    If you go to Amazon and search my book (The Christmas Special) for “Roberto Roma” you will discover he’s mentioned with his full name 69 times and of course referred to with pronouns many more times. In fact on the next to the last page he is mentioned twice in the following conversation:

    The caller replied in her slightly accented English, “Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Roma.”

    I asked her if Santa had visited her way up there in Iceland,

    She giggled and said, “He certainly did, Mr. Roma…………”

    So the reviewer had no idea of who was even telling the story and had wrong names for two of the main characters in the story.

    To me his ignorance of who is telling the story and names of the main characters either means you have just a super incompetent reviewer or one who simply never seriously read the novel, yet that is what I paid Heidi Komlofske for and thought that was what would be delivered.

    Ross Rojek, of the San Francisco Book Review, also told me he felt that his reviewer was a very competent reviewer and (as usual) an English major. Just going back to just that one sentence mentioned previously:

    “The story itself is mostly framed as a collection of documents that the FBI has gathered to recreate the events leading up to the plot.”

    What does the reviewer mean when he writes “to recreate the events leading up to the plot?” Does the reviewer even know how to use the word plot? Did he mean plot point or the climax of the plot?????

    Remember Mr. Rojek states this is one of his competent reviewers with an English major. Another one of the English major’s sentences is:

    “Sheeva’s father is abusive and gruff and somehow, not clear from the story, involved to the plot…Muslim males are evil, Muslim women are passive, Americans are nice and friendly…”

    What did that all mean?

    Ross wanted me to mention that this is my second review with his company and that I didn’t complain about the first review on a previous novel. He is correct, that review was written when their company was much smaller and they were more concerned about the accuracy of their reviews.

    I also wanted to make clear that the novel “The Christmas Special,” had won awards in 5 literary contests – all 3rd place, but much better than losing. One award was given at the British Library in London, England so I think it is obvious that the book was written well enough to assume a reader would be able to recognize who the narrator is.

    So Heidi Komlofske’s solution for the entire fiasco was to convert my fee into an ad, which I declined out of principle. I have advertised in their magazine before and it was a total flop. Remember the majority of people going to their site are authors plopping down their money for a review or to advertise to all the book readers that are suppose to flock to their site. However, if you look at their site’s homepage it is mainly targeted to sell to authors not to readers. The only benefit you can really get from one of their reviews is to quote it and try to make it sounds as if some great literary journal has sanctioned your work as the best work of the century. Trouble is, if you are assigned someone who simply paraphrases your book description, skips around in your book to find a couple things to personalize his review he can complete the review without ever reading your book. Next thing, you will probably see a couple used copies of your masterpiece being sold by some used book dealer on Amazon and Ebay.

    The reviewer did tell me he hated my book cover and thought it was “Photoshopped.” Of course it was “Photoshopped” almost all book covers are. He spends an entire paragraph condemning it. I guess he is not only an English major but also an art critic. He also feels people in Texas are bigoted people and if you do not portray them that way they won’t appear authentic.

    So if you want to pay for a review from the “San Francisco Book Review” you now know what to expect.

    Getting a review from them, good or bad, will not sell you any books unless you promote the review as part of your marketing campaign. It is very unlikely that anyone will ever take notice of it, unless you put it in front of the buyers face. More reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles are far more important. Buyers actually read them.

    Reply

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